- Washing my car
- Losing weight
- Remembering the name of that guy at the gym
- Renting the equipment to sand the deck down to bare wood
- Avoiding kids and moms selling Girl Scout Cookies
- Making sure there’s no dog hair on my sweater
- Avoiding Cadbury mini chocolate Easter eggs
- Being stuck behind the person who smells like sausage and sage in line at Safeway
- Music Award Shows
- Getting my bracket ready for March Madness
- Getting tickets on line for reclining seats at the movie theater – not too close to the screen
- Losing my car keys
- Losing my wallet
- Finding stations to listen to diurng the NPR Fund Drive
- Returning the call from the dentist’s office
- Making reservations for a cruise
- Wondering when Steph and Klay might both be healthy
- The state primaries
- Returning overdue library books
- The Royals, aliens, celebrity breakups – gossip papers and magazines at the checkout counter
There’s nothing funny about absurdity that puts lives at risk, but satire is the only response some of us have left.
We are all at risk, of course, most notably those over the age of 50, but given the disservice partisan denial does to those who are told to discount the certainty of viral infection, the subgroup most at risk may be Republicans over the age of 50.
Fox news and other right wing pundits have downplayed the risk of the novel coronavirus, explaining to viewers and readers that the pandemic panic is yet another ploy on the part of the left to attack the presidency of Donald Trump. Fox host Sean Hannity observed that the current concern about novel coronavirus was, “Like they’re (Democrats) hoping Americans get sick and die and that we’ll all lose a fortune in the stock market because of the jittery stock market.”
After the President’s disturbingly underwhelming press conference was cooly received by those who are concerned about the spread of the virus in the United States, Hannity put it this way:
““All the same people who have done the same thing for three straight years. … Russia, Russia. Ukraine, Ukraine. And impeach, impeach. Now, corona, corona.”
He’s not wrong that those issues have been and are being raised by the same people, those issues being attached to perceived assaults on the Constitution, but the tenacity with which Hannity and others make global pandemic a partisan issue is confounding. Apparently, there is efficacy in playing fast and loose with the truth in order to gain and keep power, and people only know what they are allowed to know, but …. an observable world does exist outside of Fox world, and one would think, well … one would think.
Ainsley Earhardt on Fox and Friends encouraged travel right now. Apparently it’s not only safe to fly; now is THE safest time to fly. Why? “Everyone I know (sic) that’s flying right now. (sic) terminals are pretty much dead.”
One would think.
As has been true since the start of his term, the president’s relentless egoism and self-interest has been enabled by a Senate majority that has abdicated moral authority. Vice President Pence’s gushing testimonial to the president’s leadership provided an Alice in Wonderland upside down window into the attitudes of the coalition of yes men and women standing in El Jefe’s shadow, but the impeachment process which offered Senators the opportunity to consider the president’s vow to support and defend the Constitution revealed the reality of partisan politics.
Today’s reality, however is not about politics. It’s about all of us. Today our hearts might be with the sons and daughters of parents languishing in nursing homes and critical care facilities. As reported by CNN, yesterday’s declaration of National Emergency a change in guidelines for nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the CDC.
“The guidelines now urge facilities to restrict all visitations except for “certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life situations.”
“She said she woke up crying this morning,” Bridget Parkhill said, whose mother is in the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. The center has been linked to 25 coronavirus cases, according to the Associated Press.
Parkhill and her sister, Carmen Gray, sat outside their mother’s window with a picnic, trying to soothe her on the phone. They say their mother came to the center for rehab from a knee replacement and ended up getting coronavirus.
Parkhill says the process has been horrible and both sisters try their best not to show their mother the dread they feel.”
The dread we feel.
Good News! If You Have Symptoms, You May Be Able To Wait For Testing!
What do the NFL, the NBA, Broadway, the Pope, and the Disney Corporation understand about this pandemic that the Trump team has yet to figure out?
Only moments ago, the president of the United States declared what he called a National Emergency, as he put it, “Two very big words.” Apparently that declaration arrives even as he contends that “we are in very strong shape.” Disregarding the best advice of every practicing physician, clinical care giver, and ordinary informed citizen, he then shook hands with the ranks of corporate chiefs flanking him in this celebration of the union of government and business. The declaration was buttressed by the insight that the president had memorised the Stafford Act which allocates funds to states and localities in times of emergency.
I, like Will Ferrell as Mugatu, feel like I’m taking crazy pills. For example, I’m pretty sure I heard the President offer this opinion two days ago:
“The vast majority of Americans (sic): The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus. The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.”
Careful to …? Come on, we’re elderly. Throw us a bone. What’s the drill?
