notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Happy July 4 – Where I Diss Betsy Ross

A week or so ago, I wrote a piece about unsolved mysteries that haunt me.

At the time, I was referring to assassination questions that need to be answered. But I also mentioned that in a future post, I would discuss a few minor trivial mysteries that occasionally bug me.

Here’s one.

When I was about nine years old, my school adopted this self-learning program for Reading. The curriculum included these little booklets, each with stories at various reading levels, and the students individually moved through the booklets, answered content and vocabulary questions, and advanced to the next level. I don’t think it was a bad method, as each kid could progress at his own pace. Most of the stories, though, were incredibly boring.

But one story interested me. It was a story about Betsy Ross. George Washington asked her to make the first American flag. I do not know how they knew each other, except that she was an upholsterer who resided in Philadelphia, and it appears Washington attended the same church when the new government was seated in Philly. I also read in a very erudite source (Wiki) that she was quite attractive. So it is certainly feasible that George said, “Hey Babe, how about you put down that sofa cover and check out my flag pole?”

Anyway, my 3rd grade story retold the now-famous legend that Washington wanted a six-pointed star, but Betsy wanted a five-pointed star. Washington said that a five-pointed star would be too difficult to reproduce en masse, and Betsy said, “Nonsense, GW, I can make a five-pointed star by folding the material and making just one cut.” And she did, and hence the American flag has five-pointed stars.

Well, on and off over the next few years (55 years to be a little more exact), I thought about a one-cut five-pointed star. I did not see how that could be possible.

It was my little mystery.

Of course, when I decided to write about this puzzle, I figured I would ask all you smart people to figure it out for me. But then I did something dumb, and ruined my story.

I You-tubed. (I know google is now a verb, and you-tubing is certainly about to be one.) And it took me 37 seconds to find multiple sources to cut a five pointed star with one cut.

Here’s the one I like best. (There is a simpler one, but this one refers to Betsy.)

 

 

So 55 years later, mystery solved. As simple as that. It is really quite a let-down, to tell you the truth.

I tried it. I failed several times, and swore more than several times, but it works. Here’s my star, which came out a bit chubby, but it’s definitely a star.

 

0701162035_HDR-2_resized

 

But a couple of points:

  • As this nice lady in the video points out, there is a lot of waste.
  • It might have been a bit complicated for Ms. Ross (actually Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole) to get each star perfect and identical .
  • What is so hard about using a six-pointed star, like a Star of David? Just 2 equilateral triangles, with one turned upside down over the other. Very little waste. And you could then make a template for a simple triangle and cut multiple stars at one time.

Conclusion:  Betsy Ross was a little show-off.

Conclusion #2:  The Internet ruins everything.

***

PS – I wrote this piece before Mr. Trump used a Star Of David in a derogatory tweet.  And Mrs. Ross certainly could have used that star before it had any negative connotation at all.

Let’s Do It In The Road

Not literally of course.

But this week, I read yet another article about things you should not do in public. Obvious stuff – like texting in a restaurant, letting your kids run wild in the grocery store, talking loudly at the movies.

I agreed with everything on the list.

But I thought it was a shame that all I read and hear is about the shit you shouldn’t do in public.

Someone should compile a list of shit you really should do in public.

I think it should be me.

Here’s a start:

Talk to strangers.  OK, so maybe not if you are eight. But adult to adult? My husband always talks to the people in front and behind him in line at the supermarket. And everywhere really – at the post office, at the bank, at the gas pump. You know what he gets out of it? All his mindless, tedious errands have become opportunities to hear stories and make friends.

Share your table. A while ago, my husband and I went to a local restaurant and found it much busier than it usually is. We had to wait for a table. After several minutes, the couple ahead of us in line were seated. And so we figured that we’d be seated soon. But the couple turned back and came over to us. Their table could seat four. “Instead of waiting,” they said, “Why don’t you join us?” And we did. And we had a fabulous time. Interesting, smart and friendly conversation, instead of just boring same-old us.

