The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

I’m Not The Man They Think I Am At Home.

There’s a saying you should strive to be the person your dog thinks you are. This is good advice and I think applies to cats as well since cats are excellent judges of character, as proven by the fact that if you put twenty people in a room and only one of them doesn’t like cats the cat will go right for that person, which also proves cats have a great sense of humor. This principle probably applies to other pets too, although I’m not sure what kind of person your fish or tarantula might think you are, and if you’re one of those people with a ferret as a pet you should strive to stay away from me because those things freak me out.

Anyway I do try to be the person our dogs think I am because they seem to think I’m a pretty good guy. Even our youngest and newest addition to the family thought so even before I knew his name, which is Sabik. I wasn’t familiar with that name and when I first heard it thought it might be from Star Trek, because I’m not only a huge geek but our dogs think I’m a huge geek, especially when I sing They Might Be Giants songs to them, but my wife explained that Sabik is a star in the constellation of Ophiuchus, in keeping with a stellar family tradition since his grandfather was named Sagan.

Sabik can be spotted in the evening sky even without a telescope.

And like his namesake Sagan was smart and had a quirky sense of humor. He liked to get in the bed. In fact he didn’t just like to get in the bed–he would get excited and run to the bed and fling himself onto it and then if I lay down he’d immediately curl up next to me because he could go from sixty to zero in 1.8 seconds. And then if I moved at all he’d let out a disgruntled moan that would last approximately six and a half minutes. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t really annoyed but only did that because it made me laugh, but that’s another story.

Sagan could have even hosted his own PBS show.

I don’t take it for granted that our dogs think I’m a pretty good guy and believe in taking care of them which includes preparing their food. My wife is usually the one who feeds them, but we have them on the aptly named BARF diet. That’s Bones And Raw Food, which means every few weeks I get to grind up a lot of chicken into the same kind of paste they use for making nuggets and also a lot of vegetables into the same kind of paste you might spoon into your smoothie to try and pass it off as healthy. We get the chicken from a dealer but I get the vegetables at the grocery and the purchase of mass quantities always seems to raise some eyebrows at the checkout even though I’m pretty sure they’ve seen stranger things. And sometimes my purchases raise questions, like the other day when I was buying a heap of kale and other leafy greens and assorted vegetables and a few assorted sundries the guy checking me out asked, “What are you going to do with all this?”

This seemed like an unusual question. What do most people do with food they buy? And yet I also thought it might sound goofy if I said it was going to be fed to some dogs, even if they are exceptional dogs.

“Well, this is my special superfood blend. I’m going to puree the kale and other greens with the ginger and vegetables, the sardines and skim milk are there to add protein, and the pink lemonade is just to give it all a little color and add some sweetness. Then I’ll pour the whole mixture into a hot tub and soak in it for twelve hours.”

And then I left so I have no idea what kind of person that guy thinks I am.

Moving Right Along.

Earlier this week I helped some coworkers move to new offices. I volunteered, although generally I seem to be the guy that friends call on when they need help moving, even though I don’t own a pickup truck or other vehicle with a lot of storage space and have the upper body strength of a salamander. My main qualification seems to be that when someone asks me, “Could you help me move?” I’m an agreeable guy and say “yes” and it’s usually not until I’m halfway down the stairs with a box of dishes that I think to stop and ask, “Hey, do I know you?” Whenever I help someone else move it always makes me think about how I’ve heard that wherever you are when you’re fifty is where you’re going to die. This may be one of those exaggerated claims that people pass around without any factual basis, like the claim that your hair and toenails grow after you die. They don’t—your body loses moisture after death causing your skin to shrink which makes your hair and nails appear to grow. And there’s also the claim that a lot of people were buried alive in the days before modern embalming techniques because claw marks have been found on the insides of coffins, but in fact almost anyone sealed into a coffin and buried would expire from a buildup of carbon dioxide before they could regain consciousness. There’s a comforting thought: even if your mortal coil did just get shoved in a box and covered with dirt without all your recyclables being removed first you’d be very unlikely to wake up. The claw marks on the insides of coffins are caused by the surprising amount of moving that corpses could do, even the ones that are well past fifty. Consider Jim Morrison, for instance, who’s been buried in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery since 1971, and who still parties so hard the other corpses complain about it. Oscar Wilde’s corpse has even been heard to remark that the only thing worse than not being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave is being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave.

