- The Pen is Mightier than the Pencil And Other Life Lessons, Part 2 of 2
- The Pen is Mightier than the Pencil And Other Life Lessons, Part 1 of 2
- Concert Review: The Chanting Monks
- Life’s Dumb Little Toolbox
- Selling Marijuana at the Old Folks Home
- How I Spent My Summer Vacation
- A Challenge to All Graffiti Vandals
- My New Book
The first part of this story can be found here.
…By the time the moderator again restored order to the assemblage, I had finished another chapter in Twenty-Four Aphoristic Equations. I could not determine whether my life had been improved by the effort.
“In chapter nine,” resumed the moderator, taking up the original topic, “the author discusses whether or not it’s true that misery loves company. He says, and I quote, ‘Misery loves company? No. Misery loves a good fistfight or a drunken sprint through the brambles.’”
Tom Larkin, who was slouched low in his seat with his arms crossed against his chest, seemed to perk up at the mention of a drunken sprint, and took this moment to remark under his breath (but in a voice loud enough to be heard by all) that, “Judging by the picture on the back of the book, this guy is always going to be miserable because he’ll never get any company…not by looking like that, at least.”
This remark drew unbridled laughter from Dan Hercks, who could hardly catch his breath, and who enthusiastically patted his friend on the back and shook his hand with great vigor. The remainder of the group, meanwhile, all turned their eyes to Tom Larkin. Several laughed, several frowned, but all looked intently at Tom Larkin, and the unexpected attention made Tom blush, and writhe uncomfortably in his seat for several minutes thereafter.
The moderator, speaking in the tones of a patient Sunday school teacher, asked if anybody had an example of an adage that looked good on paper, but which didn’t always apply to real life.
“In Japan,” announced a man of that nationality, “we have a saying that goes, ‘The reverse side also has a reverse side.’”
He paused, beamed triumphantly at the group, then added, “Ha!, that’s one of those infinite loops. You can keep thinking about it all day long, you know: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…”
“That reminds me of one of my Grampa’s old Jewish proverbs,” said a thin blond woman in a brown coat with black buttons, “If rich people could hire poor people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living.” This phrase produced soft chuckles amongst the sharper members of the group, while several of the duller persons needed to hear it twice before deciding whether or not it was worth their while to laugh out loud.
“Those are good examples,” said the moderator, but can anybody think of a popular saying that used to be true, but isn’t anymore, or one that’s only true in certain circumstances?”
“Oh-oh-oh!” cried Dan Hercks, rasing his hand in the air, and rising from his seat to address the company. “I got one, I got one. How ‘bout, ‘There’s no time like the present,’ huh-huh.”
The moderator asked that Dan Hercks explain why that famous adage did not apply to real life.
“Wuhl, it’s like, it’s a good one ‘n all, but it ain’t true cuz like, right now, this place kinder ‘minds me ‘a grade school. So like, right now it’s the present, but it’s kinder like the past, so I think the sayin’ otta be, ‘there’s lots ‘a times like the present,’ huh-huh, y’ome sane?”
Having relieved himself of this great profundity, Dan Hercks resumed his seat and applied his elbow to the ribs of his nearest neighbor, the lovely young lady with the dark curly hair and small glasses, and entreated her to laugh along with the joke. She could not be made to do so, and instead, stealthily scooted her chair an inch or two in the opposite direction. Continue reading
The second part of this story can be found here.
Wesley Lee Lackley admits, in the preface to his new book Twenty-Four Aphoristic Equations, that he once held the proverbs of John Heywood in high regard. Heywood, who lived and wrote in the mid-1500’s, is famous for such timeless aphorisms as “Look before you leap,” “All’s well that ends well,” “Better late than never,” and divers other household adages.
“During childhood,” writes Mr. Lackley, “my entire life revolved around those popular sayings. They were my moral compass. Then one day I started finding holes in the theories, gaps in the logic, foxes in the henhouse…”
From that moment forward, Mr. Lackley began to view the writings of John Heywood with a cautious skepticism, and to treat all similar adages as unproven theories.