Get the giggles. I certainly think that kids should be well-behaved in stores and restaurants. But they are still kids. There’s nothing I love more than to see them collapsing in hilarity. Join in. Laugh your ass off – loudly – in public – once in a while. The overwhelming majority of the people around you will instantly feel wonderful too. And for those few who don’t like it? Holy crap, who cares about those grouches?

Be a generous driver. I live in Connecticut, which is sort of a mecca for high-strung, stressed-out overachievers. (Sorry, Connecticut – I love you, but it’s true.) We are impatient worriers, with our minds always somewhere in the future, and it shows in much of what we do. We think we’re normal. A few years ago, I went on a business trip to Portland, Oregon. I had a rental car and a map (no reassuring, confident GPS voice). Trying to find my way around the city, I often found myself in the wrong lane – needing to turn at the light, or trying to get to the fast-approaching exit ramp. And, My God!, folks just stopped and let me into their lane. Over and over again. They weren’t shouting, “Damn Tourist!” No. They were smiling. “Over here, I’ll help you make a left turn from the right hand lane. No problem.” They made me feel less flustered about driving in a strange city. I came away loving that place and those kind people. And back here in nervous Connecticut, I let someone into my lane on a regular basis.

Go ahead, Dear.  In a similar vein, let an old person check out ahead of you in the supermarket.Even if they are slow. Especially if they are slow. What’s your hurry, anyway?

Be opinionated. In a nice way. I always let my dressing-room neighbor know when I think she looks great. I don’t ever say she looks bad; or say she looks nice when she doesn’t. But when I see success – I say so. Salespeople have a vested interest in telling you that you look fabulous. But when a stranger loves what you are trying on –  that’s sweet.

Show some PDA. Circling back to the title of this post, Let’s do it – a little bit anyway – in the road. I think we need to see a little more public displays of affection. How can we be okay with folks staring at their phones, but not with seeing them actually kiss other human beings? I am no voyeur, but I LIKE to see people kiss, and hug, and hold hands, and cuddle. And there are other, subtler shows of affection that are just plain heart-warming. Shirt-tail holding when navigating a crowd, for example. Or a hand tucked in a lover’s back pocket. So kiss a little in public. It may actually make you feel a little more loving in private.

 

IMG_4282

Public Display of Affection. Hubby & Me.

The Drive-In

Summer is finally here!  

I love Summer. And it makes me remember the Drive-In. So here is a reprise from four years ago.

**

THE DRIVE-IN

You know what I miss?

I miss the Drive-In.

drive-in.

drive-in. (Photo credit: eaortmann)

Drive-Ins were such a weird invention. Some nut-case (actually his name was Hollingshead) way back in the twenties decided that it would be a great idea to sit in your car and watch a movie.

It took about twenty years to perfect the screen and the sound… and boy, was it far from perfected.  But I loved it.

When I was a little kid, we used to go to the Plainville Drive-In. We’d get there early, because we wanted a good parking space, and because they had a great playground. The playground had trampolines. Oh my God, that was the coolest thing.

My little brother could not figure out the trampoline. He was barely more than a toddler, and he couldn’t jump with both feet at the same time. It was hysterical–for me anyway. He was the baby boy after three girls in a row (me being number three), and everyone adored him. So naturally I was delighted by his stupidity.

I loved the movies but sometimes it was a toss-up whether I would watch the movie or jump on the trampoline all night. (My mother solved that dilemma for me.)

Most kids wore their pajamas to the Drive-In, which I thought was especially festive. Like Christmas Eve in the middle of summer. But my mother didn’t like us to go out in pajamas. Sometimes I could sweet-talk her into letting me change into pajamas once the movie started. Then I’d pretend I had to use the restroom, so I could walk around outside in my PJs.

