Thursday, May 24, 2007

I Shall Not Want ...

Did you ever want to win something without thinking through the actual consequences of winning? For example, I dreamed of winning the Price Is Right showcase showdown as a kid, but if I had, would I really have been so thrilled with that new dinette set? Never mind the tax bill! So it was with the only contest I’ve ever won in my life.

I am a perennial non-winner. Loser might be too strong a word. You have to try to win to be a loser, after all. The extent of my trying has largely involved filling out contest entries. Rarely have I thrown myself into actual, direct, unequivocal competition with others. The exception: a Bible verse memorization contest in fifth grade.

My fifth grade teacher, a rather temperamental middle-aged Latina with an unnamed bowel condition that required her to frequently rush out of class on emergency bathroom runs (pun intended), challenged us to see who could memorize a Psalm and recite it before the class. The winner would be escorted by our teacher on an all-expenses-paid trip to Stax, a forerunner of Old Country Buffet. Student and teacher, alone together and not within the safe and familiar roles of a classroom ... But that part didn't quite register. When you’re 10, nothing, and I mean nothing, tops a buffet.

What inspired me to undertake this challenge with my fear of public speaking (and of my teacher, for that matter)? My friend/nemesis Cheryl immediately volunteered. On impulse, I followed suit. Not surprisingly, we were the only one’s to do so. That made for some pretty good odds. I chose the 23rd Psalm. I spent days memorizing the somber lines. The day of the competition arrived and Cheryl flubbed the ending of her Psalm. I recited mine perfectly (albeit covered in a cold sweat).

At last, victory was mine. But, other than the DIY sundae at Stax, it was far from sweet my friends.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fear of a Brown Planet

My grandfather did not keep in touch with his family. He wanted to forget that life existed before he moved to Los Angeles, I suspect. However, my grandmother kept in touch with his sisters, which is how it came to pass that C. my long deceased grandfather’s niece, came for a visit a couple of weeks ago. She spent her vacation with my grandmother in Willmar, a smallish city about two hours west of the Cities. Not my idea of a holiday, especially given that she lives in rather a similar small town a thousand miles or so away, but to each his or her own I guess. My role in all of this? I drove C. to the airport this morning.

C. lives not far from the coal mining town where my grandfather was born to Russian immigrants. He was the baby of the family and C.’s mother was the oldest. Grandpa left as a teenager and returned only once in his life. I distinctly remember him calling the area an, um, “sh*thole.” When not insulting the place, he gave almost maudlin accounts of life in a company town in the early 20th century. His father, an immigrant from Russia, died of the flu when he was only a baby. (C. says he was the first in the area to die of the 1918 flu. Not exactly the American dream come true.)

Needless to say, I’ve wondered about the place. What of this hell on earth? So I asked C. about her town. Proximity to the Poconos was established (less than an hour due east!). As we talked about family history, the topic wound round to a recent influx of immigrants and there apparent hostile takeover of her town. “They came with the meat processing plant and now they’ve taken over the Wal-Mart,” says C.

As the conversation flowed back into the past, C. waxed poetic about the old days when the mob ruled the place. There were Italian immigrants, and you know what that means. But, you see, that was different than these openly crime-committing Latinos. There were no murders or (strongly implied) crime of any kind before they came. The mob, though, they were okay. “They left the regular people alone,” she explains.

Back in the day, if a black person or a Latino came to town, she recalls, a mobster would just let them know that they could leave one of two ways, if ya know what I mean. I wanted to give C. the benefit of the doubt. Really, she’s funny, chatty, engaging.

I really might have given C. the benefit of the doubt – even after the mob comment – until I asked about lunch. What would she be up for, I wondered. Her reply: “Anything but Mexican. It’ll kill me.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Now for Something Completely Different

A few topics that have come up in conversation or email in the last few days:

Mr. T's musical tribute to motherhood
• Black bears (they’re related to dogs!)
• E. Coli (specifically E. coli linked to a meatball dish at a church supper that killed some unsuspecting soul)
• Vegetarian “mock” meats, and the need to expand the offerings to include exotic and endangered animals (mock shark anyone?)
• Ferrets (love em or hate em, they will not be ignored!)• Made up motivational words (i.e. "Actigize your life sense!")
• Get it? Action + Energize = Actigize (™ GX)
• Lost (three more seasons will very likely cause my head to implode)

This list strongly suggests the need for yet another medication for a vague postmodern ailment, which I will call generalized hyper-association dysphoria (or something).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Five or So Things to Do Before You Die

You know what I hate? I hate those lists of 100 or 1,000 or a trillion things to do or places to go or things to eat before you die. After all, you still have 9,999 things to go. It just takes all the fun out of actually doing anything. Why not just acknowledge our limited horizons and lower the bar a bit.

So I’ve decided rather to focus on the few things I’ve done (and enjoyed) many, many times. Here’s my list of things to do over and over and over again before you die:

• Eat lots of Ethiopian food and bagels
• Read a plethora of magazines
• Drink wine and good coffee
• Play racquetball
• Go to the library
• Repeat

Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of adventures. I've done lots of things once or twice or even dozens of time, but it's the thousands of bagels and tens of thousands of pages of instantly-forgotten New Yorker content that give life its texture. And don't even think about "surprising" me with pancakes ;)

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