More from Hometown

“Careful, it’s loaded,” my cousin said as my brother pulled the handgun from its hiding place.  We were in my cousin's living room for Christmas and my brother had been wandering around the room touching things at random as I told a long boring story.  “Loaded and cocked,” the man of the house said, and Brother put the gun back where he found it.  How many years have we visited that house not knowing there was a loaded gun within arms’ reach?  Jeez.

There in Hometown, Brother knows the woman who manages the grocery store because they went to grade school together.  He went in to pick up another seven day supply of Bachelor Chow and the manager flagged him down from several aisles away, as she often does.  “Shelly was in first thing Saturday morning and got four bottles of cooking sherry!” she called out across the store as she walked up to him.  “She finished the first bottle before she got in her car!”  Shelly was another classmate and the manager had been tracking her decline over the years. 

Finally, a car in a Hometown parking lot:

Loose cannon

In the office there is a young Cerebral Fellow, untroubled by the social conventions that regulate most people’s behavior.  He stepped into my cubicle to make a request and in so doing, he stood beside where I sat so he could point out something on my computer's screen.  

The C.F. talked and talked and then paused in mid-sentence, still facing the computer.  His face froze and I got the sense that he was tensing his stomach muscles.  A puff of air hissed out of his behind, right next to my ear, and he resumed talking.  It took just a moment and I didn’t acknowledge the faux pas. 

It’s becoming more common for me to feel out of touch with the customs of younger people.  But given that I was dealing with a C.F., I won’t assume that this episode represents some standard of Millennial business etiquette until I receive confirmation.

Bosses and notes

Heard over the cubicle wall, a boss talking about a huge project: “…when I get back from the Bahamas after New Years I want all this to be done.”  Employee replies quietly: “I’m taking a vacation too.”

This was the third boss I’d heard over the years thinking that (1) they’re the only ones taking a vacation over Christmas and New Years and (2) they wanted to be absent from the building while their staff carried out some big unpleasant task. It just gave me a little charge to hear the employee’s reply. 

Speaking of bosses, how many U.S. Secretaries of Defense inspire poetry from the people they command?  

Rumsfeld is a dick
Won’t flow the forces we need
We will be too light

The poet was Army Colonel Steve Rotkoff, inspired to write while preparing for the 2003 start of the Iraq war (Information from chapter 11 of State of Denial by Bob Woodward).

Something not about bosses: “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk was in my head this week for unknown reasons and then I heard the start of it in the CTA station.  When I waved my CTA pass over the turnstile reader it gave that two-note audio confirmation that I could go through and the G note going up to C was the same as the start of the Monk song.  Thereby lending credence to the conventional wisdom that CTA employees, black and white, thin and fat, young and old, are all hard bop fans.

Too marvelous for words

“My butt must be good luck,” I thought on the crowded rush-hour train, “for as often as people need to rub it.”  People were pressed against me left and right, front and back.  Then there was a little poke in my back.  I turned and looked down and a little man growled, “I told ya four fuckin times to get out of the way!”  Most of the people on the train got quiet. 

He was sad, middle-aged, heavy-set, and hobbling along with a cane and one leg in a plastic brace.  I leaned over onto the kids bouncing around near their seated mom and the man squeezed past me.  A young man gave up his seat and the sad man eased himself down.  

I looked at his face.  He yelled “Don’t you fuckin look at me, after the day I had, or I’ll…”  He ran out of words.  I stayed silent like the rest of the train and he calmed down.  

It was like seventh grade.  That was the first year when some boys, strangers to me in the new school, would come up to me and be as aggressive as they could manage.  I didn’t understand until I noticed that they were about a foot shorter than me.  They never articulated what their problem was, but they all had that one thing in common.  Nowadays, grown men are socialized enough to keep it to themselves, but it might still be in there somewhere.

Secular grieving

Yes, there’s a God but there is no afterlife.  Gotcha!

The cat was lying by the door to greet me when I got home but she didn’t get up. 

Sure, there’s an afterlife but there is no God.  It’s like a high school lunchroom. 

