Thursday, November 29, 2007
Oh, but I remember my first pay day. It came from the manager's very own hand, a wad of cash wrapped in an envelope with my name on it. I knew just what I was going to do with it too. I rode the bus downtown to the now defunct Park Plaza Mall, went to the computer game store, and bought Sid Meier's Civilization for $40. It would go on to become one of the greatest computer games of all time. I was riding high. Later that week I went down to The Exclusive Company, a discount electronics store on main street, and bought a pair of floor standing speakers for $80. At home I coupled these speakers with an old turntable receiver I had unearthed in the basement and I ran audio inputs to a five disk CD changer. I joined one of those CD clubs (remember those?) and soon had eight CDs in the mail for only a penny.
Those CDs were:
Billy Joel - Greatest Hits
The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Tom Cochran - Life is a Highway
Pearl Jam - Ten
Mr. Big - Lean Into It
Blind Melon - Blind Melon
Nirvana - Nevermind
Bryan Adams - So Far So Good
My God, what a mix! Those CDs started, in earnest, an inauspicious, winding, complex love affair with rock music. Soon I was borrowing every album my friends had. I listened to Metallica's Enter Sandman and Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction. I bought Simon and Garfunkel and pilfered my dad's tape collection. Then I found The Beatles.
Two of my friends seemed to own every Beatles album between them. I sampled each one and then went out and bought them all, one at a time. I remember how odd Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sounded to me the first time I listened to it. John Lennon's voice sounded like he had inhaled far too much circus balloon helium. All of the songs were ludicrous. The album was disconcerting and daring and made no sense. But then I re-visted it months later and I realized that was the point of it all, and I loved it. My musical mind was expanding.
That feeling was recreated when I listened to Abbey Road. I can still remember listening to the opening track, "Come Together," as the Ringo tumbled his way around the drum kit, Paul's bass poured through the speakers, and John clapped and hissed an inaudible message ("shoot me") into the microphone.
Here come old flat-top he come grooving up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball he one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please
And then Paul's last bass note just hangs in thin air...
He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football
He got monkey finger he shoot coca-cola
He say "I know you, you know me"
One thing I can tell you is you got to be free
It was that chorus that floored me: with the rhythm guitar playing a B minor chord, crashing in through the speakers, moving down to a G and then ending on an A only to vanish into the haze, leaving John all alone to sing "over me." It was amazing. I listened to that song over and over. I can still remember how those notes sounded through those speakers. The song felt smoky, it crept around the room, it boomed into the chorus only to pull back. Like a joker, it did what it pleased. I'd never heard anything like that before.
Fifteen years later I decided to try to re-create this experience in my living room. I wanted a new stereo, but I wanted that old-school sound, none of this five bookshelf speaker plus subwoofer crap. In my day we listened to our rock music through two giant kick ass speakers, the windows rattled, and we liked it. And so on Amazon.com I plunked down $300 for a Harmon/Kardon receiver and $150 for two large Sony floorstanding speakers. They arrived at my door in days. Admittedly, it was not quite as romantic as stuffing the equipment into the back of my 1983 Monte Carlo, driving home, and building the stereo from leftover parts in the basement, but it would have to do.
The box the speakers showed up in was laughably huge. It looked like a coffin. It reminded me of that scene in "A Christmas Story" where they lug a giant crate into the living room which contained a "major award" -- the old man's leg lamp. I unpacked the speakers, which stand four feet high. Like the ones I had in high school they are called "three-ways," which means they have a separate speaker for the tweeter, midrange, and woofer. These new speakers actually had two mid-range drivers. I hooked them into the receiver and then connected my CD/DVD player. I calibrated the speakers, selected the digital encoding to use, and popped in a test CD. To start, I opted for Dire Straits.
