Monday, November 30, 2009

My Black Planet

Pre-Script: I am white.

About a year ago, I subscribed to BlackPlanet, a social network website for African-Americans. I was doing a (perhaps patronizing) project on the site's discourse community (unnecessary academic term alert--see David Foster Wallace's defense of it here).

Now that you've read the Foster Wallace essay, it's four hours later than it was when you started mine, so let's update you.

I subscribed, la-de-da, project, low-de-doh.

So, as I was saying, I'd set out to study what kind of chat goes on at this Facebook-esque site that's the fourth most traveled of its kind. I was ready to pose, to chat with whomever about whatever.

Embarking on what could be considered an act of anthropological aggression (if not cyber-blackface), I had all of my typical guilt. Was I invading? Was I making exotic a simple social interaction? Had the internet allowed me to do this without me having to own up to the implications?

As with most things in my life, I worried about the BlackPlanet experiment about 6% too much. After I signed on--with the screenname Shameless82 (a description of me coupled with my birthyear)--I had a few casual chats about chili, my engagement, and certain R-rated activities apparently enjoyed by black and white alike.

I did not instigate these conversations, but I won't claim that I'm above them.

It was a learning experience to be enmeshed in a cyber- and cultural vernacular and, more importantly, to be self-conscious--even in a relatively anonymous forum--of my own race. But the project got done and I moved beyond it to the next compulsory social-experiment.

Or so I thought. As it happens, though, BlackPlanet is still a part of my life. As with other networking sites, it's nearly impossible to disengage from it, and so, after a few attempts, I gave up.

Forevermore, I will receive four alerts a day to both of my email addresses about the African-American Zeitgeist and the African-American dating scene. In the last week alone, I've seen alerts titled "Nine Reasons Why Beyonce Shouldn't Have Kids," "Did Chris Brown Call Jay-Z a 'Cornball' on Twitter," and the ever-flattering "You've Received a Friend Invite."

I currently have 72 emails from the site.

Getting them, glancing at them, deleting them has become a comforting ritual. And it's amazing to see how much interest I can attract; an inactive member of the community with a fake name, no profile, and no picture to speak of, I've received hundreds of friend-invitations.

It could be that lonely people, seeing nothing in someone, like what they see.

Oh, pardon, I've just received word: someone on BlackPlanet looked at me. I can't wait to see who.

I have to say, the BlackPlaneters are all so much nicer than those uppity folks on SeniorPeopleMeet. I got kicked out of that place in seconds. And those oldsters never invite me to be friends either, even when I invite them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I arose at 5:43am in Greenfield, Mass and arrived--on the drive--in Athens, Ohio at 8:23pm.

This morning, my parents had somehow gotten up before Megan and me and had toasted bagels ready to help send us off, with topping options (a spread of spreads?). They made tea and coffee. There was a yogurt selection. And a to-go snack bag (all of it healthy).

They set the table, got us ready, and came outside for a group hug--gold blue light drip-dyeing into the wee-hour sky.

When we got back here to Ohio, Megan and I bolted a box of Chinese, read our conflicting fortunes, and wondered what it was about our apartment that smelled different.

In one place, there's a wreath on the window. In the next, there's a take-out menu hanging from the doorknob.

Today, a day of day-apart spaces, not at all the same, both home.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I took a shortcut back from the movie theater today and remembered that the road--half an hour from my parents' house--was the first I'd ever driven on.

The lesson happened in the Spring, with my dad. Off to the right, the Connecticut River, swollen with what used to be winter.

We pulled over, switched seats. My sister, fearful in back, protested mildly.

I drove like a movie character, rocking the wheel back and forth, trying to stay precisely in the middle of my lane. It's a very curvy road, one I've since taken in order to feel like a race-car driver: I cut the corners of the yellow line, accelerate over bumps and down hills (in my family, we call the feeling you get from such a maneuver a "tickle in the toodle," but I've also heard it referred to as a "Thank you ma'am").

Back then, though, I was tentative. I shifted in my seat and swerved slowly.

"Pick a way and just drive," my dad said.

On some level, I didn't want to be able to do that, to master this thing I'd always looked at with a sense of anticipation, this ability that separated the men from the boys. I think I wanted the pedals to be complex or something.

In order to feel like I was piloting the car, I fiddled, to my dad's dismay, with the dashboard (hazard lights) and then the radio (Phil Collins).

I wanted to earn the freedom that came with driving a car by having the learning process be very difficult. Not just P to R to N to D and go. I ten-and-twoed the wheel and held my breath.

I think I've always been a person who's looked for a sea change, something big to surprise me out of how I understand the world. And I expect too much from milestones. I want to believe that the benchmarks we set up--like learning to drive--actually represent a movement from one period to another, emotionally.

When I took over the car that day, I wanted the adventure to make me feel different. Not that I felt all that bad; I just figured there was some powerful experience out there I'd been getting ready for, revving up to.

I eventually straightened out, drove quickly amidst the scattered shadow of newly-grown leaves, past cows chewing wet cud, through Chevys up on blocks--on both sides of the road--being rebuilt from the inside out.

"There ya go," my dad said. I pulled over, put it into neutral. It felt good, but, truth be told, I'd expected there to be more to the shifting than there was.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pie Fest

Today is the 16th annual Pie Fest, a Wanczyk/Miller family tradition that began the year my grandpa died as a way to honor him with our gorging. At first, we celebrated the fest on his birthday, December 26th, but the eating-event migrated to the day after Thanksgiving, where it's remained for the last decade.

We usually have about 20 pies, and I like to name mine carefully. When I moved from New England to the Rust Belt, I came back with "O-pie-o." Another year, I had "Pa-pie-ya," with the corresponding main ingredient. This year, Megan and I have collaborated on "Pie Do" in commemoration of our slice of marital bliss.

We have tarts, crumbles, crisps, puddings, and pot-pies. The ratio of sweet to savory is carefully maintained: 5 to 1.

Each year, my cousin Katelyn and I are Grand Marshalls of the pastries table and look over the offerings with our keen pie-eyes. Here is the progression of those moments.

(Troubling Hair; delicious pie)

(Covered the hair; troubling beard [perhaps Amish])


(Pies on the table, pies on the wall)

(More of the delicious same)

(Almost normal-looking)

(Not at all normal-looking; post eye-exam, pre pie-exam)

(Note the left picture on the wall. We love ourselves)

The fact that you read this piessay means you are perpetually-invited to Pie Fest. Now I'm off to make my official offering.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grace and Turnip

As "The New Guy," I was asked to say Grace at Sheehan Thanksgiving dinner today. I delivered some boilerplate and then said we were all grateful to be here with family. (I almost said "friends," too, but remembered that little piece of gold on my finger; I guess I'm in.)