Aside from dwelling on happy thoughts about the lurking specter of the eternal footman holding my coat and snickering whenever I help someone move it makes me think about how little I’ve moved in my life. When I was four my parents moved from one part of Nashville to another part of Nashville, and luckily they thought to take me with them. Even though I went to college in another state and then, briefly, in another country, that wasn’t technically moving because I wasn’t taking up permanent residence there although my senior year I did rent a professor’s house and lived there with, depending on which time of the year it was, three, four, and approximately two-hundred and twenty-five other people. The professor had gone overseas to turn fifty but he was planning to come back just to beat the statistics. And then I came back to Nashville and moved in with my wife and got married and most days I go to work in an office that’s spitting distance from the hospital where I was born, which I can prove by the number of times they’ve asked me to stop spitting on the place, but that’s another story.

Anyway I haven’t turned fifty yet, although I am slowly moving in that direction in spite of some efforts to put the brakes on or even throw things into reverse, but the way things are going, and they’re actually going pretty well, it looks like I’ll be lucky enough to still be where I am now when I finally reach that milestone. And while that wasn’t planned it is convenient that I’m an organ donor and hope to pass on every part of me that can be used to someone else, and to make that as easy as possible the odds are when I finally go I’ll be within spitting distance of a hospital.

Bag ‘Em.

A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution which may seem like a funny thing to bring up this late in the year, but how many of your resolutions do you remember and even if you do how many have you kept? This was my resolution: always use reusable bags when going to the grocery store. And I’ve done a pretty good job, keeping to it about a quarter, maybe as much of a third of the time and I always get a kick out of going into a grocery store with their competitors’ bags. To be clear I don’t live in one of the few areas of the United States where you now have to pay if you want to use the store’s plastic bags. In fact I’m pretty sure the people where I live will only give up plastic grocery bags when they’re pried from their cold, dead hands—which will be pretty easy given how slippery plastic bags are. Also I’m not sure how this applies to paper bags which they still have but which nobody seems to use anymore.

I also remember a time when grocery carts had numbers on the front and when you were done paying for your groceries the checkout person would write your cart’s number on the back of the receipt. You could then go out to your car, drive up to the front of the store, hold the receipt up to the window, and a couple of guys would load your groceries into your car for you. What made this even better was they once slipped up and gave us somebody else’s groceries and for a week we ate like kings, or at least like people who buy those shrimp cocktails in a jar which I thought were the epitome of haute cuisine at a time when I didn’t even know what haute, cuisine, or epitome meant. And not to sound snobbish but I’d rather have as few strangers as possible touching my groceries which is why whenever the person who bags my groceries asks if they can help me out I say “No, thanks” and when they say “Are you sure?” I have to point and yell “Is that the Hindenburg?” and then grab everything and run for the door and hopefully not have to tell my wife that I don’t know what happened to the mayonnaise, but that’s another story.

In fact whenever I can I use the self-checkout at the grocery store. Yes,  I worry it’s putting someone out of a job, although with every other item the machine stops and yells “Please wait for an attendant” possibly because it’s just not gauged to measure a single bulb of garlic, but there are times when the self-checkout is just faster and more convenient, and I don’t need some high school kid who’s just working there for the summer to drop that two-pound can of diced tomatoes on top of the eggs when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. And it brings back memories of when I was a kid and the grocery store we went to installed those new laser scanners and I thought those were so cool. The woman checking us out noticed me staring at it—not directly into the beam, but at the scanner itself—and she said, “Would you like to try it?” And I did and checking out groceries turned out to be even more boring than it looked.

Anyway the other day I was going through the checkout line with an actual person and as I started bagging them myself in my reusable bags she handed me a tiny little nylon bag. It was a miniature version of the reusable bags the store sells, but on the back it had printed, “Don’t forget your bags”. This as a little promotional reward they were doing for people who brought in reusable bags, although I thought they were aiming it at the wrong people. They should have given them to the people who are still using plastic bags and maybe changed the note to, “Start using reusable bags before we pry the plastic ones out of your cold, dead hands, which will be pretty easy…”

Although I do think it’s nice that they encouraged me to recycle by giving me something to throw away.

