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Category: My Thoughts

Not Quite Peter Parker

I’m not going to lie…I missed a few entries this weekend.

I’m not sure that the 100 Days of Words project I’m working on means 100 Continuous Day of Words.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Because it sounds better than the truth.

I was bitten by a radioactive Easter bunny on Saturday at the Midway Plaza rest stop on the Pennsylvania turnpike. I found that I could hop very quickly, could color eggs with my mind, and could sense small children nearby. Also, the carrot craving was incredible and disturbing.

See?  I told you.

The Tahitian Room of the Davies’ Basement

You had to pass through nearly every major room in the house to get to it. Through the foyer, past the living room, into the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement. On the far side of the cellar, just past the laundry and around the corner of the furnace was a door. This door led to the Tahitian room of the Davies’ basement.

I’m not sure of the origin of the space; whether it was part of the original construction of the house, or was added by Jason’s parents. What I do know is a Great Number of Important Events took place there as it evolved over the years.

The room itself was about 10×10. I recall two of the walls as wood paneled, the third covered with inset bookcases, and the fourth was a glorious full-size picture of a tropical beach. Blues skies. Golden sand. Lush palm trees and crystalline water. It was as if you were looking through a window to a magical place.

At first, I believe it was an office. After a while, it was empty and provided a place for us to crash if we had to stay the night. During college, Jason moved his room down there. (That period in the evolution of the chamber will not be covered here, and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking.)

Another magical item within the room was a black sphere with a bunch of little white strips of plastic contained therein. Each white strip has a different word scribed upon it in black. We were never sure of the actual function of the orb, but I remember some amusing conversations starting from drawing words at random from it.

There was a brief period when this room was also the arena for a game called You No Set. The rules were pretty simple: you threw something at your opponent, seats at the far side of the room. If they failed to either block or catch the item (items would range from throw pillows to the three-foot-long plastic tubes used in golf bags to keep the clubs from getting tangled), everyone would bellow “OHHHH YOU NO SET!” at them.

What can I say? It was a simpler time.

The Tahitian Room was our Room of Requirement, the place where we would get together and be silly or talk. It was far enough from the rest of the family for some privacy, but still close enough to raid the fridge or the bar. Another significant place where we grew up, working out the goofiness teenagers produce by the metric ton.

The last thing of note about the room: it is possible it was haunted. Or something. This is the place where we found out that when our good friend and host would get too drunk, he would begin to ask about his seven friends. To this day, I am not sure we know who these seven friends were. We thought that he might be referring to the many pillows on his bed, but this was never substantiated.

When Jason’s parents moved, there was mourning for the room. The Tahitian room still figures in the lore that binds us to one another. Tales are told, if not often, then at least with fondness.

“I’m sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board I’m the captain
So climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try, oh Lord I’ll try, to carry on.”

Come Sail Away, Styx

The Great Hunt of 1818

By the time the winter of 1818 rolled around, the local farmers had had enough of this bullshit.

The farmers worked the land and raised livestock in the four townships surrounding Hinckley. Those four townships were good land for that sort of work. Hinckley was not. Full of hills and cliffs, rivers and lakes, Hinckley made for poor farming. It was mostly uninhabited by people. The problem was…everything else lived there. Wildlife. Preditors. Wolves, in particular.

So, at dawn on December 24 of 1818, 600 men, boys, and hunting dogs lined up on the perimeter of the township, armed with guns, clubs, pitchforks, flails, rifles and whatever else they could use as a weapon. On the signal, that began advancing through the 25 square-mile wilderness, driving every manner of wild beast into the center of Hinckley township.

In the words of Bill Coggswell,  one of the hunters:

“I soon came in contact with plenty of wolves and bears, and shot several of them, when I saw near the center a monstrous bear — I think the largest I ever saw of that species. We wounded him twice, so that he dropped each time, when he retreated toward the south line, and I followed in hot pursuit.”

The hunters forced the creatures into a marked half-mile clearing and shot them all.  The final count was that the hunters had killed 21 bears, 17 wolves, 300 deer and huge numbers of turkeys, foxes and raccoons.

What did they do next?  It was Christmas Eve. They threw a big party in the clearing. Giant fires were lit, meat was roasted, whiskey was consumed. The party went on into the night, and the next day people for miles around came into the township to witness the bounty of the hunt. The spoils were divded evenly amongst the participants…no one went hungry that winter.

When they were through, the remaining parts of the animals that no one claimed were piled in the center of the clearing and left all winter. In spring, when the carcasses thawed, scavenger buzzrds decended on the clearing in large numbers, having their own feast.

Most have forgotten the hunt, but not all. Each year around March 15th, the buzzards return to that clearing, which is now part of the Cleveland Metroparks. People still come from miles around to see them, and parties, or at least pancake breakfasts, are still thrown.  Wolves and bears are a thing of the past in Hinckley Township.

The werewolves, however…that’s another story for another time.

(Top image: Illustration depicting the “Great Hinckley Hunt,” from Henry Howe’s “Historical Collection of Ohio,” 1907. Via Ohio Memory.)