Ah, cover our mouths when we sneeze and stay away from people with symptoms. Oh, and wash hands.
The clear message from the assorted sycophants was that most people don’t need to be tested, this will pass, and that should people get sick, the new rules will allow doctors from another state to jump in to help. Oh, and wash your hands.
In a press conference that went right past self-congratulatory to celebration, the president’s coterie thanked him effusively for his far sighted leadership in avoiding a health disaster in the United States. Recalling yet another high point in unfortunate prognostication, the phrase “Mission Accomplished” comes to mind.
Dr. Fauci, who also endorses hand washing, declared that the administration was, “proactive, leaning forward, trying to stay ahead of the curve.” Unfortunately, both he and the president seemed somewhat confused about what had brought the downsizing of the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, often known as the pandemic office. “I didn’t do it,” the president reminded the press, also clearly advising them that he was not responsible for the lag time in making test kits available. His words will ring through the annals of time. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” a bold assertion for any head of state to offer a nation in crisis.
And even more good news: We got a great deal on oil. Apparently we are now “energy independent” which will be good news for all those flights, cruises, and auto trips … oh … wait.
Apocalypse Watch 2020 is getting tricky. On one hand, the former governor of Alaska and former vice presidential candidate appeared on The Masked Singer as a bear rapping Baby Got Back, which, I gotta say, drove the dial pretty deep. On the other, the unleashing of the full power of the federal government and the business partners in emergency response was displayed by Dr. Deborah Birx holding what appeared to be a Science Fair’s C minus poster upon which the path to testing was presented.
Actually, the poster was not really necessary, as the president’s opinion is that, “We don’t want people to take a test if we feel they shouldn’t be doing it and we don’t want everyone running out and taking(sic), Only if you have certain symptoms.”
Ah Hah! And it is this directive that brings Google into the picture. The president seems to believe that Google has 1700 engineers working on a website as he spoke, a website that would allow virtual triage, probably in place by Sunday night. Yesterday, Sundar Pichai, the Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet sent an email to employees advising them that Google is working on testing, also asking for volunteers to work on that task. It seems that the president’s description may have been premature as Google immediately sent out a statement that the work was in the very early stages.
We can expect the Google product to match Dr. Birx’s poster, but it too essentially asks the responder to respond if symptomatic. A “YES” allows the subject then to begin the process of seeking testing, which we are lead to believe, will take place in a Walmart parking lot.
Tough choice as I post this piece. Picture of the Birx poster or of Sarah Palin in a bear costume? Pretty much a toss up when it comes to meaningful response to a pandemic already very much here.
Just scrolling around, reading urgent nation-threatening stories from the Washington Post when the article on NATO was interrupted by a quarter page picture of bacon, the announcement, “Free Bacon For Life”, and the invitation to do whatever would happen were I to actually cick on the banner.
I don’t eat bacon or anything taken from or derived from mammals, observing that when I look in my dogs’ eyes, I see someone in there. The which is actually beside the point, as even if I were able to justify eating a slice of pig, one of the most intelligent of mammals, I’d really only need so much. And, there’s something about being attached to an endless supply of bacon for a lifetime that strikes me as oppressive.
“Honey, the bacon truck is here. Did you hose down the bacon vat?”
Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away, I did enter an All-You-Care-To-Eat establishment, let’s call it The Captain’s Trough, a spacious establishment with the aforementioned trough running the length of the building. There are many issues at play in considering a dining option that promotes itself as a tribute to gluttony, the most unexpected of which is the mechanism by which the “food” is replenished. I’ll return to the actual “menu” and the actual “diners”, but it was in observing the teams assigned to the replenishment of the various tubs that I understood the scale of operations such as these. The runners (and they were moving!) sped from the kitchen to the groaning board pushing carts laden with comestibles defying description. Mashed potatoes, boiled cauliflower, sticky rice, Clamlike-chowder, the mixed vegetable medley, the lamb curry, the chicken curry, the gravy – all indistinguishable. Good news! The Pork entrees (B-B-Que Pork, Pork Choplets, The Ginger Pork, Chinese spareribs, and ham) were all fire engine red. Easy to spot. The chicken entrees, similarly color coded, were chartreuse, the beef dishes a coffee brown.
Once off-loaded, the steaming trays were quickly emptied then filled again. Did the same patrons return more than once, I wondered? Indeed they did. And again. Here too, my attention was hijacked by the same eager crew hit the tables, scooping up dishes as they emptied, clearing space, not allowing the
feeders diners to rush the trough with plates dripping with the remains of the previous foray. The diners stood, the crew swept in, clearing and wiping, preparing the table for the next round.