A Brief History Of Not Enough Time.

This morning during our commute my wife and I listened to a report on the psychology of time and how leisure time used to be a symbol of status but now, at least in the United States and among certain groups, mainly celebrities and the wealthy who have enough money to buy celebrity, not having enough time to do everything is considered proof they’ve made it. Having fortyleven projects running at the same time and not enough time to do them all is the ultimate sign of success now. Someone whose passion is, say, music, after having put in the ten-thousand hours needed to master their craft, paid their dues, worked their way up from the bottom, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, broken out, broken through, and who are finally able to quit their old day job and take up several new jobs marketing their own brand of croquet equipment and designing a line of solar-powered footwear. Being successful used to mean you could take a little time to yourself and lounge on a beach somewhere, but really, who can blame celebrities for wanting to work on all kinds of projects when the other option is being chased around the beach by paparazzi? And while I’m inclined to say that “success” and “status” are nebulous concepts that should be defined by the individual and not by the society in which we live I know how society is. Any time I suggest that society gets huffy and yells, “You can’t tell me what to do!” What really interests me, though, is that it says something larger about us. Homo sapiens is a naturally multitasking species, and while multitasking is usually a way to get a lot of things done badly and in a half-assed way the truth is we’ve managed to do some pretty amazing things, mostly in a half-assed way, at least in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the entire history of the universe humans have been around such a short time that if all of time were measured as a roll of toilet paper the moment homo sapiens first appeared to the present day would barely be the last millimeter of the roll, although one of the biggest controversies in science today is whether the paper should be placed so it rolls from the top or the bottom. Sharks have been around approximately 450 million years. They’ve survived several mass extinctions, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and yet haven’t even gotten close to discovering fire, although they are at a slight disadvantage being underwater most of the time. We humans have only been around approximately two-hundred thousand years. Seventy or so thousand years ago we were on the verge of extinction in central Africa then a large black box showed up and we started moving.We only began to form what we’d recognize as societies less than ten thousand years ago and written language a little over five thousand years ago. We’ve occupied every part of the planet, a feat only matched by bacteria and viruses, and only because they had a major head start but have still failed to advance beyond the discovery of energy drinks and with any luck we’ll stop using analog clocks by the end of the century because it makes no sense that the hour hand is the smaller one and the minute hand is the larger one.

At this point it’s probably pretty clear what I’m trying to say so I’ll just cut to the chase. And here’s an interesting thing about the expression “cut to the chase”: it dates back to at least 1929 and originated as a film direction to keep the story moving. The funny thing is I really thought it went back farther than that and that there was actually cutting, like with some kind of knife, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is, we have done an enormous amount of work and there’s so much stuff I feel like I’m missing, so could everyone please just take a break for a while and stop making anything new until I can get caught up on all the books, movies, TV shows, music, and art that we’ve produced so far?

People In Brick Houses Shouldn’t Throw Bricks.

The Real Story Of The Three Little Pigs

“Listen, I’ve come up with a plan. You know that guy who’s always bugging us? I know I’m tired of him always coming around and I know you two must be too, so I’ve figured out a way to take care of him.”

“You mean we’re gonna get him locked up?”

“No. We need something permanent. You know he’s been locked up before and in three or six months he’s out again, coming around and annoying everybody. The plan I have is to take him out for good.”

“You mean—“

“No!”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. The guy’s a menace, a real menace, and it’s time we stepped up and took some real action to get rid of the son of a bitch.”

“That’s funny.”

“What?”

“Son of a bitch. Because he’s a—“

“All right! Enough kidding around! We need to get serious. Now here’s my plan. Mike, you need to build a house out of straw.”

“Why do I need to build a house out of straw? What’s wrong with the place where we live now?”