“I felt compelled to write a book,” he explains, “that reexamines some of the phrases that we blindly believe to be true, like ‘A stitch in time saves nine,’ and ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.’ I believe we need to question some of the things that are universally accepted. If we don’t, we’ll never know if we’re living the lives we’re meant to live in this lifetime.”
I was introduced to Twenty-Four Aphoristic Equations by my dear friend Mr. E. Figglebiss Hennam, who had read the volume for his monthly discussion group The Little Book Book Club. He highly recommended the book, and suggested that I attend the group’s next meeting. I told him that such a book was below me, and that instead, he should try a few titles on my Recommended Reading List. Mr. Hennam only repeated his invitation, and said that I wouldn’t actually be required to read the book. He said that many of The Little Book Book Club members attended the meetings more for the social interactions than for any academic enlightenment. “Very well,” I said. “It will do me good to get out of the house.”
The meeting of The Little Book Book Club (which was formed, as I understand, for the benefit of any persons too busy or too distracted to read big books) took place near Lawton Park in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, in the newly renovated attic of a large Craftsman style home. The attic, which was brightly lit and furnished with a circle of folding aluminum chairs, was filled to capacity with casually dressed men and women who loitered about in noisy conversation, or stood devouring the contents of a refreshment table.
Mr. Hennam was taking a moment to introduce me to several of his acquaintances when—much to my astonishment—whose familiar faces did I happen to see, but those of Mr.’s Tom Larkin and Dan Hercks! Last year, at about this time, that pair of friends enjoyed a few moments of fame by appearing in my article titled An Application for Romance. In the article, I described how Tom and Dan were applying for romantic encounters with lovely young women in much of the same way that a job seeker applies for work. They now stood before me in tattered jeans, stained tee-shirts, five o’clock shadows, and baseball caps, with their hands filled with cheese and crackers, and with the air around them smelling very much like a brewery.
“Whoa, hey…look who’s here,” said Tom Larkin.
“Eh-yo…huh-huh…what’s up?” asked Dan Hercks.
“Gentlemen,” I said, not without a certain feeling of apprehension, “what a…lovely surprise. How are you both? And how’s the business with the romance application?”
“It’s, ah…it’s going pretty well,” said Tom Larkin, nodding his head.
“We’re savin’ up money fer a website,” declared Dan Hercks, brushing cracker crumbs from his tee-shirt. “Once we get ‘er up ‘n runnin,’ we’ll prob’ly be makin’ a lotta money, ‘specially now that we’re kinder famous.”
“Yeah, we’ve got some pretty good ideas,” said Tom Larkin. “We’re going to sell different versions of the form, and also set up an internet dating service based around the application. I think it’s going to catch on pretty fast, especially now that everybody’s read about it on your blog.”
“Ah,” I said. “And will you be doing the ladies the great honor of passing out your applications this evening?”
“It all depends,” said Tom Larkin. “”Right now we’re still scopin’ the place out, you know, just looking for the talent.”
“Ya know it,” added Dan Hercks with great enthusiasm.
The attentions of Tom Larkin and Dan Hercks were arrested, at this point, by a lovely young girl with dark curly hair and small glasses, who hung her jacket on the back of a nearby chair, sat down, crossed her legs, clasped her hands on one knee, and waited patiently for the commencement of the evening’s discussion.
“Hey, uh, ya know, we were juz thinkin’ of sittin’ down,” said Dan Hercks, who hastened to take a seat beside the lovely young girl with the dark curly hair and small glasses, motioning, as he did so, for the rest of us to follow. Continue reading
Having not had much to write about in recent months, it occurred to me that perhaps I should attend a concert and write a review. Considering, however, that I am mostly oblivious to all that is cool and current and hip and happening these days, and feeling, therefore, somewhat out of touch with the popular music scene, I consulted my good friend, Mr. E. Figglebiss Hennam. After some consideration, Mr. Hennam recalled having heard positive reviews about a local band called The Chanting Monks.