With a snap of Pick Wither's snare drum "Sultans of Swing" entered my living room. On the next beat he was joined by the Knopfler brothers on guitar, and John Illsey on bass. Mark began to sing:
You get a shiver in the dark
Its been raining in the park but meantime
It sounded glorious. I sat on my couch and closed my eyes. I tried every CD I could find. Eric Clapton, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, all sounded fantastic. I was moving back in time. I found my original Counting Crows CD and popped it in. The opening G chord and bass drum thump on "Mr. Jones" was deep and moving. The guitar picking on "Round Here" was crisp. I found my Blind Melon CD and "No Rain" sounded amazing.
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watchin' the puddles gather rain
Suddenly, all the songs that I once knew, I re-learned through the light of adulthood. The amazing thing about music may be it's ability to move you one way and then another over a distance separated by years.
I just want some one to say to me
I'll always be there when you wake
Ya know I'd like to keep my cheeks dry today
So stay with me and I'll have it made
Everything I threw at the speakers came out the other side wonderfully rich and textured. The shaker on "Billy Jean" came alive. Stewart Copeland's snare cracks on "Wrapped Around your Finger" rang through the room like rifle shots. Third Eye Blind's "How's it Going to be" sounded heart wrenching.
Then it was time for the final test: the Beatles.
I put in Love, George Martin's Beatles compilation soundtrack album which was released last year. The first song on the album is "Because," the magnificent track from the B-side of Abbey Road. This time I could hear the subtle chirp of birds in the background, the fluttering of wings, which I had not heard on this version before on Love. Then the Beatles came in with their incredibly harmony:
Because the world is round
It turns me on
I was floored.
I went ahead to track 18, "Here Comes the Sun," also from Abbey Road. On Love it starts with a subtle intro but then George's now infamous opening guitar picking enters the left speaker and instantly you are back on familiar ground with a chill going down your spine.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun and I say
It's all right
And then the bass and drums tumble into the song and you are carried off on one of the most incredible musical experiences of the last forty years. How that song can fail to move anyone is beyond me but all of this was not to be outdone by "Come Together." It sounded just as seductive and serpentine as it had fifteen years ago from my $80 speakers. I sat in the middle of the living room and let the whole song wash over me. I could feel every kick on Ringo's bass drum, I could follow Paul's winding bass line, and the chorus was as powerful and troubling as it was on that first listen from my little bedroom.
In my advancing age I tend to romanticize the Beatles, a group which certainly needs no extra heralding. I did not grow up in the 60s, a time of revolution and questioning, a time which the Beatles lent their considerable talents to transforming. I discovered the Beatles on an old cassette tape my dad had stashed away in the garage. But they started a type of revolution for me. Their songs formed a backdrop for my own confusing years, and for my own journey. I am consistently amazed that a group writing in a specific time can reverberate as clearly as they did in their original context.
Sitting down for one last song I popped in my old Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band CD. I skipped to track 13. The subtle strumming of a rhythm guitar. The introduction of a piano, bass, and drums. John's ethereal vocals echoing through the room.
I read the news today oh, boy...
About a lucky man who made the grade
There was a time when everything was a first--your first kiss, your first car, the first time you ever really loved an album. The innocence ushers them in, and you are ushered out. There is a simple pleasure in re-creating, just for a moment, how that all felt. Every morning I try a few new songs, and check out before hauling myself off to work. It is no stretch to say that I have come a long way since sitting in my room at sixteen. I may have changed but those songs haven't. When I dwell in their energy, their joy and sorrow, without apology, like I did years ago, even time has to take a seat and wait.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Skeptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
-- Alexander Pope
Monday, November 26, 2007
Cheney visited his doctors because of a lingering cough from a cold and during the examination he was found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be "atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," said Megan Mitchell, spokeswoman for Cheney.
"What this means is that the Vice President does indeed have a working, beating heart which pumps warm blood throughout his circulatory system, carrying oxygen to his brain, other vital organs, and cells, just like every human being," Mitchell said. "Everyone can now stop speculating."
Cheney will undergo further evaluation on Monday and if required he will have an electric impulse to the heart delivered, which is standard treatment for this diagnosis, Mitchell said. He would be put under sedation. Doctors are also speculating how Cheney's heart has managed to survive for so long inside Cheney's body.