“Shut up! This is all part of a bigger plan. We can’t just take him out somewhere and rub him out. That would look bad. There’d be too many questions. It doesn’t matter that no one likes him. People would still be suspicious. And he wouldn’t fall for it. We have to be careful here. All right, Jeff, you need to build a house out of sticks.”

“Why sticks?”

“Because I’ve only got enough straw for one house, okay? And we’ve got sticks all over the place.”

“Why not build two places out of sticks then?”

“Because I’ve already got the straw! And here’s what we do. Mike, you wait in your straw house until he comes around.”

“How do we know he’ll come around?”

“He always does, doesn’t he? And when he comes around you knock the house down.”

“After I’ve gone to all the trouble to build it?”

“Yes! And then you act like he did it. Act all scared and run to Jeff’s stick house.”

“Yeah, I learned how to make a pretty good lean-to out of sticks when I was a kid.”

“I don’t care! Then when he comes around to Jeff’s stick house you knock it down too.”

“Sticks are heavy! What if they fall on us?”

“Use little sticks!”

“It’s not gonna be big enough for both of us if I use little sticks. Are you really sure you’ve thought this through?”

“It doesn’t have to be that big! Look, just hide behind it and kick it down from the outside. This doesn’t have to be that difficult. Now after you kick it down you run here, okay?”

“And we act scared.”

“Now you’re getting it. When you get here come in and lock the door. Then when Wolf comes knocking we’ll tell him the door is stuck or something and the only way in is through the chimney.”

“What about the windows?”

“Shut up! He won’t ask about the windows and if he does we’ll say they’re swelled shut or something. We’ll just keep telling him the only way in is to climb up on the roof and come in through the chimney. Eventually he’ll go up there and come down the chimney. We’ll have a nice big fire going.”

“What? Come on, Kevin, this is pretty serious, even for him. When you said you had a plan we thought maybe you’d make him move away or something. We didn’t think you meant—“

“How else did you think we were gonna get rid of him? Come on, the guy’s a huge hassle and he’s always going to be one. Jeff, remember that time he ‘borrowed’ your lawnmower?”

“Well you told him he could.”

“Shut up! I just told him where it was.”

“You know, I’m getting pretty tired of you telling us to—“

And Mike, remember the time you found him sleeping in your bed?”

“Well you let him in the house and then you went off and left him there alone.”

“Yeah, I had to go to court, remember? For that traffic thing where they said I was responsible but we all know the light was yellow when I went through the intersection. I was trying to be nice and just told him to make himself comfortable. I didn’t tell him he could sleep in your bed. He did that all on his own. The guy’s a menace. He bothers everybody, and he’s nothing but trouble. Don’t you agree we did something? Come on, guys, we’ve got a huge problem and we need to fix it once and for all.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“Me too.”

EPILOGUE

“Hey, guys, thanks for having me over. Kinda warm for a fire, though, ain’t it?”

“We just thought it would be fun to fire up the grill.”

“Sure, sure, always a good way to make something tasty.” Wolf sniffed the air. “It’s really nice of you to invite me over for lunch. Speaking of that something smells pretty good there. What is it we’re having?”

Jeff and Mike exchanged looks.

“Ham.”

The Emperor Of Ice Cream.

Spring is officially here. Summer may even be officially here, a lot earlier than usual, and I’m not just saying that because it’s been warm enough that I can go out in my bare feet. What really sealed the season for me was the first appearance of the ice cream truck in my neighborhood which I normally associate with summer but, hey, if the ice cream truck is going to come around this early then maybe it’s a spring thing too, and maybe that’s better because I’m always willing to spring for some ice cream. Yes I can go to the store and buy ice cream anytime, but there’s something special about getting it from the ice cream truck. I distinctly remember the first time I got ice cream from an ice cream truck, although technically it wasn’t ice cream. The truck came up our street, which was a cul-de-sac that had kids in more than half the houses, which so we were the proverbial fish in a barrel. In fact we were better than the proverbial fish in a barrel because the fish will keep swimming around whereas we were hooked as soon as the truck blaring “Do Your Ears Hang Low” or maybe something by Edvard Grieg came rolling up to us and we ran out into the street and didn’t care that we had bare feet because we all went barefoot so much we had feet like Hobbits, but that’s another story. I was still too young to read and my mother came out with me because I was also too young to have money, and I looked carefully at all the options, and when it was my turn I pointed to a picture of a big-nosed red and blue troll wearing a crown, because if there’s one thing kids love it’s the Troll King from Peer Gynt, and I said, “I want that kind please.” And an older kid sighed and said, “Duh, that’s a snow cone,” because older kids are jerks. So I didn’t actually get ice cream, I got a snow cone, which was the most disappointing experience of my life up to that point. Admittedly I was four so I hadn’t had a lot of disappointments, but if you’ve ever had a snow cone from an ice cream truck you know it’s basically just ice chips and colored water, although it did come in a neat little paper cone that had a picture of the Troll King on it that I enjoyed looking at until it dissolved and I was left with a runny mess of slightly sticky red and blue water.

