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16

Sep

Recently @TedLeo and @AimeeMann were asked to name their early influences and Ted said he was definitely taken, coming up, with Graham Parker. That caught my eye. Full marks, young Leo! An excellent choice, meaning, rather, that I approve because it dovetails neatly with my own preferences. However the experienced eye will notice that the picture above is decidedly not Graham Parker.

What gives?

If you were a teenager in the late 70’s and you had any pretentions as regards New Wave coolness, you were eventually drawn into the celestial orbits of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson or Graham Parker.  I honestly tried with Parker, but never could plug in all the way. I studied him but didn’t have fun with him. With Costello it was a case of knowing you were supposed to love him but him leaving you a bit cold at times, at least until you found complete rapprochement with him for “Imperial Bedroom” (which on a personal note I can sing backwards and forwards depending upon proximity, at time of singing, to a passing black hole or other anomaly of time and space).

But I lived in a city where the number one rock station had DJs that spun whatever they wanted whenever they wanted - think of that -  and brought touring musicians into the studios all the time and they were all crazy for Joe Jackson. They played his music all the time. Whatever resistance you had was worn down over months and years. Yes it was commercial music, yes it was jumped-up, but it was good. Joe didn’t seem to care if you danced to his music at the bars. It didn’t bother him a bit. The other two…not so much. The station even played his “Friday” every single Friday at noon as a de facto kickoff to the weekend. If you were driving in your car with the windows down you felt the whole city sigh and let out a notch in its collective belts for the saturnalia yet to come.

All three are regarded as peerless songwriters, even today, with wide and lengthy catalogs of albums.  Go and explore this treasure trove.

And check out this song, “Evil Empire” (play it here: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Evil+Empire/zSGLp?src=5)

"There’s a country where no one knows
What’s going on in the rest of the world
There’s a country where minds are closed
With just a few asking questions

Like what do their leaders say
In sessions behind closed doors
And if this is the perfect way
Why do we need these goddamn lies?

This doesn’t go down too well:
“We give you everything, you throw it back.
Don’t like it here you can go to hell.
You’re either with or against us.”

There’s a country that’s great and wide
It’s got the biggest of everything
Try to attack it and you can’t hide
Don’t say that you haven’t been warned

You can’t hide in a gunman’s mask
Or kill innocent folks and run
But if you’re good at it they might ask -
Come on over to the other side

There’s a country that’s tired of war
There’s a country that’s scared inside
But the bank is open and you can draw
For guns to fight in their backyard

I could go on but what’s the use?
You can’t fight them with songs
But think of this as just
Another tiny blow against the empire
Another blow against the evil empire
Just another blow against the evil empire”

Here’s the mind-blower: “Evil Empire” was released in 1989. Twenty-five years ago.  It should be sung in every country that has policies and leadership its population can’t abide. The president’s pet of every such country owes it to humanity to take the stage at official functions and sing it during live telecasts to the everlasting fury of the dearest leader. The song is everything “Won’t Get Fooled Again” pretends it is. It’s raising a single hand against a regime rather than retreating into self.

And you can’t dance to it.

Recently @TedLeo and @AimeeMann were asked to name their early influences and Ted said he was definitely taken, coming up, with Graham Parker. That caught my eye. Full marks, young Leo! An excellent choice, meaning, rather, that I approve because it dovetails neatly with my own preferences. However the experienced eye will notice that the picture above is decidedly not Graham Parker.

What gives?

If you were a teenager in the late 70’s and you had any pretentions as regards New Wave coolness, you were eventually drawn into the celestial orbits of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson or Graham Parker. I honestly tried with Parker, but never could plug in all the way. I studied him but didn’t have fun with him. With Costello it was a case of knowing you were supposed to love him but him leaving you a bit cold at times, at least until you found complete rapprochement with him for “Imperial Bedroom” (which on a personal note I can sing backwards and forwards depending upon proximity, at time of singing, to a passing black hole or other anomaly of time and space).

But I lived in a city where the number one rock station had DJs that spun whatever they wanted whenever they wanted - think of that - and brought touring musicians into the studios all the time and they were all crazy for Joe Jackson. They played his music all the time. Whatever resistance you had was worn down over months and years. Yes it was commercial music, yes it was jumped-up, but it was good. Joe didn’t seem to care if you danced to his music at the bars. It didn’t bother him a bit. The other two…not so much. The station even played his “Friday” every single Friday at noon as a de facto kickoff to the weekend. If you were driving in your car with the windows down you felt the whole city sigh and let out a notch in its collective belts for the saturnalia yet to come.

All three are regarded as peerless songwriters, even today, with wide and lengthy catalogs of albums. Go and explore this treasure trove.

And check out this song, “Evil Empire” (play it here: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Evil+Empire/zSGLp?src=5)

"There’s a country where no one knows
What’s going on in the rest of the world
There’s a country where minds are closed
With just a few asking questions

Like what do their leaders say
In sessions behind closed doors
And if this is the perfect way
Why do we need these goddamn lies?

This doesn’t go down too well:
“We give you everything, you throw it back.
Don’t like it here you can go to hell.
You’re either with or against us.”

There’s a country that’s great and wide
It’s got the biggest of everything
Try to attack it and you can’t hide
Don’t say that you haven’t been warned

You can’t hide in a gunman’s mask
Or kill innocent folks and run
But if you’re good at it they might ask -
Come on over to the other side

There’s a country that’s tired of war
There’s a country that’s scared inside
But the bank is open and you can draw
For guns to fight in their backyard

I could go on but what’s the use?
You can’t fight them with songs
But think of this as just
Another tiny blow against the empire
Another blow against the evil empire
Just another blow against the evil empire”

Here’s the mind-blower: “Evil Empire” was released in 1989. Twenty-five years ago. It should be sung in every country that has policies and leadership its population can’t abide. The president’s pet of every such country owes it to humanity to take the stage at official functions and sing it during live telecasts to the everlasting fury of the dearest leader. The song is everything “Won’t Get Fooled Again” pretends it is. It’s raising a single hand against a regime rather than retreating into self.

And you can’t dance to it.

26

May

A Modest Treatise on #YesAllWomen for the men.

Go to the timelines of your favorite people for May 24, 25 & 26 and read them. I mean really read them. Read all of them. Some of them will have been taken down upon reflection, but I personally hope they never are. Collectively they’re a State of the Union for Women, and it’s pretty grim. My stomach is in knots from what ALL WOMEN have experienced. If you are a real man - a real person, really - you will be heartsick and scorched.

I KNOW people in other parts of the world throw acid in the faces of girls going to school and I KNOW religious sects cover women from head to toe and treat them as chattel. I know all these things. That’s over THERE. I can’t do anything about it besides showing my everlasting disapproval and heaping scorn on it from a great distance. But HERE? It’s bad enough here, believe me. Let’s get this all out in the open and make changes in our stupid heads and stupid hearts and then make them out in the world where this garbage is still, unbelievably, happening.

These are your, my, our FRIENDS. We only want the best for them, always, wherever they are. We LOVE them. To think their safety, sanity, security, health, happiness, and so on could be at risk so often and in so many places is TERRIBLE. To think that the workplaces, transportation, police, friends, legal system would ever make value judgements about them in their worst moments of absolutely degrading victimhood is DISGUSTING. To know your friend (add “wife” or “mother” or “sister” or “daughter” or “valuable human being with feelings and dignity” whenever I say “friend” if that helps you process, though it shouldn’t have to, really) is open to the grossest affronts and violations on the street, on public transportation, at work parties, in a parking lot or on a jogging trail, or even at home with a “loved one” boggles the mind.

Strap-hangers getting rubbed up on the subway. Sexually explicit remarks. Appraisals of looks from strangers, male coworkers. Gropings. Getting stalked. Being followed in car garages, malls, parking lots after dark. Rapes. Beatings. Just because a woman is ALONE?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I realize there’s a “pursuit” imperative inherent in primates in order to push the species along. But humans are NOT ANIMALS. Not really. We’ve made ourselves, with all our amazing abilities and consciousness, impervious to evolution. Bad eyesight? You don’t get passed over. Your genes don’t get left behind. You get glasses. Legs blown off? Here’s a wheelchair, curb cuts, an elevator, a modified van. You don’t die in the dust. Cancer? Have a few chemo cocktails & live another thirty years. We don’t have to live like the beasts of the field. We’re better than that.  To take the ideal of pursuit to the level of a shark with a dead whale is an affront to what makes us different, better, even great. We may not be celestial beings, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be constantly trying.

Attractive people know they’re attractive. Stop talking about it in all but the most intimate contexts, and only when INVITED TO DO SO. Discussing people’s looks aloud is awful and creepy. Speculating about people’s sexual abilities aloud is beyond the pale. Remarking about parts of a stranger’s physique is lower than scummy. Cut it out. Keep it to yourself. Ask yourself who you are and what you’ve become if you feel the need to shout something about some poor girl’s ass in the street. I have yet to see an incident like this and hear anyone in the crowd say “SHUT UP, MORON.” So say it. It needs saying. EVERYBODY SHOULD SAY IT. Because she’s pretty…that makes her a target? Because she’s wearing something form-fitting or skimpy or low-cut or something that just appeals to you personally…that means she forfeits her dignity and is ACTUALLY ASKING TO BECOME A VICTIM OF A VIOLENT CRIME? Are you actually high? How far did you get in school?

Don’t touch people unless invited to do so. Do not attempt carnality unless both parties are in their right minds, if there’s no coercion of any kind, everything’s legal, and both sides think it’s a great idea.

Don’t follow people who haven’t implicitly beckoned you to do so. This goes for phonecalls, texting, emailing, social media or hanging around outside people’s homes, or stalking their known shopping or recreational haunts or places of employment. It’s OKAY if someone doesn’t take to you the way you take to them. It’s NORMAL. Your job is to be excellent until someone else does, not force people against their wills to allow you into their space.

A passed out or insensible person is TABOO. Do. Not. Touch. Have their friends get them home and lock them in. FIND their friends. Defend them from the predation of others. Get help.

Violence between the sexes is also TABOO. The legal code also says this about violence between ANYBODY. Cut it out.

When advances are floated out there and are either left to float away or are firmly refused, that part of the conversation is OVER, NEVER TO RETURN as far as the asker goes. LET IT GO. MOVE ON. MOVE AWAY.