I ought to find an illustrative photo to accompany this piece as words alone cannot convey the distance between recognizable and familiar protein and the approximation sitting in their approximated sauces. Some came closer as they were bound to a bone of some sort, but even I, no student of chicken anatomy, knew these bones were of a different species.
The trough, as I suggest, was unguarded, as was the chocolate fountain and the dessert bar, but drink were charged separately, and the establishment’s signature yeast rolls were parcelled out with a keen eye on each tray. The replenshing crew feigned ignorance when asked for another basket. “Huh! Rolls? I’ll ask in the kitchen.” This subterfuge raised a question that ought to have come to mind much earlier. “If the cost of providing rolls is a limiting factor in generating profit, how inexpensively has this chicken broccoli surprise been tossed together?”
Best not to ask the unanswerable question.
To return to the provocation of this reflection, I do wonder exactly how this Bacon-For-Life thing works, and thus the quandry. In order to find out what this offer actually entails, I have to click on the banner, and with that action a chain of events is launched, immediately out of my control. Not only do I place myself on the this-guy-is-nuts-about-bacon data base, I am tagged forever as a consumer eager to buy and buy again, as long as the product is offered in bulk … and for a lifetime.
Some things are best left to conjecture. The mind wanders through a labyrinth of untended thoughts, now tinged with the aroma of soggy bacon.
Another good day.
A cozy corner, a cup of coffee, time to think deep thoughts. The clack of my computer keys is often an effective barrier, preventing strangers from intruding on the hatching of the whimsical notions I ply as my stock in trade. “I’m working here,” my posture shouts. “No time for idle conversations.” Clack, clack.
And yet, from the table directly next to mine, the words penetrate even the most resolute defenses. “… not the first dead thing I’ve kept in my freezer.”
The choice now is mine. Take a deep breath, store the overheard confession in the discarded conversations storehouse with thousands of other unwelcomed thoughts, or drop my guard, pretend to be cleaning the screen of the computer, and indulge in the guilty pleasure of purposefully eavesdropping.
I lean back in my chair, a writer stretching, nothing out of the ordinary, certainly not arching closer to the voice to my left. I extend my arms, strike the about to yawn pose, fold myself as one might in yawning extravagently and slide just an inch or two closer in time to hear the unexpected.
“I jammed him in while he was still warm. So devastating. Only fourteen. But beautiful in his own sweet way, right until his last shriek.”
OK, Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart. Who, exactly, looked sweetly hot until the screaming ended? Fourteen? Fourteen? The mind goes where the mind goes. Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge. Uneaten fortune cookies. Oh God!
The thoughtful reader will note that there has been no mention of intervening phone calls or cries for help. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” “Well, I can’t tell for sure, but I think the lady at the next table stuffed a dead fourteen year old in her freezer. Not the first time, either.”
But then, second thought. Not the first time for this body, or not the first time for any number of bodies? What are we looking at here? Casual, first timer in the freezer game or serial freezer feeder?
The perp at the next table continued.
“My last cockatiel made it to sixteen. Henry was more fit, a healthy bird. I hold myself accountable. I should not have over done the treats. That was all about me. Me. Not Henry. Henry needed leafy greens and fruit, and I was tossing coffee toffee in the cage. He liked it. Ate it anyway. Seemed fine. Then dead.”
The world just became slightly less grim. No children were frozen in the making of this conversation. I hunched back over my own table, ready to take up my endlessly amusing attempt to turn 1960’s brainless TV shows into Broadway musicals. Diverting as heck but apparently not of interest to anyone else. Hogan’s Heroes, The Musical? Come on, who doesn’t want to hear Sergeant Schultz warble, “I know Nussing” as the plucky prisoners prepare a drag act for the compound’s talent show?
Work. Work. And yet.
OK, cockatiel, but not the first? And why the freezer? Need time to prepare a formal farewell? Out-of-town relatives flying in for a service? Relatives of yours? Of his? Taxidermy an option? Is freezing the way to go if stuffing an old and beloved friend? So many questions, none of which were answered. Off they went on some other tangent. Saving the planet, whatever, blah, blah, blah.
I’m looking at my screen. Trying to come up with a musical number for Arnold Ziffer, a pig, the most sentient of the life forms appearing on Green Acres. Arnold first appeared on Petticoat Junction, the show that introduced Hooterville, a show which was, itself, spawned from an earlier laugh riot about country folk, The Beverly Hillbillies. Arnold is a wunderpig; he makes Wilbur, Charlotte the Spider’s porcine pal, look like the even-toed ungulate that he was. Compared to Arnold, Wilbur was lunchmeat on the hoof. The gag on Green Acres is that the whole town responds to Arnold as though he is an actual human child of Fred and Doris Ziffel, an academic standout who watches Walter Chronkite to keep up with current events and whose work as a painter if the school of abstract expressionism has won him the title of Porky Picasso.