The cat was lying by the door but she couldn’t stand up.  I had a year’s advance warning of this. 

Her age was the equivalent of 88 for humans.

The vet came to my door and I stood up. 

A third of my life with that cat

The first injection made the cat tuck her head down and fall into deep sleep.

She was always free of ringworm and fleas; something I hope to say at age 88.

When the home is suddenly empty of pets you have a 25-hour day, an extra hour that throws off your rhythm.  My day is going back to 24 hours later this year.


In an upstairs room of the cat shelter where I volunteer there used to be an adult cat named Hans.  He loved to sit in my lap and nibble on my shirt right over my stomach.  Then one day, staff coming through the room saw this and said, “Oh that’s adorable; he’s nursing!”  Suddenly I wasn't sure I wanted people to see this.  

If all goes according to plan, this shelter might be torn down a year from now.  The organization is building a new facility north of here to replace the current one which must’ve originally been a private home built around 1930.  

People want to give their cats to the shelter for various reasons.  One winter, a young man brought his cat to the front door but was told that the shelter was full (over 100 available for adoption, dozens in clinical care) and it lacked the resources to take on more.  The man threw his cat across the threshold and left.  That grey tabby was kept and was scared of all humans (go figure) until he finally got a good home.

It looks like short-term handiwork has held the house together for decades, and there must be ten layers of paint smoothing out the contours on what would be some interesting carving on the woodwork framing the rooms.

You do get to meet a variety of customers here.  A middle-aged lady came to the door on a Saturday morning and said she was going to adopt Butternut the kitten.  Staff told her that the shelter would open for business at noon, please come back in a couple hours.  She got angry, cussed out the staff, and stomped out of the building and down the stairs to the sidewalk.  The shelter’s child volunteers were out front selling cookies to raise money and the lady’s parting shot to them was “...and your cookies are crap!”

The house is not ideal; it’s been expanded and compromised to serve its current purpose.  I’m going to miss it anyway because I know its rooms so well as a comfortable spot to sit with a cat and dispense imaginary milk.

The endorsement deals were disappointing

Remember when “manspreading” on public transit was not a problem but just a friendly competition? (Link)

Fact checking of history

It’s important to beware of the unreliable narrator when reading history.

1974 - Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas

"Everybody was kung fu fighting"

Strictly speaking, not true.  In many Presbyterian congregations, large proportions of people did not participate in the kung fu fighting. 

1977 - Car Wash by Rose Royce

"You might not ever get rich
But let me tell ya it's better than diggin' a ditch
There ain't no tellin' who you might meet
A movie star or maybe even an Indian chief"

Working at the car wash was, in fact, better than digging a ditch.  The likelihood of meeting a movie star or Indian chief varied by location, however. 

1976 - Disco Inferno by The Trammps

"To my surprise, one hundred stories high
People getting loose y'all, getting down on the roof”

This was true.

"Folks are screaming, out of control
It was so entertaining when the boogie started to explode”

Also correct. 

"I heard somebody say
(Burn baby burn) disco inferno
(Burn baby burn) burn that mother down
(Burn baby burn) disco inferno
(Burn baby burn) burn that mother down”

I heard someone say the same thing verbatim.

"Satisfaction came in a chain reaction
I couldn't get enough, so I had to self-destruct”

Here is where things might deviate from the historical record.  There was no doubt that satisfaction came in a chain reaction.  Nevertheless, to claim that self-destruction was inevitable simply because one could not get enough is paradoxical (where did the author go?) and could cause one to question the veracity of the entire account up to that point.

Everybody Loves Raymond

“I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” 
— a character in the short story The King in Yellow, by Raymond Chandler 

Reading the signs

I swear I thought the ad in the grocery store said “Discover Poopability” because it was one of those ads posted on the floor of the store and I was looking at it upside down.  It was actually “Discover Poppability” with respect to Snyder’s Pretzel Poppers.  I should’ve known; I wasn’t in the pharmacy section.