Little Boxes

  1. Boxed in
  2. Thinking outside the box
  3. Boom box
  4. Beat box
  5. Box score
  6. Idiot box
  7. Brain box
  8. Penalty Box
  9. Box up
  10. Knocked out of the box
  11. Suggestion box
  12. Box office
  13. Open a Pandora’s Box
  14. Squawk Box
  15. Ballot box
  16. Boxed on the table
  17. Fuse box
  18. Go home in a box
  19. Black box
  20. Tick all the right boxes
  21. Little pink boxes for you and me
  22. Boxed in a corner
  23. Box seat
  24. Buy the box
  25. Box and Cox
  26. Goggle-Box

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

“Little Boxes”, Malvina Reynolds

Books

I learned to read when I was three years old.

My mother tells a story about this. She got a call from the pre-school teacher one morning. “You son is pretending to read to the class,” the teacher said,

“Is he pretending, or…” Mom said.

There was a pause. “No…he’s actually reading to them.” She sounded surprised.

I don’t remember this.  My earliest memory is sitting next to my mother on our brown couch with sunlight behind us, reading a copy of the Little Golden Books version of Winnie-The-Pooh.

People talk about their formative experiences, and I consider this the most formative of all. For literally as long as I can remember, I have loved to spend my time with a nose in a book. Family lore tells of how intense my concentration was as a kid, that I would get so absorbed in a book that my mother would have to shake me to get my attention.

The happiest memory of my childhood was after I got my library card. I would go to the library over the summer and check out five to twelve books at a time. Then I’d go home and lay in the hammock on the screened in porch, reading one book after another without taking a break.

This was pure bliss.

My parents owned a small mobile home at Atwood Lake which served as a summer getaway. After I got over complaining about having to go (Lawn mowing. There was always lawn mowing to be done.) I would climb the big tree in the front yard, nestled in the sturdy branches; I would lose myself in a book.

Books shaped my career. My first job was as a page at the local library. In high school, I worked for Waldenbooks and B. Dalton over different summers. After college I worked at Booksellers, then Borders, and eventually Bookstacks Unlimited, which was my gateway to programming. Ten years later, I wrote the code for Podiobooks.com.

While I never stopped reading, the further I got into my career, the harder it was to lose myself in the words. Too many pressures. While I believe that escapism through text is a good thing, I start to read in a bizarre mechanical fashion, devouring books but rarely retaining them. This was particularly true during periods of high stress. I didn’t have the mental awareness to realized what I was doing, retreating from everything for some quiet, but feeling so guilty about taking the time that I would drive myself to finish quickly. For a bibliophile, this is a sort of hell.

Recently, I spent a little time in therapy because I found I was having difficulty feeling joy or pleasure. Despite all the goodness that had come my way (good job, good kids, good new marriage), I couldn’t feel that joyful sense you get in your chest when surrounded by the people you love. I took some time, and with the help of my therapist, stumbled on Carl Jung’s story. When he was having similar issues, he looked back to his childhood to see what he loved to do. In his case, this was building little castles out of stones. He decided to do this very thing as an adult, creating a connection between the frustrated, overspent adult and boundless joy of his childhood self.

For me, this took me back to books. Time set aside to read and enjoy free of guilt or external concerns. It’s become a practice now. It’s something I schedule, that I look forward to and that I am loathed to give up. Most importantly, it forces me to slow down and disconnect so that I can truly recharge.

After about a month of this, I felt myself start to feel joy and gratitude again. It was like a reservoir filling inside me. Books helped me remove a space inside and fill it with light.

These days, I am never without a book or my Kindle. I have a catch-and-release policy with most physical books, donating them after I read them, and I make good use of my public library. I connect with the words and stories as often as I can.

Books have shaped my life. I would not be who I am today without them.

 

Q&A

Why’ve you been so quiet?

Curation. I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, so I didn’t say anything.

And now you do?

Guess we’ll find out.

Are you still doing the Minimalism thing? 

Yep, but I stopped writing about it because I felt like I was mimicking people and regurgitating information that was already out there. Happy to talk about it if people want to hear it, but I look it as more of a personal thing than Being Part of A Movement.

How have you been filling your time?

When not working, I spend time with my kids and my wife. My wife (Catherine) and I love to make things, so cooking and home projects take up a good deal of our time and help us deal with the stress of living in this modern age. Full list activities in the last year would be: gardening, cooking, brewing beer, roasting coffee, and home fermenting. Trying to get back into a hiking routine as well.

Did you see that Podiobooks has changed?

I did, and I’m glad to see it evolving. I was pleased with the work the new team did to relaunch the site a few years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes now that it is part of Scribl. I’ve spoken with Evo, and he’s happy, so I’m happy.

I’ll admit…it’s strange knowing that none of the code I’ve written exists anywhere on the Internet anymore. Dust in the wind, dude. All our code is dust in the wind.

Are you going to start a new podcast?

Not unless something is so awesome that I cannot deny it. My years in podcasting were fun, and I cherish the fact that I still speak to many of the friends I made during that period.  I feel like there’s a vibrant ecosystem of great content out there, and I don’t have very much to add at this time. I’d prefer to wrestle with the words on the page for now. I’ve been putting off making a practice of writing for decades. I’m changing that now.