If no EVER becomes yes, you’ll be informed only after being observed living excellently AT A GREAT DISTANCE. This, realistically, is very unlikely to occur and should never be expected. Work on the excellence part anyway, though. It will pay great dividends now and later.

Treat a woman the way you’d like to be treated by an enormous bear, say, who suddenly carries you off and moves you to a cave a million miles from anywhere to Beartown. Tenderness, kind words, concern, sharing, caring - that’s what you’d crave in the darkness and uncertainty of your cave with this enormous creature.  This, after all, is what happens to women when they take up with us. THINK ABOUT IT.

If you think getting off in someone, anyone is the Prime Directive, and that your DNA is some kind of gold filigree, GET OVER YOURSELF. Jerk it into a sock and go to bed. Nobody wants to hear it. We’re ALL special, so that means nobody has to be the inverted chalice for your oh so precious fluids.

If you see a guy circling around someone like she’s prey, DO SOMETHING. Alert her, the bouncers, HR, your boss, the bartender, her friends, a cop. If the guy follows her to the bathroom, parking lot, etc., tail him. If he crosses a line, drop him and sit on his head until the authorities arrive. BE A MAN. THIS IS WHAT MEN DO. Is any of this coming back to you? Hello?

If assaults keep happening in a certain garage or lot, DO SOMETHING. Insist the business install bright lights, and man security cameras. Start a noisy boycott. Paying for the basic safety of its customers should be thought of as a necessary cost of doing business. Period. 

If you see a man dragging a woman away from a gathering, or striking a woman DON’T PRETEND YOU DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING. Are you a worm? BE A MAN. Everybody should pursue him, call the cops, and fend him off. THAT’S THE MINIMUM. If he takes a stray elbow to the ear, so much the better. HE’S LETTING THE SPECIES DOWN. HE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT - HARD. Hear the guy in the next apartment getting rough with his partner? Pound on the door. CALL THE COPS.   Subway gropers should be barked off the train by EVERYONE or be regaining consciousness just as the gyves are being slipped over their wrists. WHO STANDS BY AND LETS ANOTHER HUMAN BE DEGRADED? You saw a shifty guy in the stairwell of the parking garage when you left AND when you came back? TELL THE CASHIER. Bang on the manager’s door. Don’t be fobbed off with excuses. DEMAND RESULTS. This is OUR WORLD. WE say how it should be, NOT THEM.

This isn’t about politics or feminism or liberals or conservatives or the horseshit #NotAllMen. It’s about making things NICE and SAFE everywhere. It’s about being KIND. About ending the garbage. When half of us don’t feel safe, none of us are really safe. That goes for your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter and you, you prize dopes. Tell your sons. Tell your friends. Tell everybody. YOU let things get this bad. CLEAN IT UP. NOW.

Go, thou, and sin no more.

Your affectionate uncle,

Dynamite

A Modest Treatise on #YesAllWomen for the men.

Go to the timelines of your favorite people for May 24, 25 & 26 and read them. I mean really read them. Read all of them. Some of them will have been taken down upon reflection, but I personally hope they never are. Collectively they’re a State of the Union for Women, and it’s pretty grim. My stomach is in knots from what ALL WOMEN have experienced. If you are a real man - a real person, really - you will be heartsick and scorched.

I KNOW people in other parts of the world throw acid in the faces of girls going to school and I KNOW religious sects cover women from head to toe and treat them as chattel. I know all these things. That’s over THERE. I can’t do anything about it besides showing my everlasting disapproval and heaping scorn on it from a great distance. But HERE? It’s bad enough here, believe me. Let’s get this all out in the open and make changes in our stupid heads and stupid hearts and then make them out in the world where this garbage is still, unbelievably, happening.

These are your, my, our FRIENDS. We only want the best for them, always, wherever they are. We LOVE them. To think their safety, sanity, security, health, happiness, and so on could be at risk so often and in so many places is TERRIBLE. To think that the workplaces, transportation, police, friends, legal system would ever make value judgements about them in their worst moments of absolutely degrading victimhood is DISGUSTING. To know your friend (add “wife” or “mother” or “sister” or “daughter” or “valuable human being with feelings and dignity” whenever I say “friend” if that helps you process, though it shouldn’t have to, really) is open to the grossest affronts and violations on the street, on public transportation, at work parties, in a parking lot or on a jogging trail, or even at home with a “loved one” boggles the mind.

Strap-hangers getting rubbed up on the subway. Sexually explicit remarks. Appraisals of looks from strangers, male coworkers. Gropings. Getting stalked. Being followed in car garages, malls, parking lots after dark. Rapes. Beatings. Just because a woman is ALONE?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I realize there’s a “pursuit” imperative inherent in primates in order to push the species along. But humans are NOT ANIMALS. Not really. We’ve made ourselves, with all our amazing abilities and consciousness, impervious to evolution. Bad eyesight? You don’t get passed over. Your genes don’t get left behind. You get glasses. Legs blown off? Here’s a wheelchair, curb cuts, an elevator, a modified van. You don’t die in the dust. Cancer? Have a few chemo cocktails & live another thirty years. We don’t have to live like the beasts of the field. We’re better than that. To take the ideal of pursuit to the level of a shark with a dead whale is an affront to what makes us different, better, even great. We may not be celestial beings, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be constantly trying.

Attractive people know they’re attractive. Stop talking about it in all but the most intimate contexts, and only when INVITED TO DO SO. Discussing people’s looks aloud is awful and creepy. Speculating about people’s sexual abilities aloud is beyond the pale. Remarking about parts of a stranger’s physique is lower than scummy. Cut it out. Keep it to yourself. Ask yourself who you are and what you’ve become if you feel the need to shout something about some poor girl’s ass in the street. I have yet to see an incident like this and hear anyone in the crowd say “SHUT UP, MORON.” So say it. It needs saying. EVERYBODY SHOULD SAY IT. Because she’s pretty…that makes her a target? Because she’s wearing something form-fitting or skimpy or low-cut or something that just appeals to you personally…that means she forfeits her dignity and is ACTUALLY ASKING TO BECOME A VICTIM OF A VIOLENT CRIME? Are you actually high? How far did you get in school?

Don’t touch people unless invited to do so. Do not attempt carnality unless both parties are in their right minds, if there’s no coercion of any kind, everything’s legal, and both sides think it’s a great idea.

Don’t follow people who haven’t implicitly beckoned you to do so. This goes for phonecalls, texting, emailing, social media or hanging around outside people’s homes, or stalking their known shopping or recreational haunts or places of employment. It’s OKAY if someone doesn’t take to you the way you take to them. It’s NORMAL. Your job is to be excellent until someone else does, not force people against their wills to allow you into their space.

A passed out or insensible person is TABOO. Do. Not. Touch. Have their friends get them home and lock them in. FIND their friends. Defend them from the predation of others. Get help.

Violence between the sexes is also TABOO. The legal code also says this about violence between ANYBODY. Cut it out.

When advances are floated out there and are either left to float away or are firmly refused, that part of the conversation is OVER, NEVER TO RETURN as far as the asker goes. LET IT GO. MOVE ON. MOVE AWAY.

If no EVER becomes yes, you’ll be informed only after being observed living excellently AT A GREAT DISTANCE. This, realistically, is very unlikely to occur and should never be expected. Work on the excellence part anyway, though. It will pay great dividends now and later.

Treat a woman the way you’d like to be treated by an enormous bear, say, who suddenly carries you off and moves you to a cave a million miles from anywhere to Beartown. Tenderness, kind words, concern, sharing, caring - that’s what you’d crave in the darkness and uncertainty of your cave with this enormous creature. This, after all, is what happens to women when they take up with us. THINK ABOUT IT.

If you think getting off in someone, anyone is the Prime Directive, and that your DNA is some kind of gold filigree, GET OVER YOURSELF. Jerk it into a sock and go to bed. Nobody wants to hear it. We’re ALL special, so that means nobody has to be the inverted chalice for your oh so precious fluids.

If you see a guy circling around someone like she’s prey, DO SOMETHING. Alert her, the bouncers, HR, your boss, the bartender, her friends, a cop. If the guy follows her to the bathroom, parking lot, etc., tail him. If he crosses a line, drop him and sit on his head until the authorities arrive. BE A MAN. THIS IS WHAT MEN DO. Is any of this coming back to you? Hello?

If assaults keep happening in a certain garage or lot, DO SOMETHING. Insist the business install bright lights, and man security cameras. Start a noisy boycott. Paying for the basic safety of its customers should be thought of as a necessary cost of doing business. Period.

If you see a man dragging a woman away from a gathering, or striking a woman DON’T PRETEND YOU DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING. Are you a worm? BE A MAN. Everybody should pursue him, call the cops, and fend him off. THAT’S THE MINIMUM. If he takes a stray elbow to the ear, so much the better. HE’S LETTING THE SPECIES DOWN. HE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT - HARD. Hear the guy in the next apartment getting rough with his partner? Pound on the door. CALL THE COPS. Subway gropers should be barked off the train by EVERYONE or be regaining consciousness just as the gyves are being slipped over their wrists. WHO STANDS BY AND LETS ANOTHER HUMAN BE DEGRADED? You saw a shifty guy in the stairwell of the parking garage when you left AND when you came back? TELL THE CASHIER. Bang on the manager’s door. Don’t be fobbed off with excuses. DEMAND RESULTS. This is OUR WORLD. WE say how it should be, NOT THEM.

This isn’t about politics or feminism or liberals or conservatives or the horseshit #NotAllMen. It’s about making things NICE and SAFE everywhere. It’s about being KIND. About ending the garbage. When half of us don’t feel safe, none of us are really safe. That goes for your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter and you, you prize dopes. Tell your sons. Tell your friends. Tell everybody. YOU let things get this bad. CLEAN IT UP. NOW.

Go, thou, and sin no more.

Your affectionate uncle,

Dynamite

07

Mar

I deleted this long ago.