Thus the dilemma. There’s no fun to be had in exaggerating Arnold’s absurdity; it’s already over the top. It was that sudden opening in the fabric of the universe – nothing to write – that brought a curious memory to mind.
I’m very fond of guinea pigs; we had one or more for years, until the pain of grieving the latest loss became too great, and we went without. All of the guinea pigs were named after islands – Samoa, Fiji, Java Lava, etc. I can’t remember which of them died as we were in the act of moving from Detroit to Connecticut, a horrific tale of misplaced ambition to be told elsewhere. The movers were an ad hoc lot; they forgot to move our bedroom, for example. Suffice it to say, the moving was not going well, and then we discovered that we had lost a dear pet and friend.
The truck is rolling. What to do?
We packed a shoe box with newspapers and gently place the departed in a comfy nest of papers, a nest he/she would have liked had he/she been capable of being alive.
Moving is hell. Boxes stand unopened for weeks, months on end. In this case, the shoe box was relegated to a side porch outside our new home, stacked on other boxes we knew we had to get to quickly. Somewhere in the first afternoon a new neighbor stopped by, not to meet and greet, but to snoop through our things, get a sense of who we were by hefting the things we owned. His thoughtfully designed plan went south when he opened the shoe box on top of the pile.
I’m pretty sure it was curiosity rather than responsibility that brought him to our front door. He stood, puzzled, shoe box in hand, and said, “Did you know there’s a dead animal in here?”
We did, but understanding in an instant that this shared reality could not have happened without some rifling of our boxes, we nodded, took the box, and asked, “You didn’t open the big box on the bottom, did you?
Farewell, blithe cockatiel. Here’s hoping a stranger sneaks into the freezer looking for ice cream.
Summers in Santa Barbara are or have been blissfully mild, allowing every sort of diversion or recreation. I spent two as a Teaching Fellow at the South Coast Writing Project working with teachers who hoped to teach writing. The Director, Sheridan Blau, brought in a host of writers, some nationally celebrated, some academic, some amateur, all of whom described the processes by which they got words on the page. He’d build on their comments, set the class a set of assignments and wait for the inevitable throat clearing and, yes, dare I say, whining. “Why is this like opening a vein?” Sheridan inevitably barked. The bark was delivered frequently enough that the class pitched in for a t shirt emblazoning the phrase surrounded by blood spatter.
So, Writer’s Block. It’s a real thing. I’ve seen it for years and have had an occasional bout of blockage myself. Over many, many years of reading the work that came from blocked imaginations, I devised and borrowed assignments that were intended to liberate the writer. My colleagues may have insisted on quality; I wanted fluency. Revision is a separate and exceedingly helpful skill, but one that can only follow fluency. There has to be something to revise. I won’t trot out every stratagem in one tip sheet, but I will explain one of the most effective and provide live footage (on paper) of a writer galloping down the path I suggest.
Borrowing from those who compose music, I’ve called this, “Writing In The Key Of And…” , by which I mean asking the writer to summon up a memory of any sort, any subject as long as there is some immediacy to it, then describe the event without using any punctuation – no capitalization,no pauses, ellipses, periods, question marks. Nada. However, every separate thought or description has to be introduced by the word “and”. There’s some resistance at the outset, and many questions, but then the magic often happens.
There is something about a headlong rush through the describing of a moment that can bring breathless urgency to a piece. Part of the process is that it shoves together the essential and the transitory, the observed and the imagined, self-reflection and the emotion of the moment. I say, “Throw attentive self-editing to the winds. No room for doubt. Keep the pace. Go wherever your mind takes you. Then let’s see what you’ve got.”
My car’s battery died last week. Not a particularly notable event. As it must to all batteries, last week death came to mine. Here’s my Key of And:
“What the hell the car is just not working and lights are flashing and then not flashing and then nothing at all and I am supposed to be going to volunteer at the Hospice Boutique and I like volunteering and I hate being late and I hate ditching even more and I have ditched many many too many things in the course of my life and what the hell is the course of my life and is it a course as in path or is a course as in academic course and that’s exactly the sort of question that serves absolutely no purpose and the expression that comes to mind is tits on a bull and that is a vile expression and how do I get things out of my head that I do not want in my head and songs are among those things and I have a song in my head literally around the clock and I don’t know actually if I do when I sleep and I do know it’s there when I wake up and many of them are from God knows where or when and that put the song who knows where or when in my head and that’s not one I want in my head and I have to do a quick recasting of songs and I’m trying as hard as I can and come with que sera sera and that’s not much better in terms of existential panic and I do like the tune though and I can keep that on in the background and think about other things and one of those things is death and dying and that’s two things and maybe one after all and I won’t know until I know and that’s if I know and what am I doing spilling my guts here and where am I supposed to spill my guts and I wish I had a guru or master who welcomed gut spill and I actually really don’t want a guru or master foraging through my guts and I have to get out of this assignment and this will be the end.”