Why are you getting back to writing now?

I like to make things. I love words. Making things out of words is one of the things that makes me the happiest. I’ve had issues with it for years, issues stemming from a lack of confidence and a brutal inner edit excellent at muzzling me. Recently, I married a woman who is supportive of my writing, and that frees me of the guilt I’ve felt for year

The big change is that  I married a woman who is supportive of my writing, and that frees me of the guilt I’ve felt for years about stealing time from my family to pursue my own creative work. That makes all the difference in the world.

Do you take requests?

You mean…like…would I write about something if someone asked?

Yeah. 

Sure. it would depend on the subject, but sure. Drop me a line. Writing prompts always welcome.

Is it easy to get back into the flow of writing every day?

No. This is hard. I couldn’t think of anything to write this morning so I’m doing a Q&A with myself. But I’m making words flow. That’s the goal, and today I met it.

Rocks

When I was in high school, I had a pretty select group of friends. We were all musically talented and active in choir, band, and/or drama. We were all honor students. And we were all bored.

Brunswick in the summer always smelled like mown grass, hot asphalt, and old cigarettes. When I was growing up there, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. The big thrill was driving to Parmatown Mall…once you had a car. More often than not, my friends and I would either convene in James’ basement for gaming or at Jason’s house for…shenanigans.

Jason’s house boasted a central location, parents who were willing to put up with our bullshit, the Tahitian room (more on this in a later post), and the rocks.

If you followed the sidewalk next to Jason’s house until it ended at the field, and then hiked up the hill about a quarter mile, you’d find a path through the trees and underbrush that led to a collection of large stones deposited there by some ancient glacier. The stones ringed a central flat space, perfect for a fire. This became our personal Stonehenge, where we’d gather and celebrate the sacraments of Midwestern youth: illicit beer, smokes, and big talk. More often than not, one of us brought a guitar. There’d be songs and stories; nothing organized, nothing formal. Just shootin’ the shit, the way you do when you’re young and you’ve got all the time in the world and nothing to fill it. Eventually, we’d tire or the mosquitoes would drive us out, we’d head back to the house, then wander home.

The rocks were necessary. The ritual of them brought us together, made us vulnerable, gave us strength. Tony would eventually immortalize them in a song. They were worth singing about.

I’m not sure what teenagers do these days with their friends. My kids seem to see their friends outside of school rarely. I wonder what they’ll talk about as their rocks. I don’t know how to create strong memories digitally…I’m of that generation who needs to move through the physical world to build meaning. The more I watch them, the more I respect the experiences of my youth, not enough to try to recreate them but to hold them close to me to keep those flames alive as I become an older man who doesn’t always connect with the culture that surrounds me.

The rocks still loom large in my mind. When I moved back from Los Angeles, I made a point of trying to find them. They are gone now; a housing development stands where they once stood. Worse, I’ve lost that cassette tape with Tony’s song on it. Immortal means something different at 17 than it does at 46. Somewhere in between, vulnerability to time is no longer a choice; it’s a fact.

“And today’s for sale
And it’s all you can afford
By your own admission
Well, the whole thing’s got you bored
And the Lord uses the good ones
The bad ones use the Lord…”

Let’s Get The Show On The Road, Michael Stanley Band

In Which We Learn Something About Pork Rinds

Three words: pork rind flour.

I kid you not. This is a thing.

Pork rind flour. Artisanal.
My wife and I are going low-carb for the foreseeable future, and we love all things flour-based. Especially flour tortillas. Low-carb means all these things need to go.

Cat (my spouse, who will be called by name instead of referred to as a possession from here on) was doing some research, and came across a recipe for Almost Zero Carb Wraps. She was dubious, then she came across this line:

How can this be? How can these low carb tortillas be almost zero carb? They are made with pork rinds. Yep. Chicharones.

Now, my mother, a nurse, insisted that pork rinds were the work of Satan and that they should not be ingested at any time. Cat’s mother, also a nurse, is horrified by their existence. When we told her about the health food pork rinds we found, she didn’t stop laughing for almost two minutes.

As I write this. my beloved has measured out the four ounces of Epic Artisanal Pork Rinds (with the Snort-To-Tail Commitment) and run them in a food processor to make…wait for it…pork rind flour. With the help our trusty Kitchen-Aid, she combined all the ingredients into a batter which smells smoky and savory. Pour into a hot pan and fry until done.

Frying, it smells like McDonald’s.

Almost done
After they finish frying, you’re left with a light-but-durable pork rind and egg pancake. because there is no sugar in them, they don’t scorch if you leave them a touch too long. We surmise that the quality of the rinds has a lot to do with the excellent flavor they have…doing this with BBQ pork rinds from the 7-11 might not yield the same results.

After allowing one to cool, we try it. It’s pretty good, less like a tortilla and more like a savory crepe. Its folds and rolls nicely, and seems strong enough to hold a filling.  We’re going to use them to make tacos tonight.

For your reading pleasure: The Snout-To-Tail Commitment:

UPDATE: Amazon sells pork rind bread crumbs. For real