I stammered a bit and thought of the all-time best grace-giver, my friend Dave Grover, who can carry on without seeming either self-righteous or irreverent. This is notable because Grace is a strange moment--it's like a little speech, but on behalf of everyone. It can't be too specific or it seems like the gathered are being left out of a private conversation with God; but if it's too general, the Grace-giver is teased for repeating old standbys, for lacking feeling.

And then there's the question of archaisms. Dost thou use such language over turkey? Dost thou over manwich?

When I was in middle school our daily blessing was, "God bless this food to our use and our lives to thy loving service." I pulled that one out today to get the ball rolling, but what of the 'thy?' I suppose it's appropriate to add a little Puritan flavor to this particular feast. But I'd started with 'umm' and then moved on to my usual extemporaneousness: no thees there. How best to mix the heavy and the heartfelt?

Again, there's the need for gravitas, but how much? At a dinner with strict and not-so-strict Catholics, I didn't want to go over- or underboard.

Once, at a Thanksgiving during a time I was struggling, I'd dropped a scripture bomb: "I hope we can rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep." I've always liked that one, and it seems to be good for remembering (without being a total downer) those who aren't lucky enough to have four kinds of savory tubers on this special day; but I felt like I'd gone too far, like I'd been grandiloquent in front of the embarrassed turnip.

Today, I wanted to strike a similar note, though. Because we've got a sick family member over in these parts and only two moments of collective prayer left to go for this calendar year.

Some things must be remembered to the Big Thy Upstairs.

But I'm not really the one to comment on family business: I'm merely the interloper, the in-law. So I asked for blessings where they're especially needed and even where they're not. (Yeah, that wasn't so bad). My heart beat quickly all the way through my second helping (and then started beating quickly because of it!) But I'd given a B+ performance. And the benediction was delivered, hopefully to some good use.

I like to think we don't care over in these parts if the Grace comes stumbling and improvised, as long as it comes soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

I took part in the wonderful American tradition of the multi-state, headed-home-for-Thanksgiving road trip today.

I heard the president pardon the turkey while listening to radio news over-intently--with millions of others--for the East Coast traffic reports.

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I shotgunned a fast-food egg while discussing the suspicious origin of the moniker "English Muffin," as many have before.

I suffered from heartburn (see fast-food egg), an acute case of ultra-stuffed pockets, heel-itis, GPS hate, eye-death, brain-stall, restless leg, and restless spouse (see traffic).

Out there on the roads today we all felt (all 33 million of us) some strange civic unity (positive), and we all--over-tired and bumper-to-bumper--wondered if the true point of Thanksgiving is to consider the derivative nature of human experience (negative), an experience which--bleared by rained-on headlights--seems easy to be ungrateful for.

Headed in the same direction, at 1 mph, with everyone else and his uncle (on the way to his other uncle's house) makes us feel, maybe, like we're out of control of our own lives. In fact, the 19th century writer Charles Lamb--in his essay "New Year's Eve"--went further (even though he lived pre-traffic jam):

"Whatsoever thwarts, or puts me out of my way, brings death into my mind. All partial evils, like humours, run into that capital plague-sore."

I've always thought that was a wonderful description for why some of us get so upset about trifles--we shortcut from slight annoyance straight toward that eternal no-right-on-red.

But, lo, the traffic jam ends. And whatsoever doesn't thwart me--homecomings, well-timed cups of tea, the cessation of spousestration--puts me in mind of what I have to be thankful about: marriage, family, and the La Quinta Inn of Harrisburg P-A (our half-way stop).

But let's see if I feel this good on Sunday, at hour fourteen, at a red light, Ohio-bound and bleary.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Last night, our friend's daughter, Ruby, invited Megan and me to her fifth birthday party, which will be in March. She told us that there'll be millions of kids there and then looked around the room, saw her mom and dad and me and Megan, and counted to four.

"A million kids and four parents," she said.

This was an advance for Ruby. A few months ago, she said to Megan about the kids' movie Bolt, "You shouldn't watch it until you're a mommy. It's pretty scary." I'm not allowed to see it either, it turns out. This led Megan to think that Ruby considered us contemporaries of hers, and that, since we didn't have kids, we, too, must be four years old.

Suddenly, we've aged at least two decades in her eyes and her declaration was a big moment for me personally. I've been called a "man" before by little kids, but this was the first time I've been considered daddy-material.

When I got married in August and declared in church that I was willing to be such a dad, it should have hit home, but it didn't really. That seemed official, spiritual, theoretical. Plus, I still feel in many ways like a kid, and dads are not, in my experience, kids. In fact, I'm not sure my own father ever was one. I imagine he came out of the womb looking something like this:

(Doctors were amazed by the pre-natal spectacles he'd developed)

Still, I'm trying to grow into the idea of myself as a pop by slowly learning what kinds of foods are dangerous for little ones, how many times a day they defecate, whether they can be safely held upside-down during leap year, and so on.

And I've been trying to imagine what I'll feel if I find out I'm about to have a kiddo. I think I'll bust out with a rendition of "Down on the Corner" by Creedence. It's a pretty happy tune. And I'd like my child to learn rhythm early in life. Maybe then I'd set up a game of cribbage and loudly go over the rules; I want my kid to be good at board games, after all, and this could be a solid start.

As long as he/she's healthy (and awesome at puns).

After the high-fives and hugs, though, after Megan's gone to sleep, I'll put myself on trial for the next 8 hours, 8 months. I have a lot of verve to pass on, but a lot of neuroses, too. Can I temper that stuff so that Wanczyk Jr. doesn't (for instance) chomp on his fingernails like they're ears of corn?

Basically, I'd like to carefully hone what this little person will inherit from me. And though that's probably out of my control, I'm glad I have a little time. For now, I can be me without having, toddling around, a be-diapered mirror in which I see myself.

I would really like to see Bolt someday pretty soon, though. I think I'm going to love it. But I'll bet it's even scarier than Ruby says.


Monday, November 23, 2009


Here's a premise for an old-timey showtune: emotions are primary colors.

There are some basic emotions--like red, yellow, and blue--that mix to form the rest.

Love and hate are on the palette, and melancholy too. Love mixes with hate to form envy; melancholy with hate to form shame; and different amounts of love-paint and melancholy-tint come together to create just about every other sensation on the spectrum.