We’d watch the movie – usually a double feature with a long intermission (filled with dancing popcorn and hot dogs and cups of coca-cola to promote the overpriced concession stand) through our scrubbed, but still blurry, windshield. Sometimes we watched through raindrops. There was a post with a speaker that Dad precariously attached to the windshield. The tinny sound was awful and fantastic at the same time.  And there was always someone who would drive off with the speaker still attached, and they’d rip it right off the pole. I loved that part.

If you opened the windows you were invaded by mosquitoes. If you didn’t, the windshield would steam up. My sisters and I would play tic-tac-toe on the side windows. Of course, there were some cars that were extra steamy.

We saw some wonderful movies at the Drive-In. I think so anyway. I can only recall one. We went to see “Hatari” with John Wayne. My Daddy loved The Duke.

It wasn’t playing at my beloved Plainville Drive-In. We went to the Watertown Drive-In, which we had never been to before. My father couldn’t find the place and we drove around for a long time, so naturally my father had to stop the car twice so I could throw up. We got to the movies late, and my mother let me watch standing outside the car in the cool air. I could hear the sound from the big speakers blaring from the concession stand. Baby elephants followed around a very pretty actress.

When I was sixteen, the Drive-In changed. And changed me.

I went to see “Two For The Road” with Audrey Hepburn – and with Kenny. My mother reluctantly gave me permission. Kenny’s mother did not, but he was embarrassed to tell me, and so he snuck out of the house. We double-dated with kids I don’t remember at all. I do remember the movie. It was exceptional, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite movies.

And then the second feature came on. I don’t remember it any more than I remember the other kids in the car.

The windshield steamed.

Bye Bye, Trampoline.

Hello, Tramp.

The Wonderful Side Of Never

It’s another Father’s Day.

My Dad was a family man.

I could also say that he was a war hero, a self-taught engineer, and a handsome, intelligent, and athletic man. He could swing a golf club and he could swing my mother around the dance floor.

But mostly he was a family man.

He loved my mother and us kids, and his own mother and sisters and brother and his cousins, nieces and nephews, and my mother’s family too. And later, his children’s families – our spouses and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When he would say, as he did often, “Let’s call everybody and have a party,” he meant, let’s call all our relatives and the friends whom he loved like family.

 

Last week I learned one small new thing about him. My mother and I were talking about movies as we ate lunch, and she said, “You know what your father’s favorite movie was?”

I thought she would say “Patton” – because my father and I watched that movie together and we loved it, and he told me about General George S. Patton and General Omar Bradley.  How much he admired them both. Patton for his fearlessness and genius in war. Bradley for his humanity. “Us soldiers were in awe of Patton,” he said. “But we would follow Bradley anywhere.”

But my mother surprised me.

“The African Queen,” she said. “We must have seen that movie 100 times. Every time it was on, your dad would say, ‘We have to watch this.’ Every time.”

So he was not just a war hero. He was a war hero and a romantic.

When I reflect on my father, it seems I always return to the things that he was not. The traits that were just not in his character.

Like how often he swore:  Never.

How he complained about his job:   Never.

How he would be in a bad mood:  Never.

How he lost his temper without provocation:  Never.

How he disparaged other people:  Never.

How he shirked his responsibility:  Never.

How he was rude to a waiter or salesperson:  Never.

How he missed Mass on Sunday:  Never.

How he told his 3 daughters that girls couldn’t do something:  Never.

How he told his son that winning was everything:  Never.

How he fought with my mother:  Never.

How he was unkind to strangers:  Never.

Dad died five years ago, at 88. A nice and happy long life. I don’t believe he had any regrets. He passed away with only my mother at his side, which is what they both wanted.

I sat with him the day before, though, and I rather knew it was the last time. He knew too, I think. When I rose to leave he put his hand on his heart.

“The African Queen” is my favorite movie too.

And my hand is on my heart.

 

dad&me11-30-91

Unanswered

I have mentioned before my mild obsession (Can an obsession be mild? Is that an oxymoron?) with unsolved mysteries. (Eureka, Sort Of)

I’ve always wanted to solve some great mystery or cold case.

