Friday, October 21, 2005

Have a Blessed Day

Have you ever wondered why so many people in “health food” type stores appear sickly, bedraggled, and depressed? Is it because “health food” adherence leads to gastronomic boredom, risks of caloric deprivation, and a generally unhealthy obsession with dietary restriction? Or is it because people with generalized, untreatable, or undiagnosable medical problems seek out “health food” and dietary polysupplementation as a last resort to feeling better when nothing else works?

At our local “Wild Oats WholeFoods Market” there is a regular checkout clerk who looks, perpetually, like she’s having a really bad month. She sighs a lot, looks a bit disheveled, and doesn’t smile. Scanning a basket of items seems to take a lot out of her. At the end of every transaction, she says “Have a blessed day.” But her voice is monotone and Eyoric, conveying a sense of “Have a blessed day, if it’s not too much BOTHER for you” or “Have a blessed day, I’M sure not going to.”

As a person not really believing in blessing things or each other, I am puzzled and amused by this expression, and the incongruity with the speaker’s general affect. Plus, what does it really mean? Is she ordering me to be blessed? Is she expressing a hope that I will be blessed? Is she commanding the Deity(s) to bless me? And, only for today? I probably won’t return to the store for a week or so—why can’t I have a whole blessed week, so long as we’re at it?

More about blessing in the next post.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mr. Bruce

Compared to the leafy suburbs where most of my schoolmates lived, the street where I grew up was unglamourous. It was a bit like Sesame Street, minus the fantasy elements. We had a real mixed palate of people. Out of perhaps 25 houses, there were four Caucasian families (including us). Of the four corner houses, three were owned by African-Americans, and the fourth by Chinese immigrants whose daughters, at times, babysat my brother and I. Directly across the street, behind a brick wall that grew a layer every few years, lived Mr. Hutchinson and his family. If you took Archie Bunker, excised the bigotry, and inserted a community-minded heart, you’d have Mr. Hutchinson. One year, he blacktopped his entire backyard.

Next door we had the most valuable of city-kid real estate: a vacant lot. Everyone simply called it The Vacant Lot, the way New Yorkers refer to The Park. My brother and I played a lot of quasi-baseball there. The weeds grew high and we hid in them. There were chunks of crumbling concrete, from whatever structure had once been there, and we pulled those up to play “archeologist” or to use as projectiles. We didn’t grasp the concept of land ownership—who but kids would want The Vacant Lot, anyway? One day, though, grown-ups started excavating and the Lot turned into someone else’s house. I don’t believe there are any vacant lots in the neighborhood these days.

Further down the street lived all sorts of people—African immigrants, Asians, Middle Easterners. And somewhere across the street from The Vacant Lot lived Mr. Bruce. I don’t know where, exactly, Mr. Bruce resided— he spent all his time on the sidewalk. Nor do I know, to this day, whether Bruce was his first or last name. Visually, Mr. Bruce’s ethnic background was indeterminant. So far as we kids were concerned, he just fell into the class of people called “old”. My parents told me that Mr. Bruce was nearly a hundred years old, and that his parents had been slaves. These facts awed me equally. I often searched his face from across the street for evidence of African heritage, and for signs of some specific sort of suffering that I imagined the child of slaves would have. But all I could really see was oldness and skin so leathered and fatigued that any number of life stories could have hidden behind it. At times I imagined him, as a child, down in the dirt of some Reconstruction deep-southern sweet-potato sharecrop ex-plantation. At other times, it seemed more probably that he had been born right there on my street.

Mr. Bruce dressed in once-dapper clothes that now hung too loosely on a narrow frame. A faded pork-pie hat lived permanently on his head. He leaned heavily on a carved wooden cane, but managed to wield it more like a fashion accessory than a medical device. He shuffled up and down the sidewalk. Whenever my brother and I came in range, he would bellow something at us. I only remember hearing two words: “LITTLE BOY!”, he would woof. I’m sure he intended a friendly greeting, but the volume of voice from such an ancient man invariably frightened us, and we ran. Whatever words followed, hoarse, southern-drawled, and pursuing from behind, I’m not sure I ever distinguished. Brother and I likened his voice to the sound of sea lions at the New England Aquarium.

I’ve often wondered, in more recent years, what Mr. Bruce wanted to say to us. I’ve often wished I had been brave enough to listen. I wonder what he thought of me, and if anyone knows what became of him.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

24 lines about...

Remember the picnic we took by the Charles, way too young to be eating brie without adults around?

Remember the time we got distracted watching the sunset from the parking garage, and the attendant barked at us for overstaying our ticket?

Remember the impulsive midwinter trip to Quebec, where we ate maple syrup on a stick and scared ourselves silly on the rickety toboggan run?

Remember the snowy field in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor where we tried to find a little privacy from your family—and, when that failed, the drive in the Vanagon to a turn-out in benighted aspen woods?

Remember all those bottles of homebrew that blew up in the basement of your Vermont place?

Remember how they told you to bring along a can of bug spray to “mace” me if I turned out to be creep?

Remember how the hot day of our first date ended behind a waterfall in a White Mountain stream, invisible to the world?