"Honestly, we're a little curious," said Melinda Fawley, a cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "It's been well documented that Cheney's central nervous system has, for some time now, been going to great lengths to destroy his heart, or to at least marginalize it. Yet there is his heart, still beating, albeit irregularly, after repeated attempts at arrest."
All of the Vice President's medical procedures are performed under top secret conditions for security reasons. Since the time of his last operation many experts assumed Cheney's heart had simply been removed.
"I can't believe it's still in there, and still beating," said Lou Dubose author of the book Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency. "We were told that his heart had stopped beating years ago and was just taking up space and the Vice President had requested it removed for national security reasons; one less thing for him to worry about health-wise while also eradicating of any trace of a nagging conscious."
The discovery of Cheney's heart has led to troubling philisophical questions for political experts who are now wondering how Cheney could be fully human while slaying the very things that make humans unique--emotion, love, justice, and culture.
"If he has a real heart I have no idea how he did it," Dubose admits. "I guess we have to label him human in a technical sense, but that's about it. And if it's possible to be human without even really needing the heart, well, what's the point of it?"
Plant, the one-time Led Zeppelin front-man whose fire-alarm vocals launched a thousand imitators (Foreigner, Bad Company, Boston, Def Leppard, AC/DC...) re-invents himself on this album as a wise specter, bringing his formative blues and rock experience to the table with the venerable Krauss, a twenty-time Grammy award winning luminary from the bluegrass-country side of the tracks. But perhaps the real genius behind the album is producer T-Bone Burnett who conceived the pairing of the two singers in the first place. All of it comes together wonderfully well, even for a country/bluegrass ignoramus like myself.
Krauss's characteristic breathy vibrato-less singing is featured on the album. Her vocals come across as angelic, but Plant, once a devil, is right there with her to offer up air-tight harmonies which float in and out of your head like a fall breeze, precisely the emotion the album wishes to create. Their voices run together through your finger tips like the sand in the album's name. Everything is put together in a low-key, almost dreamlike mosaic of western, Celtic, and bluegrass influences and although I am no long-lived fan of any of those genres it is not difficult to appreciate their brilliance on this album.
One of my favorite songs is track two, "Killing the Blues," which rolls across your mind like a lose tumbleweed. Plant and Krauss's harmonies are so soft, so unobtrusive, all you have to do is close your eyes and the images pop to life all on their own.
Leaves were falling / Just like embers
In colors red and gold / they set us on fire
Burning just like a moonbeam / in our eyes
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud
Killing the Blues
The brilliant "Stick with me, Baby" also features a suburb set of vocals from both singers.
Everbody's been talking / they say our love wasn't real
That it would soon be over / that's not the way I feel
But I don't worry, honey / let them say what they may
Come on and stick with me baby
We'll find a way
Yes we'll find a way
And if those words sound familiar to you then maybe you once heard that song on an old Everly Brothers album. That's right.
There are few up-beat numbers on the album, but one of them is track five, "Gone, Gone, Gone" which was released as a single. There is also "Let your Loss be your Lesson" a rockabilly tune that is simply too much fun to deny.
Most of the songs are, of course, about lost love and longing. Krauss herself once said about her song selection that "if they make you feel like crap, you oughta do 'em." If she wants to select songs that everyone can relate to, this album has them but they are displayed here in hues many typical music listeners will never be exposed to. This album does not beat you over the head, but takes you down into the heartache one sublime song at a time and when it's over you want to take the trip all over again, this time with some Southern Comfort in-hand.
I could not help but think of the amusing juxtaposition between Plant, a rock icon, and Krauss, a Dolly Parton-esque belle from Decatur, Illinois. Krauss began studying classical violin when she was five years old. Plant was on his way to becoming an accountant when he became engrossed in the blues. When you put these disparate characters together what they create is an amazing display of intonation and imagery. It is almost enough to make you believe in the all-transforming power of love itself, to bridge the wide gap between an old blues rocker from England, and a fiddle playing beauty from middle America. If they can do it together, it would seem anything is possible. And that is their genius.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The first Thanksgiving was not invoked by those bastard New England Pilgrims in 1620 but by settlers at Berkeley Hundred, Virginia on December 4, 1619. Upon arrival to the New World they were ordered by their proprietors to immediately give thanks when they landed. The Pilgrims thought this was such a fabulous idea that they stole it as their own, much the same way the Patriots stole Randy Moss from the lowly Oakland Raiders for a 4th round draft pick.