In part, because I always like to show how smart I am. I was one of those obnoxious kids in grade school whose hand was always waving frantically in the air. (Well, OK, that was high school too. And college. And grad school.)

But mostly, because I am one of those types that just NEEDS to know. I hate a mystery with no answer.

Just TELL me.

Why, for example, when suspected murderers are dying, why don’t they just TELL us? I felt that way with Dr. Sam Shepard, who I thought was almost certainly innocent. Of course, it would have been even more convincing had their REAL murderer given us a death-bed confession.

Or Lizzie Borden, who on the other hand, I think was probably guilty. She’d been acquitted. She was already pretty much a social pariah in Fall River, so she had no reputation to lose. So why didn’t she just tell us?

It’s unfair.

I have a couple of minor, trivial, mysteries I will share in my next post, but I am in a serious mood today, and so I want to share a few important mysteries.

I am a Conspiracy Nut.

Yes, that’s what people call people like me.

I’m not one of those true overachieving nuts who believes EVERYTHING is a big conspiracy.

No.

I have just a few very specific conspiracy beliefs.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that some momentous world events happened when I was at my most impressionable. Those experiences that made me question authority for the first time. And understand, for the first time, that Authority is not always admirable or honest.

I don’t want to be too preachy or morbid. And I am no expert. So I won’t go off on a huge rant about the numerous unanswered questions or inconsistencies. I won’t beat the drum for thousands of pages or millions of words.

Let me just pose three questions. One question on each awful puzzle that has haunted me for decades. That may be demonstration enough. A few simple questions to represent the hundreds that continue to plague me.

1.

President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. His murder was the most horrific thing most people had ever experienced. And I was only twelve. I watched events unfold, as I stood before our black-and-white TV, with my hands to my mouth. I saw Lee Harvey Oswald killed. I have only witnessed death once since… in 53 years. Two deaths. One a cousin, in her hospital room. One – an assassin on live TV.

There are many unanswered questions. I’ve read dozens of books, probably hundreds of articles. Most people who believe the lone gunman theory think that those of us who don’t are in denial. That we just cannot accept that one miserable unknown human being could have the power to change history.

But I am not naive. I am not an idealist. (Well, OK, perhaps somewhat of an idealist.) I do not think Oswald was a patsy in the true sense of the word. I believe he was involved. It’s the “lone” part of the “lone gunman” theory that worries me.

Here’s my one single JFK question. How does a young ex-marine who defects to the Soviet Union in the height of the Cold War– how is it that he was able to return so easily 2 1/2 years later? Why did the FBI or CIA appear to have no interest in him?

2.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968. I was 17. He had changed the world significantly in just a few years, and he was not yet 40 years old. He was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The convicted murdered was James Earl Ray, a petty criminal and avowed racist.He recanted his confession only a few days after pleading guilty.

Here’s my Dr. King question: Ray was captured in London, with a false passport. He had escaped through Canada to the UK and was attempting to travel to white-ruled Rhodesia.  In 1968, air travel was still extremely expensive – out of the reach of most Americans. Where did a loser like Ray get the money for his escape?

3.

Only a few months after Dr. King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was shot as his entourage moved through the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after the California Democratic Primary. The assassin was Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian (whose family was Christian, by the way) who may have been truly deranged. He fired his 22 even as he was wrestled into submission by members of Kennedy’s group. He emptied the gun.

Here’s my RFK question. Sirhan’s gun held 8 bullets. Kennedy was hit three times, but only 2 bullets were recovered, with one supposedly lost in the ceiling. Five were recovered from other injured people. That’s seven bullets recovered. So there is just one bullet unaccounted for (the ceiling bullet). So why were there extra holes in the ceiling and the walls? One door-frame was photographed with 2 holes circled by investigators. By some accounts, bullets had been recovered from these or other holes. Sirhan was firing wildly as he was subdued. But that is one hell of a lot of ricochet.

bulletholes

****

I know this is a crazy atypical post for me. I wasn’t sure whether to even publish it. But I’ve been thinking so much about the passage of time. In the not-too-distant future, all the folks who were witness to these events will be dead. And perhaps no one will care much about unanswered questions.