The song might go something like this:

You've got me feeling all yella-green
and ev'ry color that makes me live.
You're all kinds-a shades I've never seen.
And in my heart. . .you're. . .Roy. . .G. . .Biv.

(Verse two rhymes "Schenectady" with "Tweedle-dee-dee," naturally).

This is all to say that I sometimes feel an emotion, when watching a great performance, that I'd like to dub "Gene Kelly Green." It's somewhere far-east of envy, but it's not quite unadulterated love.

See, Gene Kelly is my all-time favorite performer. Whenever I see him tap-dance, croon, and pick-up ladies in 1950s Paris, I feel uplifted. But I wish, for a small second, that I could be just as much of a show-stopper.

(Pardon the lyrics of this song, which may be--somehow--worse than those recorded above!)

I don't feel jealous--I'm always smiling--but I do feel nostalgic, almost, admiring what and how much people can be.

I felt Gene Kelly Green last weekend watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Saturday Night Live. To my great consternation, I can't show you what incited that feeling because the online video has been confiscated; but suffice it to say it's the only thing that has ever made me give my television set a standing ovation.

Here's hoping I can scrawl something down someday that gets me out of my own chair. Right now, I'm stuck, as usual, spinning my roller-skate wheels, trying to come up with a jazzier ending.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Bite-sized Memoriam

Today, Megan and I had an impromptu lunch with our downstairs neighbor, a 91-year-old widow whom we call Mrs. DeLott. (As for her first name, we don't know it. We've heard her called Coletta, Helen, and, just now, Lovey.)

Today, Megan and I had an impromptu lunch with Lovey DeLott and her friend Ruth. We'd brought Lovey/Coletta (noir-ish, either way) some cookies to say 'Happy Thanksgiving,' and she insisted us in, offering sweet-old-lady sandwiches made on bite-sized rolls (you know the ones).

We talked about potato salad, Connecticut, her husband--"that sweet man"--and a new brand of food-container we all love (Snapperware). The conversation was delightful. It was friendly and predicated on roast beef--my second favorite kind of conversation, really, only bested by ones riddled with wordplay and electrified by Trivial Pursuit.

And there was something nice, today, about speaking louder than I normally would. Oftentimes that can be hard with the elderly, but this afternoon I liked being resonant!

Lovey (that's Mrs. Lovey, to me) had laid out too much food for her and Ruth, and so when Megan and I came in, she immediately wanted us to help them with it. I obliged, as I always do when presented with such a lucky task. My own grandmother thought I was the family Hoover and consistently tested the limits of my stomach's capacity with kielbasa and homemade pickles. I loved when she gave me the excuse to make gluttony a virtue.

"Eat all of that for me, David," Mrs. Lovey said, pointing to four coldcuts (rolled in the sweet-old-lady way) and a slice of sharp cheddar. My grandma used to say the same sort of thing to me. Making me eat was her way of knowing she'd cared for me. She could see that care, kindly prepared, disappear off the plate and into my maw.

I knew it meant something to her to see me clean my plate, twice. And I felt the same way today with another 91-year old widow who wanted to care for me--"Eat, eat"--and wasn't quite sure how else to do it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Fight

Amanda Spituvnik leered at me as this kid named Josh held me against some bricks by the foursquare court. (I've found that I don't always get along with Joshes, Jeffs, and Jareds.)

“Why did you kick me?” Josh demanded. See, he'd tackled me right after class got out and I'd nudged him with my foot to get him off of me. My fighting back had brought on what I've since dubbed The Foursquare Fight.

Sometimes kids went down to the CVS parking lot to figure this sort of thing out. But I was on the Geography Team and my mom picked me up from school, so I didn't think much about settling scores.

Then this. Amanda Spituvnik leered at me. She must have been 5'8” in the fifth grade. I hated her.

“Why did you kick me?” Josh demanded again.

“I didn't.”

I didn't,” Amanda parroted in a high voice that was, I suppose, making fun of the fact that my balls hadn't yet dropped. She was Vice-Principal Mrs. Spituvnik's daughter and had convinced everyone she was a good-kid.

Even though she must have looked like a good, little girl at the time, in my mind she's still one-part Courteney Cox, one-part Leona Helmsley, one-part fully-adult insolence.

And so it's important that I repeat her full name. Bullying will out! Recompense shall be mine, Amanda Spituvnik. Note: some names have been changed.

“Do you wanna fight?” (Josh may have been “dating” A. Spituvnik, and they made a formidable team. He had orange-peel hair and wore Ricky Rudd t-shirts.)


No,” she repeated Spituvnikly and spitefully. She is a terrible, terrible person. She is wearing red. Was, I suppose.

I'm realizing now that some things about my personality and my actions--the “I supposes,” the Geography, the complete innocence surrounding body parts (jokes thereof and pertaining to), the fact that during recess football I always picked Matt Kelvis instead of Chad Funderwald (a hard-nosed, 3'11” Josh-sympathizer), my blushing crush on fellow goody-two-shoes and floutist Laura Westbrook (a rival of The Spituvnik's for prime brunette)--probably brought this hassling on.

And so now it had come to pass. Josh jerked me away from the brick and wrestled me around. His Starter jacket added bulk but not agility.

Meanwhile, my backpack, with ruler and colored pencils, gave me some key armor. I held my own!

First, some pre-bout background:

Earlier in the day--during a lesson led by the awkwardly beautiful Miss Auchy, our student teacher and the only person I've ever known who went to Franklin Pierce College (“We Polked you in 1844, we shall Pierce you in 1852”)--Josh had shouted to the class, “What David, you want to kiss Miss Auchy?”

I may have hinted that, yes, but Josh's tactlessness was way out of line. I shot him a fighting glance. That led, I think, to his post-class tackle of me, to my kick, to the bricks, to The Spituvnik.

Josh and I fought 2 rounds, 7 seconds each.

He grabbed my bagstraps and jacket.

My attempt to seize his slippery-puff coat eventually succeeded.

He'd gained a distinct advantage.

We drove each others' shoulders like steering wheels, at ten and two.

The Spituvnik's disembodied head circled mine.

It mocked me and my Laura-like. "Who do you love more? Laura or Miss Auchy," taunted the head.

Josh kicked my left calf and my red sweatpants offered no protection.

Round two.

We re-engaged and he swung.

I lost my balance trying to deliver a defensive response, but held fast to his jacket--Charlotte Hornets.

He jerked me back up.