Cautionary note. I am remembering how hard it is to return to a crafted sentence after having enjoyed the literary wind in my hair, and, of course, I am tempted to go off on a riff about my hair or lack thereof. So there are some issues with fluency that will need attention. On the other hand, I am reading Anna Burns Milkman, a book that won the Mann Booker Prize and one that I find fascinating. It’s not quite written in the key advertised above, but there are moments that come close.
From page 200, randomly selected:
“ ‘It’s creepy, perverse, obstinately determined’ went on longest friend, she said, ‘It’s not as if , friend,’ she said, ‘glancing at some newspaper as this were a case of a person glancing at some newspaper, as they’re walking along to get the latest headlines or something. It’s the way you do it- reading books, whole books, taking notes, checking footnotes, underlining passages as if you’re at some desk or something, in a little private study or something, the curtains closed, your lamp on, a cup of tea beside you, essays being penned – your discourses, your lubrications. It’s disturbing. It’s deviant. It’s optical illusion. Not public spirited. Not self-preservation. Calls attention to itself and why – with enemies at the door, with the community under siege, with us all having to pull together – would anyone want to call attention to themselves here’.
Some readers will have arrived at this point having read both passages, and some may come away with an appreciation of fluency as an end itself. Others, not so much. All I can offer at the end of this exercise is that no veins were opened in the making of this essay.
I’m done, and it is probably not necessary to say that the last bit in the last sentence sent me to the exculpatory note at the end of movies in which no animals, they say, have been harmed, and from there …
For a brief moment, before my wife snapped me back to reality, I thought it might be a great advantage to name our newly born son “Senator” or “General”, figuring most people don’t pay close attention to much beyond the name, so what the heck, why not start at the top? As I have said with regret on numerous occasions, “seemed like a good idea”, and yet, so not.
As my first thought is almost always entirely off base, cheerfully acknowledging my questionable judgement, I surrendered. Not one to let a challenge slip away, however, I have been keeping track of equally presumptuous names over the course of the last thirty years or so and now offer my observation that in the sports world, some names are strikingly more predictive than others.
The world of sports is wide and filled with wonderfully evocative names. Let’s cut to the chase (we’ll return to that name before we’re done) and begin by assuming that some of the most striking names were received rather than given. Did Mother Berra look at a squalling child and say, “That’s my little Yogi?” Probably not. Similarly, we can be assured that Rabbit Maranvill, Dizzy Dean, and Hacksaw Reynolds did not spring from the womb with the names by which they came to be known. More contrived nicknames such as Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith and Charlie “Piano Legs” Hickman arrive on a yearly basis, but my interest is in the actual given names that seem to predict a particular sort of career in sport, in football to be precise, and as quarterback to be particular.
Let us return to Chase, shall we, a name that demands superior athletic ability; pity the sluggard named Chase. What hope has he if not at the deep end of the athletic pool. Yes, a banker named Chase could probably skim by, but your attorney? Your masseur? Your psychic? No, Chase is an athlete’s name, and widely applicable across several sports. Baseball has a few Chases (Utley, Headley, Whitley and, in a stunning departure from the “ley” tag, Anderson and Wright), football (Daniel, Blackburn, Coffman); boxing and wrestling (Stevens, Beebe, Tatum) and auto racing (Elliott, Austin) have their share. Chase is fairly evenly distributed across several sports and, in an odd crossover, seems to be ok for Country musicians as well. Not neutral; the stakes are still high for anyone walking around as “Chase”, but there is some range of opportunity. Less obviously annointed athletes, such as the McCaffreys, Christian and Dylan, could be running backs, point guards, folk singers, or corporate executives.
You name a kid “Colt”, however, or “Troy”, or “Peyton”, or “Brett”, or “Cam”, or “Ty”, or “Kellen”, or “Carson”, or “Landry”, or “Kirk”, or “Gage”, or “Cole”, or “Shea”, or “Bryce”, or “Brock”, and the world will expect that kid to be calling a snap count in his sleep before the first day of school. These are not interior linemen; these are quarterbacks. Of course there are quarterbacks of some quality who have climbed to the top with ordinary, more pedestrian names. “Tom” has done well. “Aaron” and “Matt”, “Russell”, “Philip”, “Patrick”, all earn a hefty paycheck, but they could as easily have ended up as running backs, wide receivers, or even grunts digging their paws into the turf at the line of scrimmage.