And then I got older and could go to the ice cream truck by myself and use my own money, which was cool because I’m pretty sure that was the first time I could buy something by myself without my parents standing over me, and I’d always get a strawberry ice cream bar that I’m pretty sure had a picture of Solveig on its wrapper. It was also really interesting to me because I heard that in exotic places like New York you could call and order exotic foods like pizza and somebody would deliver it right to your home. We couldn’t get that, or maybe we just didn’t, but the ice cream truck was the next best thing. In fact it was even better because it was ice cream and you didn’t have to call anyone.

One day when a younger cousin from another state was staying with us the ice cream truck rolled up to the cul-de-sac and we went out to get ice cream. And my cousin said, “This is the same ice cream truck that comes to our house. He drives all around the world every day.”

I sighed and said, “No he doesn’t. There are different ice cream trucks in different places and no one can drive all around the world.” And then I told him there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny and that if his baby teeth didn’t fall out fast enough the Tooth Fairy would come into his room in the middle of the night with a pair of rusty pliers because, duh, older kids are jerks.

I feel really bad about that now and I feel like I’ve gotten some karmic comeuppance because when I heard the ice cream truck a few days ago I went springing after it but could only make it so far because I was in my bare feet and my feet, like the rest of me, have really gone soft. And there are no kids that I know on the street so the ice cream truck doesn’t stick around. So what I’m saying is, can I borrow anyone’s kids? I promise not to destroy their childish innocence even if they believe the same ice cream truck travels the world, but I will tell them the bitter truth if they ask for a snow cone.

 

It’s A Perennial Problem.

Last weekend my wife and I cleaned out a flowerbed in the front yard. It’s where she’s planted irises but over the years it’s gotten overgrown, mostly with honeysuckle which had to be pulled out by hand. I would have been fine with just setting the whole thing on fire, but that would have a deleterious effect on the irises and probably wouldn’t make the neighbors too happy either. And there was something really satisfying about lopping the thick stem of honeysuckle plants or, where I could, tearing out the entire plant by the roots, although it’s not personal. Well, it’s sort of personal. Honeysuckle is an invasive species imported from Asia sometime in the early 19th century and it tends to destroy other plants around it by competing for resources–its longer growing season gives it an advantage in this—and it also changes the soil chemistry to cut down on competition. Sure, I have fond memories of sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle blossoms, and it’s also an important food source for hummingbirds who also have fond memories of sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle, and it also has other advantages. Even though it’s a vine in some spots honeysuckle has grown up so much it forms a natural fence between adjoining yards, and it’s as true now as it was when Robert Frost first said it: honeysuckle fences make good neighbors.

Also I feel like a hypocrite for ripping out honeysuckle just because it’s an invasive species when I’m such an ardent defender of the dandelion, which, in North America, is also an invasive species, something people remind me of whenever I say how great dandelions are, or whenever I blow dandelion seeds all over their yards, which is kind of hard not to do. It’s not just that it’s fun to blow dandelion seeds, but also when you do it you get to make a wish, and who doesn’t wish for wishes? Also usually I’m not purposely blowing dandelion seeds into anyone else’s yard but they have a lot of lift so even if I’m in the middle of my own yard it’s inevitable that a few of them are going to drift over the border, even if there’s honeysuckle in the way, although not even dandelion seeds can cross the Atlantic. Even though the dandelion is spread across the Eurasian continent it probably wasn’t introduced to North America until European settlers brought it on the Mayflower in 1620—which means its arrival predates that of honeysuckle by about two centuries, but being here longer doesn’t make it better.