I’ve got to be sure to give a good co-worker review of Emily; she’s the only one in the office who can stifle a yawn while I’m speaking.

Interpreting that memo from Human Resources was like looking at an Escher print. 

When you sit down in the haircutter’s chair and she starts in with the sharp instruments and you smell alcohol radiating out of her mouth, that’s not a mandatory cause for alarm, is it?  It worked out OK. 

Virtue of youth

[Mrs. Pardiggle] was a formidable style of lady, with spectacles, a prominent nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal of room.  And she really did, for she knocked down little chairs with her skirts that were quite a great way off.  As only Ada and I were at home, we received her timidly; for she seemed to come in like cold weather, and to make the little Pardiggles blue as they followed. 

“These, young ladies,” said Mrs. Pardiggle, with great volubility, after the first salutations, “are my five boys.  You may have seen their names in a printed subscription list (perhaps more than one), in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce.  Egbert, my eldest (twelve), is the boy who sent out his pocket-money, to the amount of five-and-threepence, to the Tockahoopo Indians.  Oswald, my second (ten-and-a-half), is the child who contributed two-and-ninepence to the Great National Smithers Testimonial.  Francis, my third (nine), one-and-sixpence-halfpenny; Felix, my fourth (seven), eightpence to the Superannuated Widows; Alfred, my youngest (five), has voluntarily enrolled himself in the Infant Bonds of Joy, and is pledged never, through life, to use tobacco in any form.”

From Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

The final stage is bequeathing

I just discovered that I can increase the ringing in my ears by pressing on the top of my head with both hands, so now I have something new to do on the train. 

The New Yorker magazine is 90 years old and has published well over a hundred cartoons.  I like this one.  (Link)

In the middle of the work day Daniel came over to my cube and said, “Look at this old postcard I just found in my desk.”  He handed me a postcard from the 1980s in which you could see our office building.  “You can have it,” he said.  I said, “Hey, are you thinking of quitting? This is what Cathy did the day before she resigned.  She came over and stood where you are and gave me a stack of old reports she said she didn’t need anymore.”  Daniel said, “Oh, no no no,” and smiled.  Two months later he quit after 20 years with the company.

The Wake Up Shot

From The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene:

For a moment Yusef seemed about to sink again into drugged sleep; then with an effort he got on an elbow… 

He shook his head, so that the white lick of hair flapped; then putting out a vague hand he stretched for the syphon…

Yusef dragged the syphon towards him across the table knocking over the bromide glass; he turned the nozzle towards his face and pulled the trigger. The soda water broke on his face and splashed all round him on the mauve silk. He gave a sigh of relief and satisfaction, like a man under a shower on a hot day.

From Joy in the Morning, by P. G. Wodehouse

“You can’t go by what a girl says, when she’s giving you the devil for making a chump of yourself. It’s like Shakespeare. Sounds well, but doesn’t mean anything.”

— Bertie Wooster advising a friend on how to deal with criticism.

Meditation for busy people

When should I meditate?

Ideally, practice meditation at least once a day for 10 to 20 minutes.  Twice a day would be better, if you can. 

Where should I meditate? 

In a quiet place where you can close your eyes, sitting in a chair or on the floor, in a comfortable position. 

How do I meditate?

Think of a nonsense word and repeat it to yourself to empty your mind of distractions or worries.  Don’t be surprised if distracting thoughts or worries occur anyway, because our minds are prone to wandering all the time.  When this happens, pound yourself in the forehead three times and whisper “dummy.”  Then let the distraction or worry pass downstream and go back to repeating your nonsense word. 

Why should I meditate?

By practicing how to be aware of when your mind wanders, you can eventually improve the ability to concentrate even when you’re not meditating.

Isn’t the “nonsense word” also known as a mantra?

Sure, if you want to be weird about it. 

How do I know when the 20 minutes are up and it’s time to stop meditating?

This is essential.  Before you begin, connect a timer to an electric buzzer or horn of the type used at NBA games to signal the end of a quarter.  This will free you from the worry of watching the clock, allowing you to achieve a tranquil, meditative state.