“Shea” is not a hard-nosed brawling tackle with a penchant for grabbing runners by their nether bits. “Colt” isn’t spitting teeth while jamming his knuckles into kidneys and ribs.
Another obvious difference between quarterbacks and the rest of the universe, I am shallow enough to admit, is that quarterbacks with a few notable exceptions, are handsome. Other positions have a claim on good looks as well; J.J. Watt is a god, Clay Matthews does Thor, Reggie Bush looks great on the field and off, but … most of the shakiest of Division I or II quarterbacks and almost any NFL quarterback is posterchild material.
Let’s just do the not-Tom Brady – not Aaron Rogers – not Russell Wilson quarterback sweep and see what turns up.
Mat Leinart? Come on! Jesse Palmer? Whoah! Case Keenum? Teddy Bridgewater? Nick Mullens? Ryan Tannehill? Drew Lock? Brett Hundley? Matt Barkley? Chase Daniel? A.J. McCarron? Blake Bortels?
I was on a roll there, and then … alright, there are some goofy looking quarterbacks as well. I have to admit that after watching this season’s Hard Knocks, Mike Glennon’s improbably long neck remains an uncomfortable memory. Similarly, Ryan Fitzgerald’s beard is off-putting; just too much. Josh Rosen deserves a better deal that he’s had with the Dolphins, but, ok, maybe not a poster. There’s something about Trevor Siemian’s eyes. Too close together? Moving in opposite directions? On the Trevor track, Trevor Lawrence? Am I the only one to see an Afghan hound?
Look, I’m a balding short guy with no chiselled features and a decidedly uninspiring midsection; I have no room to cavil. At least, and perhaps this is the weakest of defences, I am not matriculating down the field as a Chip, Chase, or Colt.
That would be a lot to live up to, and I suspect my wife’s excellent instinct has saved our children considerable grief. Good thing I can’t name my grandkids.
My son recently returned from a happy reunion with good friends. They’d gathered to celebrate the marriage of a college pal whose family threw themselves into celebration with great abandon. Families are tricky under any circumstance and downright dangerous when the spirits rise. A relatively jolly round of toasting had warmed the room when the groom’s grandmother grabbed the microphone and annonced:
“The time has come for me to rank the grandchildren.”
The plug was pulled, the amp cooled, and most of the audience was spared grandma’s itemized assessment of an entire generation. She went on at length, with brio, but without amplification. One or two tender shoots may have been bruised, but most of her spawn were spared.
Awkward? Certainly. Worst ever? Probably not.
Toasts are almost guaranteed to bring acute embarassment and lingering regret. The Best Man stands and raises a glass to the groom and a former girl friend, the Father of the Bride describes her toilet training, a friend tries to make a profound connection between favorite food (hot dog) and husband to be -“He’ll be the hot dog you swallow now.”
Fear of public speaking is endemic, and a spur-of-the-moment toasting raises the stakes for anyone not comfortable ad-libbing in front of a crowd. On the other hand, some of the most carefully prepared toasts can miss the mark every bit as grotesquely.
“60% of marriages end in divorce, and in the rest you get to live happliy until death.” Glasses raised. “”Here’s hoping you die.”
I’m old enough to have heard my share of mangled speeches welcoming new employees to the team, one of which went south immediately and sank more emphatically with every effort to recover some slight vestige of dignity. The speaker, a man of about sixty-five, hoped to introduce a new employee who had been a childhood friend of his daughter.
“Here’s Leslie” would have sufficed, but, no, the impulse to get personal could not be squelshed.
“I remember when Leslie used to come over to our house, a cute kid with braces and a pony tail. She was more developed than Emily who was jealous of her figure…”
This aside was intended to prepare the audience for an appreciation of Leslie’s mature judgement and precocious ability as a manager, but slid sideways from the start.
“Boys were crazy about Leslie, surrounded her in droves, but she managed to beat them off without hurting their feelings.”
He must have been aware of the sudden shocked silence in the room. He reddened and tried to recover.
“I mean with a stick or club.”
“Not hurt them, you know. She’s always had a great touch …”
By this time, Leslie had left the room, his wife and daughter were seething, and the event was permanently scarred.
