The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Fool’s Gold.

Source: Wikipedia

Costco is selling gold bars. Or they were. Apparently they’ve all sold out now. That’s okay—I have a Costco membership and there’s a lot of other stuff there I’d rather have. I love Costco because it’s the only place I can get a seven-gallon jar of Nutella, which is almost enough to last me a month. And I used to go there to get a free lunch from the samples they were giving away. Well, free if you don’t count the membership price. I went there with my parents once and they were giving out free samples of mini-bagel pizzas. My father went back so many times that finally the lady who was handing them out just said, “Here, sir, just take the whole tray.”

I lalso ove gold. Even though, as far as I know, I don’t own anything made of gold—no jewelry, no coins, not even a gold tooth, which I’d only put in for Talk Like A Pirate Day—I love that this weird yellowish metal that’s not really good for anything is one of the most valued things on the planet. Yes, I know, gold is a really good conductor—even better than copper—but how many houses do you know that are wired with gold? Because if they were they’d need all that conductivity to run a superpowered security system. Gold is valuable because its color is distinctive and it’s so non-reactive if you find some krennerite rocks you can put them next to a campfire and gold will literally ooze out. That happened in the Australian town of Kalgoorlie in the 1890s. When people discovered the bricks they’d built their homes out of contained small amounts of gold they literally started tearing the town apart, finding, in some cases, as much as two ounces of gold for every ton of rock. And I hope they got something out of that because you can build a house with a ton of bricks but you can’t sleep in two ounces of gold. That’s what I love about gold, though, and also why I don’t really want any: people get so stupid about it. One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” about four criminals who steal a million dollars worth of gold—back in 1961 when it was $35 an ounce. It’s up to $1,865.74 now. But when they wake up in 2061 it’s worthless because “they figured out a way to manufacture it.”

So here’s a tip from Rod Serling: sell your gold some time in the next thirty-eight years.

I also hope I’m around in 2061 because I would really love to have a car with giant plastic domes and no seatbelts. Even more than gold.

Source: The Twilight Zone Vortex

And The Beat Goes On.

My high school Junior year, in song:

First week of school:

“School Days” by Chuck Berry

Second through fourth week of school:

“Rock and Roll High School” by The Ramones

Fifth week of school:

“The Hard Way” by The Kinks

Sixth week of school, first report card:

“The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” by Pink Floyd

Seventh through tenth week of school:

“I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats/Friday I’m In Love by The Cure

Eleventh week of school:

“School Mam” by The Stranglers

Twelfth week of school, second report card:

“Beauty School Dropout” by Frankie Avalon

Thirteenth through fifteenth week of school:

“Mark Me Absent” by The Clash

Sixteenth through seventeenth week of school:

“Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince

Eighteenth week of school, third report card, winter exams, getting ready for the holidays:

“I Hate My School” by Necros

Nineteenth week of school, new year, new semester:

“Entry of the Gladiators” by Julius Fucik

Twentieth through twenty-third week of school:

“Flight Of The Bumblebee” by Rimsky Korsakov

Twenty-fourth week of school, fourth report card:

“Five To One” by The Doors

Twenty-fifth week of school:

“Manic Monday” by The Bangles

Twenty-sixth through twenty-ninth week:

“Ball Of Confusion” by The Temptations

Thirtieth week of school, fifth report card:

“Land Of Confusion” by Genesis

Thirty-first week of school:

“Haunted When The Minutes Drag” by Love & Rockets

Thirty-first week of school, again:

“The Reflex” by Duran Duran

Thirty-second week of school:

“Jump” by Van Halen

Thirty-third week of school:

“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Thirty-fourth week of school, writing papers, looking ahead to summer:

“Touch Of Grey” by The Grateful Dead

Thirty-fifth week of school, final exams begin:

“The Show Must Go On” by Three Dog Night

Thirty-sixth week of school, finishing final exams, summer vacation, final report card hopefully lost in the mail:

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by The Animals

Perchance To Dream…

It feels like summer’s fever has finally broken. The weather is just a little bit cooler, even if only by a few degrees, and this morning when I first stepped outside there was a cool breeze that definitely said, “Winter is coming.” Then it added, “Oh, it’ll be a couple of months at least before you have to turn on the heat or even get out blankets, and right now we’ve got a large low pressure system moving in an easterly direction,” but I went inside before the breeze could pull down a large complicated chart with the names of towns I only hear about when tornadoes hit.