I replied that I was damned if I had ever heard of the band, but no matter. It would be interesting to try something new and unfamiliar. I invited Mr. Hennam to join me, provided that he make all the arrangements.
On the evening of Sunday, January 6th, we drove across town, through the mist and the mud, to St. Mark’s coliseum or cinema or citadel or St. Mark’s something-or-other (located at 1245 10th Avenue East in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood), and, upon arriving a few minutes before 9:30 p.m., made our way into a hulking, boxy mass of architecture with very few windows.
As we entered the lobby of the cold and drab facility, we were greeted by the hopeful countenance of an attending doorman. I use the word “hopeful” because he stood by a wide bronze jug with a sign that read,
Admission is free.
Suggested donation: $3.00
I have never taken well to suggestions. That is part of my nature. I would have been perfectly willing to explain this detail of my personality if asked about it, but the doorman did not ask; he only frowned and glared as I walked past without ever taking my hands from my pockets (it is furthermore my opinion that the cold and reproachful glances which I received from this mediocre doorman would only have been appropriate if the “suggested donation” were instead “required admission”).
As we pushed our way forward through a meager but diverse audience, during which time I made a point to remark that the decor and architecture of the building was exceedingly “church-like,” we entertained ourselves with the loud echoes and reverberations of our voices in the cavernous auditorium. Upon claiming seats in the front row of what would later prove to be highly uncomfortable wooden benches (even despite the padded foot rests and the smattering of reading material), we glanced curiously around at the members of the audience. I was dismayed beyond expression to find that nearly each and every person was either slouched or sprawled in every imaginable form of lethargic repose, and that many of these listless individuals had even ventured to bring along mats, cushions, and blankets to assist in their personal comfort. This apathy was not the sort of thing I had expected to see at a concert. Indeed, the place was absolutely devoid of any pre-concert anticipation. Nor did I observe even the faintest sign of growing excitement as the minutes to the big show counted down.
“Perhaps…” I suggested to Mr. Hennam, in an apprehensive voice, “…perhaps we ought to double check and make sure that we’ve got the right place.”
Before he had the chance to respond, however, a little side door opened and 15 or 20 male band members, of various ages and appearances, issued forth wearing uniforms of white robes over black shirts and black trousers. Continue reading
It was about this time last Thursday afternoon that I was dozing off in the back of the bar and hoping for something interesting to occur. Much to my satisfaction, there came into the room a pair of strangely-matched fellows.
The first was a big, bumbling nitwit around 40 years of age, outfitted in a semi-neo-gothic style consisting of baggy, all-black clothing adorned here and there with rips and patches and metal studs, and covered all over with hand-drawn knives and skulls. Despite every indication of a savage disposition, he wore a gentle, almost harmless expression.
The other was a reasonable-looking man, a few years younger, smartly dressed in business casual, and holding within his countenance a clear, perceptive aspect. How they ever made each other’s acquaintance was not immediately evident. They ordered drinks, took seats at a nearby table, and, after several moments of idle remarks, engaged in this most enlightening conversation:
NITWIT: Well, I was just thinking, you know, my friend’s grampa, he always used to say, “Life gives you a toolbox when you’re born, and you just gotta do the best with the tools you’re given.”
REASONABLE MAN: And did you believe him?
NW: Believe him? It ain’t no question about believing, it’s about knowing. Yeah, I know, cuz that’s just how it is. Some people’s only born with plastic toy tools like you give to a child, but others is born with a full-on Craftsman pro series, you know, with titanium screwdrivers and 20-volt power tools. And some people, all they got is a socket wrench with no socket, or a chainsaw with no chain. But it ain’t their fault what kinda tools they was born with, and which ones they’re missing. They just gotta plug along and do the best they can with what they got, and shouldn’t be ashamed if they can’t do the same thing as those Craftsman folks. And –
RM (squinting one eye, and speaking with hesitation): – I, uh, I seem to see a flaw in this logic. But go on, I believe I’ve interrupted.