I hope the interest in Truth will still matter.

 

 

Dirt

A few days a go I was doing a little gardening.

Here is a totally gratuitous photo of my helper. Theo has nothing to do with this story, but I am addicted to taking pictures of his adorable self.

gardening help

 

So anyway, I am digging up weeds. I love pulling weeds – it is sort of a free association task for me. Sitting on the ground with the sun on my shoulders doing something so mindless – it allows my brain to travel to all sorts of interesting orbits.

I have new gardening gloves. I suffer from a severe allergy to poison ivy. My reaction is truly terrible, so my dermatologist told me to buy very cheap gloves and use them as disposable, since my gloves may come in contact with the satanic plants. But the problem is that I poke through the fingers of cheap gloves immediately. So this year I sprung for a really nice pair. I love them.

So in my wandering thoughts I returned to the dirt of my childhood.

As much as I hate getting dirt under my fingernails now (hence the better gloves), I hated it even more as a kid. I despised that gritty feeling – even though I loved playing in the dirt. My mother did not garden. She had four kids and a job. Tending flowers was WAY down on her list. So I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gardening gloves. However, I invented a pair.

What I mean is that I took my white Sunday gloves and put them on, grabbed a good soup-spoon from the kitchen drawer and went out to dig. Mom did not think this to be a creative solution.

So I learned to scrub my fingers with an old toothbrush, and get used to a little dirt.

I see the sandboxes that kids have today. So pristine. Hygienic, sterilized sand. Sand you buy.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

We didn’t have a sandbox. We had DIRT.

We had a little pit in the center of our backyard where no grass grew. My oldest sister thinks the bare spot was the result of a car up on blocks in that spot for a long while. I don’t remember that. I just remember that is was a nice convenient spot for digging.

But our digging ambitions grew larger than our little circle.

It was the end of the summer of 1960. For the first time, the Summer Olympics were televised. There was no such thing as satellite TV back then. No siree. Videotapes were sent from Rome to Paris to New York. And yet through this primitive, mostly manual technology, we still saw some events the same day they occurred. It was like a miracle.

These were the Rome Olympics that saw the likes of Cassius Clay (our beloved Muhammad Ali), Rafer Johnson, and Wilma Rudolph. I was mesmerized.

Through all this wonder, there was one event that captured the hearts of me and my cousins.

John and Arthur were brothers. They lived downstairs in our three-family home. Their mother was my father’s sister. My family lived on the second floor, and my grandmother lived in a little apartment on the third floor. If you are thinking this is a spectacularly nice way to grow up — you are right. People may refer to this as an “extended family.” But we weren’t extended at all. We were together.

Arthur was my age – nine in 1960. John was a year older. They were rough-and-tumble boys. I was a feminine skinny little girl. Every time we played together, I ended up with some minor injury. But that didn’t stop us. My mom just stocked up on Mercurochrome and Band-aids.

The event that so inspired John and Arthur and me on the grainy shadowing black-and-white TV was:

The Broad Jump.

 Also called the long jump, we watched men and woman hurling themselves down a stretch of runway, launching themselves spectacularly airborne – to land impossibly far away into the soft earth. The men jumped more than 25 feet. The women almost 20.

We had to do it.

We needed a long flat surface to gather speed. That would be our driveway. And at the far end of the driveway was a patch of yard not much used. It was sort of our secondary dirt hole. We often played with toy trucks in that stretch. There was not much grass. After that year, there was no grass.

We took shovels and rakes and loosened about 15 feet of earth. It took days on end. School began and so we worked after school. We built ourselves a landing pit.

And we jumped. We ran down that driveway and threw ourselves into the air. If there were cars in the driveway, we ran down the edge. We had no measuring tape. We used a couple of sticks to mark our best efforts.

We jumped and jumped. The following summer, we did it again.