Thanks to Lanyard for saving a copy of it! Somebody told me that it was a mistake to post when it first came out and I got spooked & pulled it. Big mistake. If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? So…without further ado:

This week I answer a few questions about how I tweet, and the secret is that I know surprisingly little.
Excerpt from an email sent recently in response to a thoughtful query about anonymity, inspiration, tweet construction, quantity, the scientific approach, etc.:
—————————————————————————————————————————————
I realize, starting in, that this will be something of a disappointment. You have a large, detail-oriented, reasoning mind and mine is a bit more mercurial and untidy.
As to the question of anonymity, it probably hurts as much as it helps. It gives me writing freedom in many ways, but it also means I’m not an identifiable quantity. I’m not a total cipher, true, but it does put me in the Hey, You carriage of the train for a lot of established people. Not all, thankfully. Some people won’t reply to me in the timeline, thinking (I’m guessing), “He’s not real. It’d be like responding to Mickey Mouse, or a spambot.” Well…no. My avi may not be a picture of my face, and my Twitter name isn’t the one on my fishing license, but I’m flesh and blood just the same and I do have a track record. I’ve got other constraints too, because if something’s a complete departure from the “Uncle” personality, say, and reflects more the sentiments of the real me, then people are discomfited by it. They expect a certain whatchamacallit from Uncle Dynamite tweets and if they don’t get it, then they begin to cool as readers. I understand that. It’s fine, and it’s actually a nice problem to have.
Now, as to how I keep tweeting? I am this way. In conversation I’m rarely the engine that drives things. My allotted role has always been to interject, or speak in asides, and I’ve been rewarded for it from childhood on. Just not at home.
Here’s where this note gets really disappointing: the “how I get inspired” section. I tend to get little lightning strikes of inspiration. They are not wholly logical or break-down-able. Parts of a joke equation come to me, usually when prompted by something around me, or what I’m reading or seeing. I’ll think about it and say to myself, ye-es, that could be funny. If I rush to tweet it, it’s never very good, unless it’s short & sweet and there’s something musical in the wording that grabs people. So I’ll try to remember the gist of it but table it for a while and let it marinate.
The ones that people like are 70 characters. The ones I like are exactly 140 characters.
Quite often the original premise of one of these inspirations must be folded back on itself in some way, plus be made to tie to a prompt that the reader will hopefully understand and react to. Straightforward presentations of jokes are not what appeal to me as a writer, though I think they’re generally fine to read, if a bit untaxing. If they take two or more steps and test the pop-culture, comedy or straight-up intelligence quotient of people, then I feel I’m probably standing on the ledge of the cliff I’m supposed to be on.
I only like formulaic tweeting when it works against itself ironically. I tend to avoid it, myself.
I usually check Google to see if my tweet has been done before and if it has I’ll forget about it. But I also hold the opinion that if I go for the easy-pickings joke in order to strike in the moments after an event, say, then I won’t bother checking, trusting (and hoping) that my own particular style will be sufficient proof of authorship. I don’t often have people steal my jokes and part of the reason for this, I suspect (aside from their debatable merit), is that the prospective joke-thief knows beforehand he’ll have trouble fencing the goods because everyone realizes it could never have been his in the first place. I do consciously try to write jokes with an identifiable me-ness about them. I realize this is a luxury some people don’t have, but I have acquired it over time and have seen many others come to create their own only-them tweets, too.
As for wording, I write at my level of thought, keeping in mind that some words are funnier than others and that other words, though possibly just out of the reach of the average reader, are self-explanatory if the reader will sleuth through prefixes and suffixes, or I’ll use words if they’re funny-arcane.
I’ve heard a lot of very good Twitter writers say that their best tweet is the first inspiration and that messing around ruins it. This is almost never the way with me. I usually write tweets that clock in at 170 characters. That’s when you learn what’s really essential to the meaning of a 140-character joke. As an email joke, or a blog paragraph it may be gold but Twitter has no use for it. Then you carve out delicious phrases and substitute shorter, uglier words for longer, more elegant ones and decide that words like “that” are not required. And when you read the new tweet out loud after rearranging things you realize that nothing’s been materially lost in communicating the original premise and, even better, much of the pretense has been struck from it, too. I used to resent this kind of editing, feeling I was dumbing my writing down, but now find it rewarding. And educational. People who want to laugh don’t mind being put through their paces a bit but ultimately have no desire to sit in on a comedy webinar from William F. Buckley, Jr.
I’m more prolific than I ought to be. It’s cost me some very cool followers, usually people who only follow a small pool of tight-lipped Twitter accounts and immediately (and sadly) come to the conclusion that, out of nowhere, I seem to have become their entire timeline and that I must therefore, as a defensive maneuver, be jettisoned. Almost everyone else realizes that comedy writers on Twitter write a hell of a lot of tweets and are subsequently more understanding, for which I’m very grateful.
There’s a science of subtext in all writing, but also specifically on Twitter. I haven’t consciously spent much time aligning words and sounds so that they land extra-pleasurably in the mind or mouth of the reader, but I have noticed that I sometimes will do so at a subconscious level, probably because it’s what I like to read. When someone’s longer-form tweet really succeeds you’ll notice, if you examine it closely, that it often has an endoskeleton of sibilances, breath-pacing, repetition of specific sounds and a hidden lilt that kicks the tweet into another gear entirely.
What’s funny is like asking “What’s a jellyfish?” We don’t know at the gut level what it is, really. We can’t or don’t want to hold it long enough to find out. Some of them sting, after all. It shouldn’t be overthought - it’s only a jellyfish, after all - and yet we don’t want to to under-think it - because, God Almighty, look at it, it’s a JELLYFISH! - but it does bear some watching. How much watching is entirely up to you.
Hope this helped.
Your affectionate uncle,
Dynamite

20

Feb

In her sit-down with NBC’s Meredith Vieira after winning the silver medal for the skeleton event, U.S. Olympian Noelle Pikus Pace told why she’d returned to the sport after being away. She had been fine and fulfilled as a retired athlete, she said, and as a wife and a mom, but then had miscarried a baby and gone into a serious funk. Her husband nudged her back into sledding, suspecting that the exacting training would take her mind off her sorrows. It turns out that - in this instance at least - he was right. Not only did she flourish, but she returned to top competitive form and relished it.

Probably a lot of people heard this and shrugged, or filed it away in the Can’t Relate Folder, and a certain number - myself included - nodded knowingly and returned for a few minutes, or half a day, to that searing country with its oven-hot winds and no shade and no oases.

Background: When I was a boy, my aunt lived with us and married late to a man older than she. There had been a lot of whispering about whether they would even attempt to start a family of their own and they soon did. Several weeks into each of her early pregnancies there was an “event” which was not confided to us children but involved tears, confinement to their room, long silences, meals taken back to their room, and weeks of isolation and sadness. Her husband looked hangdog and we took him to us and played cards with him. We kids couldn’t fathom what had happened, exactly. When we pressed, we were told she had “lost” the baby. What does that even mean? Should we institute a search? Has anyone checked the bushes in front of the house? There’s nothing peskier than a baby, we knew, and the damned things were as likely to crawl into traffic as not.

I doubt we could have put her miscarriages into any emotional context, being so young, so we looked upon her with the chop-chop clear-eyed misunderstanding of the immature. We were quiet around her and gave her space. And were glad to see her come around when she finally did. But each one of these events seemed to take more out of her and her recovery time lengthened. She did eventually have a baby that survived and that baby went on to have more babies. The hard, hard story has a happy ending.

Eventually I/we had the misfortune to have it happen to me/us. Possibly God, in his boundless wisdom, and after noticing how woefully I had absorbed the lessons of my aunt, saw this as an area where I needed a bit of a smartening-up. I don’t think He thinks this way, however, though I’d never presume one way or the other. I will say that if you live long enough, the riches of the world will open before you like oysters one-by-one and so too will the Greatest Hits of all the tragedies. This was probably just my time.

He had been a planned pregnancy. It had gone according to Hoyle and  we were certain of his sex for some reason and had settled on a name for him almost immediately, which anyone who knows anything about these things will tell you is rare.  We referred to him in conversation by his given name, spoke to the belly and addressed him as such and -hubris of hubris - had the existential temerity to think of him as a done deal.

He passed after one of those viability thresholds doctors seem to know so much about but don’t bother to tell you unless your kid goes face-first into one. Seventeen weeks? I forget now. During one checkup the midwife smeared clear jelly on the belly and listened to the heartbeat and it was triphammer strong and during the next there was nothing. Nothing. The machine is listening into Deep Space and there is only Void. There are three of you in the tiny examining room and the only one who knows anything goes totally silent. Free fall. Urgent questions. Her hand slips into mine and squeezes with the force of a python. It’s grim. All joy is sucked up into the air conditioning vent and goes who knows where and stays away for a season. Specialists. Confirmations. The Drive Home.

Terrible.

Terrible, terrible, terrible. This was years ago and I write these words today blinking through tears. If I say my boy’s name even now I have to leave the room to get it together again. His name is a kind of talisman to me now, a word made out of lightning, a thing of fearsome power. This past year one of my friends referenced an acquaintance of his who just so happens to have my lost boy’s name. I felt as thought I’d been punched in the throat. “What?” I said after a few moments. “Who was this?” But the conversation had moved on and it was then I realized just how badly I’d been put back together. It couldn’t be him, of course, but how could that name have been given to another?.

She blamed herself. She had a second cup of coffee one day, she confessed. I thought of my parents, smoking four packs a day and drinking Old Fashioneds through our gestations. I blamed no one. She didn’t believe me. She said I must hate her. She hated herself. I was aghast. Just when you think things are at rock bottom, that’s when your anchor knot begins to untie itself.

The boy is gone. The ten million smiles he would have provoked in his lifetime - with me, with others - will never happen. His Little League games, his report cards, his graduations, his wedding(s), his own kids, the things he would have done to help others, his ideas. Wiped off the slate. Feeding him, feeling his litttle power-plant-warm head nestled into my neck as he sleeps off his bottle, smiling broadly as I enter the nursery first thing, crawling, high chairs, da-da. Gone. All gone.

Go ahead and tell me this is a vast overreaction to a clump of cells fizzing out. Tell me it happens to X% of all pregnancies. I get all that. I do. But this one was mine. My boy. Mine.

The way to stay together through something like this is to stay together. Hold, love, assure, reassure, listen, be quiet. Take the whipping together. Do not flinch. Do not hide from your fate; it has already found you. Because next on the agenda, if her body doesn’t naturally push out the lost one, is what is essentially the aborting of your dead baby.

This is so laughably grim I won’t bother to revisit it here, but when you leave that place it’s inconceivable you could be any sadder.  You have not been able to lose with your dignity intact. You drive home in smithereens, in shards.