Today most school kids are taught that those New Englanders were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving with Squanto and his buddies, all eating turkey with yams and cranberry sauce out of a horn of plenty. But no, my friends! This is at best a public relations stunt and at worst a blatant lie. Those who survived the year ate venison right off the bone like a bunch of half-starved wild dogs, and elderly males of high standing were given a bowl of forged berries on the side, but no potatoes, which the Europeans considered poisonous.
The celebration was a success, becoming a boon to the fledgling greeting card industry. It continued in various forms for the next 150 years until politicians laid their grubby hands on it. Each new president proclaimed a Thanksgiving or Thanksgivings for various events. President Washington declared Thanksgiving for independence from England, President Adams for seizure of the East Coast from the savage native Americans, and President Jackson for the arrival of indoor plumbing to America. However Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
In the words of our 16th President:
The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. That is, of course, if one chooses to overlook the incredible and incalculable slaughter from this Great Civil War. No doubt the heavenly hosts are still welcoming the honored dead from the fields of Gettysburg to the foot of the Almighty's eternal throne. May they rejoice at the alter of God forever, and be thankful. But I have foreseen a better day, a day in which families will gather and participate in a gluttonous ritual of massive consumption and wanton spectating. And then on the next day, their stomachs bloated from the harvest of the previous year, they will shop until they drop. God bless us all.And so it went on this way until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last Thursday in November. With the country still in the throes of the Great Depression Roosevelt thought it would give merchants an extra week to sell their goods before Christmas since it was considered bad form to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving. 23 states adopted the new policy, while 22 did not, and Texas decided to take both Thursdays as holidays off. In 1941 congress finally settled the matter, declaring that Thanksgiving should be on the fourth Thursday of November, which is usually the last Thursday of the month but less frequently the second-to-last. Roosevelt signed the new bill into law on November 26, 1941.
"Our great national nightmare is over," Roosevelt triumphantly declared. "Thanks to the the brave leadership of congress we can now put this entire Thanksgiving issue to rest. I see nothing but good times ahead. The year 1941 is almost out and we will surely get through December unscathed. I think we have much to be thankful for."
After World War Two the National Turkey Federation began presenting the President with one live turkey. The President would don a blue ceremonial robe with gold bells arranged around a tremendous hem, and, using a sacrificial knife, would slit the live turkey's throat upon the Rose Garden alter. This was to atone for the nation's sins from the previous year. Wiping the bloody knife down the President would then rejoice and declare Thanksgiving Day open to all!
In more recent times the live Turkey has been simply pardoned in accordance with executive powers. President George W. Bush found he enjoyed pardoning so much that in 2003 he began pardoning two turkeys. Both were then flown first class from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to serve as Grand Marshals in Disney's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. This practice was abandoned a year later when one of the turkeys ran wild through downtown Anaheim and destroyed most of the city.
Even though its more pious observers would deny the validity of such a theory, it is indisputable that Thanksgiving has been constantly evolving over the last 400 years. Now every year we are introduced to a new mutation to include in our celebration. Today we happily incorporate not only the traditional assemblage with family and giving thanks over a meal with turkey but radical modern concepts like Black Friday, the NFL's Thanksgiving Classic, and John Madden's diabolical turducken animal. In the spirit of the original Thanksgiving, multi-culturalism and diversity remains, and each one is welcome to incorporate as many of the practices as he or she sees fit.
For me, it's all about the Tryptophan.
A happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
People want to know how I lived so long. Was it good genes? Was it luck? Well, I’ll get to that in a second. But first I’d just like to thank Simon & Schuster for their very generous book deal. The book will have to be published posthumously, of course, but I wanted to tell my story. Hopefully--and Oprah, I hope you are listening—it will be a source of inspiration to many readers.
