The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

April Fools.

Source: Wikipedia

April is the cruelest month, and also National Poetry Month, or maybe it’s the cruelest month because it’s National Poetry Month. I started using poetry in high school. It started light: Poe, a little Shelley here and there, some Dickinson, but it wasn’t long before I was on to the hard stuff: Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Coleridge. I had a teacher who made us read The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams in class and then she spent the next fifty-nine minutes before the bell haranguing us about how this poem was full of deep, mystical symbolism and that we were all too young and uneducated to understand it. and this convinced a lot of my classmates to just say no to poetry, but not me. I was hooked and even became an English major in college and learned that what The Red Wheelbarrow is really about is a red wheelbarrow and some chickens.

Here are some poems I wrote in that previous life.

Ratopolis

“There’s a war going on in our cities…and the rats are winning.”

-from a commercial for a National Geographic special

Rats are winning the war for the city,

Displacing us as they come from below.

While our tactics are softened with pity

Rats are winning the war for the city.

Gassing a poisons aren’t pretty,

But all is fair in this war if we know

Rats are winning the war for the city,

Displacing us as they come from below.

 

Displacing us as they come from below

The rats teach us something we never knew

By steady process, since our brains are slow.

Displacing us as they come from below

The rats whisper to us we are rats too.

Knowing too much disrupts our status quo.

Displacing us as they come from below

The rats teach us something we never knew.

Paranoia

Headed toward home I wonder who monitors all the monitors

That glow in the houses on either side. And where

Are they? In the savannahs and remote jungles,

Where the only electricity comes from seasonal storms

Seen in photographs from a distance, monitors

Are lizards that slink around rocks and over

Trees after small mammals and other easy meals.

They range in size from smaller than your hand

To monsters with five-fingered feet

With claws that could slice off your leg,

And they’ve held dominion over their territory

From time before the first simians scraped sparks

Out of stones. A trespassing baron sat down to rest

Among them. All his minions found was his indigestible glasses

And shoes. Some of these big lizards, although common

Names are hard to pin down, are called basilisks.

In legend basilisks had the power to turn their prey,

Or anyone who caught their eye, no matter how

Casually, into stone. It’s just a legend. Some

Legends are encrusted or crystallized facts,

But not this one. This legend’s safely

In its cage around the next corner licking its lips.

Weather Witness.

When I was in sixth grade I became obsessed with tornadoes. I read everything I could find which, at the time, wasn’t much because the school library was pretty limited. What sparked this obsession was the annual watching of the tornado awareness film which always happened in late spring. It was the same film I’d seen every year since kindergarten so I don’t know what sparked such an intense interest that particular year. I always thought tornadoes were kind of cool and I thought it would be interesting to see one, but before sixth grade the feeling passed quickly. Maybe the information just hit critical mass with me, having been subjected to the same bass baritone narrator intoning about, “Tornadoes: nature’s tidal wave. They wreak untold devastation, destruction, and demolition. For the next twenty minutes we will begin to understand all that scientists don’t understand about these unpredictable natural phenomena that strike every year with frightening regularity…” The film covered how tornadoes were caused by rotating columns of air when cold and warm fronts collided, and what to do if a tornado was coming, which was mainly get away from windows, preferably into a basement or cellar, put your head down, and wait it out. There was even a shot of a group of kids just like us huddling in a line with their heads down, and what always stuck with me was that there was one kid who turned around and looked up. And I thought, yep, that’d be me, even though in an enclosed space safe from a tornado there wouldn’t be anything to see except the wall and ceiling. Still, I wanted to look. After the film we would have a practice drill. We’d be taken out into the hall because for some reason our teachers thought the ideal place to be during a tornado would be a long corridor with doors to the outside at either end. I never questioned this but I never understood it either. The restrooms, which were completely enclosed and had heavy tile communal sinks that looked like they were designed by Antonio Gaudi would have been so much safer. In the hall we had to squat down and put our heads between our knees, and when the teachers turned away I’d look. Sometimes I’d be close enough to the doors I could see the trees outside, branches moving slowly in the breeze.
One afternoon during my sixth grade tornado obsession I was outside and saw a few leaves blow around in a circle, one of those strange miniature vortices you sometimes see twirling leaves or trash and I got really excited. The next day I told my friends I’d seen a dust devil, one of those small tornadoes described in the film we’d watched. And this started a long argument about whether a dust devil could be made of leaves or if it had to be dust. Not that it mattered: what I’d seen was just a light wind curling around itself.
All this came to me the other night when a cold front came through and for a few pensive hours the area to the north of us was under a tornado watch and I realized it was nearly twenty years ago that a tornado hit downtown Nashville. The date was April 16th, 1998, to be precise. I was at work that day, it was the afternoon and there were reports of storms. A group of us were gathered at an office window and we could see the clouds begin to rotate, curling downward. At the time a tornado had never hit downtown Nashville. I’ve never confirmed this but it seemed all of us thought it was impossible, that the tall buildings acted as barriers to any a tornado ever forming. There was a sense among all of us, though, as we watched the clouds gather into a downward funnel, that something very terrible was happening. Someone said, “I think we’d better get away from the windows.”
It was terrible but short-lived. A few hours later when my wife and I drove home together there was an eerie calmness. I was glad it had passed. I had seen enough.