It was exhilarating. It was euphoric. It was flying.

I remember my mother laughing as I got into the tub every night for my bath. I was solid dirt from my ankles to thighs. The outline of my socks was the dirt demarcation.

I don’t remember too much fall-out from digging up the yard. I only remember joy.

And I learned some good things during those summers of jumping:

* Dirt doesn’t hurt. It feels good and soft and it smells good.

* You don’t have to compete with people who are better than you. There will always be someone bigger and stronger. You can be glad for them, like I was glad when Johnny could move his stick to a new personal record. Work for your own personal best.

* You just have to be just a little bit better than you were before. Inches count. Small improvements each time yield big results after a while.

* Fun doesn’t have to cost anything.

* Keep lots of band-aids handy.

 

broad jump

Berserk

No story here – just thought I would show you my doggie, Theo, at his most berserk.

It was very hot last weekend, so we filled the dog’s little bathtub so he could stay cool while we were working in the yard.

First, Theo stepped into the tub and got wet.

theopool

 

Then he scooted under the weeping cherry tree, which is a nice secret place to be naughty. He managed to dig a sizable hole before I realized what he was doing, and dragged him out.

Then Theo jumped back – all muddy – into the tub.

Here’s what followed:

 

Good Deeds

I just learned this morning that Muhammad Ali has died. He was a hero of mine.

Ten years ago, I wrote a short story (unpublished of course) based on my own experience with our neighbors. In it, I mention Ali. 

Today, I found the story on one of those hard “floppy” discs, and my husband was kind enough to find the old sidecar-like reader.

To set the stage, so to speak, the narrator’s husband Matt has befriended the neighbor, Brad, who has Multiple Sclerosis. Brad’s wife, Sherrie, is an alcoholic. The narrator (very much like me) is uncomfortable around disabled and troubled folks. She tries to cover it, but not successfully. 

Here is an excerpt – with my tribute to Muhammad Ali. Thank you, Mr. Ali, for showing the world how to live a life of kindness and principle.

***

On Tuesday, Brad had called just before dinner. Sherrie was “asleep”, and he had no food in the house. Would Matt take him to get groceries?

Matt said, “Just tell me what you need, and I’ll get it and bring it over.”

But Brad had been in the house for days, and he really wanted to get out. So Matt walked across the street and started Brad’s van. He got Brad down the rickety ramp, and maneuvered the wheelchair onto the lift. They got to the grocery store, and the lift got stuck with Brad halfway down. Brad laughed but looked very fearful, as Matt tried again and again. A passer-by stopped and they got the thing going with a start that almost dumped Brad on his head. In the grocery store, Brad insisted on managing the cart from his chair, and cereal boxes and spaghetti ended up in the aisle. Then the lift got stuck again bringing Brad back up in the van.

“We laughed ourselves silly, because it was just so awful,” Matt told me that night at dinner. “Poor bastard.”

“And you know,” he added, “most of what he bought was junk food. Tons of candy bars and chips. A few frozen dinners, but mostly candy. I tried to get him to buy some nice steaks, like these – and some vegetables, but he wouldn’t. And he bought cereal, but no milk. I think the cereal is snack food too.”

“Sherrie doesn’t really cook.”

“How do you know that?” Matt asked.

“The pizza boxes. They don’t fit in the trash… she leaves them on top of the barrel.”

“Pizza Palace delivers. Sherrie doesn’t have to drive.”

So he had noticed. Of course, the delivery van probably comes before I get home from work. Matt probably knows the pizza delivery guy. He’s probably looked under the hood of some little Volkswagen with a sign on the top, and laughed about the Red Sox.

I softened a little. “Well at least pizza is a little bit nutritious. And I know it must be hard for Sherrie to get out.”

“I just worry about them. They don’t look very healthy. Especially Brad lately. He’s getting really thin. And he’s so pale. Maybe we could have them over for dinner – a nice home cooked meal.”