OK. Living to 405 years old is extremely hard work. And by that I mean you have to learn to blend-in and keep your mouth shut. Believe me, that is much more difficult than it sounds. You live to be 405 by keeping steady under pressure and shunning extremes. That also means avoiding religion. I'm I’m just trying to help. And you don’t want to stick your neck out too far because a fish or some other predator may saw it off. I got to 405 and I crushed the previous known age record, which was 220 years, so I know what I’m talking about here, and what we’re not talking about is how to live an interesting or memorable life. Those things are overrated anyway, as far as I am concerned. I’m a clam. What do you want?
I was four hundred and five years old. Just think about that for a second. They named me Ming after the Chinese dynasty in power when I was born. So, I am Ming the Clam, a mollusk who gained fame in death, not in life. Alright. I can live with that. When I was born Shakespeare was writing plays and New York City didn’t even exist. Internal combustion, steel, and plastics were still hundreds of years off. People sailed around in wooden ships, died from plague, and, when they weren’t dying, generally wished they were dead. I’m not sure if things have improved all that much but for some reason you want to live longer and longer. OK, fine. That’s what I’m here for.
If I may be truthful, things were better back then. I mean for clams, not for people. Oh, sure, I know what you’re thinking: here’s another old clam railing against modern society. Fair enough, but my words also carry a certain weight. I made it to 405. How old are you? I spent many a decade hearkening back to when the water was as clean as the newborn sky. There was no oil and hardly a whiff of refuse. But today? Things have gotten so bad I’m glad they dredged me up and killed me by sectioning off my shell and examining me. It was time. I had a good run. I’m not bitter.
But how do you live to be 405? It’s not about the money. Clams don’t care about money. My book deal isn’t about the money. What would I do with it anyway? I’m dead. All of the proceeds are going to Help the Aged, a UK based charity, dedicated to studying quahog longevity. I guess you could say they want to know what made me tick. Or, how I was able to keep ticking for so long. Well, I’d still be ticking if I hadn’t been dredged up and sectioned off. Maybe there’s a lesson there: don’t get dredged. Ah, but the point I was trying to make is this: there’s more to life than money. Believe me, I heard every cliché in the book. I know them all. But that one was around before me and I think it’s true.
I had a nice life down there on the seabed. I had my friends, my family and my health. What else could I ask for? That’s how you live to be 405: enjoy what you have. It’s another cliché but it’s true. We clams never venture very far. Everything we need is right there. You can’t live to be 405 by worrying about everything all the time. What ever is going to happen is going to happen and you can’t control it. One day I was a clam at the bottom of the ocean. The next I was dredged and now I am dead. You just have to roll with it.
It’s not so bad being dead. Truthfully, I was a little bored after 405 years. I had been eating the same food since Guy Fawkes and there was no end in sight. I’m not bitter. I’m here to help. Just read my book, and heed my warnings. All glory is fleeting. Beware the ides of March. And you can, really, have too much of a good thing. Take frosting for example. It’s a good thing, but if you eat a whole can you’ll wish you were dead. Sometimes I wished I was dead, and now I am. Beware what you wish for. But I’m not bitter. I’m dead, but not bitter. I’ll be honest, you do a lot of thinking when you spend 405 years on the bottom of the ocean. I’ve got a lot to say and it’ll all be in my book, I promise, but I’ll tell you this much: I never thought I’d end up here. Life is a crazy thing.