There’s A Word For It.

“The beauty of language is that every new word spawns new ones whether we need them or not. Usually not.”-Dr. Ruth Addison, Current Linguistics, v.27 no.9 (2017), p.207

Existing word:

Staycation (n.)-When you take vacation time but don’t go anywhere; time off while remaining at home.

Earliest recorded use: 1944.

Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015.

New variations:

Daycation (n.)-When you only take a single day off from work to futz around at home.

Splaycation (n.)-When you miss work or something else because you’ve overslept or just can’t get out of bed. Popular among college students who dozily hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks only to wake up and realize they’ve slept through all their classes.

Spaycation (n.)-When you take the day off to take a pet to the vet.

Buffetcation (n.)-When you take a break from your diet.

Braincation (n.)-When you mentally check out while working on a mindless, routine task.

Draincation (n.)-When you’ve accumulated the maximum vacation time your work allows and stop earning more; see also “maycation”.

Maycation (n.)-When your boss assures you there probably almost certainly could be a chance that you’ll have the chance to take some time off after that big project.

Existing word:

Bromance (n.)-A close but platonic relationship between men.

Earliest recorded use: 2001.

Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

New additions:

Knowmance (n.)-When you and another person have a lot in common and you’re sure you’d be good friends but for reasons of geography or scheduling the two of you never meet.

Showmance (n.)-When everything you learn about a celebrity seems to confirm that the two of you would be great friends if you just had a chance to meet but you’re not going to stalk them or anything because that would make it weird.

Promance (n.)-Similar to “showmance”, but applied to professional athletes.

Flowmance (n.)-The brief but amicable relationship you develop with a plumber or other repair person while they do something around your house that you kind of wish you could do yourself.

Throwmance (n.)-A relationship with someone you enjoy talking to but don’t think about when you’re not around them.

Crowmance (v.)-When you keep talking about a new relationship even though your friends really wish you’d just shut up about it.

Nomance (n.)-You don’t even know them but something about that person makes you want to punch them.

Existing word:

Slacktivist (n.)-A person whose actions toward a desired political or social change require little time or effort.

Earliest recorded use: 1998

Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016

New additions:

Snacktivist (n.)-A co-worker who eats throughout the day, especially chips, crackers, or other loud foods.

Factivist (n.)-That annoying person who asks for your source or says “citation needed” in response to everything you say.

Stacktivism (v.)-Hiding inactivity behind a lengthy to-do list.

Tacktivist (n.)-A co-worker who says “Let’s put a pin in” all your suggestions.

Epicactivist (n.)-Someone whose one-upmanship over you regarding any cause or issue makes you want to vomit.

Other recent additions:

Metraction (n.)-The act of withdrawing from a conversation after realizing you’ve said something really stupid but not admitting it.

Plottery (n.)-Elaborate plans you say you’ll carry out when you win the lottery.

Seemail (v.)-Making sure your emails are read by obsessively attaching receipt/read tags to them.

Celebrenebriation (n.)-Excessive consumption of alcohol on a specific holiday (New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Arbor Day, etc.). Ironically cannot be pronounced by people experiencing it.

Flarking (v.)-Parking illegally or in a non-parking space (in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk, in someone’s yard, etc.) and pretending it’s okay because you’ve left the hazard lights flashing. Employed by delivery people and jerks.

It’s A Spectacle.