I’ve made more than my own share of bungled announcements, almost all of which were delivered in earnest and all of which backfired even as I spoke. Intending to thank the chair of the school’s prom committee, a school mother named Hickey Bitsy. I’m pretty sure I called her “Titsie”. I’m still blushing. Later, also in school setting, I tried to call returning students to a higher purpose: “Don’t hold back. Let a Math teacher share his fascination with Math with you, let an English teacher carry you into books that can change your life, let a language teacher French you …”
Just shoot me.
Actually, looking back on a career and life filed with things I most profoundly wish I hadn’t said, ranking grandkids seems relatively benign. I am determined to keep my feet out of my mouth, but I may need a designated interrupter on hand at all times to prevent me from digging yet another trench from which there is no escape.
Charlie’s cat died last week. All systems failed, and Charlie had to make the tough decision in the vet’s office, holding the cat as the end came. Charlie lives alone, now. He talks about coming home to an empty apartment and feeling as if the light has been sucked from the universe. It was an elderly cat, frail and disabled, and yet, of course, when the time came, Charlie was undone.
I drove a large and elderly dog from Massachusetts to Alabama. We stopped only to let him wobble from the car, sniff some grass, do his stuff, and when he looked up expectantly, I picked him up and set him on his favorite blanket in the back seat. I was determined to get him to our new home; I couldn’t let him die on the road. Hopper was an All American dog, probably German shepherd mixed with border collie, rangy and distinguished by a spattering of spots which made him look like a miniature Holstein with a lolling tongue. I fell in love with him while courting my wife; they were a bonded pair, but they let me and my son into the pack. Over the years, I came to love all of them more profoundly, even as I knew that Hopper’s time would likely come well before mine.
He lived large, bounding beyond the pathetic boundaries we set, occasionally doing his own courting until we finally had him neutered. His roaming decreased and he settled into life with his enlarged family. In the last few years he began to have seizures, scary, but not debilitating. We came to recognize the signs and protected him as best we could, putting his blanket and pillows under his head, holding him. I held him in my arms too at the end, when a kind veterinarian came to our home, allowing Hopper to stay in his own bed. That was more than twenty-five years ago, and I still remember the feel of the good dog nestled against my chest
We’ve loved other dogs: a goofy German shepherd, an Australian shepherd with a sweet face and a fondness for cake, a border collie who could run like a typhoon but who as a therapy dog happily settled into the embrace of kids with terminal illnesses. For several years we had a pack of four, matriarch Jinx, oddly humorous Satch, somewhat needy Rogue, and the then newest pup, Banner, all border collies. They started out in California, but moved with us to Southern Oregon, where they quickly found active games in the meadow behind our new home.
Satch is in Massachusetts, a dorm dog working with our daughter in a boarding school. He spends the summer here, but loves shambling amid kids away from home, leaning in, allowing them to sink their hands into his deep soft coat. Rogue and Banner are good company for each other, although Rogue has been hard on her little body, running hard for a lifetime, and is now stiff and often aching. Recently we’ve seen her fall and faint when running hard; we have learned that she is dealing with cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart.
We almost lost Jinx, deaf and almost blind, who wandered from home on the coldest night of the year, becoming trapped in a frozen pool overnight. She was in a coma when we found her. We wrapped her in layers of blankets and held her in a small room filled with space heaters. She was entirely immobile and unresponsive. When my son arrived, he asked if she was going to make it. Hearing his voice, she lifted her head.
She lived for another year. Once again, I held a dog I loved in my arms as she died.
Time has passed. I still grieve and miss Jinx every day.
We can’t replace Jinx, or Hopper, or Maus, or Fax, or Blitz. I’ll be devastated when we lose Rogue; there will be no replacing her. And so, you might ask, why is a new puppy chewing on something that looks like my slipper as I write?
Why, knowing what’s coming, do I love the next dog, and the next?
The answer is simply because I can’t imagine not loving dogs. My daughter has correctly identified my dilemma as I walk down the street and encounter a schnauzer, or a Boston terrier, or a dog of no particular pedigree with a large block head and bright eyes.
“Must pat dog”.
Which turns out to be a very good thing as my wife is even more devoted to a dog-rich life. The newest dog, Gem, a four-month-old border collie, black and white, strikingly similar to Jinx as a pup, is adventurous and affectionate, less needy than one of her packmates, a very nice addition to the family. She spends much of her day with or near us, often lounging in a very large, tall pen in what was once a family room. The house is full of dog fur. We no longer vacuum as fur clogs the machine, but sweep daily, guiding growing balls of fluff into heaps that can be scooped up and tossed out. Days are ordered around care and feeding, and we don’t take vacations far from home.