OK, I'm just about out of time, but remember: it’s hard not to be cynical, but try your best. And relax. OK? You only get so many heartbeats in a lifetime. Try not to waste them on things you don’t really understand or can’t control. Why is everyone worried about God, anyway? How much trouble has that caused? I don’t know what He wants, but I’ll bet He wants you to be kind. And, anyway, you don’t live to be 405 by guessing someone else’s plans. That much I know for sure. Just do the best you can, and let life come to you. You have to do that when you’re a clam, and I lived to be 405. There’s a lesson there. We have a saying back where I come from: pondering divine intentions is a good way to get your neck sawed off by a fish. Think about it. And be kind.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Here is something sad and crazy all at the same time: I still sleep on only one side of the bed. What is this all about? It's my bed. I've had it for years. Christ. I've had it for ten years and now it's only half mine. I opened it up and I can't get the other half back. How damn stupid is that? What may be even crazier is that I didn't even realize I was only sleeping on half of the bed until just the other day, long after she left, wearing a snappy blue and white striped sweater and the cat under her arm. She walked right out that door. And I'm still on half of the bed.It's habitual and pathetic and all at the same time. Now I always slide into the left side of the bed. A wounded soul feeling his phantom limb. I never go to the right. Ever. Sometimes I stand there and look and let it dare me. For extra measure it's the side closest to the closet. But I change my clothes and walk around the bed to the left side and get in. Can you believe that? The right side of the bed is lost to me, and, rather than take it over, I cover it with books and magazines and go to sleep.
On my side, on my nightstand, is an alarm clock, a reading lamp, and issues of The New Yorker I have set aside. And on her side, on her nightstand, is...nothing. It's blank. The drawers are empty too. They used to hold her things. Now that nightstand is lost. It's useless. A placeholder. I may have to throw it away. All of it, everything, is just haunted. It's a vacant lot. Like the half-empty dresser, and the half empty closet. The bathroom drawers where her junk used to live are all empty. And the craziest thing is they still are. It's not that I don't have things to put in them, I just never thought to do it.
I've heard of similar behavior from formerly sane people. After I went away to college my father would sit on his riding lawnmower, tracing circles around the yard, thinking back on the last eighteen years of his life and mine together. This was a guy who had only one piece of advice for me in high school: if you get her pregnant, don't come home. That was it. And then, months after I went away, he wrote me that letter telling me how he taught me to throw left-handed because Mickey Mantle threw left handed, and that he paces the backyard on his lawnmower, lost in memories. My room remained the same as it had ever been until my sister squatted on it and painted it over a neon green. She had no emotional connection to the space, and I'm sure my parents were grateful.
Now I understand why parents leave rooms in the same condition they once stood, long after their children have gone away. Dolls remain on beds. Books remain on shelves. Everything stays the way it was so than when the loved-one returns they can fill it again, the way things always were. To re-arrange it, to move it, to paint over it, to fill it, is to violate it. And what is harder to kill than a dream or a memory? I could take over her side of the bed, sure. I could re-claim it with force and sprawl myself over it, but, then again, I can't. I'm here to admit I'm not that strong.
The other day I read an article on phantom limbs and the current theory on phantom limbs is that the brain attempts to re-map those nerve endings which no longer receive input. The result is that the re-mapped endings are put to use on other types of sensory input, but the individual sometimes still perceives the input as coming from the part which has been lost. The brain enjoys what the brain is used to. Old sensory habits die hard. I can't prove it but maybe something similar occurs in relationships. When two people try hard to blend their lives together, and then they suddenly fall away, all of those connections have to be re-mapped and, sometimes, it is just more comforting to save their space, and keep them mapped the way they were, because in your heart you know they were mapped that way for a good reason.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Bangalore, India - Nature was thwarted again as doctors removed six limbs from a young girl born in India. This event caps a series of successful evolutionary checks by humans, grinding adaptation to a halt.
"People are too smart for their own good," Nature was quoted as saying in a wide ranging interview. "I'm trying everything I can think of. I give them two heads and they pair them off. I give them extra limbs and they just discard them. Hello? Work with me here."
Nature expressed dismay over man's lack of appreciation for innovation.
"Humans need to learn to take the long view," Nature advised. "Sure, they're not used to seeing someone with eight limbs but a million years from now that could be the norm. Eight limbed people! Think about it! The first human with an opposable thumb was viewed with contempt too. Well, who's laughing now?"
Meanwhile doctors rejoiced at the successful outcome of the 40 hour surgery.
"This girl can now lead as good a life as anyone else," said Dr. Sharan Patil, who led a team of more than 30 surgeons in the marathon procedure to remove Lakshmi's extra limbs, salvage her organs and rebuild her pelvis area.