There are things you just don’t realize until you’re in a certain situation. For instance I never realized before that if you take the worst aspects of a doctor’s office and a J.C. Penney’s and put them together you get an eyewear store until I went shopping for glasses and the store was vaguely clinical with a lot of neutral colors and uncomfortable furniture but also mirrors that reflected back the dismal reality that I’m getting old and a lot of pictures of happy models wearing glasses, all of whom seemed to magnify the dismal reality that I’m getting old. And I wondered why none of them were modeling contacts until I realized that contacts don’t have a lot of stylistic variety and that basically this year’s contacts are going to look exactly like last year’s contacts, which actually makes contacts a better option if you care enough about fashion that you’re willing to start each day by sticking a small piece of plastic in your eye.

So anyway I was looking for glasses. And my wife was there with me because she has a much better fashion sense than I do and she’s going to spend more time than anyone else looking at my glasses whereas I’m just going to spend most of my time looking through them. She put the kibosh on one pair I picked up saying, “No, too John Lennon,” and she was right, I don’t imagine I could pull off that look. So we browsed some more and I accidentally wandered from the men’s eyewear section to the women’s section where all the frames looked the same but the models in the pictures were women. And all the lenses had a sticker that said, “Test lenses,” so I asked a few of them if they knew what the capital of Estonia is. Also I was slightly amazed by the prices of some of the frames. At least with really expensive clothing you know you’re paying for the label, but with glasses you’re just paying for some metal or plastic that holds a couple of magnifying glasses together and any label big enough to be worth the price is going to block your view. Or they’d be a monocle because nothing says wealth and class like being able to afford only one lens or a pince-nez because the acme of worldliness and style is glasses that keep falling off. And I remembered why I hate shopping for anything. In a late stage capitalist post-consumerist first-world double-dipped half-caff lightly sprinkled hot buttered and fluoridated society I should be able to find exactly what I’m looking for even when I don’t know what it is. When a very nice young woman came over and asked if she could help us find anything I said, “Have you got anything Elton John would describe as ‘a little too over-the-top’?” Because some of them were expensive enough that they not only should be able to help you see better but also hit that high note in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but that’s another story.

Eventually we did find a pair that my wife liked the look of and that I liked looking through, and I find that when I put them on the world looks a little sharper, the way I remember it used to look, which also reminds me that I’m getting older. Still there are advantages. A friend told me, “Those give you a very intellectual look. Do they also make you feel smarter?” and I said, “Uhhhhh,” and she had fortunately wandered away when I suddenly and for no reason yelled out “Tallinn!” because I only paid enough for the ones that make me look smarter. The ones that would actually make me smarter were twice as much.

What Time Is It, Anyway?

Source: Wikipedia

“Florida Legislature OKs year-round daylight saving time…”

-Herald-Tribune, March 6, 2018

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We moved the clocks up an hour and then just left them there. Most people forgot about it until November and there was a decision that since it worked so well we should fall forward and no one lost any sleep over it. Well, technically we all lost an hour of sleep, but nobody was counting at that point. Then the next spring came around and we all looked at each other and said, okay, let’s do this again, and there was another hour. And we did it again in the fall. Then someone suggested we “overwinter” and everybody was okay with this since it meant we could get through the holidays faster. Spring came earlier than usual that year and then someone said that as long as we were “overwintering” maybe we should also “undersummer” and figuring out what that meant took care of a few more hours.

We can’t say exactly when the idea to go to metric time got started, but it wasn’t an easy transition. No one could figure out why the Egyptians and Chinese decided days should be divided into twenty-four hours, but some argued that we’d been doing it for so long it didn’t make sense to change. Others said that it was confusing and that we should have scrapped it long ago. Finally each side was given one week, or ten days, to prepare and an hour, or one hundred minutes, to make their case. Even now some people believe the metric side won because they made their case I only seventy-five centiminutes so we could all leave early.

All this would have created a lot of work for clockmakers if we hadn’t already digitized everything.

Everybody liked that the addition of three extra days to every week meant a longer weekend, but adjusting the calendars was still controversial. Corporate sponsors suggested  additional names for days of the week, but instead there was some compromise and nod to tradition. In English we added Fimmday between Thursday and Friday, Shaniday between Saturday and Sunday, and Hermsday between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Proposals to get rid of Monday entirely were rejected.

Once this was done it was easy to knock out two months. Since August is usually the hottest month some people suggested getting rid of it could slow down global warming. Ultimately though everybody agreed there was no need for March and September, for reasons no one can remember.

Well, that about wraps up this brief history of lost time. Since it’s now midnight let’s go get some lunch.

 

The Eyes Have It.