Remember a whole day shopping subterranean Indian groceries on First Ave for a feast we’d make on a miniature stove in what used to be someone’s 91st St. livingroom?

Remember cutting out dozens of hearts of all different colors and shades of red, and writing quotations on them, and giving them to me in a jar, and how I kept them until you sent word that you’d gotten married?

Remember the time you seduced me with mango roast chicken, only to retreat in fury two weeks later when I didn’t take your twisted ankle seriously?

Remember the night we were friends and you were heading home, but we stopped at the hammock for a minute and were something else by midnight?

Remember the night by Pout Pond with that champagne and all?

Remember how I rode my bike out to the rusted pickup desert in Arizona, watched the sun, cried, and etched your name in sandstone? Oh, I never told you about that.

Remember how we fought to the point of demolition at the head of the lift at Park City, then enjoyed the day more than ever, but it was too late?

Remember that time I found you at the airport, and really shot myself in the foot?

Remember that time we had a sudden dreamy drunken Christmas kiss, just before I went to the airport to shoot myself in the foot?

Remember how your grandmother forbade you to travel with me, but we went to Texas anyway, and swam to Mexico?

Remember the night we chewed pine needles under warm stars on the Vineyard and discovered we both dreamed of being astronauts?

Remember the igloo we made somewhere up above 12,000 feet? Wonder how long it lasted?

Remember how I watched the northern lights alone, but tried to send them to you through the ether?

Remember how it all started with a drive to Bennington in the middle of the night? Why on earth did we do that?

Remember how I told you about a crush twenty years ago, and you said you wanted to see me the next time you came east, and that was four years ago?

Remember the abandoned adobe shack in the town named after your family, where we chipped our names into the crumbling whitewash?

Remember how none of these are you, but all the unwritten ones might be?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Sorry, dear reader(s), for my long absence. Things at the hospital started looking a little nasty and I thought it prudent to cease blogging from my work computer.

In fact, I thought it prudent to cease doing most everything on my work computer, other than working. This decision came after the publication of a letter to the editor the Kennebec Journal written by a handsome local psychiatrist. The bit was semi-critical of some decisions made by the hospital administration. When I arrived at work the next day, I found my web cache had been explored, with various files left in a folder that I had not created. Nosy little buggers. Surprisingly, I was not called to the principal’s office after that. I figured they were putting a few weeks between the letter and my firing, for the sake of appearances. But I beat them to it by quitting.

As another result of this little episode of high intrigue, I decided the time had come to buy a modern computer of my very own. So I went over to the friendly Apple store. There, myriad lime-green-T-shirt clad 20-something employees buzzed around me and the other customers like electrons around nuclei. One attractive young female customer attracted a cloud of six Applies— Carbon. An older man looking bored attracted only one satellite—Hydrogen. I attracted two, Carmen and Jessica-- enough to make me Helium. I selected Carmen, who looked pathologically eager, and tested her immediately. “I like the looks of this PowerBook thing,” I said. “Can it run OCENS software to let me efficiently use email by satellite phone from a sailboat?” Unbeknownst to Carmen, this potential use had become my entire self-justification for buying a computer, and her answer would dictate whether she made a sale or not.

Carmen looked unflapped, but did not know the answer. “Let me go ask Paul,” she said, and disappeared towards the rear of the store. She stopped at a desk, above which glowed an illuminated sign reading “GENIUS”. There was a conversation. There was pointing to me, and pointing into the air (perhaps to indicate “satellites”.) She returned. “Paul says he thinks you can do it but he’s going to need to look into it more.” I’d long since given up interest in the original question. “Is Paul a real genius?” I asked. “Well, he’s pretty close. He’s been to California for training and everything.” Carmen confessed that she was not, herself, a Genius. But she was interested in helping. She asked what Operating System I had at home now, and we determined that it was 6.something, created when she was in fifth grade or so. She eagerly showed me “OS X”, which endeared itself by being named after some wild cat (Cheetah? Ocelot? Can’t recall.) She showed me how I could use “Widgets™” to check, almost effortlessly, the world’s current seismic status as well as the nationwide price of gas. I made a mental note to monitor these indicators daily to see if the price of gas affects seismic activity, or vice versa (preliminary answer: no.)

So now your correspondent has re-entered the modern world, and is ready to resume his extremely unreliable and annoyingly intermittent blogging. Oh, and don’t worry—I haven’t entirely left the house of lunacy. I’m still working there as an independent contractor. So now this is all tax-deductible.

EXTRA CREDIT thought problem: Paul, who lives in Henniker, New Hampshire, closely monitors nationwide gas prices using Widgets™. Today he notices that prices in Little Rock, Arkansas are 7¢/gallon cheaper than at home. Assume that Paul is unemployed, that he may rent a tanker-truck for 4¢/mile, and that the truck will get 9 mpg. What is the minimum size tanker-truck that Paul must rent in order to make a profitable trip to buy gas in Arkansas and bring it back to Maine? Assume that the truck will have “naked busty lady silhouette” mud-flaps for the trip south, and Yosemite Sam “BACK OFF!” mud-flaps for the trip home. Answer in the next post!