NW: Oh, no worries, Man. I was just gonna say: those pro series Craftsman folks, Man, they shouldn’t go around judging the poor suckers with cheap tools. They just got lucky, that’s all. And luck ain’t nothing to be proud of. They should just be cool, and try to help out the less fortunate ones whenever they can.
RM: I tend to agree with you on that final point. Still, it doesn’t add up. Isn’t there something to be said about hard work and perseverance?
NW: Yeah, yeah, I mean, sure, that’s all fine and good, but think of it this way: no amount of hard work is gonna help you build the International Space Station when all’s you got in your toolbox is a dull, rusted-out handsaw.
RM (after a short, contemplative pause and a deep sigh): You see, that’s exactly where I think you’re wrong.
NW: How so? Continue reading
My first real job was serving meals and washing dishes at the old folks home. The residents were dried-up and worn-out grouches who took much of the romance away from my previously warm impressions of the quiet, retired years on the outskirts of life, while the job itself was a brutal transition from the carefree days of my youth into the mean bonds of adult servitude.
My best friend worked alongside of me in the kitchen. Let’s call him Frederick for the sake of privacy. Together, Frederick and I coped with the tedium and depressed atmosphere by acting as goofy and deranged as the margins of the job would allow. We spoke in strange voices, and breakdanced in the back room, and played dirty tricks on the elderly. We experimented with the garbage disposal, put metal in the microwave, and used the company phone to prank call our neighbors. We were only 17, so that was our excuse. And although we terrorized the place, I believe we were far more subdued than the hyperactive, Ritalin and energy drink junkies of today’s teenage crowd.
By and by, a new cook was hired for the dinner shift. Her name was Sheena or She-Ra or something of that nature. Let’s just call her Susan.
Susan was a tubby, tattooed, broken-toothed country bumpkin with a pair of screaming toddlers who always found themselves locked in the storeroom during her shifts.
From her very first day, Susan mistook the childish shenanigans of Frederick and I as the effects of marijuana intoxication. What she didn’t realize, though, is that we had been sheltered for most of our upbringing, and had never smoked pot. In fact, we had never knowingly been in the same room as the drug, and couldn’t distinguish the stuff from a lineup of ordinary garden greens.
We tried to explain these circumstances to Susan, but to no avail. She was positively convinced that we were wild young stoners with a disregard for straight society and a deep love for cartoons and fatty snacks. We kept up the denials through it all, but eventually, just for kicks, we began to toy with her. We’d walk around with slanted eyes and open mouths. We’d run into walls, and chew on fake plants, and slur our speech, and scratch our scalps incessantly, and feign numerous other effects that we believed to be the byproducts of a completely “Chonged” state of mind. And all the while, we’d tell Susan that we didn’t know the first thing about Marijuana. That was true.
Susan would see us goofing off, and say, in her cracking, hacking smoker’s laugh that always seemed to regress into a coughing fit towards the end, “Wow, I’ll have whatever you’re smoking, ha-ha-hack, ack, ack!” Her joking demeanor soon changed to, “Man, you guys must be packin’ your bongs with the super chronic – hook a sister up,” and then, “But seriously though, if I give you five bucks can you smoke me out?”
It was now becoming an uncomfortable mess. We didn’t much care for being mistaken as stoners. People had called us much worse. The thing that troubled us, though, was the thought of being mixed up in some tangled affair with the police – or worse, being forced into an awkward situation where we were expected to get high.
We simply had to put an end to things. Frederick and I thought it over and came up with a secret plan. Continue reading
It’s been some time since my professional obligations allowed for the maintenance and development of this blog. At least, that was the excuse I gave out to friends and family and anyone who asked. In truth, professional obligations had nothing to do with my recent lack of writing. Nor has this blog been curtailed by travels or activities, or by any personal injury, force of nature, or crime of man. The thing that kept me from writing, or doing much of anything else for the better part of three months, was this: I was reading Middlemarch.