Still it’s complicated. Are invasive species necessarily a bad thing? The changing of the landscape is a natural process and it can raise complicated questions, like, how the hell did I get poison ivy on the back of my right knee? I was wearing jeans and how could it get back there and not anywhere else? And there are thorny issues, such as, what is that thorny vine that grows up around the honeysuckle? Actually I don’t care what that stuff is or whether it’s invasive or a native species. If it stabs me through my work gloves again I’m going to set it on fire.

Previously on Freethinkers Anonymous…

 

Twistered.

It was in the spring when I was in sixth grade that I developed this weird obsession with tornadoes. Some might call it “morbid”, but I didn’t think about the death and destruction caused by tornadoes, and even though I really wanted to see one I would have preferred that it not cause any damage. Maybe if one could touch down near enough to get us out of math class I’d be okay with that. It was prompted by one of the teachers showing us the same scratchy old film about tornadoes that we’d all been shown since kindergarten because they thought information that was at least a decade old should be reviewed annually, or maybe it was just a chance for the teachers to skip down to the lounge and have a smoke and a drink before math class and films were a good way to keep us occupied which is why I could recite most of The Lorax, but that’s another story. I didn’t think of tornadoes as destructive natural occurrences but rather really, really, really cool natural occurrences. The film we watched made tornadoes seem fascinating, mysterious, and only dangerous in a completely abstract sense, like Donald Sutherland. My Boy Scout handbook also had instructions for dealing with tornadoes if we were out camping that included getting into a low-lying ditch or, if at all possible, moving to the side to get out of the oncoming tornado’s path, and, interestingly, it had the exact same instructions for dealing with Donald Sutherland.

For a while this obsession even had me thinking I might like to be a meteorologist, to study tornadoes to try and figure out what really powered and caused them. All the film really told me was that tornadoes formed when a cold front and a warm front came together, so sometimes I’d stand out on the playground and try to see if I could feel cold air on one side of my body and warm air on the other, the sure sign of a tornado. I was also intrigued by different kinds of tornadoes including water spouts—tornadoes that form over water—and especially dust devils, which are like miniature tornadoes, but not as intense. Dust devils became a spin-off obsession because while I knew it would be dangerous to get close to a bona fide tornado I thought a dust devil would be safer, that I could get up close and personal with it and study it closely.

And one day while I was out walking around in the vacant lots near my house I thought I saw one. It didn’t last long enough for me to get close but I saw a few scattered leaves rise up, move in a circular formation, then drift back to the ground. I was so excited the next day at school I told my friends who mostly didn’t care but quietly feigned interest, probably in the hopes that if they went along with it I’d shut up about tornadoes. They all agreed that, yes, I probably had seen a dust devil, but Matt had to disagree.

Matt and I weren’t friends. We just had a large circle of mutual friends. Somehow we’d made the same friends over the years but he and I didn’t meet until sixth grade and for some reason we just took an instant dislike to each other. I don’t remember our first meeting or anything about why we disliked each other, and with my friends Matt seemed like a decent guy. The fact that my friends were also his friends says something, so maybe it was me that was responsible for this nebulous animosity between us.

Anyway Matt vehemently disagreed that I’d seen a dust devil because it was leaves. He didn’t deny that I’d seen something that sounded a lot like a miniature tornado but a “dust devil” would be mostly dust. And also strictly speaking in the United States they’re primarily found in the southwest, and what I’d seen was so small and so short-lived there’s probably not really a term for it. And yet this somehow spawned an argument with some of our friends leaning on way and some leaning the other but mostly they were divided over who could care less about the whole thing.

