Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Big Mixup


“There has been a terrible mistake…”


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• As I was trimming dead leaves out of a houseplant, I absently snipped into my fingertip with the scissors.  It was a small but deep cut.  It has almost healed now but the rest of my finger was unhappy for a good while.  The red and swollen part was saying to me, what the hell were you thinking when you did this?  I apologized to my finger and made an empty promise that I would never be so careless with it again.

• George Harrison’s estate just released a $399 16 vinyl-disc box set of his solo work and announced a $499 Harrison-branded turntable to play them on.  George lives on in the Material World.

mush• The label on the can says “Cream of Mushroom” soup.  Now we all know that one cannot get cream from a mushroom, no matter how finely one tries to chop it.  I suggest we soup-eaters and casserole-makers have been complicit in perpetuating an improper preposition here.  At best, the label should say “Cream and Mushroom” soup.  And that’s being generous with the notion of what “cream” means.

• This is the 75th anniversary of the use of penicillin to treat infections.  Antibiotics such as penicillin are losing their effectiveness as bacteria evolve and become resistant to them.  Perhaps an even greater worry is when bacteria, parasites and other organisms develop resistance to bleach and chlorine, the chemicals that keep our surfaces and water supplies free of pathogens without causing much harm to people.  Our war on bacteria began only 200 years ago, but bacteria have fighting the survival battle for four billion years.  I think they have a head start on us.

• Sometimes I wonder whether there are so many good causes to become involved in and/or contribute to that they suffer together from the dilution of our attention.  Would it be better if the world were to focus on malaria one year, HIV the next, hunger and famine the year after that?  Or is our current practice better, practically-speaking, of mounting low-level but sustainable efforts on all these countless fronts and reluctantly accept that it takes years to achieve results in any one of them?  Injustices test one’s patience.

• I am researching new toilets to replace our old noisy ones.  To be sure, this is an unglamorous task.  It got me thinking that someone (like me) could make a living as a toilet-whisperer to the stars and other highly-moneyed folks, people who don’t mind flushing several hundred dollars down the drain for the perfect toilet recommendation.  But inevitably, I would attract competitors and this kind of advice would become — yes — a commodity.

• Rick Lanier is founder of the 15-year-old U.S. Motto Action Committee. The purpose of this “committee” is to lobby county commissioners to put the words “In God We Trust” on the entrances to courthouses.  A Facebook post by Ken Lynn quotes Lanier as telling the Christian Action League, “We feel compelled to move forward aggressively in the hope of maintaining a remnant of our godly American heritage. Because of the apostasy of our nation and the evil forces of political correctness our religious freedoms are quickly dissipating.”  Lanier’s not-even-thinly-veiled religious action committee just convinced our neighbor Hendersonville, North Carolina, to place these words prominently above the entrances of its two courthouses.  So it seems that courthouses now join foxholes as places with a special power to convert atheists.

• The box says “Seedless Raisins.”  Imagine your surprise if you bit into one that wasn’t.

• There is something annoying about watching the evening news and hearing the anchor express his gratitude to the reporter at the conclusion of her story.  It seems self-serving. Isn’t the reporter just doing her job?  It’s not like she went out and bought the anchor a birthday gift.

• It’s interesting that one is likely to find Salade Niçoise in every big city in America, but I do not recall seeing a Caesar Salad on any menu in any restaurant in France.  If there is a joke here, it’s probably on us.

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Here’s a little story.  Back when I was in high school, well over 45 years ago, my best friend was Bill Foster.  Bill and I lived only a couple of blocks away from each other, so we walked to school together and we walked home together.

One day near the end of the school year (1969 I think), I was waiting after school to meet Bill, in my usual spot near his locker on the ground floor.  I was standing there, idle and bored, and it was probably for that very reason that I took the mechanical pencil from my shirt pocket (yes, I was a nerd already) and began to color in the numbers stamped into the medallion on Locker 36, the one next to Bill’s locker.

Bill arrived less than a minute later.  He dropped off his books, collected his stuff, and we headed out the pale-green double-doors of the school.

As I recall, right after we had crossed the street in front of the school and had taken only a few steps down the sidewalk, someone grabbed me by the shoulder, turned me around and punched me in the face.  I instantly went down to the ground, then the person kicked me in the head and started shouting at me about not fucking around with his locker.  When I turned to see who it was, all I remember was that the guy was practically spitting and that his hair was flying and beating his own forehead in its fury.

I also remember the heel of his shoe — it was hard rubber.  (It was the pre-sneaker era.)

The ringing in my ears made his shouting sound like a drive-in movie speaker turned up full-blast and covered by a pillow.  But I couldn’t move or respond, let alone comprehend.  At some point, the guy stopped yelling at me and walked off.

I don’t remember how long it took me to collect myself, a minute or so maybe  As the fog in my head subsided and I regained a sense of my surroundings, I saw Bill standing there, no doubt as shocked as I was, trying to attend to me and help me get back on my feet.  Eventually, we resumed our walk home and we reviewed what just happened.

Bill had to tell me who my assailant was, as I had seen him in school but didn’t know him.  The person was someone from Bill’s homeroom — our school assigned homerooms and lockers in roughly-alphabetical order.  I think Bill and I decided on our way home that he was a person I should avoid in the future, and I made sure that I did.

In 1969, in our little Pennsylvania town, like every other city and town in the United States in our generation, there were no anti-bullying laws.  Scores could be settled as soon as the adversaries stepped off school property.  Across the street, school authority vanished.

And parental authority?  In even a small city like ours, one’s parents were unlikely to know the parents of your friends let alone those of your adversaries.  Even if by chance they did, it was doubtful that your parents’ intervention would settle anything.  More to the point, what high-school kid wants to involve his parents and admit to his powerlessness?

So kids like me (I know I wasn’t the only one) took these kinds of hits from life and, with the support of their friends, moved on.

• • • •

Or at least I thought I had moved on.  The injustice, the imbalance, of my being beaten up because I pencilled in the numbers on someone’s high-school locker door, stuck with me.  In fact, it stuck with me well into my sixties, as evidenced by my internet search last month on the name of my high-school assailant.  This was an idle, thoughtless activity on my part, much like the one that preceded my long-ago assault.

My search revealed that my assailant died in 2008 after a “courageous battle with cancer.”

According to his obituary, he was an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  He enjoyed playing with his dog and gardening.  His obituary mentioned numerous surviving relatives, including his wife of the past ten years.

It is hard for me to describe how small I felt after reading his obituary, but that is why I am writing this post.  His obituary felt like a second kick in the head.

I had been harboring so much dislike and resentment for so many years against this boy, for the injustice he had inflicted upon me.  And now the object of my resentment was no longer a boy, and not just that, no longer alive.  Suddenly, the thought of holding a grudge against a dead man was repellent to me.

Justice was not served by his death.  I instantly felt sad and ashamed of myself, because after all these years I still had not processed or put into perspective what had transpired that day in high-school.  That part of me, the victim part, was still a child.

I hadn’t let my assailant grow up and I hadn’t let myself grow up.

• • • •

I joked with my wife this evening that my blog was 60% political, 30% entertaining and 10% Wonder Years, referring to the late 1980’s television show about a suburban boy self-consciously coming of age.  I am a bit surprised that my own wonder years have extended into my sixties, but perhaps better late than never.

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