The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

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.

March Is The Cruelest Month.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s almost that time of year again when we get to crank our clocks back an hour for the madness that is Daylight Saving Time. It’s not just the question of whether we’re springing back or falling forward that bothers me even though, to quote a much wiser man, time is not linear but “it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.” Or to quote an even wiser woman, the poet Brenda Hillman said,

space thought it up, as in: Let’s make

a baby space, and then

it missed.

And that makes at least as much sense as setting the clocks back an hour in early spring or late winter, whichever seems more appropriate on the given day at a time of year when one day it’s sunny and warm and the next day it’s sleeting and I swear I won’t be surprised if I go outside tomorrow and there’s fire and brimstone raining from the sky, and I’ll just say, well at least it’s better than trying to drive on ice, but that’s another story.

It’s not that I mind losing an hour of sleep and, after having gotten used to getting up after the dawn having to go back to getting up in the dark for a couple of weeks. It’s that I really, really, really mind losing an hour of sleep and having to go back to getting up in the dark for a couple of weeks. It seems like only a little over a month ago that we looked to a Pennsylvania groundhog to tell us whether we’d have an early spring or six more weeks of winter, mainly because it was only a little over a month ago, and the spring time change seems timed to fall exactly at the moment we’ve either forgotten it or that, either way, winter is coming to its end and then spring this shift that gives us at least a couple more weeks of winter whether we were supposed to get it or not. I suppose it could be worse. I’ve talked to World War II veterans who told me that when they were in boot camp they were on “Double Daylight Saving Time”, meaning that they were told they’d have to report for breakfast at six a.m. but it was really four a.m., and all because their platoon had been secretly taken over by the Nazis. Also there are parts of the United States that are exempt from Daylight Saving Time for various reasons. I’ve been told this usually applies to rural areas because farmers get up so early anyway it’s not fair to make them get up an hour earlier, especially at the very time of year when everything they planted in the fall is just starting to get up, and most crops are notoriously bad at telling time.

This morning my wife and I were on our way to work and, to quote another wise woman, she said, “Just think. This time next week we’ll be coming to work an hour earlier.” And it took me about four hours to process that because even without the time change it was just too early to process that level of information. And it doesn’t help that we live in an area that should be in the Eastern time zone but, if you look at a map, you’ll see that we’re in a weird little carved out spot of the Central time zone because originally this was a rural area and the farmers didn’t want to have to stay up until eleven p.m. to watch the news.

All that Daylight Saving Time really does is remind me just how arbitrary our means of measuring time are, but then I think it could be worse and that at least all we’re losing is an hour of sleep and don’t have to deal with some of the other crazy ideas that have been tried like Distance Savings, a Depression-era plan that attempted to save fuel by reducing the distance between all areas by one mile, or, from the 1890’s, Sesquennial Year Savings, when the entire month of March was skipped and then September was held twice. Actually that doesn’t sound so bad since March is when Daylight Saving Time starts.

Don’t Talk To The Furniture.

“Imagine what this would tell us if it could talk.”—Tour guide at every historic site ever

“As a bucket I was mostly used for transporting water in and out of the kitchen. Then I was put in a closet for a really long time. Don’t ask me how long. All I know is that once when I was still being used I was left outside by the well all night and a dog peed on me. It dried up before the next morning and I didn’t tell anyone when they came out to get more water. I had a long time to feel bad about that. Then again they were literally drinking from a hole in the ground.”

“Oh sure, I’ve seen lots of big historic events and have been used by famous people. All kinds of famous, historic people and big events. What? Be specific? Okay, sure. Uh, there was Genercaptain Marfel Smulanik. That was a famous historic person, right? Are you a famous historic person? Please say yes so I have something to tell the next group.”

“I am a table. You put things on me. If you need to have that explained to you you’re the one that belongs in a museum. Now move along. The group is leaving you behind.”

“Well, as you can see, I’m a painting. I’m on canvas and I’ve got a frame of some kind. I can’t tell you a lot more than that because I can’t actually see myself. Maybe if someone would hold a mirror up to me I’d have some idea what I look like. I’ve seen a lot of other paintings. I could tell you about those, but if I’m the one you’re really interested in you should have spent the eight bucks for the audio guide.”