I thought about what I'd learned from football and went for his legs, unsuccessfully.

He struck me in the ribs.

“Trip him,” Spituvnik directed with a sadistic calm.

He released, and leg-whipped, and the leg-whip landed. End of round two.

With my arms ferris-wheeling, I fell, as if from an inner-tube, into some dirty snow. I walked away wounded toward Union St., which I'd always misread as Onion, toward my mom's salt-caked minivan, which had newly arrived.

Just. . . walk. . . away,” Amanda said, quoting the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) mantra we'd learned that day from a kind policeman. She, I'd decided, was mean.

This was my only fight. I'd had strong competition--a toughie and his goading girlfriend. I didn't do very well.

There was a bright spot, though. I may have inadvertently broken Josh's nose with my backwards-flailing-combination: he missed school the next two days. But it's possible he was just suspended. Had a teacher seen the fracas? Had The Spituvnik ratted on her fighter to save her own skin? Was Josh merely a victim of her deceitful plea-bargaining with her mother, the vice-principal?

Probably. Either way, I didn't tattle, which means more on the schoolyard than it should. Josh and I had a tense friendship after that.

I think we considered the donnybrook a draw. My final record: 0-0-1. No KO's.


When I was 12, a sixth grade Jeff, with orange-peel hair and a Guns 'n Roses t-shirt, lifted my heavy backpack over my head until I had to run forward. Then, dropping it, he whip-lashed me out of wanting dinner that day. No one ever stripped me of my undefeated status, though.

And the floutist, L. Westbrook, ended up liking me for a short time--or so a phone call she placed from a slumber party would have me believe.

So, even though that pre-adolescent romance also ended in a draw, eat it Spituvnik.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Today at noon, I finished teaching my sixteenth class. It's been five years and some change since I walked into my first, and I still remember the pounding nervousness of standing in the hall beforehand rehearsing my opening joke. At 22, armed with a hastily-constructed syllabus, I figured I had little else to offer my freshman students.

(First day of school, 2oo4. I don't seem to have grown into my feet at this point.)

I paced, crossed myself, spurted out a Hail Mary, and went in. The two dozen hooligans that made up my first group looked so old to me, reinforcing my feeling that I was not grown-up enough to be their instructor. They all had the attitude of Catholic School girls who'd just been smoking in the stairwell--even the guys. It was only their first college class, but they already slouched, cynically. It's hard to say who was more uncomfortable, them or me.

The room smelled like radiator heat and spearmint. I forged ahead.

Even now, walking into a classroom for the first time feels like a strange sort of blind date--with 20 people. I try to be charming. They look at me suspiciously. I ask them about themselves. And they, having expected someone different--an animated older woman with skunk-spot hair and a deep knowledge of Shelley, for instance--know that they just have to get through it.

Teachers, like actors, share an adage about that opening-night/opening-class feeling. If you ever lose the butterflies, they say, you know you're in the wrong profession. Based on that conventional wisdom (and the turmoil of my stomach), it seemed as though, on that first day in September 2004, I'd found my true calling.

I pulled out the roster with all their names so I could take attendance. The time had come for the joke that would win them all over. As I took roll, I said, after a dramatic pause, "Okay, let's get rolling."

The laughs were, as you can imagine, not forthcoming. And now the scripted part of my show was totally exhausted!

I blundered forward, in blue blazer, embarrassed. As I trembled through the calling of their names, I felt my credibility dissipate further.

There was some noticeable tittering.

I had them interview themselves in order to buy a little bit of prep-time (nothing like group work to take the pressure off teacher). I wrote "WANCZYK" on the board, breaking the chalk, and sat down.

In huge letters, I scrawled, "THAT WAS CRAZY" in my notebook. I figured if I looked like a loose cannon it might distract them from my general unreadiness, so I muttered to myself. I was like a pitcher who's purposefully wild when warming up just to scare the opposing hitters.

As I took the teaching-mound again, though, I had trouble throwing strikes.

The class was called Writing and Rhetoric 1--in other words, the subject was How to Think. I certainly hadn't mastered that myself, so mostly we talked about books and about their weekends. I determined that my teaching style was something I called "Energy Theory." As long as I was excited, they'd be excited.

Sometimes this worked. Often not.

One day, I asked a question about an essay they'd had to read and, taking my cue from a veteran teacher, waited as long as I could for a response.

"How do you think the structure of this piece works? What's the writer trying to accomplish?"

We sat silent for six minutes. They held their ground. I looked at each one of them imploringly. They folded their arms. There was some noticeable tittering. I grew a zit.

"Ok, then. Let's take a break."

A pop quiz helped me save some face, but they'd earned an early dismissal with their courage.

The next class, I tried to throw a kid out of class for goofing before we'd even gotten started. Marty Gertz. "Get out, Marty," I said. "Get out now." (I'd planned this bad-copping in advance to get some respect back). He apologized and I let him stay. I always do. "Okay, let's get rolling, then," I said.

Later in the term, some of the guys took to calling me "coach," which was mostly insulting but better than nothing. We worked hard on their compulsory papers about social issues. I tried to get them to punctuate correctly; many of them did. There were fewer silences, some laughs, and I didn't have to threaten anyone again. In that class, I claimed very small victories.

I still do. Teaching is a strange job because its benefits are long-term and mostly intangible. I can't know if my students actually think more acutely after they're through with my class. If they remember any of the scenes from the books we've pored over. If they've changed at all.

There's no widget at the end of the assembly line, no healed wound, no million bucks in the bank.

Sometimes I don't even know what my end product is supposed to be.

Early in my career, I had a similar crisis. I was droning on and on before I finally said to my students, “If any of what I'm saying is making you like writing or reading less, then I'm sorry. That's the exact opposite of what I want.”

And I do want them to like these things. But can sharing that enjoyment be a life's calling? Sometimes I'm not sure. I do know I was thrown off-course for the better by English teachers and that I would like to do that for my students.

Now that I teach personal writing, though, that task seems even harder. I say, "Be Honest, idiosyncratic, over-analytical, self-reflective." Sometimes I worry I'm trying to teach them to be me. And while I wouldn't mind if the college offered a minor in Wanczyk, I don't think I'm necessarily the role model who will nudge them toward a productively off-kilter life.

Then again, if one guy starts thinking he likes school because I do PR for knowledge, because I'm an oddball, maybe he starts believing he wants to learn more, be odd, maybe he writes the world's best sentence (something like Keats's "Hedge-crickets sing"), complete with spondees and perfectly-placed hyphens and concise, ecstatic revelation: maybe he feels fulfilled, gets the girl, makes the world--at least his--more tolerable.