With the change in the weather I feel like my dreams have gotten more vivid, or maybe the cold is waking me up out of them right in the middle of a REM cycle so they don’t fade away, although I have yet to sit up in bed asking, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” George Carlin said, “There’s nothing more boring than listening to someone describe a dream.” That’s a sweeping generalization and I have to disagree—for one thing I think it depends on the dream, and for another George Carlin had obviously never taken an economics class in college. Granted most of the time when movies or TV shows have dream sequences they do seem pretty boring. Even if you can’t tell right away that it’s a dream sequence—even if the main character walking alone down a dark hallway or empty street in broad daylight, or the unusual camera angles, or everyone around them speaking really slowly, isn’t an immediate giveaway usually they’ll be stabbed or die in some way, or something so far out of the story’s parameters will happen that it won’t come as any surprise to us in the audience when the main character sits up in bed and says, “Oh, the scriptwriter needed something to pad out the runtime!”

Like I said, though, there are exceptions—times in movies or TV shows where dream sequences can move the plot forward or just provide insight into the characters, like that haunting M*A*S*H episode from the eighth season where Houlihan, Hunnicutt, Colonel Potter, Winchester, Father Mulcahy, Klinger, and Hawkeye, catching brief naps during a surgical marathon, all have disquieting or outright terrifying dreams that reveal some of their deepest fears. I just looked up that episode. It was titled “Dreams” and was supposed to end with a cut scene where Hawkeye sits up in his cot and says, “You’d think the scriptwriter could have come up with a more original title!”

I still remember a dream from when I was just four years old. I was outside our house under the naked yellow bulb over the garage door, which was locked. I couldn’t get in. I went into the backyard. It seemed like night but I could see the outline of the round sun surrounded by triangular arms, a slightly lighter shade of blue against the dark sky, as though it had been painted over. I went to the front of the house. We had a long front yard that sloped down to the street. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street but in the dream I knew it was safe. I looked up over the house across the street and could see the moon and all the cars in the world driving around it.

It was late summer when I had that dream. The next day I told my friend Paul, who lived next door about it. He said, “Oh yeah? I had a dream too that there were tigers and polar bears in my room. They were biting me!”

Paul’s dream sounded pretty boring, especially compared to mine. For a long time I thought maybe it meant I was more imaginative, maybe even smarter than he was, but in the cold morning breeze I don’t think so. We each have our own dreams and mine might have sounded boring to him too.   

I’m Not Sirius.

This is Sabik.

We’re into the Dog Days of August now with Canis Major just slightly ahead of sunrise, and it’s also the hottest time of summer when only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noontime sun, if you believe Noel Coward, and it’s also when I go out, usually to get the mail, although I’m neither a mad dog nor an Englishman though I was once spotted drinking a Pina Colada at Trader Vic’s, but that’s another story.

The Dog Days always remind me of something I once read in a book of folk beliefs: some people thought snakes went blind during the hottest part of summer. It’s one of those beliefs that can be reverse-engineered so that it actually makes sense even if it’s not true. Snakes get milky-eyed when they’re about to shed their skins and the end of a long summer of getting fat is when they’d be most likely to do that. So people probably found snakes with what looked like opaque eyes and might have thought the heat, or going out in the noontime sun, is what did it.

Sirius is the Dog Star, located in the constellation Canis Major, and the brightest star in the sky after the Sun, which makes it so distinctive, but it’s funny to me that, by sheer coincidence, my wife named one of our dogs Sabik, after a star in the constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, which, right now, is visible after sunset in the south—about where we’ll be able to see Canis Major in a few months when the weather starts to get colder. I know the snake-dog connection is really stretching it but the thing is if you reverse-engineer the connect-the-dot design of the constellations it’s only with our imaginations that we see dogs, bears, people, and even centaurs and unicorns in the night sky. Given how easily the eye moves from one star to the next, drawing lines, it’s amazing all the constellations aren’t snakes.

And anyway it’s amazing I can think enough to make any kind of connections given how hot it is and the fact that I’ve been out in the noonday sun.

I also found this cool interactive sky chart which helped me confirm all the constellations:

A Job, Well, Done.

It’s been hot lately. I know this isn’t news—a lot of people have been living through a heat wave recently and I realize how lucky we are to have air conditioning. It really hit home when our home AC couldn’t keep up and had to take a break. The temperature inside the house started rising to meet the temperature outside and I had Elvis’s “Burning Love” playing on repeat in my head, but it was a 78 and my overheated brain could only manage 33 RPMs so it sounded like it was being sung by a drunk Orson Welles, but that’s another story.

My wife suggested I check under the house to see if the ductwork was okay. I’m not a DIY guy. My first approach to most home repair projects is to call someone, which can be embarrassing when I end up paying them seventy-five bucks to tell me, “Uh, sir, all you really need to do is plug this toaster in.” But I figured there was no harm in looking so I crawled up into the crawlspace with a flashlight. The first thing I noticed was that I needed a winter coat to go in there. The second thing I noticed is that a couple of the connectors that attached the ducts to the vents had collapsed. The third thing I noticed, which, technically, was the first thing I noticed because I notice it every time I crawl into the crawlspace, is that I really don’t mind being down there. I’m not going to build a summer retreat or office in the crawlspace , or even spend the night, especially when it’s cold enough to store meat down there, but if something needs to be done or if we ever need the half a bicycle that’s down there for some reason I’m okay with working in the cramped undercarriage of the house.