The girl, named Lakshmi, was revered in her remote Indian village before the surgery. Children born with deformities in deeply traditional parts of India are often viewed as reincarnated gods. The young girl is no different she is named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth.
"You see? She could have been a god!" Nature said. "I just don't understand people at all. I'm giving up. I'm going to concentrate on dolphins for a while. Humans just don't know a good thing when they see it."
Nature then predicted that within a few hundred millennia Dolphins could conceivably have the ability to govern themselves and be on the verge of inventing the sitcom.
"That is if I don't get called into a lot of bullshit meetings," Nature said. "These things take time."
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
The bumper sticker clearly stated: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History. I saw it with my own eyes, perfectly centered on the back of the minivan I was now sitting behind. Curious I followed it around for a few minutes. It never exceeded the speed limit. It made no right turns on red. It paused for an extra second when at the yield sign. Behind the wheel was a woman, in her mid-30s, who would not be making history.
So what was I to make of her bumper sticker? Was it there as a warning to other women, as if to say, abandon all hope, ye who drive the minivan? Or, perhaps, did the driver fancy herself historic and atypical, this woman driving the red Dodge Caravan, busing her children to dance class, or some other typical event? And what is it like to carry the burden of such proclamations but have to attach them to the back end of something so quotidian? The bumper sticker was worn and faded, applied back when the minivan was new and exciting. But it was never that exciting was it? And the message never really trusted.
And I couldn't help but think of her, of course. She owned a shirt with the same message, but I'm sure that woman was exactly the woman she did not want to become, a woman I certainly had no interest in her becoming. In-fact, I quite enjoyed it when she misbehaved, I thought that was when she was at her best, confident and creative, and I tried to nurture that side as much as I could because I do believe well behaved women rarely do make history. Sometimes it happens but I don't need them. I'll take the one who just can't be obedient.
Still, I suppose she saw that house--with its fenced-in yard, and its family pet--as the first step in a slide towards oblivion, and, in modern life, it is hard not to keep all of these things mutually exclusive. I suppose she pictured herself resigned, with an apron on, working in the kitchen, and sweeping the floors, even though I never asked her to, and never complained. Anything she did was fine with me. And if she did nothing I joined right in. But I suppose she pictured herself, someday, behind the wheel of a red Dodge Caravan, her old beliefs stuck to the tailgate, covered in a thin layer of dust and that is why, you see, she ran for her life.
The thought is terrifying, and anyone with an atypical bone in their body would flee if they saw themselves going there. But the funny thing is I find it terrifying too. And, had she ever mentioned these fears to me they would have resonated, in the same way all of her other dreams resonated with me, when she shared them. But, I suppose she thought I had no interest in them anymore, and no desire to even know. After all, how could I love her and have the nerve to introduce her to such banality? It was like I didn't know her at all. But she had stopped sharing her dreams with me long before that, convinced, perhaps, that I couldn't be trusted, and still I trusted.
She nodded her approval as we moved forward because she stopped wanting to build, with me, the life she wanted, but was still curious to see if I would commit to her. And when I did commit I had allotted enough rope to hang. Lost, I had shown myself uninspired, the unforgivable sin, and her dreams were only the first of things she packed away, all in an effort to avoid the minivan life. But didn't she trust that I would never have allowed that to happen? What were all those conversations I tried to have with her all about, if not to get down to the truth? Didn't she trust that even if we had to leave this forsaken place, and find a home away from it all, in a life less ordinary, that I would have done so with force? Didn't she see that, when we dreamed together, our dreams were really one and the same? And does she wonder, like I do, what such a life would have been like, and how hard it is to watch it drive away?
Friday, November 02, 2007
Transcript of How I lived to be 405.
By Ming the Clam
People want to know how I lived so long. Is it good genes? Is it luck? Well, I’ll get to that in a second. But first I’d just like to say thanks to Simon and Schuster for their very generous book deal. It’ll be written posthumously of course but I wanted to tell my story. Hopefully--and Oprah, I hope you are listening—it will be a source of inspiration to many readers.