“Sure,” I said.
On Thursday night, Sherrie called at 11:30. We had just gone to sleep. Brad had fallen in the transfer from the wheelchair to the bed. Sherrie couldn’t lift him.

“Sometimes I can do it,” Sherrie said on phone, “but this time, I just can’t get him up.”

So Matt put on his jeans and tee and slippers, and made the trip across the street. Brad was all bones and bedsores, and he now wore those awful adult diapers. Matt is so squeamish. Touching Brad made Matt feel faint. But he picked him up, like he’s done a dozen times since we moved here.

“I’m fine,” Brad said, embarrassed.

Matt walked back in the dark. I could hear him washing his hands in the bathroom. He came back to bed.
Sherrie came over on Friday.

I turned from the sink and Sherrie was standing outside the screen door. Just waiting. I opened the door and she stepped over the threshold with a high and slow exaggerated step, as if she had to step over a large obstacle to get in. She was dead drunk.

In her right hand was a can of Bud. In her left hand, she had somehow managed to hold onto a pack of Marlboros, a cigarette lighter, and an ashtray. I wondered irrelevantly how she had opened her own door.

Damn, I thought, looking at the ashtray. She plans to stay a while.

She was dressed in her usual cutoffs, and a tank top with no bra. I guess that was better than when she showed up last week at Connie and Ed’s, wearing her tank top with only her underpants. She sat on their porch for an hour, shooting the shit, apparently unaware that she had forgotten her pants. Connie and Ed pretended they didn’t notice.

“Sit down, Sherrie. I’ll go get Matt.”

I poked my head into the little spare bedroom that Matt used as an office. He was on the phone with his brother. He was a great phone talker, and I always knew with absolute accuracy who was on the line. He had different voices for everyone, voices that were as distinctive to me as kittens were to a mother cat. This was his brother-voice. He reeked big brotherly advice, with as many swear words as you could possibly work into a sentence. For his mother, there was always a strong current of exasperation. My favorite was the way he spoke to my mother. When he’d finally hand me the phone, saying, “It’s your mother”, I’d just smile. Of course it was my mother. There had been no doubt from the first hello. It was his sweetest voice, and I adored him for it.
I once saw this interview with Muhammad Ali. He said that God keeps count of every good act you perform. Ali wanted to make sure he had as many good acts for God to count as he possibly could. He never turned anyone down for a favor or a photograph or a hug. I don’t remember whether Muhammad Ali said this, or whether it is my own conception, but I have this image of all these good deeds written on little individual pieces of paper. God has millions of little papers for Ali. I know He has thousands for Matt. God has very few papers with my name on them.

I closed the door and went back to the kitchen.

***

muhammadali

Muhammad Ali, 1981. Talking to a young man who was contemplating suicide. Ali convinced him to live – to come down off the ledge. 

 

Infinite Monkey Theorem

I think just about all of us are familiar with the Infinite Monkey Theorem:

Given an infinite amount of time, a monkey randomly hitting the keys on a typewriter would eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare.

Blows my mind.

However.

What is more astounding astounding to me than an accidental but accurately typed copy of Hamlet is the fact that new stories are written every day.

Human literature seems to be wrapped around just a few themes:

  • Pursuit of Love
  • Coming of Age
  • Violence
  • Mystery

So with just a few universal themes, how is it we haven’t run out of ideas? Hasn’t every story already been told?

But no. There are new stories all the time. It amazes me. This year I have read stories about a scientist with Asperger’s seeking a wife, little girls watching their adored detective father fall apart as he fails to stop a serial killer, a chick-lit tale of a young woman trying to be braver, a reclusive writer in financial straits needing to write another novel, a man going back in time to stop the JFK assassination,rich millennials finding happiness despite their millions, a magician’s widow dealing with loss and secrets – and of course, numerous other love stories and self-help books about aging and fulfillment.

And there are new stories every day – my bookcase is full, and my Kindle should weigh 500 lbs with the unread books stored there. And there is the wonderful library. And stories online. And movies.