If he keeps writing long enough, I remind him, he'll surprise himself. That would be good. It's worth a try, at least.

As a coach, that's the answer I'm looking for. So I keep asking the question, I guess, even though I might have to wait six minutes--or six years--for some variety of hedge-cricket.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Driver

I used to love playing with big, big trucks (I called them "gee-gee-cucks," I'm told), so it was a thrill for me when I got to operate some real heavy machinery this past Saturday, up in Dennison, Ohio.

I was at a work event with Megan, and one of her foundation's donors is OhioCat, a company that makes mini-bulldozers. They'd brought some of their machines in order to publicize the partnership, and, in what had to be vigorously extra-legal, I was allowed to drive them around town and get them in place in front of the party-venue.

After my blue-collar foray, I got swanked-up in my suit, ate some chocolate-covered strawberries, spoke stutteringly to the former head of the Democratic National Committee, and generally tried to be spousal.

It was in that last guise that I was asked to be a volunteer.

The gala actually had two locations--it began at a train museum before the guests were bussed over to a local elementary school for an awards' show (the foundation was playing host to corporate partners and honoring regional students at the same time).

I was tapped to direct the bus-flow.

As I stood on the corner of the street and loaded up yellow school buses with gussied-up guys and gals, the local constable drove by in his cop-mobile. I waved, he nodded. I thought our relationship had come to a satisfactory end. I felt civic.

A half-an-hour later, a co-worker of Megan's asked if I might be willing to do a little chauffeuring. I figured I'd already taken the bulldozer for a spin; why not make it a day of driving employment?

It turned out I was to escort the V.I.P.'s of the event, former United States Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Norway, John D. Ong, and his wife, Lee. They were being honored by the foundation as Children of Appalachia who'd succeeded in an inspirational way. And, it seemed, they needed a lift.

(Note: Norway and Finland have now been organically mentioned in this forum. Take that Kingdom of Sweden!)

(John Ong)

Since I was representing Megan, I felt I should be on my best behavior, so I smoothed my suit, put on my prep-school manners, and rushed to the car. All of this seemed very urgent. Ong'd been confirmed by the Senate, after all. He needed prompt service.

The car was parked on the right side of the road pointed east, but I needed to go West: I pulled a perfectly safe three-point turn.

So, unfortunately, did that very same cop who'd passed me earlier. I was busted, and at a potentially embarrassing time. I pulled over and got out to talk to him.

"Is that little maneuver legal in Massachusetts?" he asked. Megan still has New England plates and they're sometimes viewed with suspicion here, as if we're elite intruders. (Obviously, he hadn't heard about my blue-collar background.)

I told him I was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again. I told him I was hurrying to pick up a V.I.P. (That may not have helped my down-home cred). The ambassador was waiting, I said. Essentially, I tried to use my diplomatic immunity.

"Well, I don't know if that's legal in Massachusetts," he repeated, "but try to be more careful."

I promised that I would be, went off to pick up the Ongs, and delivered them to their destination.

After the event, I shuttled the Honorable Ongs again and started to clean up, with the rest of the volunteers. Of course, the heavy machinery needed to be moved, too, back to the train-yard from which it had originally come. I was all over that duty.

Nightfall presented some new challenges, but I was ready. Still in my suit, I hopped on the Skid Steer Loader and sped off into the small-town night at 8mph. Linda, the wonderful OhioCat representative, thought this was just the greatest, so she offered me a chance at a larger machine.

At around 9:30pm, on a mostly-abandoned Dennison road, I climbed into The Beast.

Anyone who has ever seen me operate something as complicated as a pencil sharpener should know that having me drive this thing was not the best idea. But I performed admirably, guiding The Beast through stoplights and across railroad tracks.

I did get a few funny looks at four-way stops, though. In fact, before I made my last turn I found myself at an intersection with my old friend, the Dennison constable.

He looked over and saw a young man in a suit--a Massachusetts boy through and through--very slowly driving, unlicensed, through a stop sign, in a hydraulic excavator.

I waved; he nodded.

Apparently that's legal in Ohio.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twelfth Night at Fourteen

"O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
As glorious as the night. . ." - W. Shakespeare

David Curtiss told Mike Isler who told Julian Atkinson who told Chris Hall who told (oh no, oh no, oh nooo) Laurel Bolton--the inimitable--and, at last, my big, sentimental mouth had gotten me into middle-school trouble.

It all happened during the end-of-school production of Twelfth Night my ninth-grade year.

"If music be the food of love," said a slightly post-pubescent Orsino: the play began: and its sappiness came o'er my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets.

Or Laurels.

I was so ready for this particular play, so primed for romance, and starved o' it. Whence, oh whence, would come my pure-hearted Olivia?

I'd had Sex-Ed that semester, too (a seminal class, for me), so both my weeping heart and my lovey-dovey vas deferens were attuned to the opposite sex. I was in love with love and I knew the technical terms!

Since it was the end of the school year, I was particularly amorous. I always developed strong attachments with a few weeks to go before summer, and I had the over-eager yearbook signer's tendency to imagine that we'd all meant so much to each other, that our shared life was plump and bursting and worthy of some conclusive firework.

Years later, with two weeks left in college, worried that I might let my friend Megan slip away, I, melodramatic but maturing, set off my most fortunate Roman Candle.

Back in middle school, though, I flailed for the right thing to say and the right person to say it to during that end-of-year rapture.

I should mention that it was just a bit harder for me to find someone--to wink at before the final bell, to indulgently hug after graduation, to tell of my deep and abiding like--because I went to an all boys' school.

(How many of you think Eaglebrook should allow girls?)

Eaglebrook was tough for a honey-tongued lad such as myself. I didn't realize it then, because I'd barely spoken to a girl, but I missed flirting.

Luckily, there was one lady in my class, Laurel Bolton. She was the daughter of an art teacher and was allowed to attend. Pretty girl, Laurel, but at the time she was, to many of us, simply unsurpassable. She drew attention like a stray giraffe--a tall, blond, blip of evolution in our masculine biosphere.

I didn't have feelings for her, really. She was just an entity.

Naturally, she was the female lead in the play. Twelfth Night features androgynous twin siblings whose romantic misunderstandings yield hilarious results and, since Laurel had a twin brother, the casting decisions were not difficult. She would be Viola and he would be Sebastian.