OK. Living to 405 years old is extremely hard work. And by that I mean you have to learn to blend in and keep your mouth shut. Believe me, that’s much harder than it sounds. You live to be 405 by keeping steady under pressure and avoiding extremes. That also means avoiding religion. You just can’t live to be 405 when you’re running around as God’s chosen instrument. I’m just trying to help. You don’t want to stick your neck out too far because a fish or some other predator may saw it off. I’m 405. And I crushed the previous known age record, which was 220 years, so I know what I’m talking about here. And what we’re not talking about is how to live an interesting or memorable life. Those things are overrated anyway, as far as I am concerned. I’m a clam. What do you want?
I was four hundred and five years old. Just think about that for a second. They named me Ming after the Chinese dynasty in power when it was born. OK, fine. I’m Ming the clam and I was alive when Shakespeare was writing plays. New York City didn’t even exist. Internal combustion, steel, and plastics were still hundreds of years off when I was born. People sailed around in wooden ships, died from plague, and, when they weren’t dying, generally wished they were dead. I’m not sure if things have improved all that much but, for some reason, you want to live longer. OK, fine. That’s what I’m here for.
If I may be truthful, things were better back then. I mean for clams, not for people. Oh, sure, I know what you’re thinking: here’s another crusty old mollusk railing against modern society. OK, fine, but my words also carry a certain weight. I’m 405. How old are you? I’ve spent many a decade hearkening back on how clean the water used to be. There was no oil and hardly a whiff of refuse. But today? Things have gotten so dirty I’m glad they dredged me up and killed me by sectioning off my shell and examining me. It was time. I had a good run. I’m not bitter.
But how do you live to be 405? It’s not about the money. Clams don’t care about money. My book deal isn’t about the money, what would I do with it anyway? I’m dead. All of the proceeds are going to Help the Aged, a UK based charity, dedicated to studying quahog longevity. I guess you could say they want to know what made me tick. Or, how I was able to keep ticking for so long. Well, I’d still be ticking if I hadn’t been dredged up and sectioned off. Maybe there’s a lesson there. Don’t get dredged. Ah, but the point I was trying to make is this: there’s more to life than money. Believe me, I heard every cliché in the book. I know them all. But that one was around before me and I think it’s true.
I had a nice life down there on the seabed. I had my friends, my family and my health. What else could I ask for? That’s how you live to be 405: enjoy what you have. It’s another cliché but it’s true. We clams never venture very far. Everything we need is right there. You can’t live to be 405 by worrying about everything all the time. What ever is going to happen is going to happen and you can’t control it. One day I was a clam at the bottom of the ocean. The next I was dredged and now I am dead. You just have to roll with it, OK?
I try to make the best of it. It’s not so bad being dead. Truthfully I was a little bored after 405 years. I had been eating the same food since Guy Fawkes. I’m not bitter. I’m here to help. Just read my book, and heed my warnings. All glory is fleeting. Beware the ides of March. And you can, really, have too much of a good thing. Take frosting for example. It’s a good thing, but if you eat a whole can you’ll wish you were dead. Sometimes I wished I was dead, and now I am. Beware what you wish for. I mean, my god, sometimes I just thought, enough already. But I’m not bitter. I’m dead but not bitter. I’ll be honest, you do a lot of thinking when you spend 405 years on the bottom of the ocean, I’ve got a lot to say and it’ll all be in my book, I promise. But I’ll tell you this much: I never thought I’d end up here. Life is a crazy thing.
OK, I’d better close. It’s hard not to be cynical, but try your best. And relax. OK? You only get so many heartbeats in a lifetime. Try not to waste them on things you don’t really understand or can’t control. Why is everyone worried about what god wants them to do? How much trouble has that caused? You don’t live to be 405 by guessing someone else’s plans. That much I know for sure. Just do the best you can, and let life come to you. You have to let life come to you when you’re a clam, but there’s a lesson there. We have a saying back where I come from: pondering divine intentions is a good way to get your neck sawed off by a fish. Think about it. And be kind.