Are the best stories already written? Will something even more wondrous show up next year?

At what point in time will we have typed every possible combination of words? Sure, there are lots of books that are mediocre and derivative. But look how many have merit. It is more surprising to me that anyone can still write an original phrase than a monkey who can type Shakespeare.

And music is even more incredible to me. There are over 1 million words in the English language. But musical notes are limited. Yet people still write songs. How in the world have we not exhausted every possible melody?

Just this morning I heard a lovely new song on the radio. As it ended, I wondered: “Why didn’t someone write that song 100 years ago? Or 1,000 years ago? How did such a sweet tune go unnoticed until this particular songwriter discovered it?”

The human mind is crazy brilliant.

But it does leave me asking still one more question.

The Library of Congress contains 38 million books. Let’s say that half of them are either translations of the same books into other languages – or just plain pretty boring. That leaves 19 million pretty good stories. So why are all television shows the same?

 

monkeytheorem

 

My New Role Model

In my last post, “Slow Down,” I wrote:

Is it fun? Then why am I not doing it?

Yes, I want to have more fun. And no, this is not exactly an original idea.

I stole it.

I stole it from Theo.

theo51916

Yes, my dog is my new role model.

I’ve observed over the last 8 months that he’s pretty happy. So why not do more of what he does?

And PLAY is definitely on the top of his playlist.

If it’s fun, Theo wants to do it. All the time. He can play fetch with his bunny a zillion times a day, and guess what? The next day it’s still fun.

IMG_20160412_125950_resized

And sometimes he will have fun that he is not supposed to have. We have done our best to train him to be good boy. And last week he even graduated from Obedience School – but let’s just say he did not exactly make the honor roll.

As much as we scold him, there are many times when the temptation far outweighs the cost.

Getting dirty, for instance.

theodirty

To Theo, going into the muddy bog to play with frogs was definitely worth the bath later. I need to remind myself that getting dirty and sweaty can be fun. And just because someone tells you “no” doesn’t mean that you can’t try it anyway.

Being scolded isn’t so terrible. I can see from my puppy that the best way to handle it is to listen courteously…

theolecture

 

Then do what you want.

I’ve also seen that you have to try stuff. Being brave can give you access to wonderful pleasures. The stairs may be really scary, but once you’ve mastered them, you can sleep on the bed – (if no one is looking.)

0524161503b-2_resized

On the other hand, Theo has also taught me that it is okay to be timid once in a while. There’s no shame in being afraid. When we go to the dog park, he’s very cautious around the other dogs. Just yesterday, I reminded him that he doesn’t have to be afraid of a dog with a name like Sweetie, for God’s sake. But I also understand that no one should force you into anything you’re not comfortable with. Trust your instincts. Sweetie could be a nine-and-a-half pound biter.

Pay attention. You never know when an opportunity may come your way. You have to be ready to seize the moment.

theotenderloin

 

Take joy in simple things. You don’t need expensive toys. Just taking a walk feels really nice. And if you want to bring something with you, it doesn’t have to be a monogrammed designer bone. You could take a toilet paper roll, for example.

IMG_20160418_133439_resized

 

But by far, the most important lesson I have learned from my dog is:

Forgive.

Be generous with your forgiveness. Make your forgiveness complete. Let go of your anger as quickly as you can. Don’t nurse your grievances. Don’t hold a grudge.

I’m not talking about how easily I forgive Theo when he has been a bad boy.

No.

I’m talking about how easily Theo forgives me.

I haven’t had a dog for a very long time. I’m not good at raising a puppy. I’m set in my ways. I get aggravated quickly. I lose my temper at least once a day… sometimes once an hour. I scold. I holler. Sometimes I cry.

There are moments when Theo must think that I am a total lunatic.

And yet.

The next moment there he is. Ready to cuddle. Giving his whole heart to his lunatic mom.

I want to be more like Theo.

I’m sure he can teach me.

IMG_20160424_144729

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,010 other followers