Throughout those days and weeks I prayed for strength for his mother - who had to host this terrible event in her body, of course, and who was really the one this all happened to, and had to feel all that I felt plus irrational guilt and overwhelming unearned failure - but what I asked for myself was that he be the first to meet me when I get to the other side. Don’t ask how I could possibly recognize him. I would know him anywhere.

In her sit-down with NBC’s Meredith Vieira after winning the silver medal for the skeleton event, U.S. Olympian Noelle Pikus Pace told why she’d returned to the sport after being away. She had been fine and fulfilled as a retired athlete, she said, and as a wife and a mom, but then had miscarried a baby and gone into a serious funk. Her husband nudged her back into sledding, suspecting that the exacting training would take her mind off her sorrows. It turns out that - in this instance at least - he was right. Not only did she flourish, but she returned to top competitive form and relished it.

Probably a lot of people heard this and shrugged, or filed it away in the Can’t Relate Folder, and a certain number - myself included - nodded knowingly and returned for a few minutes, or half a day, to that searing country with its oven-hot winds and no shade and no oases.

Background: When I was a boy, my aunt lived with us and married late to a man older than she. There had been a lot of whispering about whether they would even attempt to start a family of their own and they soon did. Several weeks into each of her early pregnancies there was an “event” which was not confided to us children but involved tears, confinement to their room, long silences, meals taken back to their room, and weeks of isolation and sadness. Her husband looked hangdog and we took him to us and played cards with him. We kids couldn’t fathom what had happened, exactly. When we pressed, we were told she had “lost” the baby. What does that even mean? Should we institute a search? Has anyone checked the bushes in front of the house? There’s nothing peskier than a baby, we knew, and the damned things were as likely to crawl into traffic as not.

I doubt we could have put her miscarriages into any emotional context, being so young, so we looked upon her with the chop-chop clear-eyed misunderstanding of the immature. We were quiet around her and gave her space. And were glad to see her come around when she finally did. But each one of these events seemed to take more out of her and her recovery time lengthened. She did eventually have a baby that survived and that baby went on to have more babies. The hard, hard story has a happy ending.

Eventually I/we had the misfortune to have it happen to me/us. Possibly God, in his boundless wisdom, and after noticing how woefully I had absorbed the lessons of my aunt, saw this as an area where I needed a bit of a smartening-up. I don’t think He thinks this way, however, though I’d never presume one way or the other. I will say that if you live long enough, the riches of the world will open before you like oysters one-by-one and so too will the Greatest Hits of all the tragedies. This was probably just my time.

He had been a planned pregnancy. It had gone according to Hoyle and we were certain of his sex for some reason and had settled on a name for him almost immediately, which anyone who knows anything about these things will tell you is rare. We referred to him in conversation by his given name, spoke to the belly and addressed him as such and -hubris of hubris - had the existential temerity to think of him as a done deal.

He passed after one of those viability thresholds doctors seem to know so much about but don’t bother to tell you unless your kid goes face-first into one. Seventeen weeks? I forget now. During one checkup the midwife smeared clear jelly on the belly and listened to the heartbeat and it was triphammer strong and during the next there was nothing. Nothing. The machine is listening into Deep Space and there is only Void. There are three of you in the tiny examining room and the only one who knows anything goes totally silent. Free fall. Urgent questions. Her hand slips into mine and squeezes with the force of a python. It’s grim. All joy is sucked up into the air conditioning vent and goes who knows where and stays away for a season. Specialists. Confirmations. The Drive Home.

Terrible.

Terrible, terrible, terrible. This was years ago and I write these words today blinking through tears. If I say my boy’s name even now I have to leave the room to get it together again. His name is a kind of talisman to me now, a word made out of lightning, a thing of fearsome power. This past year one of my friends referenced an acquaintance of his who just so happens to have my lost boy’s name. I felt as thought I’d been punched in the throat. “What?” I said after a few moments. “Who was this?” But the conversation had moved on and it was then I realized just how badly I’d been put back together. It couldn’t be him, of course, but how could that name have been given to another?.

She blamed herself. She had a second cup of coffee one day, she confessed. I thought of my parents, smoking four packs a day and drinking Old Fashioneds through our gestations. I blamed no one. She didn’t believe me. She said I must hate her. She hated herself. I was aghast. Just when you think things are at rock bottom, that’s when your anchor knot begins to untie itself.

The boy is gone. The ten million smiles he would have provoked in his lifetime - with me, with others - will never happen. His Little League games, his report cards, his graduations, his wedding(s), his own kids, the things he would have done to help others, his ideas. Wiped off the slate. Feeding him, feeling his litttle power-plant-warm head nestled into my neck as he sleeps off his bottle, smiling broadly as I enter the nursery first thing, crawling, high chairs, da-da. Gone. All gone.

Go ahead and tell me this is a vast overreaction to a clump of cells fizzing out. Tell me it happens to X% of all pregnancies. I get all that. I do. But this one was mine. My boy. Mine.

The way to stay together through something like this is to stay together. Hold, love, assure, reassure, listen, be quiet. Take the whipping together. Do not flinch. Do not hide from your fate; it has already found you. Because next on the agenda, if her body doesn’t naturally push out the lost one, is what is essentially the aborting of your dead baby.

This is so laughably grim I won’t bother to revisit it here, but when you leave that place it’s inconceivable you could be any sadder. You have not been able to lose with your dignity intact. You drive home in smithereens, in shards.

Throughout those days and weeks I prayed for strength for his mother - who had to host this terrible event in her body, of course, and who was really the one this all happened to, and had to feel all that I felt plus irrational guilt and overwhelming unearned failure - but what I asked for myself was that he be the first to meet me when I get to the other side. Don’t ask how I could possibly recognize him. I would know him anywhere.

15

Feb

Throw a Rock at My Head
     His memories are painful.  They come to him when he sits in the tub, cross-legged like a repentant yogi, the shower’s water coursing down his hairy skull into his face which hangs suspended over his knees.  The water gets hotter and hotter, as per his fiddling with the spigots.  His memories are like wounds and wounds always want to be washed out.
     The first incident in the string of incidents, in the inextricably linked chain of events, took place many years ago a few hundred yards behind his family’s home, back in the woods and up a sunny hill.  The sun came through the trees in carefully marked spots.  All the children from the street found themselves drawn to the place, and they made their delicate way through the path, making sure not to make contact with the leaves and vines that leaned and tried to touch above a sock or under the hems of short pants.  They contorted themselves cheerfully like modern dancers, twisting, existing in the wood, but never really touching it.  Gordon was with them; he later became the man in the tub.  They came to the water tower, which sat in its own bath of rough gravel.  A drive led off to the street where the maintenance trucks could come through.  There was a chain across the street entrance with a padlock that the children would sometimes swing on.
     The water tank was squat but big.  It was the biggest thing the children could imagine.  One by one they came through the woods, and took their places, fanning out.  Then they picked up chunks of gravel and threw them at the water tower.  Smaller children had to stand closer than the older ones in order to reach the tank.  It was made of metal, painted green, probably in order to blend in the woods.  When the rocks hit, they made a lovely metallic liquid noise.  The children, four little boys and two little girls, couldn’t get enough of this noise.  They continually hoisted the sharp, powdery rocks and flung them, mostly haphazardly, at the tank and the tank rewarded them with its marvelous noises.  The sound went on as long as their fat little arms could throw.
     The two oldest boys left together.  Then the two little girls left when they heard one of their mothers call shrilly into the woods.  That left the two youngest boys, Simon and Gordon.  Simon wandered close to the tank and looked in the gravel for gold or, failing that, pennies.  Simon and Gordon were quite young.  They were nearly four.  They were best friends, Simon and Gordon, even if their parents couldn’t stand each other.  Rather, Gordon’s parents couldn’t stand Simon’s parents.  Gordon’s mother was a chippy and his father was a wage ape with his name on his shirt who thought he was the first to think of night school.  Simon’s parents were identical to Gordon’s but without the ambitions and pretensions.  Perhaps in twenty years, with raises all along, they would fall across some prosperity, by way of a will or a real estate valuation.  But for now it was peanut butter sandwiches and kool-aid and cans of beer and spaghetti in that little house with the four kids.  It was the same menu at little Gordon’s house, but his parents chewed without pleasure.
     Little Simon rooted around in the piles of stones.  Gordon wandered out to the track of green between the stones and the woods and looked out into the woods, away from the tank.  He could only look at the water tank so long.  It defied thinking.  Gordon couldn’t imagine how it came to be and inhabit his woods.  It was so big it wasn’t true.  Once, they’d tried to run around it and became winded and so never tried it again.
     Gordon’s stomach growled as one cloud after another passed overhead in the blue meaningful sky.  He had found a break in the trees through which to look up.  He wasn’t hungry.  It’s just that his mother had given him a sweet cereal with milk over it and then a glass of chocolate milk besides.  It was staying down but not without a fight.  Simon shouted, just as Gordon spied a jay flitting on the limbs of a tree.  The jay flew as soon as Simon called.  Gordon turned to look, out of habit.  Simon held a penny over his head.  A penny was a piece of gum; everybody knew that.  Simon was always lucky.
     Gordon walked into the woods, but not too far, not without Simon.  He found the right bush and took off a leaf and chewed it and tasted the mint.
“Watch out for Indians!” Simon called after him.  Reflexively, Gordon looked around his feet for arrowheads.  To Gordon, Indians represented nothing but triangular flints.  So far he’d never found one. His father had some in a box, but he had none of his own.
     The boys felt the earth turn.  The light shifted in its journey through the tree tops to the ground, and the boys felt it and knew what it was.  They wandered, not arm-in-arm but close by each other, discovering nests, spider webs, natural forts and overhangs.  They pulled on exposed roots and chased squirrels.  They heard the squeal of tires far off, and then the banging of a screen door pulled back hydraulically.  Simon wandered back to the water tower.  Gordon followed at his leisure.
“Throw a rock at my head!” Simon yelled when he got there, leaning back against the tower.  He felt as though it might fall over on him.  It felt cool and like powdery dried paint on his neck.  He turned his little head and looked up at the top of it.  “Ooh,” he said.  Gordon ignored him.
     Gordon was looking for his own penny, his own piece of gum.
“See if you can hit me, Gordie!”
“No.”
“Come on!”
“Mum said not to throw rocks.”
“What about the water tower?”
“Not even the tower.”
“But you just did!  Come on.”
“No.  You’ll get hurt and my mum will spank me.”
“No!  Come on!  Throw a rock at my head and then I’ll do it to you!”
“No.”
“Just me, then.  Gordie, stand where you are and throw one.”
“What if it hits you?”
“You throw like a girl.”
     Gordie picked up a stone by his feet and chunked it at Simon.  It sailed, foot after foot, end over end, until it fetched up and made a bloody diamond on Simon’s forehead.  Simon reached up and covered his head with his hands and tore home through the woods, screaming.  The sound was loud at first, then moved on, the way ambulance or fire truck sirens will do.  Gordie stood where he was, arms at his side, and wondered how it would come this time.




