Eshika Saxena, a senior at Interlake High School, just won 10th place and a $40,000 award in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for her 3D-printed smartphone attachment and artificial intelligence software that automatically identifies blood diseases. This is especially impressive because it means nine other high schoolers submitted even more significant original research. Most parents could not even help on this type of extracurricular activity but it would not diminish the value of the achievement in my eyes even if they were involved. I hope Eshika’s family does not waste the $40,000 on bribing her way into college as she can probably get accepted anywhere on merit alone. Her achievement does suggest I wasted my high school years. After all, I was not spending any time doing homework or earning a letter playing varsity sports. I was not working a part time job or helping around the house. I did spend time teasing my siblings and pranking friends and school officials. Not only did I not earn a $40,000 award for that, I usually received disapproval and detention. I invested way too much time and emotional energy wondering how girls could reject or break up with me. I was not so much surprised as I was amazed they were clever enough to get a word in edgewise. How could I not be infatuated with a girl who says, “Sorry, the fire is only burning on one side of the forest.”
My seven year old granddaughter recently went looking for a straw at our house. I was surprised she found a pack because we have been avoiding them as environmentally bad. I was going to discourage her from using one in her drink but noticed she had no drink. She just jammed it in her mouth and mimicked smoking a cigarette. She explained that pretending to smoke made her feel grown up. She accurately read my facial horror which reflected memories of lung cancer afflicting family members and close friends. Before I could speak, she quickly added: “Don’t worry, I would never actually smoke cigarettes.” But I do worry, Zofia. I do worry.
Last Tuesday morning, my wife and I went to an 11:30 am showing of Isn’t It Romantic. We have been to movies with very few other people in the audience but this time the two of us were alone in the theater. I guess we turned off our phones out of habit or maybe so we would not bother each other. But I am not sure why were whispering. You have to choose seats when buying your tickets, so I was hoping one other couple would come in and sit directly in front of us. That would make for a good Blog rant. But then I thought I could just say that happened even though it did not. In today’s world it would be poetic license like the ramblings of Trump, Smollett, Avenatti, and Homer Simpson. This might be a good time to mention that the couple in front of us were illegal immigrants who dumped popcorn on our heads when we politely asked if they could move seats to another theater in a different country. They drove away in the fast lane but were going twenty miles an hour under the speed limit.
Usually when my wife comes up with an idea, I find ways to discredit it no matter how promising it seems. I presume this is a side effect of my narcissism affliction. When my wife implemented a plan to attach magnet signs saying “Dirty” and “Clean” to the dishwasher door, I was too busy to fully disparage it. But now I realize why it was a bad idea. I am the only one alternating the signs properly. Under the previous system, I had to make an educated guess about whether the dishes were officially dirty or just dirty because our dishwasher sucks. Now I have to make an educated guess whether the dishes are actually “clean” or if they are dirty but my wife did not replace the “clean” sign after unloading the dishwasher. This would be an irritant except that I relish the daily opportunities to ask questions like: “Are these dishes [which are clearly filthy] actually clean like the sign says or are they dirty?” This would be more fun except that I now suspect my fifteen year old grandson is pranking both my wife and me by regularly switching signs because he enjoys lighting the bicker fuse and watching the explosions.
My maternal grandfather took his American Flag down from his flagpole when Franklin Roosevelt died so that he would not have to fly it at half mast. That was almost 74 years ago, so I was never fully vested in the passions of that time. I am sometimes surprised by the intensity of emotion surrounding the past. Soon I will be deposited kicking and screaming into ancient history. Fifty years from now, I expect my surviving grandchildren will be roasting three legged squirrels over campfires in their caves and wondering what the Trump fuss was all about.
A friend recently sent me this quote attributed to Saint John Chrysostom (349-407), the golden mouthed preacher: “They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before, they are now wherever we are.” This is not even one of his top ten quotes. Normally I am happy not to live in an era without flush toilets, cell phones, vaccines, and the Seattle Seahawks. But I am jealous of the people who got to earth before the billions of us who followed. This was a huge head start to discovering our planet is round and saying brilliant stuff. I think I could have come up with some of the ancient sayings that became famous if I had lived back in the day. Maybe I would have been designated a saint. Alas, too many great lines are already spoken for.