There are certain feelings we know are trite--even false--that still feel good. Having a crush on the star of the school play is one of them. I didn't care that I was being manipulated by her makeup, that I was under the spell of surprisingly good production values. I was transported immediately to the shores of Illyria and idealizing.

And so, unwisely, I said to David Curtiss, "Oh, she's angelic."

Had I said, "What a babe" he would have shrugged it off; but my prim word-choice was obviously mockable and he darted off to spread the scandal that I liked--can you believe it?--the only girl in school.

The next few days were awful. I tried to walk back my compliment, claiming that I was only joking, that I was talking about her character not her, that, please, please, I was scared of her boyfriend and I didn't want him to hear what I'd said, Chris, can I pay you five dollars not to tell her?

Chris Hall, though, was playing Feste in the show and he'd internalized the idea that he was, as a Shakespearean fool, supposed to tell uncomfortable truths.

Apparently the boyfriend didn't know what the word 'angelic' meant. Apparently, she was flattered by it. I remained mortified and mapped out paths from class to class by which I would avoid them both.

Somehow, all the awkwardness was a catalyst for a real sense of affection. Humiliation can be a funny thing that way. Feeling crappy about the situation for a few weeks convinced me that I cared about her.

Laurel had gone from the only one to the one and only. O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou.

A few days later, I was playing chess with my friend Dom in the library. Laurel came and sat down next to me. She leaned toward me to get a better look at the board. This was amazing. Sweet, sweet vindication. We'd moved past that angelic embarrassment and now we were clearly an item.

Play on! Give me excess of it.

"What does this piece do?" she asked.

I moved the queen around without looking at her and mumbled, "Every--uh, it goes everywhere." I leaned away.

Dom picked up the chat-slack. I was wearing a light blue striped shirt with a yellow pocket and a red collar. I started to sweat through all of it. She asked about a few more pieces, even touched a bishop. But I had no moves. She got up and exited stage left.

Enough, no more.
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

I think we dated for about 2.7 seconds. I was relieved when it was over.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A New Policy

I've had some writing published in another venue today and so I'm going to take a 24-hour break from my daily blog-essaying (blessaying).

This will be a policy here at Dr. True's Soup and Read. Today, I will spend the time I save to make my wife a nice dinner. Mild professional success for me = salmon for her.

If you're interested, link to the magazine that's seen fit to link to me, Women's Adventure.

It's especially nice that the writing they've posted online was the result of a team effort. Rob Strong offered valuable suggestions and took stunning photographs to accompany the paragraphistry, and Dave and Sarah Kaufmann were both participants in the event I wrote about and helpful editors of the writing itself.

D.T('s).S.&.R's house music critic, J. Zachary Kessler, also offered extensive, erudite notes.

And special thanks, of course, to Megan. She's just very good and cool and helpful in every way.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life, Elsewhere

Chapter One

Last week, my dad sent me an article from our hometown newspaper about my favorite used-book store--Federal Street Books. I like the place because it's overstuffed and full of odd contrasts. It's like a good brain--Zsa Zsa Gabor's autobiography sharing space with how-to's, wherefores, and other, more lyrical volumes of mindjunk.

I've always thought a used-book store is a reflection of a strange kind of intelligence, anyway, that stores have personality. It's the only way I can describe my dislike for Athens Book Center, in my new hometown. It doesn't seem governed by a central philosophy and is somehow too discerning in what it keeps in stock and not discerning enough. There are treasures, but they're hard to find. Athens Book Center is a guarded fellow who hasn't figured out who he wants to be quite yet.

Chapter Two

I love spending time with Federal Street Books, though.

(Pictured above: In a green shirt, Federal Street Books)

He seems to know what's a classic and what's not. He's an auto-didact, so he's really smart but refreshingly uncertain. He's warm, half-kempt, softspokenly leftist, a little weird, and supremely curious. Federal Street Books is a good guy with a long memory.

Chapter Three

I started going into used-book stores early in college. The introverted part of me loved the chance to be civic while still being silent. The shopping-addict part of me (a small part) loved the quick, very inexpensive fix. I enjoyed seeing that a $14 book was $2.50, enjoyed that the price was always penciled into the top corner of the title page.

About bookstores, I like lying on their carpets best of all. I can read titles, relax, catch a nap. (Usually the other patrons are a bit askew themselves and don't judge.) I also like walking one-step a minute with my head tilted almost sideways. And bending at the waist to check on the second shelf from the bottom, P-W.

Titles and authors' names engross me and, even while my heart-rate plods, I quickly catalogue trivia; 200 hours of such scanning has helped me feel at home with literature. I know (sorta) who's who, who gets read, and who gets sold back.

Chapter Four

Once, while I was on the basement level of The Brookline Booksmith--a jewel of used-bookery--a woman in a jean jacket approached and offered to tell my fortune. Megan was upstairs perusing the new stuff (a choice which was okay, I guess, though I prefer the old. I was just glad she considered a walk to the bookstore a date).

The woman said she could read all about me by looking at the books I was holding. I had One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Life is Elsewhere.

There was something wrong with this fortune-teller--she was half-blind maybe, or otherwise off, and seemed to stare through me toward the Judaica section. She was an overgrown adolescent with dark, triangle hair, strands of calico fur on her black sweats, and Big Bacon Classic breath.

She carried a tote-ful of Dostoevsky, stood just an inch too close.

I made a ninety-one degree angle with the floor. She asked if I liked birds. I tried to be politely dismissive. The manager came over to me and said he had that book in cultural studies I'd been looking for. The woman noticed that he was trying to save me from her. She must've been a regular. I shrugged him off and kept talking with her.

She was lonely: I pitied her: I hated her: Involuntarily.

She said I should choose different books.

"I don't know, I think I'll stick with these."

"Okay, okay. I know what you'll do," she said. "You'll go upstairs and tell your woman how you were talking to a crazy bitch downstairs who could predict the future. But it won't matter. Because I'll hear you."

I'm not sure how she knew I had a woman upstairs, but I didn't do as she predicted. Instead, I double-locked the door that night. And started to think of her as a renegade character from one of the used books that stayed safely on my shelf.

She was the elsewhere life was, a deranged version of some part of me, the scuffed other side of my coin.

Chapter Five

I spent a good portion of my courtship in Boston, on loan from Ohio, waiting for Megan to finish work. Sometimes I went to mid-morning movies across from the Common. Once, a randy pair of Woody Allen fans let their baser instincts get the best of them in the back row and an usher had to yell, "C'mon, that's nasty."