     It is some time later, now.  A season or two it seems, and in the intervening time Gordie has been subject to many a lecture about the throwing of objects:  in the house, at the baby, at people, at glass, at mirrors.  He seems to recall at least as many heated soliloquies about spitting, which is the more rewarding of the two by far, and a pursuit where Gordie may have rightly claimed his place among the savants.
     Lately, he has been hanging spit over the baby on the floor or in the playpen and, then, just when it is about to let go and splash his little eager face, sucking it back up again.  There is quite a lot of discipline required that his parents don’t seem to appreciate, but also quite a lot of failure, too. When it goes right and there’s no harm done, his parents still go crazy, which is beyond Gordon’s understanding of fairness.  Simon’s brother Mike has been doing it to Gordon and Simon for years.  Mike calls them Elevators.
     The family is now on vacation for a weekend on Cape Cod and has survived a dreadful drive.  Someone crossed the center line from the other direction and Dad in his existential agitation yelled ‘Donkey!’  It woke everyone up and they thought how this - all this! - could have been taken away just like that.  But they finally found the place without further incidence.  Dad has the trunk open in front of the cottage and he’s trundling bags into the house like a determined ant.  The beach is more than ten miles away, which is further away than their home by the water tank.  The baby sits strapped into his avocado chair and drools.  Gordie kicks his restlessness into the gravel street, his Buster Browns having put in a whole school year.  A few more months, and he will go back to the store for more feet pinching and another pair of Buster Browns.  Buster had a dog, but none of the kids could remember his name.  Julie, a little girl who lived three doors down and had a dog of her own insisted comically that Buster’s dog’s name was “Potato”.  The man under the shower blubs happily at the memory.
     Dad came out and hoisted more on his head and staggered into the cottage, regular as a second hand on a watch.  Gordie looked the house over from the outside.  The screens looked a lot dirtier than the ones at home.  He’d already been inside and felt at the foot of his bed for sand.  There wasn’t any.  He was disappointed.  There was a crushed can in the road, flat from the top down as though driven by a mallet, the style of which is used at carnivals for driving a steel puck up through slanderous descriptions.  Gordie went into the road and picked it up.  From inside the cottage his mother’s voice shrieked, “Did you look both ways?!”  Gordie turned to the house in surprise and saw his mother’s face in the window behind a screen so dark her face looked, he reminisced later in the bathtub, like it had been wrapped in a winding shroud.  Then she mysteriously backed away from the screen and became a shadow.  Cabinet doors slammed shut inside the cottage, and bureau drawers that stank of mothballs squealed open.  It was a deathly quiet residential road paved with gravel.
     Gordie returned to watch his father untie more bags from the top of the car.  The car had wings and Gordie’s dad could make it fly when he was sure Gordie’s eyes were closed.  The car jolted to the ground when his eyes opened.  He held the crushed can in both hands.  It was still warm from the sun and dusty.
“Put that down!” his father barked, turning away from loosening a knot.  “People spit in those.”
     Gordie dropped it where he stood.  His dad walked over dangerously.  Gordie put his hands behind his back shyly.  The hands were the first to get slapped.  Instead Gordie’s dad kicked the can back into the street.
“We’ll get Chinese food if you behave.”
“Ucch.”
“Ice cream, then.”
     Gordie straightened up exaggeratedly.  He looked the lawn over.  He perused the quiet neighboring houses.  Everyone seemed to be at the beach.  There were no signs of life:  no pets, no children, no cars, no sounds.  Across the street a stockade fence hid a house.  A little head peeped over it.
“Hi!”
“Hi,” Gordie returned shyly.  Gordie’s dad turned to look and didn’t answer.  He brought some more things in the house.
“My name’s Tony,” the boy shouted.  “What’s yours?”
“Gordie.”
“How old are you?”
     Gordie can’t think what his age must have been, exactly, so he doesn’t remember what his answer was or what Tony’s age was.   Tony said that he was restricted to his yard for doing something bad.  If it was okay with his mother, could Gordie come over and play?  Gordie called into the window. It was not okay with his mother.  And Gordie’s mother forbad him to leave the little lawn and driveway of their own cottage.  The conversation between the two boys, having exhausted their poor beginners’ memories of conventional chit-chat, degenerated thusly:
“Throw a rock at my head and see if you can hit it.”  This was Tony.
     Little Gordie looked at his hand and couldn’t think where he’d heard that said before.  Repetition was nothing new to him though.  His mother and father used the same fifteen sentences with him every day.  Only when Gordie shifted up into his “Why?” gear were their answers unpredictable, nervous, dumb.  But try leaving a demolished plateful of food on the table, try peeing without washing hands, try stepping off the curb without permission, try asking for a toy in a store, try pitching a fit, and his parents reacted with the easy grace of automatons.
“Come on, throw a rock at my head!”
“I’m not supposed to throw anything.  Mum said.”
“What?”  Little Tony missed what Gordie said when the car went past, followed by a hurricane of solid grey dust.  The pebbles ground against the rubber tires and made a delightful growl.  Gordie repeated himself louder and finished embarrassed.  His father came out from the last load and listened.
“See if you can hit me!”
“No!”
“Come on!  Don’t be a baby!”
“I’m not a baby!”
“Just throw a rock at my head.”
     Tony’s talons could be heard scrabbling on the other side of the fence for purchase.  All Gordie could see was a shock of black hair and three quarters of a face.
“It’s too far!”
     But Gordie’s father took pity on him.  Since the boys couldn’t play together, and there was only the weekend in the cottage they’d be losing this day.  Gordie’s dad, Ernie, suspected Gordie’s mom, Clarisse, of turning Gordie into a sissy.  Ernie wanted a future with Gordie wearing a letter jacket with a cheerleader on his arm, his class ring on a chain around her neck.  He was not going to get it with the current regime.
“Go ahead, Gordie.  One rock.  It’s really a long way,” Ernie said.
“I don’t want to.  I’m not supposed to throw rocks.”
“Oh, just one.  You’ll never hit him.”
     Gordie sighed wearily and shrugged his tiny shoulders like a miniature Frenchman.  He dipped and came up with a good-sized rock.
“Come on, hurry!”  Tony.
“Yeah, just one,” said Ernie.
     Gordie pulled his arm back and let loose.  The rock took off like a jet across the street and seemed to train itself on Tony’s face.  It hit and Tony fell off his perch unseen and landed with a seismic thud that seemed to come under the street.  
“Oh, no!”  Ernie said, aghast.  He looked down in horror at Gordie who, in turn, recoiled, expecting punishment. 
     On the other side of the street Tony in his yard let out a demonic wail that everyone would rather forget and made a beeline for his house, the door slamming cheaply and ominously behind him.  Gordie and Ernie spent one second wondering what was going to happen.  Then Ernie picked Gordie up and ran into their own cottage and bolted the door.  He peeked out the window and looked down at Gordie who appeared to be slackening with shock.
“Chinese food!”  Ernie announced, looking as though he might fall onto his knees.  “Pick up the baby, honey.  If we go now there’ll be no lines!”  He picked up Gordie and raced for the car.  There was no sign of life from Tony’s fence.  It was as ominous as a fortress.  Clarisse came slowly out with the baby.  Before she could close her door Ernie had screeched back out into the street.  Gordie looked out the back window until the cloud chased them down the street.  He didn’t want to ever go back there again.  He wanted to fly away in the car.  Deliberately, he closed his eyes and they flew away.  When they were in the sky, no one could catch them.
     Gordon’s head hangs in the shower, now, water coursing over his head and down his shoulders.  His eyes are closed.  This, of course, was only one small piece of the puzzle.

Uncle Dynamite
uncletnt@gmail.com
All rights of authorship are reserved and claimed.