And a little casual perusal and some online videos convinced me this DIY was one I could DIMyself. The first, and most ridiculous, thing I learned is that duct tape is not made for heating and cooling ducts any more than it’s made for mallards, but a quick trip to the hardware store equipped me with everything I needed.

This reminded me of one of my first jobs out of college. I was working in a library mailroom. Down the hall was the office of a construction company. They did building maintenance and the construction guys and I would pass each other in the hallways, or we’d see each other in the basement while I was loading boxes to be shipped out.

One of the construction guys, Jack, said to me, “Why don’t you get a real job?”

To be clear in my mailroom job I did a lot of heavy lifting, moving, shelving. Maybe Jack didn’t know how heavy books can be because he’d never picked one up, but I don’t know why what I did was any less of a “real job” than construction work.

A few months after that a woman I worked with hired the construction company to redo her bathroom. Jack and another guy showed up at her house and, as she told us, after a few hours of tearing things down they got into an argument. Both stormed out and she couldn’t get anyone else from the construction company to finish the job. She couldn’t get a refund of her deposit either.

I didn’t see much of Jack after that.

After a few hours of crawling around, taping, cutting, and adjusting I had the ducts successfully reconnected and I went around making sure I hadn’t missed anything, taping up a few other loose spots.

I was very thorough, finished everything that needed to be done, and didn’t get paid anything for it. I still think it was a real job.

The Root Of It.

The dentist found a small cavity lurking at the back of my mouth. It’s hidden at the base of the last tooth on the left side of the bottom row, pretty much the worst possible place to have a cavity because no matter how wide I open my mouth it’s difficult to get to. It seems like it’s a punishment for me trying to lighten the mood of my routine cleaning. When the hygienist asked me if I’d been taking care of my teeth I said, “Oh, yeah, I brush twice a day, floss, and take care of my teeth, aside from sleeping with a mouthguard full of gummy bears.”

I was hoping the cavity would be in one of my remaining wisdom teeth. I’ve only had one of my wisdom teeth pulled so I’m either mostly wise or not—I’ve never figured out how that works. The first kid I knew to get his wisdom teeth pulled was Carl, in my seventh grade class, and it seemed like he came back the next day even dumber than before, hard to believe as that was. The one wisdom tooth I had pulled had a cavity in it and my dentist said, “Let’s just go ahead and take it out,” and I was fine with that because going into my mouth with a pair of pliers and yanking a tooth out by the roots seemed preferable to going in with a drill, in much the same way that hitting my thumb with a sledgehammer is preferable to pouring gasoline on my hand and setting it on fire.

I’m also still chasing that dragon that was the first time I got teeth pulled. I was in the second grade and had a few stubborn baby teeth that, unwisely, weren’t willing to be taken by the Tooth Fairy. My mother took me to a special pediatric orthodontist who gave me a mask full of nitrous and his own special mix of codeine, ether, and banana peels, and within a few minutes I was having hallucinations of ballerinas and scary parrots that Aldous Huxley would have envied. I was vaguely aware of the orthodontist doing something but it seemed like it was happening at my feet so I didn’t worry about it.

It was a year or so later that I had to have another stubborn baby tooth pulled—I guess they didn’t have enough ether the first time—and I was really looking forward to another ride on John Fogerty’s flying spoon, but it was a different orthodontist. Still I walked in and said, “All right, Doctor Leary, let’s drop some windowpane!” But he put a needle in my arm, started a sodium pentothal drip, and told me to count backward from one-hundred. I think I got to ninety-seven and woke up on the couch at home with a mouth full of gauze and a weird feeling in my feet.

When my current dentist pulled my wisdom tooth I was mostly conscious and while it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience at least the nitrous and some Hendrix blasting in my ears provided a purple haze.

Since this new cavity isn’t in a wisdom tooth—it wasn’t smart enough for that, or maybe I should name it Carl—it’s going to have to be drilled and filled, although my dentist also floated the two most terrifying words you can hear from someone with a DDS: root canal. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve never had a root canal but I understand having a cavity drilled and filled is preferable, in the way that pouring gasoline on your hand and setting it on fire is preferable to jamming an ice pick in your eye via your left nostril.

So now I’m dreading the follow-up appointment but at least I can take some comfort in being able to eat anything I want—caramel wrapped in cotton candy, frozen concentrated orange juice, rock candy, actual rocks. Maybe by the time I go in I’ll get the good stuff.

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