Thursday, Nov. 1, 42 A.B.


I've been accumulating quite a few thoughts in recent days.  And as luck would have it, my local trash company is now refusing to pick them up.  This means I have no choice but to compost them here.

For best results, wait until spring before turning the following words over gently and mixing with your own thoughts at about a 1:3 ratio....

The Tomato    I bought a tomato last night.  Pretty typical as tomatoes go, I guess.  Round.  About the size of an orange.  Weighs precisely 7 ounces, if my mail scale is to be believed.  (Not that I intend on mailing it anywhere, mind you, so relax all ye who have given me your real world address in a moment of madness.)  I only mention this purchase of mine at all because...  well...  I paid $1.50 for this tomato. Please tell me I didn't pay too much.


(Would it make a difference if I told you it was signed by Mother Nature herself?)

Halloween   Our town celebrated Halloween Tuesday night.  Yes, one night too early - I don't know why.  Someone told me it was because Wednesday night is Church Night.  True?  Has Sunday metastasized when I wasn't looking??  No matter.  For whatever reason, trick-or-treat was set for 6-8 p.m. October 30.  We had high hopes for this, our first Halloween in our new home.  It is, after all, a nice neighborhood with sidewalks and good lighting and houses close together.  Thinking it would be an ideal setting  for kids intent on shaking people down for all manner of tooth-rotting goodies, we bought 4 bags of candy totaling over 200 individual pieces of irresistible chocolate.

We ended up having all of 15 kids come to our door.

The vast majority of our neighbors had even fewer, since they kept their lights off and refused to share their candy with anyone.

Those 15 kids made up in quality what they lacked in quantity, however.  Every single costume seemed to have come from a movie or a commercial rather than real life.  There were witches and a wizard, Batman's Robin and a Scooby-Do, hippies and a few toddlers who looked for all the world like middle-aged parental escorts.  My favorite came last, however: A tiny tyke dressed up as a jester.  A full-blown jester.  None of this almost-a-jester stuff for him despite the fact the he barely came up to my knee.  Maybe someday I'll have a suit as good as his.  In the meantime, I think I better practice my juggling act since every piece of candy I toss up into the air and try to catch in my hand somehow ends up in my mouth instead.  Weird!

The New Mall   It was a week ago today that the largest mall in central Ohio opened its doors for the first time.  Over 1.6 million square feet of retail space, I'm told.  Seven anchor stores.  Valet parking.  Mob scenes.  The paper tells me that if I want to get myself a $1400 showerhead, this is the mall to go to.  Somehow, I've not yet succumbed to that temptation even though this mall is a mere 10 minutes from my home.

Am I afraid to go because it seems like the sort of place a terrorist might attack?  No.  I'm afraid to go because $1400 showerheads would strike me as obscene in normal times let alone at a moment when the U.S. is dropping bombs on people who make the equivalent of a few hundred bucks a year.  Right or wrong, no showerhead on earth can possibly make me feel clean while those bombs keep dropping....

A Day At The Park   It's been about 10 days now since we took a walk in the woods and ended up in a clearing where we sat and watched a kite making love to the sky. Whenever the loops and dives got a little bit too raw for our admittedly shy tastes, we shifted our gaze towards the elderly couple who were making out at a picnic table to our right.  Others were making out in the park as well - or were at least sitting closer together than mere brotherly love might justify - but this elderly couple drew most of my attention because they weren't just elderly - they were old.  Nothing wrong with that, of course - just a unique sight in my experience.

And yet oddly typical of the sort of unself-conscious behavior I've noticed in Columbus area residents.  It seemed of a piece with the restaurant patrons who talk loudly about all sorts of subjects without any concern for those who might overhear them.  I sometimes suspect that a lack of empathy or consideration for others plays a role in this, too, but not mainly.  Instead, there seems to be something else going on here.  Perhaps the anonymity bestowed upon us by being merely one in a crowd we'll never be part of again?  Perhaps.

Whatever it is, the flip side seems to be a studied refusal to acknowledge that others are talking loudly enough to be overheard (or making out in the park).  This has perhaps most acutely come to my attention when I'm out in my yard, and my neighbor is out in his yard, and we apparently are expected to pretend we are, in fact, utterly unable to see each other.  Indeed - judging from the actions of others - we are expected to limit our attention (if not our senses) to our own yards and lives, period.  Fire trucks go by - and nobody looks.  Joggers go by without looking at those in their yards, and those in their yards do not look at or otherwise acknowledge the existence of the joggers.

There are times when everyone seems to be living in their own little bubble - perhaps a bubble manufactured by Stepford, Inc.

The bubble bursts in a BIG way, however, whenever people interact professionally.  Enter a card shop and the clerk ostentatiously greets you like a long-lost friend.  Answer a salesman's knock and find yourself face to face with the garrulous uncle you never knew you had.  Call a repair service and be serenaded by a sales pitch as polished and remarkable in its own way as a performance of the Three Tenors.

It is, as they say, the damnedest thing.

Of course by "they" I don't mean Columbus area residents - I mean the people from the world I used to live in.  This world - well, this world is another one entirely.  Is it a capitalist's utopia in which human interaction is too valuable a commodity to be lavished on anyone but potential customers?  Is it the sort of class-conscious realm of stilted manners I'd formerly associated with Victorian England and those gentlemen and ladies unable to interact unless and until properly introduced?  I'm not sure.  All I know is that I find myself wondering if this is what it felt like to be black in the old South, unable to so much as look at a white woman without risk.  The rules simply are different here; and like the arbitrary rules which control a dream, they go unstated and must simply be conformed to without explanation or acknowledgment....

Reconnaissance Mission To A Nearby Town    The day before our visit to the park we drove through a nearby town.  It's allegedly where the richest man in Ohio lives.  We didn't see him, but then it turned out that we didn't need to see him in order to be entertained.  It's not a very big town, yet it seemed to have enough attitude to supply the needs of at least half the state.  Every home, every business, every bench, every bauble seemed to be made of the sort of red brick I associate with Williamsburg, Virginia and Philadelphia's Independence Hall.  Had I trusted myself to get out of the car without immediately turning into brick myself, I suspect I would have found the anthills to be of a similar colonial-federalist style rather than the usual pile of disorderly sand.

This uniformity extended beyond the main thoroughfares down the side streets and on through whole developments.  Upon entering one of these developments before anyone could call the cops, we discovered that every home resembled nothing so much as three-story bank branches, complete with cupolas and "drive-thru" carports.  Incredibly, these imposing structures had been shoe-horned onto lots far smaller than our own.  "Tract housing for millionaires," I muttered to my wife.  She didn't say anything in reply.  I suspect she was speechless.

Oh, One More Thing About That Elderly Couple   My wife was by no means speechless about them.  In fact, she shared with me her opinion that they were having an affair.  I myself thought they had just come from the funeral of a child or close friend and were comforting each other.  This pretty much sums up our different views of life.

But OH!  My aching cerebellum!  I think I just pulled a neuron.  Guess that's what I get for waiting almost two weeks to empty my wastebasket of thoughts.

Ummmm, does anyone have a can of mind freshener I can borrow?

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(©1999 by DJ Birtcher -
a man happy to be living in the past)