Later that same spring I’d see a real tornado, or at least the beginnings of one, during a wave of storms that swept through the area one weekend. There’d been tornado warnings I was in the basement with my parents, prepared to run for the enclosed space at the back, but of course we were staring out the windows. There were brief hard rain showers, then a few minutes of tiny hailstones like pearls, and then everything got very quiet and still. Over the hills in the distance a line of clouds pressed down, its bottom edge so straight it looked like a piece of black paper, and below that the sky was bright whitish green. I saw a line twisting down from the clouds, mostly solid but dissipating at its end, and then, as though it had touched something foul, it drew back. The sky cleared and after that I didn’t have any more interest in tornadoes.

Out With The New, In With The Old.

Feel free to use the comments section to offer your ideas about what this is. The correct answer gets nothing because no one will know if it’s right.

When I was a kid I loved it when someone threw out some crappy device, and it was a wonderful time for it too because in those days all devices were crappy. It was the time when digital clocks, digital radios, and digital clock radios were all the rage and considered high-tech because no one really knew what “digital” meant, other than that it would have those funny block numbers that you could use to punch in 773440, which, when you turned it upside down, spelled “OhhELL”, which my friends and I thought was hilarious because we were idiots, but that’s another story. I loved it when someone threw out a digital clock that had stopped working because I could then pull it out of the garbage and take it apart to see how it worked, and maybe even fix it and put it back together, assuming the extensive rinsing I’d had to do to remove the tartar sauce, old spaghetti, and coffee grounds from it. And also assuming I had the skill and knowledge to fix it or put it back together, which I didn’t. I quickly learned that taking things apart was much easier than putting them back together, or at least it was in those days. Now if I really wanted to take apart my phone just to look at its inner workings, which I assume must be pretty cool, I’m not sure where I’d even start. At least old digital clocks and radios were held together with tiny screws that only required a rusty penknife and a tetanus shot.

Digital clocks and radios and other small devices also regularly got thrown out in those days because they were cheap enough that they could be easily replaced. It was the beginning of the end of the era of the repair shop, and I even remember the end of the television repair house call. We had a large wooden-cased TV set that weighed approximately three and a half tons and had actually served in the war, although it never specified which war, and would become surly and short-circuit if questioned too much or if you changed the channels too quickly which, strange as it seems now, you did by turning a knob built into the TV set itself. And once when that happened a guy in a uniform came to our house and I got to watch him take several parts out of our TV set, which was the coolest thing I’d seen because Star Wars hadn’t come out yet. Then when he was done he put it all back together without any parts left over and turned it to an episode of The Munsters, which had long since been cancelled and was in syndication because I’m old but not that old.

With my own “repair work” I did have some successes. For instance I had a pair of old walkie-talkies that stopped working so I took them apart and after a bit of playing around I discovered that if I placed one of them near the small black and white TV I’d gotten for Christmas and turned a round metal thing I could get faint, crackly TV audio to come out of the walkie-talkie speaker. Making the walkie-talkie produce a low-grade version of what the TV could already do was the coolest thing I’d seen since Star Wars which had come out a couple of years earlier, because I was an idiot. And it was pretty cool that I could accomplish something, although there was also a certain satisfaction in being able to take some old items and smash them to pieces, especially if I’d had a bad day.

All of this was a fond but distant memory until recently. I was outside taking a break from work when I found a…thing. I’m not sure what it was, just that it was metal and plastic and had a speaker at one end and tucked inside the other was a circuit board. I don’t make a habit of going around picking up trash because I try to avoid getting tetanus shots, but something about this thing intrigued me, mainly that it was broken and had been left on the sidewalk and mostly free of tartar sauce, old spaghetti, and coffee grounds.

Technologically speaking I’d been having a bad day. In fact I’d been having a bad week. I’d had issues with multiple devices, but as tempting as it is I’ve never been able to bring myself to smash a CPU or throw my stupid smartphone against a concrete wall so it was as though this thing of unknown provenance and function had landed, or been lying, at my feet just when I needed it. I sat down and broke it apart and found I still find circuit boards strangely beautiful. And there was something therapeutic about being able to use something valueless as a proxy for the stuff that had been driving me crazy.

Also when I was done I put it in a trash can. I’m no barbarian.

And then I realized that must feel this same frustration. I bet some of you reading this right now know exactly how it feels to want to break a device when it breaks down on you because we live in a world that’s driven by technology. In fact I’m going to guess that most of you are reading this on a computer, except when you paused to Google “funny words you can spell with calculators”. And this gave me a brilliant idea for a business.