Throw a Rock at My Head
His memories are painful. They come to him when he sits in the tub, cross-legged like a repentant yogi, the shower’s water coursing down his hairy skull into his face which hangs suspended over his knees. The water gets hotter and hotter, as per his fiddling with the spigots. His memories are like wounds and wounds always want to be washed out.
The first incident in the string of incidents, in the inextricably linked chain of events, took place many years ago a few hundred yards behind his family’s home, back in the woods and up a sunny hill. The sun came through the trees in carefully marked spots. All the children from the street found themselves drawn to the place, and they made their delicate way through the path, making sure not to make contact with the leaves and vines that leaned and tried to touch above a sock or under the hems of short pants. They contorted themselves cheerfully like modern dancers, twisting, existing in the wood, but never really touching it. Gordon was with them; he later became the man in the tub. They came to the water tower, which sat in its own bath of rough gravel. A drive led off to the street where the maintenance trucks could come through. There was a chain across the street entrance with a padlock that the children would sometimes swing on.
The water tank was squat but big. It was the biggest thing the children could imagine. One by one they came through the woods, and took their places, fanning out. Then they picked up chunks of gravel and threw them at the water tower. Smaller children had to stand closer than the older ones in order to reach the tank. It was made of metal, painted green, probably in order to blend in the woods. When the rocks hit, they made a lovely metallic liquid noise. The children, four little boys and two little girls, couldn’t get enough of this noise. They continually hoisted the sharp, powdery rocks and flung them, mostly haphazardly, at the tank and the tank rewarded them with its marvelous noises. The sound went on as long as their fat little arms could throw.
The two oldest boys left together. Then the two little girls left when they heard one of their mothers call shrilly into the woods. That left the two youngest boys, Simon and Gordon. Simon wandered close to the tank and looked in the gravel for gold or, failing that, pennies. Simon and Gordon were quite young. They were nearly four. They were best friends, Simon and Gordon, even if their parents couldn’t stand each other. Rather, Gordon’s parents couldn’t stand Simon’s parents. Gordon’s mother was a chippy and his father was a wage ape with his name on his shirt who thought he was the first to think of night school. Simon’s parents were identical to Gordon’s but without the ambitions and pretensions. Perhaps in twenty years, with raises all along, they would fall across some prosperity, by way of a will or a real estate valuation. But for now it was peanut butter sandwiches and kool-aid and cans of beer and spaghetti in that little house with the four kids. It was the same menu at little Gordon’s house, but his parents chewed without pleasure.
Little Simon rooted around in the piles of stones. Gordon wandered out to the track of green between the stones and the woods and looked out into the woods, away from the tank. He could only look at the water tank so long. It defied thinking. Gordon couldn’t imagine how it came to be and inhabit his woods. It was so big it wasn’t true. Once, they’d tried to run around it and became winded and so never tried it again.
Gordon’s stomach growled as one cloud after another passed overhead in the blue meaningful sky. He had found a break in the trees through which to look up. He wasn’t hungry. It’s just that his mother had given him a sweet cereal with milk over it and then a glass of chocolate milk besides. It was staying down but not without a fight. Simon shouted, just as Gordon spied a jay flitting on the limbs of a tree. The jay flew as soon as Simon called. Gordon turned to look, out of habit. Simon held a penny over his head. A penny was a piece of gum; everybody knew that. Simon was always lucky.
Gordon walked into the woods, but not too far, not without Simon. He found the right bush and took off a leaf and chewed it and tasted the mint.
“Watch out for Indians!” Simon called after him. Reflexively, Gordon looked around his feet for arrowheads. To Gordon, Indians represented nothing but triangular flints. So far he’d never found one. His father had some in a box, but he had none of his own.
The boys felt the earth turn. The light shifted in its journey through the tree tops to the ground, and the boys felt it and knew what it was. They wandered, not arm-in-arm but close by each other, discovering nests, spider webs, natural forts and overhangs. They pulled on exposed roots and chased squirrels. They heard the squeal of tires far off, and then the banging of a screen door pulled back hydraulically. Simon wandered back to the water tower. Gordon followed at his leisure.
“Throw a rock at my head!” Simon yelled when he got there, leaning back against the tower. He felt as though it might fall over on him. It felt cool and like powdery dried paint on his neck. He turned his little head and looked up at the top of it. “Ooh,” he said. Gordon ignored him.
Gordon was looking for his own penny, his own piece of gum.
“See if you can hit me, Gordie!”
“No.”
“Come on!”
“Mum said not to throw rocks.”
“What about the water tower?”
“Not even the tower.”
“But you just did! Come on.”
“No. You’ll get hurt and my mum will spank me.”
“No! Come on! Throw a rock at my head and then I’ll do it to you!”
“No.”
“Just me, then. Gordie, stand where you are and throw one.”
“What if it hits you?”
“You throw like a girl.”
Gordie picked up a stone by his feet and chunked it at Simon. It sailed, foot after foot, end over end, until it fetched up and made a bloody diamond on Simon’s forehead. Simon reached up and covered his head with his hands and tore home through the woods, screaming. The sound was loud at first, then moved on, the way ambulance or fire truck sirens will do. Gordie stood where he was, arms at his side, and wondered how it would come this time.


It is some time later, now. A season or two it seems, and in the intervening time Gordie has been subject to many a lecture about the throwing of objects: in the house, at the baby, at people, at glass, at mirrors. He seems to recall at least as many heated soliloquies about spitting, which is the more rewarding of the two by far, and a pursuit where Gordie may have rightly claimed his place among the savants.
Lately, he has been hanging spit over the baby on the floor or in the playpen and, then, just when it is about to let go and splash his little eager face, sucking it back up again. There is quite a lot of discipline required that his parents don’t seem to appreciate, but also quite a lot of failure, too. When it goes right and there’s no harm done, his parents still go crazy, which is beyond Gordon’s understanding of fairness. Simon’s brother Mike has been doing it to Gordon and Simon for years. Mike calls them Elevators.
The family is now on vacation for a weekend on Cape Cod and has survived a dreadful drive. Someone crossed the center line from the other direction and Dad in his existential agitation yelled ‘Donkey!’ It woke everyone up and they thought how this - all this! - could have been taken away just like that. But they finally found the place without further incidence. Dad has the trunk open in front of the cottage and he’s trundling bags into the house like a determined ant. The beach is more than ten miles away, which is further away than their home by the water tank. The baby sits strapped into his avocado chair and drools. Gordie kicks his restlessness into the gravel street, his Buster Browns having put in a whole school year. A few more months, and he will go back to the store for more feet pinching and another pair of Buster Browns. Buster had a dog, but none of the kids could remember his name. Julie, a little girl who lived three doors down and had a dog of her own insisted comically that Buster’s dog’s name was “Potato”. The man under the shower blubs happily at the memory.
Dad came out and hoisted more on his head and staggered into the cottage, regular as a second hand on a watch. Gordie looked the house over from the outside. The screens looked a lot dirtier than the ones at home. He’d already been inside and felt at the foot of his bed for sand. There wasn’t any. He was disappointed. There was a crushed can in the road, flat from the top down as though driven by a mallet, the style of which is used at carnivals for driving a steel puck up through slanderous descriptions. Gordie went into the road and picked it up. From inside the cottage his mother’s voice shrieked, “Did you look both ways?!” Gordie turned to the house in surprise and saw his mother’s face in the window behind a screen so dark her face looked, he reminisced later in the bathtub, like it had been wrapped in a winding shroud. Then she mysteriously backed away from the screen and became a shadow. Cabinet doors slammed shut inside the cottage, and bureau drawers that stank of mothballs squealed open. It was a deathly quiet residential road paved with gravel.
Gordie returned to watch his father untie more bags from the top of the car. The car had wings and Gordie’s dad could make it fly when he was sure Gordie’s eyes were closed. The car jolted to the ground when his eyes opened. He held the crushed can in both hands. It was still warm from the sun and dusty.
“Put that down!” his father barked, turning away from loosening a knot. “People spit in those.”
Gordie dropped it where he stood. His dad walked over dangerously. Gordie put his hands behind his back shyly. The hands were the first to get slapped. Instead Gordie’s dad kicked the can back into the street.
“We’ll get Chinese food if you behave.”
“Ucch.”
“Ice cream, then.”
Gordie straightened up exaggeratedly. He looked the lawn over. He perused the quiet neighboring houses. Everyone seemed to be at the beach. There were no signs of life: no pets, no children, no cars, no sounds. Across the street a stockade fence hid a house. A little head peeped over it.
“Hi!”
“Hi,” Gordie returned shyly. Gordie’s dad turned to look and didn’t answer. He brought some more things in the house.
“My name’s Tony,” the boy shouted. “What’s yours?”
“Gordie.”
“How old are you?”
Gordie can’t think what his age must have been, exactly, so he doesn’t remember what his answer was or what Tony’s age was. Tony said that he was restricted to his yard for doing something bad. If it was okay with his mother, could Gordie come over and play? Gordie called into the window. It was not okay with his mother. And Gordie’s mother forbad him to leave the little lawn and driveway of their own cottage. The conversation between the two boys, having exhausted their poor beginners’ memories of conventional chit-chat, degenerated thusly:
“Throw a rock at my head and see if you can hit it.” This was Tony.
Little Gordie looked at his hand and couldn’t think where he’d heard that said before. Repetition was nothing new to him though. His mother and father used the same fifteen sentences with him every day. Only when Gordie shifted up into his “Why?” gear were their answers unpredictable, nervous, dumb. But try leaving a demolished plateful of food on the table, try peeing without washing hands, try stepping off the curb without permission, try asking for a toy in a store, try pitching a fit, and his parents reacted with the easy grace of automatons.
“Come on, throw a rock at my head!”
“I’m not supposed to throw anything. Mum said.”
“What?” Little Tony missed what Gordie said when the car went past, followed by a hurricane of solid grey dust. The pebbles ground against the rubber tires and made a delightful growl. Gordie repeated himself louder and finished embarrassed. His father came out from the last load and listened.
“See if you can hit me!”
“No!”
“Come on! Don’t be a baby!”
“I’m not a baby!”
“Just throw a rock at my head.”
Tony’s talons could be heard scrabbling on the other side of the fence for purchase. All Gordie could see was a shock of black hair and three quarters of a face.
“It’s too far!”
But Gordie’s father took pity on him. Since the boys couldn’t play together, and there was only the weekend in the cottage they’d be losing this day. Gordie’s dad, Ernie, suspected Gordie’s mom, Clarisse, of turning Gordie into a sissy. Ernie wanted a future with Gordie wearing a letter jacket with a cheerleader on his arm, his class ring on a chain around her neck. He was not going to get it with the current regime.
“Go ahead, Gordie. One rock. It’s really a long way,” Ernie said.
“I don’t want to. I’m not supposed to throw rocks.”
“Oh, just one. You’ll never hit him.”
Gordie sighed wearily and shrugged his tiny shoulders like a miniature Frenchman. He dipped and came up with a good-sized rock.
“Come on, hurry!” Tony.
“Yeah, just one,” said Ernie.
Gordie pulled his arm back and let loose. The rock took off like a jet across the street and seemed to train itself on Tony’s face. It hit and Tony fell off his perch unseen and landed with a seismic thud that seemed to come under the street.
“Oh, no!” Ernie said, aghast. He looked down in horror at Gordie who, in turn, recoiled, expecting punishment.
On the other side of the street Tony in his yard let out a demonic wail that everyone would rather forget and made a beeline for his house, the door slamming cheaply and ominously behind him. Gordie and Ernie spent one second wondering what was going to happen. Then Ernie picked Gordie up and ran into their own cottage and bolted the door. He peeked out the window and looked down at Gordie who appeared to be slackening with shock.
“Chinese food!” Ernie announced, looking as though he might fall onto his knees. “Pick up the baby, honey. If we go now there’ll be no lines!” He picked up Gordie and raced for the car. There was no sign of life from Tony’s fence. It was as ominous as a fortress. Clarisse came slowly out with the baby. Before she could close her door Ernie had screeched back out into the street. Gordie looked out the back window until the cloud chased them down the street. He didn’t want to ever go back there again. He wanted to fly away in the car. Deliberately, he closed his eyes and they flew away. When they were in the sky, no one could catch them.
Gordon’s head hangs in the shower, now, water coursing over his head and down his shoulders. His eyes are closed. This, of course, was only one small piece of the puzzle.