So I need glasses. This is something I should have seen coming but age has blindsided me while I wasn’t looking and I think you smell what I’m saying here. For most of my life I’ve taken pride in having 20/20 or better vision even while a lot of my friends had glasses, although there was a time in first grade when that had me feeling left out and I told my mother I thought I might need glasses, but she talked me out of it. Then in second grade my teacher thought maybe I was having trouble seeing the blackboard when the truth is I’d just decided math was stupid and boring and I wasn’t going to do it anymore, but that still earned me a trip to an optometrist who freaked me out by wanting to put eyedrops in my eyes. I didn’t want anything in my eyes, even if it was just a liquid, and it didn’t help when he told me it was just saltwater like tears or the ocean. I knew enough biology to know that tears come out of the corners of your eyes and that the ocean is full of plankton and sand and various bodily fluids. After that I was happy to not need any eyewear aside from goggles I wore for swimming, especially in the ocean, although there were times when I wished that, like the horned lizard, I could squirt blood out of my eyes as a defense mechanism for dealing with school bullies since I could only use the “You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses” line while standing behind one of my friends. In the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Forward March Hare” Bugs is given an eye exam and freaks out the doctor by reading the tiny print at the bottom of the eye chart, and I thought this was hilarious so I freaked out my family doctor by doing the same thing during a checkup, although I’d actually gotten up close and read it while he was out of the room.

In high school I took an advanced biology class and when we did the chapter on the eye I found it really fascinating, especially how the images that are projected onto our eye are upside down but our brain turns them around so we see right-side up, and I said, “So when I’ve got my head upside down why doesn’t my brain turn that image around?” and the teacher told me to get my head off the floor and sit up straight in my seat and not put my feet up in the air. And we were supposed to dissect cow eyes but for some reason the teacher wasn’t able to get them that year which was disappointing because I was also taking a film studies class and was looking forward to recreating the opening scene of Un Chien Andalou, but that’s another story.

Anyway things started well enough at my latest optometrist appointment when an assistant asked me, “Can I dilate you?” and I said, “How about dinner and a movie first?” Actually getting my eyes dilated is my favorite part of any eye appointment because it doesn’t take much and I once had a late afternoon appointment and went out to dinner afterward and spent most of the evening playing with the candle on our table. Then the assistant said, “Read the smallest line of the chart you can make out,” and I said “What chart?” The good news is that I was facing the wrong direction but the bad news is even the largest line of the chart was blurry to me. I tried to fake my way through it but I’m pretty sure I gave the game away when I said, “E, G, M, mushroom, Oscar Wilde, ampersand, upside-down E.”

Then the doctor came in and started talking about giving me a prescription and I said, “For some pills or something?” She explained that I needed progressive lenses. I said, “Well I wouldn’t want any lenses that weren’t cool with equality and social justice.” And then I realized what she was saying and I’m pretty sure I started bleeding a little from my eyes and I said, “Wow, doc, you really know how to hit a guy with glasses.”

Olympic Fever.

It’s difficult not to get swept up in the grandeur and majesty of the Olympics. People are drawn to watch, to spend hours watching brave and dedicated athletes perform incredible feats in bitter cold from the comfort of their warm couches. It’s powerful and mesmerizing. It’s like a fever, which is why, looking at the incredible number of events, all I can think is this:

 

 

 

 

 

Olympic Sport or Illness?

  1. Curling
  2. Scurvy
  3. Rickets
  4. Skijoring
  5. Bandy
  6. Alpinism
  7. Pelota
  8. Roque
  9. Rackets
  10. Croquet
  11. Sauna
  12. Sibelius
  13. Pellagra
  14. Beri beri
  15. Tryptophan
  16. Influenza
  17. Luge
  18. Slalom
  19. Norovirus
  20. Nordic combined
  21. Rabies
  22. Rubella
  23. Monkeypox
  24. Salmonella
  25. Polo

Scoring

23-25: Gold

21-22: Silver

19-20: Bronze

15-18: Copper

11-14: Tin

7-10: Rubber ball on a string

4-6: For crying out loud, it’s only once every four years. Would it hurt to take a little interest?

1-3: You will be forced to give a humiliating interview about your loss

Answer Key:

 

 

 

 

Risky Business.

