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Showing posts from February 22, 2009

The List -- Writer's Poke #197

It’s difficult to go through the day without some idea, memory, or song sneaking its way into your mind. Don’t you just love it, for example, when you get a song stuck in your head? It might not be a song that you like, but it’s hard to avoid hearing some songs to the point that they are indelibly recorded into what has become, over time, your skull full of mush.

So the other day I was at the local grocery store shopping for donuts and Wheaties, and basically minding my own business, when what started playing on store’s music station? Hall and Oates’s “Kiss on My List.” In this song the chorus repeats at least three times, and it’s the same one line over and over and over again: “(Because your kiss) is on my list.” In the course of listening to the song one time, then, you hear this mantra at least 20 times. Listen to the song once, and just try to forget the chorus the rest of the afternoon. You cannot do it.

But what is this list that Daryl Hall sings so passionately about? You don’t …

Goddamn It, Roger -- Writer's Poke #196

Larry was in the hospital, and so it was not a surprise when the College President called me. "I've asked Roger to fill in," she said. And just like that, I had a new boss.

Roger was a great guy, and he and I had a fine relationship when we were both Department Chairs. Now that he was Interim Vice President, however, many of us felt that he had let the role go to his head. It even got to the point where he was sending out memos about how dirty the coffeespoon was in the breakroom. And that's something as Interim Vice President that he could not just stand by and let happen. The coffeespoon must be clean at all times, or else there would be no more coffee. After all, he was a former military man, and what we needed was a little military discipline. He saw the coffeespoon as symptomatic of bigger problems.

Then one morning Roger called a meeting. It was just me, him, and Richard, who was the other Department Chair. Richard was the nicest Southern gentleman you'd ever…

"Shit!" -- Writer's Poke #195

Everyone on my mom's side is Mormon, and most summers we would travel out to Idaho for a two or three week visit.

One summer, we brought our Apple II computer, and my cousins and I would play a game called "Olympic Decathlon." Since it was my game, I was pretty good at it, but after a few days, most of my cousins had developed some skills, too.

Eventually, everyone was over at the Grandparents' house at the same time, and everyone packed into the living room to see me take on the top challengers. When we were through about half of the events, I realized that there was a real chance that I might actually lose. And then it happened: on the high jump event, my thumb hit the joystick button a split second too late, and I knocked over the bar.

Thinking I was with a regular group of kids, I said, "Shit!" And the entire room immediately got quiet. My parents weren't in the room, but one of my uncles had apparently stuck his head in at that exact moment, long enou…

Cover Your Crack -- Writer's Poke #194

My mother keeps a scrapbook for Octavia, her first and only grandchild.

Actually, as my mom admits, it's more a scrapbook for herself, but it contains a lot of Octavia pictures. It also contains a lot of Mormon quotes and things that she's snipped out of magazines -- things that may or may not be Tavi-related.

And it's kind of scrapbooking on the cheap. Mom simply uses regular notebooks for scrapbooks, because after all, why go to all the expense of buying the appropriate materials when notebooks work just as well. More or less.

What really bothers me about her scrapbooks, besides all the Mormon quotes, is the censorship of one particular photograph. Linda took a picture of Tavi enjoying a bath, and in this picture, she's laying on her stomach with her bare butt exposed. My mom apparently thought the picture was too racy, and she placed a sticker over Tavi's crack.

Funny thing is, my mom must really like this picture. She has the same shot hanging up on the wall in her…

Race Slap -- Writer's Poke #193

We were at a sandwich shop in downtown Washington D.C.

Outside we could see a young black man politely walking up to people. He was clearly asking for money, and I could only hope that he would have moved on down the street by the time we were ready to leave.

Unfortunately, this must have been his corner, because he was still right outside the door when we left. And instead of walking right by him, I acknowledged his presence. You see, I have this terrible problem of looking people in the eyes, whereas when you're in the big city, you must develop the ability to look through people, if you look in their direction at all.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. He wanted to give me his rehearsed speech. Apparently he was a student that had somehow gotten separated from his tour group. And could I spare some money so that he could purchase a subway ticket?

I acted sympathetically, but I declined to give him any money. Immediately, his body language changed, and so did his tone. "It…

The Way of the Dragon -- Writer's Poke #192

In The Tao of Inner Peace, Diane Dreher describes the difference between the philosophies of Confucius and Lao Tzu.

Confucius, she notes, "upheld elaborate rituals of etiquette and social duty." In other words, he promoted a conservatism that placed the good of the society over the creative freedom of the individual.

Lao Tzu, on the other hand, put the individual first. The basic idea of Tao is that the individual can control any situation through the way that situation is perceived. And Te, according to Dreher, refers to living a purposeful life.

Putting Tao and Te together is what is meant by living the way of the dragon. Confucius apparently admitted that he had no idea how a dragon could fly, but he recognized that dragons did in fact have that ability, and that Lao Tzu was himself a dragon.

Are you a follower or a dragon?

"Challenge is a dragon with a with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours." -- Noela Evans

Brain Surgery -- Writer's Poke #191

In high school I thought I might want to become a veterinarian some day. That all ended when I took Zoology.

Actually, I liked Zoology, and even in college I toyed with the idea of double-majoring in Zoology and English. But Zoology taught me that I liked live animals a lot more than I liked dead animals marinating in formaldehyde. It also taught be that I had better leave the brain surgery to others.

As an extra credit assignment, Mr. Samson asked those interested to remove the frog’s brain intact. My lab partner was happy to hand me the scalpel, and I worked carefully to cut through the French delicacy’s skull.

About 90% of the operation was a success, but then my scalpel got stuck on a tricky bit around Kermit’s right eye. Without much thought, I tried to secure a better grip on the back of its head, and the next thing I knew, I had poked the brain with my left thumb.

And let me tell you something: poking a frog’s brain with your thumb is not something that you soon forget.

What did you…