I’ll outlive some dogs, and some will outlive me. There’s pain and loss and regret, but love as I know it is about signing on without reservation, even when the stakes are high. I miss the good dogs we’ve lost but can’t imagine missing out on one day with them.
I know how Charlie feels in his empty apartment; he plans to visit the shelter this week to see which cat needs to be his next cat. He’ll love that cat too, anyway.
The big questions remain unanswered; we can’t know who will be the next to go. In the meantime, there are dogs to be scruffled and cats to be pampered, and that sounds good enough to me.
Bitter Buckeyes are reeling.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has denied Ohio State University’s petition to trademark the word “The” as in, “The Ohio State University” (pronounced Thee Ohio State University) , contending that the word” the” is critical to much of the university’s merchandising all sorts of athletic gear and commemorative souvenirs. Unwary shoppers, the Patent Office was told, could mistake a sweatshirt from Ohio University or Miami University of Ohio for the genuine and more celebrated Ohio State brand, which does cast some shade on Buckeye Nation as one might assume that a fan knows the difference between teams even if their names contain many similar letters. Michigan/Michigan State, Colorado/Colorado State … not a lot of their fans out there proudly flying the wrong flag.
There are some interesting questions raised by the university’s claim to ownership, however, and those conversations may bring us to a higher plane of linguistic sensitivity. And, it should be noted, there may be opportunities to suggest that although there may be method in Ohio State’s application, yet there is madness in’t. So, let’s press on.
We’ll get terribly confused in trying to speak about the not-yet-trademarked word and the word we have been tossing around for centuries, primarily because t-h-e means different things to differing people. Henceforth, in order to avoid confusion, the word as used by the university will be emboldened (THE) to identify its distance from its more commonly used, and apparently, commonly owned cousin, the functional word.
The is a good word, a darned good word. We use it all the time, hardly noticing its graceful utility, just tossing it around as if we owned it. Maybe we’ve taken it for granted, assumed it would always be there when we needed it. Without it, we seem impetuous, imperious, reductive. Declaration of Independence. Gettysburg Address.
The (see?) evolution of Ohio State’s fixation on the word, its determination to achieve exclusive ownership of the word THE, begins with its position in the state’s birth order. Ohio University in Athens was founded in 1804. The two landmark liberal arts colleges in the State of Ohio, Kenyon and Oberlin, were founded in 1824 and 1833 respectively. THE Ohio State University was founded in 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, taking the name The Ohio State University in 1870 when then Governor Rutheford B. Hayes, a graduate of Kenyon, authorized the development of a comprehensive university.
THE University of Michigan, founded in 1817, THE University of Virginia, founded in 1819, and THE University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1740, might have jumped into the fray, were the fray not an exercise in absurdity. Virginia is secure enough to hang around without assuring its celebrants that it is the University of Virginia even though THE College of William and Mary, equally funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia is conspicuously older, founded in 1693. In tribute to THE Ohio State University’s initiative, THE University of Michigan has offered to trademark the word OF.
Lest a wary Buckeye dither over other attributes claimed by the university, be assured that applications for trademark protection of the names URBAN MEYER and WOODY HAYES are also under consideration. The resources of a gigantic enterprise such as THE Ohio State University demands specialized sets of skill, so it should come as no surprise that the Urban Meyer registration was handled by Ohio State’s Director of Trademark and Licensing Services, Rick Van Brimmer. Van Brimmer is not simply keeping an eye on names and articles; he’s currently working on trademarking The Oval, The Shoe, and OSU. Already trademarked are Brutus Buckeye, Script Ohio, Gold Pants, and Block O, the Buckeye Stripe, the helmet leaf, and their home and away uniforms,
The OSU issue is a bit tricky in that Oklahoma State University and Oregon State University suggest that their claim on the initials is as legitimate as Ohio State’s. At the moment, the trademark is licensed on a state by state, i.e. regional, basis. The greater complication, an innocent observer might note, is that by registering THE, Ohio’s state university should actually be represented as TOSU. Please call Van Brimmer at home to raise that point.
Trademarking and licensing belong in the nether reaches of marketing and finance, areas not commonly discussed in polite society. TOSU is not alone in having grasped the importance of keeping a stranglehold on an asset that might become commercially viable. Verizon holds a trademark on the scent they pump into their retail stores. “Flowery Musk Scent” sets the Verizon experience apart from others and must be protected. Tiffany Blue is a protected color, as is T-Mobile Magenta, Barbie Pink, and Wiffleball Bat Yellow.
As Kurt Vonnegut, a Midwesterner with an eye for the absurd might have said in encountering the trademark that UPS holds on its shade of brown, “So it goes.”