“Rocks have a really short attention span so, yeah, I got that going for me.”

“I was assembled by master craftsmen in a major furniture studio in Regensbourg, Germany, in 1823 and brought to the United States by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. I resided in his home and remained while he served as President and in Congress. I estimate that at auction I’d sell for around $30,000. No one’s looking! Now’s your chance to grab me and run!”

“You want the truth? I was made in an amateur woodshop in 1962 and artificially aged. Now that I’ve told you that I’ll probably be fired. That word has a different meaning for us. It’s a dirty little secret of the fake antiques world that when one of us is exposed we get thrown into an actual fire. Bet now you wish you hadn’t been so pushy.”

“I am a chair used by the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, a glorious time for France that included the elimination of feudalism, the building of the palace at Versailles, and expansion of colonial holdings in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Because I date from the 17th century a lot of people sat in me before the invention of modern toilet paper and now you need a sign and a velvet rope telling you to not touch me. What’s wrong with you?”

“I used to be in the lobby but then I got reupholstered about eight months ago and moved to the gift shop. Neat, huh?”

Wake Me When The Future’s Over.

A winter cold is one thing. Actually it’s several things: it’s a lot of sniffling and nose-dripping and coughing and other means of expulsion of various bodily fluids, some resulting from the necessary increased intake of non-bodily fluids, although if my body did suddenly start producing orange juice I don’t know whether I’d be disgusted or astounded. At least I know I’d never look at oranges the same way again. Anyway, a winter cold is a normal thing. Most people get colds during the winter because it’s normally when it’s cold outside and I know all I want to do when I get a cold is crawl into bed and pull blankets over me and hope I don’t start sweating orange juice because that would ruin the mattress. When it’s cold outside it’s nice to be able to hide under a pile of plush fabric and drink hot liquids, especially if you don’t have to go anywhere because when the weather is cold t it’s not always fun to go out, and going out is even worse when it’s cold and you have a cold.

That’s why a summer or even late spring cold, in addition to being most of the same things, is another thing entirely. There’s still that same desire to crawl under a pile of blankets and drink hot liquids but those are two things I really don’t want to do when the weather is warm out no matter how much I crank up the air conditioner. What makes it so awful is when the weather is warm that’s when I want to go outside or just get out and do things, but nobody wants to be around me when I have a cold, and even if they did it’s a really bad idea to go anywhere because I’ve never gotten over the time a cop pulled me over for driving under the influenza, but that’s another story. Summer and late spring, when the whole of nature is bursting with life and metaphorically screaming “Come play with me!”, is the last time you want to be stuck inside without even enough energy to play with yourself. This would seem like a good time to ask the obvious question, which is, if you get a cold in the summer is it called a “hot”? but really there is no good time to ask that question.

The important question is, how does a person even get a cold when the weather is warm anyway? Is it bad karma, and, if so, did that cop pull me over because of how I was driving my karma? I believe it’s actually a holdover from the winter even though I have absolutely no data to back this up. I believe a summer cold is caused by the virus getting into you sometime during the winter and being so exhausted by the trip, even though viruses don’t get jet lag as far as I know, that it falls into a deep sleep and wakes up, like Rip Van Winkle, to find that the world has been completely transformed. And, like Rip Van Winkle, the virus carries on with life as usual except instead of growing a hipster beard and sitting around the tavern drinking ale regaling passers-by with stories of the good old days the virus causes sniffling and nose dripping and coughing and various other expulsions.

I’ve been grinding away at this subject to sharpen my point which is that I now have a cold, and that wouldn’t be unusual for February but we’re getting the weather we should be getting in May. And thanks to climate change in May we’ll probably get the weather we should get in August, and in the future February will be the new May. That’s bad enough but I suspect that even if there’s no more cold we’ll still get colds. I’m not sure I want to think about that, or anything else right now, except that I want to crank up the air conditioning and go crawl into bed.

And now eine kleine Frühling musik.

 

The Day After.