Middlemarch is probably the least known of the greatest of great books. Scholars commonly place it in the top three or four of all classical literary works, among such treasures of human intellectual achievement as Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, Don Quijote, or any number of works by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or William Shakespeare. Its author, Mary Anne Evans (pen name George Elliott), is certainly the greatest of all women novelists.
Middlemarch is flawed and inconsistent – and even downright irritating – in places, but no matter. It’s precisely these blemishes which make it a genuinely, authentically, sublimely human story.
For such a “heartbreaking work of staggering genius,” so few have ever heard of Middlemarch. Fewer yet have braved the 800 pages of stilted Victorian language, intensely-complex characters, and deep plot with more winding back avenues than the cow-path streets of Boston. Of these very rare persons, how many have thoroughly enjoyed the book?
I have done all of these things, which gives me the right to brag about it.
Truth be told, I’m just a cheapened version of your ordinary country-bred jackass. Reading Middlemarch – or any of the great books – is a noble accomplishment for someone of my low station. But I don’t do it merely for the sake of accomplishment, or for the bragging rights, or even to disguise my country roots. I do it because I need to: I need the moral hints and life lessons of these books. While my parents taught me manners and how to behave in public, great books, on the other hand, have taught me ethics and social responsibility. Sure, I’ve yet to have any great success in applying my learnings to real-life situations (I’m still an unnatural vagabond; rough around the edges and worse for wear). But I believe that someday, if I keep to my studies, I may yet find a way to do something nice for somebody somewhere.
While this humble goal may be the best that a guy like me can hope for, a person of greater means and higher status can learn so much more from these great books – and they have so much more potential for doing good. I’m thinking, of course, of such celebrated jackasses as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, the creators of Teletubbies, everyone on the Wal-Mart executive team, Harold Camping, Stephenie Meyer, everyone who knowingly works for Intellectual Ventures, Cecilia Gimenez, the organizers of Hempfest and the Mayor of Seattle, Alex Rodriquez, Kim Jong Un, Miley Cyrus, the guy who won the lotto and still plans to eat at McDonald’s, and anyone else who uses power and money to support the forces of evil. These are all prolific sinners. But just imagine the effect great books could have on people like these; people with influence and large stores of resources, and a better understanding of the world than my own.
I don’t suggest they start with Middlemarch, though. Don Quijote is the thing for novices – but more about that subject at a later date.
I have a deep love and respect for all graffiti vandals. Their lives are like epic, urban poems, while their florid style reflects a profoundly philosophical culture. I wish they would come paint my home.
I’ve been practicing the art of sarcasm. The above paragraph proves that I am coming along well in my studies.
So stealthy and lurking are the ways of graffiti vandals, that I’ve only once in my life caught one in the act. It was a broad and bright afternoon on the outskirts of Downtown Seattle, some several years ago, and I was waiting for a bus. Along came a common young idiot of the punk-anarchist-runaway-from-home-for-the-weekend-and-sleep-in-the-park variety, riding up on his ragged skateboard with a bent cigarette protruding from pierced lips, and looking very much like he was stoned. He rolled right up to the permanent, 3-sided schedule kiosk, pulled a black sharpie from his low-hanging, half-unfurled trousers, and proceeded to scribble an indecipherable jargon over the plexiglas transit map.
“Stop that,” I said, in a calm, decisive tone. It’s my strong belief that we should all work harder to be a self-policing society. As such, I attempt to never back down from an opportunity to correct the subversive actions of insolent undesirables (for this very reason, I generally spend a great deal of time honking my horn when driving around).
“I said, quit.”
He was finished now, and glanced at me with a puzzled expression.
“What do you think you’re doing?” It was hardly a question worth asking, for he likely didn’t know.
“Dude, this is like, my signature, man.”
“Yeah, it shows where I been, you know? It’s like, I gotta represent myself, Yo.”
“Nobody asked for your signature. What – do you think you’re some kind of celebrity? It wouldn’t matter if you were William Shakespeare returned from the dead; nobody would want your signature on the bus sign. Your signature!? What’s that to me? What’s that to anyone?”
“Dude, like, can I have five dollars for the bus?” Continue reading