Uncle Dynamite
uncletnt@gmail.com
All rights of authorship are reserved and claimed.

09

Jan

Sam Cooke would have been delighted to have left this among the songs he’s remembered for. Hits all the reward centers of the brain.

15

Dec

There’s still time to get books for friends, family or even yourself for after the holidays. These delightful & talented people I follow on Twitter have books available for sale online as books, e-books or recorded books. Memoirs, young adult fiction, sports, novels, travel, reportage, humor, biographies, poetry - you name it. Solve all your shopping dilemmas in one session, no traffic, no parking. Yes, I have most of their books and yes, they are WELL WORTH IT. Plug their names into the search box of your favorite book site and click away. In no particular order:

Rob Delaney
Kelly Oxford
Patricia Lockwood
Caissie St. Onge
Matt Debenham
Rosanne Cash
Susan Orlean
Tim Siedell
Patton Oswalt
Jim Gaffigan
Michelle Gagnon
Seth Grahame-Smith
Edward Carey
Marina Endicott
Heather Armstrong
Marty Beckerman
Elizabeth Gilbert
Dave Hill
J. Robert Lennon
A. J. Jacobs
Augusten Burroughs
Gerrard G. Gerrard
Aaron Belz
Margaret Cho
Henry Alford
Liz Smith
Dan Wilbur
Paul Myers
Sixth Form Poet
Dara Grumdahl
Wayne Gladstone
Gesine Bullock Prado
Gillian Telling
Conor Lastowka
Peter Serafinowicz
Elizabeth McCracken
Paul Provenza
Amy Dickenson
Dave Ihlenfeld
Daniel Kibblesmith
Frank Lesser
Merrill Markoe
Umberto Eco
Nick Gillespie
Matt Welch
Kennedy
Michael Kupperman
Cintra Wilson
Ann Leary
Matt Zoller Seitz
Julia Segal
Leslie McCollom
Tony Horwitz
Rick Reilly
Jason Roeder
Sarah Thyre
Ted Travelstead
Rain Pryor
Suzy Soro
Nathan Rabin
Al Yankovic
Sara Benincasa
Fred Stoller
Jeff MacGregor
Johnny McNulty
Jill Morris
Rachel Dratch
D.C. Pierson
Colson Whitehead
Andrea Seigel
Mandy Stadtmiller
Scott Bateman
Sean Tejaratchi
Linda Leaming
Jael McHenry
Chris Regan
Edwin Heaven
Alice Bradley
Greg Crites
Matt Suddain
Jennie Ketcham
Caprice Crane
Justine Kilkerr

There’s still time to get books for friends, family or even yourself for after the holidays. These delightful & talented people I follow on Twitter have books available for sale online as books, e-books or recorded books. Memoirs, young adult fiction, sports, novels, travel, reportage, humor, biographies, poetry - you name it. Solve all your shopping dilemmas in one session, no traffic, no parking. Yes, I have most of their books and yes, they are WELL WORTH IT. Plug their names into the search box of your favorite book site and click away. In no particular order:

Rob Delaney
Kelly Oxford
Patricia Lockwood
Caissie St. Onge
Matt Debenham
Rosanne Cash
Susan Orlean
Tim Siedell
Patton Oswalt
Jim Gaffigan
Michelle Gagnon
Seth Grahame-Smith
Edward Carey
Marina Endicott
Heather Armstrong
Marty Beckerman
Elizabeth Gilbert
Dave Hill
J. Robert Lennon
A. J. Jacobs
Augusten Burroughs
Gerrard G. Gerrard
Aaron Belz
Margaret Cho
Henry Alford
Liz Smith
Dan Wilbur
Paul Myers
Sixth Form Poet
Dara Grumdahl
Wayne Gladstone
Gesine Bullock Prado
Gillian Telling
Conor Lastowka
Peter Serafinowicz
Elizabeth McCracken
Paul Provenza
Amy Dickenson
Dave Ihlenfeld
Daniel Kibblesmith
Frank Lesser
Merrill Markoe
Umberto Eco
Nick Gillespie
Matt Welch
Kennedy
Michael Kupperman
Cintra Wilson
Ann Leary
Matt Zoller Seitz
Julia Segal
Leslie McCollom
Tony Horwitz
Rick Reilly
Jason Roeder
Sarah Thyre
Ted Travelstead
Rain Pryor
Suzy Soro
Nathan Rabin
Al Yankovic
Sara Benincasa
Fred Stoller
Jeff MacGregor
Johnny McNulty
Jill Morris
Rachel Dratch
D.C. Pierson
Colson Whitehead
Andrea Seigel
Mandy Stadtmiller
Scott Bateman
Sean Tejaratchi
Linda Leaming
Jael McHenry
Chris Regan
Edwin Heaven
Alice Bradley
Greg Crites
Matt Suddain
Jennie Ketcham
Caprice Crane
Justine Kilkerr

11

Dec

"The sweetest sound in all the world is the music of what happens."
Finn Mac Cool

"The sweetest sound in all the world is the music of what happens."
Finn Mac Cool

10

Dec

I read this a few years ago and looked it up so now you can read it, too: 

"A New Light" (a true story)
Joe Fitzgerald

The Markovitz Family was one of just a few Jewish families in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania where Christmas decorations lit up the street. In their home, however, an illuminated menorah in the window reminded everyone it was also Chanukah.

Around five o’clock one morning, Judy Markovitz was awakened by the shattering of glass. “My husband and I ran downstairs and saw our window had been broken and the menorah was on the floor. The frame was shattered. They must have used a bat. Whoever did it had to squeeze behind bushes to reach it.”

For the Markovitz family, it was an assault compounded by personal history. “Both of my parents were in the camps at Auschwitz; my husband’s mother was there also,” explained Judy, who came to America from Ukraine in 1974. “All of my mother’s family died. There are things we don’t talk about, but I know older people like her have a need to feel safe, so I didn’t tell her much about this. And I tried to isolate my children from it too.”

“We were home much of that day because my husband had to get the window replaced,” she recalled. “Neighbors kept approaching us to say how sorry they were.” One of those neighbors, Lisa Keeling, now living in North Carolina, explained their thinking. “I know that a menorah represents a miracle by our God before our faith was known as Christianity. I know of the king who told the Jews they couldn’t practice their religion. When they reclaimed Jerusalem and saw the Temple had been desecrated, they wanted to re-consecrate it, but found only a tiny bit of oil, enough for one night. They decided to use it anyway and it burned eight nights. “That was a miracle from the same God we worship, and why anyone would take a symbol of his love and use it for hatred, I don’t understand.” There were things the Markovitzes did not understand as well. After workmen repaired their shattered window, the family went to Judy’s brother’s home, unaware that their neighbors were working determinedly to repair something else. That evening, when the Markovitzes came home from their visit and turned onto their street, they were met by an extraordinary sight: Nearly every home on the block was adorned by an illuminated menorah.

Vicky Markovitz, Judy’s daughter, now 18, remembers those glowing windows as an affirmation of compassion and community. “It was as if they said, “If you break their windows, you will have to break ours.” And the light spread.

I read this a few years ago and looked it up so now you can read it, too:

"A New Light" (a true story)
Joe Fitzgerald

The Markovitz Family was one of just a few Jewish families in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania where Christmas decorations lit up the street. In their home, however, an illuminated menorah in the window reminded everyone it was also Chanukah.

Around five o’clock one morning, Judy Markovitz was awakened by the shattering of glass. “My husband and I ran downstairs and saw our window had been broken and the menorah was on the floor. The frame was shattered. They must have used a bat. Whoever did it had to squeeze behind bushes to reach it.”

For the Markovitz family, it was an assault compounded by personal history. “Both of my parents were in the camps at Auschwitz; my husband’s mother was there also,” explained Judy, who came to America from Ukraine in 1974. “All of my mother’s family died. There are things we don’t talk about, but I know older people like her have a need to feel safe, so I didn’t tell her much about this. And I tried to isolate my children from it too.”

“We were home much of that day because my husband had to get the window replaced,” she recalled. “Neighbors kept approaching us to say how sorry they were.” One of those neighbors, Lisa Keeling, now living in North Carolina, explained their thinking. “I know that a menorah represents a miracle by our God before our faith was known as Christianity. I know of the king who told the Jews they couldn’t practice their religion. When they reclaimed Jerusalem and saw the Temple had been desecrated, they wanted to re-consecrate it, but found only a tiny bit of oil, enough for one night. They decided to use it anyway and it burned eight nights. “That was a miracle from the same God we worship, and why anyone would take a symbol of his love and use it for hatred, I don’t understand.” There were things the Markovitzes did not understand as well. After workmen repaired their shattered window, the family went to Judy’s brother’s home, unaware that their neighbors were working determinedly to repair something else. That evening, when the Markovitzes came home from their visit and turned onto their street, they were met by an extraordinary sight: Nearly every home on the block was adorned by an illuminated menorah.

Vicky Markovitz, Judy’s daughter, now 18, remembers those glowing windows as an affirmation of compassion and community. “It was as if they said, “If you break their windows, you will have to break ours.” And the light spread.

22

Nov

So…it’s official: I’ve got tinnitus. It’s probably no wonder, really. I began life in the pre-hearing protection era. I mowed lawns, saw the Who and Mission of Burma, and even for a short spell drove heavy equipment with never a thing pinning down my gorgeous, golden locks. I still play music loud in the car, in the shower. I will give myself this, though: I was never much of a headphones guy.

None of that may have even played a part, though, before you find yourself flinching in anticipation. This summer I took a terrific blow to the head which gave me as near an approximation of whiplash as makes no difference and to top it off, had an ear infection early this fall. Either one could be the culprit and if I had to bet, would  put my money on the ear infection.

Don’t blame Mission of Burma. Never blame Mission of Burma.

The Magical Thinking part of my brain says, “You should never have told God all the things you’re afraid of.” For this, indeed, was a Top Twenty Dread. And God, in his continuing quest to toughen me up, to season me, if you will, before our great Reunion in the Sky, has duly been handing me these things from a silver platter one by one. I told you these things in confidence, God!