Most people don’t think of the day after Valentine’s Day as anything special, unless they’re fans of St. Eusebius or a handful of other saints. Some of us don’t really think of Valentine’s Day itself as anything special, and in fact a couple of days before it my wife happened to say, “We haven’t got anything planned for that day, do we?” and I was so glad she said it because I didn’t have anything planned and if she’d been planning something special to celebrate the occasion I would have felt like a schmuck even though we’ve never celebrated it. It’s not like our anniversary which is much more personal and therefore much more special, but, on the other hand, stores don’t start stocking up on candy and hearts and flowers and cards and putting up big signs that say “Don’t forget YOUR ANNIVERSARY” the month before it happens.

I guess I’ve never thought of Valentine’s Day as particularly romantic because when I was a kid it wasn’t treated as a romantic occasion even though we did celebrate it if it happened to fall on a school day. In first through fifth grade I distinctly remember getting a pack of kids’ Valentine’s Day cards with a Star Wars theme or a superhero theme or maybe just some generic friendly theme. Every pack held thirty or forty cards, enough to give one to every one of my classmates, and the night before Valentine’s Day I’d dutifully write one out for every one of my classmates and the next day we’d exchange them. There wasn’t any love in the romantic sense being expressed; mostly it was just a way of saying, “Hey you, I know you.” One year, fourth grade, as a class project we each had to make a box that the other kids could drop our Valentine cards in. I’d just seen Disney’s Snow White so I based mine on the box the wicked queen tells the hunstman to put Snow White’s heart in, complete with a heart with a dagger through it, because nothing says “Valentine’s Day” like murder and the implication of cannibalism–in the Grimm version the huntsman brings the queen a deer’s heart and she, thinking it’s Snow White’s, eats it, but that’s another story. I wasn’t choosy about what the cards said but if there were some in the pack that had a somewhat personal message, like, “Hulk Never Smash You, Valentine!” I’d set those aside specifically for my friends, but I didn’t leave anybody in the class out—not even that one kid I barely knew even though we spent seven or eight hours a day together and who I’d once accidentally hit in the face during kickball, leading to a lot of crying and some bloodshed on both sides.

Everything changed in sixth grade.

Even looking back on it now from a great distance the sixth grade feels like a year of unrelenting bullying and harassment. Well, there was some relenting, but the budding hormones of adolescence and the fact that some kids were just assholes made it a pretty bad year. As a bit of a geek and an outsider I probably would have been a target anyway but I can almost pinpoint the moment that it started. I was reading Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and something confused me so I innocently asked a girl who was sitting across from me what a “period” was. Instead of answering me she just started giggling and ran around saying, “Chris doesn’t know what a period is!” And it became kind of a running joke. Some guys would taunt me with, “Hey Chris, do you know what a period is?” and I should have responded with “Yeah, it’s the dot at the end of a sentence, did you not know that?” or even “No, jackass, do you?” but those are the kinds of snappy comebacks you only think of after the statute of limitations has expired. Instead there was some crying and bloodshed on both sides.

I had friends so I wasn’t completely alone. I just spent a lot of time feeling like I was completely alone, especially when a particular group of bullies would surround me. They targeted my friends too sometimes but realizing that my friends and I were alone together would have been like thinking up a snappy comeback. My brain just couldn’t make those connections. All I could think of was how much I hated going to school each day.

The lowest point of the school year for me was the night before Valentine’s Day. I had the usual pack of forty cards. I picked out three and threw the rest away.

The next day I went to school with my three little cards. I was still taking my coat off when I heard a voice.

“Chris, this is for you.”

It was Danny, a kid I barely thought about, someone I’d never thought of as a friend exactly. I looked down at what he’d put in my hand. It was a card with Han Solo and Chewbacca that said, “Not even Darth Vader scares me with you around, Valentine!” He was gone before I could say anything and I was glad because I didn’t have anything for him. And that morning a dozen other kids whom I’d never considered friends–casual acquaintances at best–handed me Valentine’s Day cards. I felt like a schmuck, but the day after Valentine’s Day I felt a little better about going to school.

 

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