Have old devices that don’t work anymore but that you can’t be bothered to dispose of properly? We’ll take ’em off your hands! Concerned about privacy? When we’re done that old CPU tower, laptop, or smartphone will be so thoroughly obliterated the only way to extract any data from it would be magic.

And for those of you who, like me, know the frustration of nonfunctioning technology, the heartbreak of data loss, who want to punish your computer’s crash with an actual crash, come on in! Customers must provide their own fists, hammers, concrete walls, and tetanus shots.

And now a moment that never gets old.

Source: Giphy

Pierced.

Source: Ornament Studio

Remember when getting your ear pierced was cool? If you’re a woman you’ve probably said, “No, it’s practically expected,” and if you’re a guy, well, it largely depends on your age and where you grew up, and while it was popular during the Renaissance very few people from that time are still alive. So let me be clear that I’m referring to the fad that, in North America, spiked in the ’80’s, although it spilled, or rather dripped, over, into the twenty-first century since I’ve known a few older men who’ve gotten an ear pierced. And, like leg warmers and head bands, it seems unlikely to come back, even as shoulder pads, high tops, denim skirts, off-the-shoulder tops, perms, and fanny packs are making an unwelcome return, something we should have known it was inevitable. As a child of the ‘80’s—or rather someone who was a teen during the ‘80’s—I remember it as the era that, in addition to its dubious cultural contributions, packaged and sold nostalgia for an era most of us had never lived through. At least half my graduating class had t-shirts that said “If You Remember The ‘60’s Then You Weren’t There”, unaware of the irony that most of us had been born at least a decade after the day the music died. The first person I knew to get a CD player invested heavily in bands who were older than he was, and sometimes I think our motto was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty unless they appeared on Top Of The Pops.” This was partly marketing and also, I think, the fact that there was the threat of nuclear immolation, which seemed to be brought about by people who fondly remembered the Cuban missile crisis, but, like many reboots, was an overextended rehash of the original with an unnecessary batch of new characters and the feeling that the original had been so much better. There were also famines in Africa and the rising specter of AIDS, so it’s not surprising that the ’80’s were a time when black was the new black, and it’s why I sometimes say that if you fondly remember the ’80’s then you weren’t there.

The ‘80’s didn’t invent nostalgia, although some people like to remember it as the decade that did, but it did popularize it and reboots and sequels, so it’s fitting that the decade should get its own reboot. And I can’t completely knock it. For one thing a decade is a really long time so there’s inevitably some wheat among the teased-up and ripped-denim chaff, and, to reboot Philip Larkin, it was also the time of my own Annus Mirabilis, between the hearings on Iran and Nirvana’s first CD, but that’s another story.

I know I’ve harped on the ’80’s before, but I’m producing this sequel because there seems to be a new wave of nostalgia for the Dayglo decade but it’s interesting to me that, as I said, of all the ’80’s things that are coming back earrings for men aren’t, and that annoys me a little. It’s not because I’ve ever thought about getting an earring myself. It worked for some guys, but it never seemed to be my style, and I learned to be cool with that even though it’s never been hip to be square, not even in the ’80’s. No, it bothers me because a couple of my high school chums got their ears pierced on a whim and showed up at my house after they’d gotten it done.

Yeah, they didn’t think to invite me to go with them to the mall, although the after party was kind of fun. They proudly showed me their shiny new ear studs which were really metallic balls, although somehow even then teenage boys, a group not usually known for self-awareness or deep insight on matters of gender, knew better than to say that getting an ear pierced took balls.

And then they left and I started to go back to what I’d been doing, which was probably either watching a rerun of The Twilight Zone, or possibly a broadcast of The Twilight Zone, the 1985 reboot, when my father came into my room.

He closed the door and said, very quietly, “I’m only going to say this once. You’re not going to get your ear pierced as long as you live in this house.” Then he turned around and left.

At the time I resented it but now I feel a strange fondness for that moment, for the irony that I was in trouble for something I hadn’t done, for something that had happened when I wasn’t even there.

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