Tinnitus, you will be unhappy to learn, affects an amazingly high percentage of the population. It can come on with age, infection, injury, ear damage or even gradual hearing loss. Sometimes the brain, recognizing the inability of the ear to catch a certain frequency any more, will simply mirror the lost sound from the inside. What a chap, that brain!

I had laid in psychological stores before this latest, however. First, I had survived a jarring accident, one that had me vowing in the instant before impact that I’d take whatever kind of life survival would leave me with. Second, I have friends, young and old, who have tinnitus and I knew them at the outset of their tinnitus careers and have watched them bloom despite rocky starts.  At first they looked haggard, worn, wan. Dark circles under the eyes. Weight loss. In a word, they looked put-upon.  But then they learned to co-exist with it.  I would solicitously ask how they did whenever we’d meet and their faces would switch from genial pleasure to looks of concern. “Don’t say its name,” they seemed to be implying. “Don’t wake the sleeping dragon. Did it hear us??”

Because that’s what you do. You defend yourself. You repack your attic, to coin a phrase. You stack the boxes in your mind up against the noise. You don’t studiously ignore it, because that’s not really ignoring, but you focus on other stimuli and your brain, you come gradually to realize, has the power to “lower the volume” on sounds it deems unimportant or too-regular. It’s not anywhere near as difficult as reading a book while the television’s on, in the long run.

I have to take a step back and make a few disclaimers before I go on, because I’m likely to offend certain other tinnitus sufferers, i.e. those who have it worse than me. The pitch of my own tinnitus is only fairly high and not very insistent in volume. Someone who reads this and has something like a steam whistle going off in his ears all the time may find this column a bit cavalier and a mite too Let’s-put-on-a-show! To those people I take off my cap and bow reverently. You are the true Supermen and I am only a boy in these matters. But…I may be able to help some, so let me get back to it.

Had I contracted this in another era, the impact of tinnitus would be far greater. Were it the seventeenth century, having what is essentially a tiny pitch-pipe breaking the silence all day would have been maddening in the extreme. As it is, there has never been a better time to come down with this malady (or any other, I suppose). All around us are leaf blowers, servers, refrigerators with compressors and icemakers, air conditioners, laptop fans, furnaces, fire alarms, sirens, highway noise, bathroom fans and so on. These approximate the sounds of tinnitus around us all throughout the day anyway. If you can co-exist with them, then you already have a pretty good set of coping tools in place to help you co-exist with tinnitus. These different pitches and hums and whines don’t seem to bother us unless we’re the types who damn and blast this modern age and the resulting loss of the sounds of nature-only.

I have been that man in the past. I will not be him in the future, because this fine, modern age has taken up what looks like permanent residence in my head.

Some people who first get tinnitus walk around their houses in the night with flashlights to try to determine the origin of the sound. They’ll put their ears against everything with a motor, plugged in or not. Eventually it dawns on them. Because nighttime is the quietest time, we notice it more then, especially at first.  I woke with mine the very first time, too. “What woke me?” I wondered, for I’m lucky to be a heavy sleeper. I could detect no movement around me, nothing outside the window. I pushed out my chin and the pitch changed. “Oh,” I thought. “Another gift from the silver tray.”  

In the day, one hardly notices it. There’s too much going on, too much activity, too much talking and driving and background music, ringing phones and elevator bells.  The loss of sleep is what you have to fight against. Insomniacs are probably the unhappiest of all the -iacs, so try to remember what I tell you next.

I knew from my friends that your brain will minimize the attention it pays to the sound over time. I don’t know exactly how it does this, but it eventually leaves it to simmer and puts it at Priority Item #10,876 on the list of things it wants to think about. At my level of whine and volume, this is do-able. I refer you again to the rather neat metaphor of the attic packed against the problem. The brain can pile endless layers of silt and gravel and sand and whatnot (again: metaphors) over against it so as to almost totally bury it.

Remember when I’d ask after my friends’ tinnitus and they’d practically wince? That’s because whenever you THINK about it, the layers peel away to reveal the One True Sound. “Yep,” you say to yourself. “Still there.” YOU HAVE TO GO LOOKING FOR IT. That’s a great thing. I do this sometimes in the night, in the hopes that with the healing of the ear infection, the tinnitus will eventually depart, too.  I can hear the fridge and icemaker downstairs, the furnace beavering away in the basement, the sounds of the wind in the trees outside and the odd car passing one street over. Then I can isolate it. I give it about three seconds of attention.

Then I bury it again. It never fails. Think about it and the rest of the onion lifts off to show the still constant noise at the center (again with the metaphors).  Forget about it, or let the mind re-pack and re-prioritize it, and it’s almost as if it isn’t there.

Some of you will have this visited upon you. Many of you, actually, if the numbers are to be believed. I want you all to do well. I hope this little chat will help you to do just that.

So…it’s official: I’ve got tinnitus. It’s probably no wonder, really. I began life in the pre-hearing protection era. I mowed lawns, saw the Who and Mission of Burma, and even for a short spell drove heavy equipment with never a thing pinning down my gorgeous, golden locks. I still play music loud in the car, in the shower. I will give myself this, though: I was never much of a headphones guy.

None of that may have even played a part, though, before you find yourself flinching in anticipation. This summer I took a terrific blow to the head which gave me as near an approximation of whiplash as makes no difference and to top it off, had an ear infection early this fall. Either one could be the culprit and if I had to bet, would put my money on the ear infection.

Don’t blame Mission of Burma. Never blame Mission of Burma.

The Magical Thinking part of my brain says, “You should never have told God all the things you’re afraid of.” For this, indeed, was a Top Twenty Dread. And God, in his continuing quest to toughen me up, to season me, if you will, before our great Reunion in the Sky, has duly been handing me these things from a silver platter one by one. I told you these things in confidence, God!

Tinnitus, you will be unhappy to learn, affects an amazingly high percentage of the population. It can come on with age, infection, injury, ear damage or even gradual hearing loss. Sometimes the brain, recognizing the inability of the ear to catch a certain frequency any more, will simply mirror the lost sound from the inside. What a chap, that brain!

I had laid in psychological stores before this latest, however. First, I had survived a jarring accident, one that had me vowing in the instant before impact that I’d take whatever kind of life survival would leave me with. Second, I have friends, young and old, who have tinnitus and I knew them at the outset of their tinnitus careers and have watched them bloom despite rocky starts. At first they looked haggard, worn, wan. Dark circles under the eyes. Weight loss. In a word, they looked put-upon. But then they learned to co-exist with it. I would solicitously ask how they did whenever we’d meet and their faces would switch from genial pleasure to looks of concern. “Don’t say its name,” they seemed to be implying. “Don’t wake the sleeping dragon. Did it hear us??”

Because that’s what you do. You defend yourself. You repack your attic, to coin a phrase. You stack the boxes in your mind up against the noise. You don’t studiously ignore it, because that’s not really ignoring, but you focus on other stimuli and your brain, you come gradually to realize, has the power to “lower the volume” on sounds it deems unimportant or too-regular. It’s not anywhere near as difficult as reading a book while the television’s on, in the long run.

I have to take a step back and make a few disclaimers before I go on, because I’m likely to offend certain other tinnitus sufferers, i.e. those who have it worse than me. The pitch of my own tinnitus is only fairly high and not very insistent in volume. Someone who reads this and has something like a steam whistle going off in his ears all the time may find this column a bit cavalier and a mite too Let’s-put-on-a-show! To those people I take off my cap and bow reverently. You are the true Supermen and I am only a boy in these matters. But…I may be able to help some, so let me get back to it.

Had I contracted this in another era, the impact of tinnitus would be far greater. Were it the seventeenth century, having what is essentially a tiny pitch-pipe breaking the silence all day would have been maddening in the extreme. As it is, there has never been a better time to come down with this malady (or any other, I suppose). All around us are leaf blowers, servers, refrigerators with compressors and icemakers, air conditioners, laptop fans, furnaces, fire alarms, sirens, highway noise, bathroom fans and so on. These approximate the sounds of tinnitus around us all throughout the day anyway. If you can co-exist with them, then you already have a pretty good set of coping tools in place to help you co-exist with tinnitus. These different pitches and hums and whines don’t seem to bother us unless we’re the types who damn and blast this modern age and the resulting loss of the sounds of nature-only.

I have been that man in the past. I will not be him in the future, because this fine, modern age has taken up what looks like permanent residence in my head.

Some people who first get tinnitus walk around their houses in the night with flashlights to try to determine the origin of the sound. They’ll put their ears against everything with a motor, plugged in or not. Eventually it dawns on them. Because nighttime is the quietest time, we notice it more then, especially at first. I woke with mine the very first time, too. “What woke me?” I wondered, for I’m lucky to be a heavy sleeper. I could detect no movement around me, nothing outside the window. I pushed out my chin and the pitch changed. “Oh,” I thought. “Another gift from the silver tray.”

In the day, one hardly notices it. There’s too much going on, too much activity, too much talking and driving and background music, ringing phones and elevator bells. The loss of sleep is what you have to fight against. Insomniacs are probably the unhappiest of all the -iacs, so try to remember what I tell you next.

I knew from my friends that your brain will minimize the attention it pays to the sound over time. I don’t know exactly how it does this, but it eventually leaves it to simmer and puts it at Priority Item #10,876 on the list of things it wants to think about. At my level of whine and volume, this is do-able. I refer you again to the rather neat metaphor of the attic packed against the problem. The brain can pile endless layers of silt and gravel and sand and whatnot (again: metaphors) over against it so as to almost totally bury it.

Remember when I’d ask after my friends’ tinnitus and they’d practically wince? That’s because whenever you THINK about it, the layers peel away to reveal the One True Sound. “Yep,” you say to yourself. “Still there.” YOU HAVE TO GO LOOKING FOR IT. That’s a great thing. I do this sometimes in the night, in the hopes that with the healing of the ear infection, the tinnitus will eventually depart, too. I can hear the fridge and icemaker downstairs, the furnace beavering away in the basement, the sounds of the wind in the trees outside and the odd car passing one street over. Then I can isolate it. I give it about three seconds of attention.

Then I bury it again. It never fails. Think about it and the rest of the onion lifts off to show the still constant noise at the center (again with the metaphors). Forget about it, or let the mind re-pack and re-prioritize it, and it’s almost as if it isn’t there.

Some of you will have this visited upon you. Many of you, actually, if the numbers are to be believed. I want you all to do well. I hope this little chat will help you to do just that.