To that, I preferred the two used-book stores around Megan's Boylston St. office. I became a voracious reader--of blurbs on the back of books someone else had read.

Blurbery became one of my favorite kinds of language. Sometimes, I bought ten books, got back to Megan's, and put myself to sleep reading all the back-cover reviews. It's so conclusive, blurbing, so grandiloquent: "One of the best books of the year!" "One of the best books of the decade!!" "The only true love story of our time." "[McCarthy] puts most other American writers to shame."

What if I, too, could be full of a secret wisdom, trenchant, unsurpassed, and so forth? I kept scanning the shelves. I read 86 first paragraphs. A certain book design, from Vintage publishing, started affecting me gravely. I had to own a Vintage.

I was under the sway of used books.

Chapter Six

I like the idea of making use of what's been cast aside, forgotten. When I was little I had sympathy for toys and stuffed animals on the bottom of the pile. I get the same feeling from torn covers and urine-yellow pages. I love a book that's broken in, like a good catchers mitt.

If it's got notes or inscriptions or marks of a long-ago reader, it seems to me that the story's been infused with that person's life. The book went unfinished, maybe, but there's something in that too. Maybe it was mostly-read in a bay window or a wicker chair or on a bus or by a boy waiting for his love, or a woman with triangle hair.

In my copy of Phillip Roth's Our Gang there's a letter dated 3/7/75. "Jay, we think you should pay off all your debts (including to us) before you get a car." Another book's inscribed with a Get Well note to a grandma who didn't.

And then there's the copy of All the Pretty Horses which belonged to Camille Bouquet, a middle school acquaintance of mine, as slight and pretty as her name.

After Camille died in a car crash, her parents must have sent it off to Federal Street Books, maybe to try to share a tiny part of her, maybe for no reason but to turn the page.

The book became part of the mind of the store, a little paperback memory obscured in the stacks. I bought it for five dollars because I always want to be a person who notices things.

The first sentence of the book is: "The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door."

I haven't gotten any further, but I can tell that the character will always be one who makes an impact, if only a tiny, flickering one.

I wonder if Camille thought that was hopeful or bleak, and how far she got.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dreamsville U.S.A.

I'm headed north today to Tuscarawas County via Ohio Route 78, known as the Rim of the World. It's a beautiful drive on the way to the annual event for The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, held at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum. (Dennison was known as Dreamsville U.S.A. during WWII--find out why).

I like trains and I like Megan so, since this is her company's deal, I'm going to throw on a suit, have a drink, and make charming(?) train puns all night, perhaps with elected dignitaries.

Tonight, the Foundation honors John D. Ong, a former United States Ambassador. He joins John Glenn, Ted Strickland (Ohio's current governor), and Bob Evans (restaurant pioneer) as "I Am a Child of Appalachia" honorees.

This ICAN! program seeks to promote this part of Ohio, and the foundation also sponsors a writing contest for local schools so that students can explore their ideas about their region. Tonight, 96 writerly students will be awarded prizes to help them with college. I helped judge the ninth-grade poetry contest, and these kids can sure sling a rhyme. I learned some things from them about this adopted home of mine.

Megan is the ICAN! Partnership Coordinator. She's one of the liaisons between big companies and the Foundation, and both parties have the goal of raising academic achievement in the area (this year, Walmart donated $200,000!).

Megan, then, helps kids think more clearly when they're in fourth grade, and, eventually, when they get to OU, I help them think more crazily! We're trying to make their journey to Dreamsville a bit easier.

Check out the Foundation's web site to see what else they've got going for the region.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pink Floyd and Mexican Food

I once heard the finest song possible and I needed to own it immediately.

I'm a casual music fan and, at the time, I'd only purchased a couple CDs, so I wasn't used to the quick devotion that hipster kids and pot smokers seemed to feel pretty regularly toward songs. But I couldn't get this one out of my head, and I needed my mom to take me to the mall so I could claim this wonderful sound.

It had never happened before and hasn't since.

The song was Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." The exalted chorus. The tripped-out horns. The backup vocals, and G-majors, and Blakean lyrics. I loved it.

I was still waiting to figure out my favorite book, movie, painting, and pal--don't we always think we'll find those someday, in a stimulating fantasia of discovery, maybe in Budapest or Seattle, maybe when we have a different haircut?--but I knew that moment that I'd found my favorite song.

(Because of my interest in the tune, the music-sharing sight tells me I'm probably a fan of extensive vamping. Yes. It was, is, the main feature of my musical and linguistic taste, vamping. I love a crescendo. I'll try to keep this short, though.)

At the music store, the only copy of the album in stock was gold-plated, a collector's edition. It was 32 dollars. I was 16 and mostly cashless. Those protracted guitar riffs and synthesizer solos were about to be my one and only asset. I held it in my hands for five minutes, wondering what I should do. The song is 26 minutes long, I thought. And it comes with all these other songs, too. Bonus! Plus, if I don't purchase, this will've been a wasted trip, for me and my mom.

I did it. It was mine.

Buyer's remorse hit half-way through the first play. The album was good, I guess, but it went on and on. On top of that, now that I'd invested, I felt pressure to love it and that pressure didn't help matters.

Basically, I'd asked "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" to the dance before realizing that she was only a little beautiful, kinda dull, and 26 minutes long.

Over the years, I tried to get my money's worth by showing the gold-plating to Pink Floyd diehards who might've been impressed; I read the liner notes to deepen my own fanhood; I even amassed a large Floyd collection to bury the 32 dollar faux pas with a dozen bargains. Alas. I listened to the thing twice. My mistake haunted me.

I told this story at breakfast this morning and my good pal Zach, a seasoned music acquirer, teased me lightly. I'd made a classic blunder. My judgment had been deafened by the rapture of a first-listen.

But the saxophone at the end was just so cool!

He patted me on the back, with reassurances that I'd been hasty but not in an un-okay way.

I felt a little silly, and said, "Well, it wasn't the stupidest thing I've ever done."

Zach and I realized together that this was an odd argument on my part. I was trying to defend a moderately dumb decision by saying that I've committed far worse sins of idiocy. We ate some home fries. I thought. It seems that I'd rather be considered a big moron generally than a slight one specifically.

I was saying, basically, You think that's dumb? You should see some of the other stuff I've done. Which stuff I'm not going to tell you about. Boy howdy, you don't even know!

I was in the same pose the classically-unimpressed person strikes when encountering Mexican food: this is okay, but it's not like the bounty I had in TenĊchtitlan.

We all know that guy.