A coworker asked me, “What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done in the last week?” and it really got me thinking. Not that that’s unusual. Every question gets me thinking, although I don’t always think enough before I answer, and sometimes I don’t really put enough thought into what I say, like the time at work several of us were sitting down to a meeting and a very talkative coworker next to me said, “I don’t really take notes in meetings, I just doodle on my pad,” and I said, “You probably meant to say that with your in-your-head voice,” and she said, “Oh, I’m not sure I have one of those. Ask me a simple question and you’re likely to get my life story.” I then said, “Why do you think that is?” and everyone else let out a collective groan, but that’s another story. The question of what the riskiest thing I’d done in the last week was put me into such a reverie that I had to take a break and go out for a long walk. Had I done anything in the last week that could be considered risky? What about the last month, or even the last year? Diving into the deep end of the pool? Diving into the shallow end of the pool? Going out with wet hair? Eating grocery store sushi? Doing my Steven Tyler impersonation when my lips were chapped? Nothing that I’d done that I could think of seemed particularly risky. I’m not a timid person, or at least I don’t think I am. Maybe I’m just afraid to admit it. My wife has put the kibosh on me ever trying scuba diving because she says it’s too dangerous, and this raises the question of whether arguing with her about that would be considered an extreme sport. Actually the biggest obstacle to my trying risky things isn’t cowardice; it’s frugality. If someone else were picking up the tab I’d jump at the chance to try bungee jumping or wingsuit flying trying out for the Steelers. I’d just want to make sure I did all those things properly and took all the necessary precautions. There are ways to almost kill yourself without being stupid about it. Believe me, I’ve checked the price of skydiving lessons and for that much money I can get on a plane that will land on the ground someplace I actually want to go. Or maybe the destination could be the risk I take–I could go explore some place remote and dangerous like Death Valley or the Sahara desert or Poughkeepsie. Maybe I could just find ways to challenge myself: talk to strangers, take acting classes, knock over a liquor store. As long as it’s still winter I could try one of those polar bear challenges where people in thongs go outside in freezing temperatures and jump into a cold body of water, and, hey, just wearing a thong in public would be a challenge for me. I could even try the extreme version which involves jumping into a cold body of water with real polar bears. As I walked along my head was so full of possibilities I barely noticed the sound of screeching tires and a voice yelling, “LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING, ASSHOLE!” although it did give me the idea that maybe I should look into how much it would cost to try race car driving lessons.

The Sunny Side.

Sometimes I worry I’m too much of an optimist. That may seem like a weird thing to worry about, but there are times when I’m afraid I’m going to say something inappropriately cheerful. A few weeks ago I was at a party and talking to a guy who was lamenting his pending divorce which was forcing him to look for a new place to live, and I said, “Well, on the bright side…” The entire room went silent. You could hear a pin drop, which is a neat trick on carpet. Then another guy said, “Oh, I’ve gotta hear this.” And I said that with all the construction and changes going on in Nashville there were a lot of new places around. The guy getting the divorce said, “Yeah, that is a good thing.” In fact my ability to find a bright side to even the worst news sometimes makes me think I should rent myself out as a professional cheerer-upper and “Well, on the bright side” is something I say so often anyway it could be my tagline, but that’s another story.
Bringing up all the construction going on around Nashville reminded me of a period of about three months when I had to change my daily walk to the bus. A whole city block was being torn down and rebuilt to put in some new apartments and businesses. It bugged me because I had to leave work earlier, which meant I also had to get to work earlier, and walk farther. It also bugged me that the construction was blocking city sidewalks and a whole section of the street for months. On the bright side, though, it gave me an excuse to get more daily exercise. And then I worry that I really shouldn’t need an excuse.

Fantastic Bowl.

It’s Superbowl Sunday, a time when people traditionally gather around the TV to watch two teams go at it. Here’s my Superbowl tradition: the ultimate playoff.

Jim Hudson LT Festin

Rick Volk LG King Meshugah

Gerry Philbin C Dejah Thoris

Billy Ray Smith Sr. RG Thorin Oakenshield

Don Shinnick RT Yog Sothoth

Johnny Sample WR Sandman

Al Atkinson WR Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes

Verlow Biggs TE Conan The Barbarian

Ordell Braase QB Sir Gawain

Dick Butkus RB Hellboy

Alex Karras FB Namor Of Atlantis

Defense

Jimmy Orr DE Balon Greyjoy

Bill Mathis DT Mongo

Paul Rochester DT Xena, Warrior Princess

Fred Miller DE Anita Blake

Bob Talamini OLB The Red Queen

Dan Sullivan ILB Lessa/Ramoth

John Schmitt/Bill Curry OLB Lord Voldemort

John Mackey CB Atticus O’Sullivan

Joe Namath SS Eeyore

Don Maynard FS Rudy Ruettiger

Jerry Hill CB Number Six

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