I am a cereal killer, sentenced to a lifetime of grains and flakes. Each morning I blend three kinds of cereal and add about eight varieties of fruit. The preparation is time consuming because kiwis taste fuzzy unless you peel them. Slicing and peeling fruit burns off calories. My wife buys the berries because if I knew what they cost out of season, I could never justify the investment. Like me, some of the fruit is well past its prime but I sweeten with so many raisins that I have begun to look like them: wrinkled, gnarled, and dried up. But raisins turn everything sweet, at least during intake. My wife owes her sweetness to drinking tea I lace with raisins. I replenish my first big bowl of cereal because the ingredients do not all fit at once. If I eat breakfast out, I postpone cereal for lunch or dinner. Eating large in the morning satisfies the royal recommendation to eat a king’s breakfast, a prince’s lunch, and a pauper’s supper. When I cheat, I bulk up the pauper dinners. I understand that all calories are not created equal and that front loading adds less weight than late night binges. Even if not true, I would remain committed to this strategy which I learned while earning my Habitual Repetition merit badge. Do readers demand boring details of my breakfast rituals? No. This is the type of posting made by someone committed to a daily Blog. Some day soon, I will tackle the meatier subject of lunch.
I use the revised Complete Rhyming Dictionary to help me when I dabble in doggerel. I was stunned the other day to find racially offensive rhymes listed in the section for “-ed” words like bed and red. This highlighted my own unawareness and insensitivity to the hostile racial environment I have lived in. I knew people somewhere used a racial slur to describe Brazil nuts but they were shrouded with the Ku Klux Klan in Bigotry Land far from my sheltered orbit. So I was totally unprepared for the rhymes in question. They are too difficult for me to fully type but were listed without any annotation in alphabetical order: “negrohead” and “n*****head.” (Note that Towhead was not included.) While this compendium of rhymes was originally published in 1936, I was reading a revised Doubleday publication with a 1991 copyright. I scurried to the internet and discovered just how common these terms were. Wikipedia labeled them as former names for “things thought to resemble the head of a black person,” including geographical features, nautical bollards, soap, chewing tobacco, canned seafood, golf tees, and toy cap pistols. Apparently the NAACP pressured Aughinbaugh Canning Company to change their “N***** Head Oyster” brand to “Negro Head Oyster” in 1955. This raises so many disturbing questions. But it all adds up to a culture intent on marginalizing certain people in every possible way while congratulating themselves for inventing the enlightened concept that all white American males are created equal with certain inalienable rights.
My wife transitioned to substitute teaching rather than retire altogether. She is still in demand in Special Education classrooms. I sympathize with her unruly students who earn a Behavior Chart where unacceptable conduct is logged. I wish I could reassure them that they are lucky not to qualify for the more ominous Behavior Notebook. She has saddled me with one of those. Some of the classroom misbehavior is actually entertaining when the perpetrator is not your child. The problems remain the same over the decades but the names of the students have certainly changed. Names like Meaghan and Ashleigh have an infinite variety of spellings. Diversity brings names from foreign languages. And unusual non traditional monikers are no longer reserved only for the children of celebrities. Last Monday, my wife reported that two students in her class that day were named Jelly and London. Jelly has a couple of siblings. I expected them to be Peanut and Butter but her youngest brother is actually named Uno Mas. If only my wife had been preconditioned with such liberating choices, I could have had such fun naming my three boys. Instead of Ryan, Dustin, and Matt, they could have been Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato (perfect for the redhead).
Our prayers and thoughts are with the families affected by killings and mass shootings. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and future victims of climate change. Our prayers and thoughts are with those without the resources to avoid hunger, illness, persecution, and enslavement. Our thoughts and prayers are not working as well as I would hope, so we do not get the credit we deserve. But what else can we do besides pray? Maybe build a Wall big enough to keep the bad stuff away?