That guy annoys me. So you've had some good Mexican food. So what? Compare and contrast, fine, but don't diminish the present by insisting you've had a more authentic experience in every other situation than you're having currently, with me.

Zach could have said something similar in my direction:

If you've done something monumentally stupid, stop wasting my time with these Pink Floyd trifles. Out with it! Tell me the depth of your denseness. Why this shroud of secrecy? Why the stance that there's so much more to you than you'll ever reveal? Shine on!

You've never been--so stop trying to fake it--better, worse, crazier, dumber, or more fascinating than you are now.

I ate some home fries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brookside Olympics

A pair of ingredients contribute to the eventual dish that is this post. One, the weather in Athens is ideal for touch football--sunny and a bit cooler than cool, with a mild breeze to make a toss exciting, and a 90% chance of pretty girls around to watch my one-handed snags. Two, I just ate a substantial steak & cheese grinder--beefy, sauced, excessive of bread.

I'm in the mood, then, to romp around in some leaves, but in the physical shape merely to drool on myself. I call this emotion: 4:30pm.

4:30 in the deep fall used to be the time to rush outside, after Duck Tales, for a last game-a-catch; later, 4:30 was when middle school adjourned, after sports. I'd still be ready to let off some steam before supper. This time of day was exciting and breath-catching. The light was about to go, the chill was about to chill, and I still wanted to throw another touchdown, or eight.

I used to play mostly with my older brother who, by the time I was coordinated enough to run a route, was already mostly a man. He's five-and-change years older, and there was never really a time I could challenge him or even be an appropriate teammate.

I still loved the competition, though. And it's on a day like this that I, though steak drunk, think about the expansive, the innovative (pronounced in the British fashion, please) slate of games we used to play.

We dubbed this multi-month competition The Brookside Olympics--named after our street. The competitors were: Stephen, my brother; his friends Chris and Ryan; me; and my friend Cheese, another ten-year old.

Cheese was an essential addition. With only three fifteen-year olds and a ten-year old, there's no way to make teams. Add another ten-year old, Cheese, and you've got a classic 3-on-2. Two ten-year olds equal a fifteen-year old and the other fifteen-year olds balance each other. Everyone knows this.

Our team games were mostly typical: football, street hockey, an occasional swimming relay in summer. But before those, we had to wade through the individual events--all 106.

These were divided into 9 categories: board games, shooting sports, racket sports, throwing sports, water sports, track and field, video games (dexterity), video games (strategy), and miscellaneous.

Our board games were: chess, checkers, Axis and Allies (a World War II role-playing game that took most of a week).

For shooting sports, we had, among others: horse, a slam dunk contest, and different variations of air hockey (accuracy and one-on-one).

Tennis (grass, road, and clay) headlined racket sports month, but we invented some other games, too, including Rally Ball and Double-Bounce. Our net was a road-crack.

Throwing-sports and water sports often mixed, troublingly: there was pool football, water whiffle, and a game in which we had to catch a Frisbee while doing a cannonball and then hold our breath under water as long as possible. The IBOC (International Brookside Olympics Committee--our parents) banned some of these games after a writer, who will remain nameless, suffered torsion of the testicles during a particularly violent round of Jump 'n Catch. He won the silver.

Moving on.

Track and Field gave us the closest event in Brookside Olympics history. In the Dash--from stump to Hydrangea--Ryan and Chris both clocked in at 8.73 seconds, twice. I did a little investigative journalism on this one earlier today.

"There was a mind-blowing tie to two decimal points, if I remember correctly," my brother told me, from work. I wonder, though, if the stop watch was defective. Either way, both men-children were awarded gold medals.

After nightfall, and sometimes before, the festivities moved to my families' basement for the team Tetris competition, broadcast live by Tim Daggett and Elfie Schlegel.

Stephen usually won.

Somehow, we even gave out prizes for most populated SimCity and getting-furthest on Metroid. Cheese, with his inhumanly fast thumbs and willingness to hyperventilate in order to intimidate his adversaries, bested us all in a video game called, coincidentally, Olympic Gold Medal Challenge. I won bronze.

My brother recorded all the results on a pad of graph paper that's now a family heirloom.

I also medalled in place-kicking, tagging-up, pickle, and, perhaps my favorite game to play, cellar ball (miscellaneous).

In that game, one player bounces a Nerf football off the air hockey table and the second player has to catch it. The first runs around the wall dividing the two parts of the cellar, and the second tries to throw the Nerf football through a hole in the wall so that the first player catches it while jumping on the couch. A third player tries to defend against this with pillows and determination.

I've created a diagram.

And that's what I did today at 4:30.

Tomorrow, as the sun sets and the sluggishness rises, I'm going to head over to my friend Joe's instead and ask if he wants to ride bikes. We'll time the race. He'll win. That'll seem right.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I've always been a proponent of the 11:11 superstition--the idea that it's a semi-hallowed moment of some kind of convergence--and I've treated the eleventh of November as a numerological holiday (it was easy to remember because it's also a federal holiday, Armistice Day, Veteran's Day. World War I ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month).

I guess I make wishes when I see 11:11. Megan and I have done this throughout. It's been a good way to flirt. But, as with any solid superstition, we're not allowed to share our wishes. Maybe while I've been hoping for [redacted], she's been asking for a really tasty lunch. Who can say? Hopefully our wishes have sometimes been in tune.

Either way, we also blow on eyelashes and I knock wood when people mention Macbeth. (Always up, to chase the spirits into the air instead of deeper into the wood. [It can't go without mentioning that, in Finnish, 'knock on wood' is 'koputtaa puuta']).

For me, there are a few other mini-myths I hold onto. I won't toast with water, breathe while driving past a graveyard, shave on Sundays, pick up a nickel, or watch Jay Leno.

I will say "Rabbit, Rabbit" at the beginning of the month. But never, ever "Bunny, Bunny" (even though that's apparently Polish in origin--Zajaczek, Zajaczek).

Every once in awhile I even throw some salt. Some people think that this one originated because Judas scattered a sprinkle of seasoning on the last-supper table. That didn't turn out well for him. I just like the feeling of the grains and the excuse to be able to throw food on the floor.

I'm a little obsessive about all of these, a little compulsive, a little disordered. Superstitions, though, are just a giddy little grab at some kind of control. Amidst the Immense Undecidability, we allow ourselves these tricks in order to have a method, arbitrary though that method may be. It's a little bit of madness and a little bit of fun.

Regardless, 11/11 has always been a good day for me. Koputtaa puuta.

(posted at 11:11)