My blog sees as little traffic as a desolate, underdeveloped, and unmapped road. That’s okay. I’ve always enjoyed a lonely walk in unexplored places and silence is never without a voice. Poets and writers know this.
I’m not much of a man. I can’t drill, saw, screw (well, I can screw but it’s always gotten me into trouble), or hammer. I can’t fix something as complicated as a car or as simple as a hole in the wall. I’m bad at relationships. I don’t understand computers. I don’t know what a widget is. I could go on and on. The only thing I can legitimately brag about (aside from my uncommon skill with a bathroom plunger) is my experiential knowledge that peace comes with simplicity. I’m not admitting that I’m a simpleton—my thoughts run deep and my feelings deeper still. But simplicity is childlike and innocent.
Once upon a time, my first-grade teacher sent a note home to my parents. I wasn’t worried (most first-graders don’t worry anyway—they run through the day with a playful puppy kind of bliss and never look behind). I rarely misbehaved. The only time I was ever in any serious trouble was when I formed a clay pencil in art class and sharpened it in the pencil sharpener (Hasbro stole my idea and made millions feeding colorful Play-Doh products through all kinds of gadgets like pencil sharpeners, but I was too young and unaware to sue). Oh, and there was also the time when it started to snow (which meant early school closings) and my brother and I met in the boy’s bathroom with our hall passes (it wasn’t planned but only a happy coincidence). David and I began to swing like monkeys from the crapper stalls, singing and screaming at the top of our lungs, “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” We were both escorted to the principle’s office and sent home early anyway, accumulation of snow or not. ANYWAY . . . the note from my first-grade teacher revealed her concern that I might be suffering from hearing loss. The evidence: poor grades. She explained that I was always staring out the window and never seemed to listen; only when my name was called loud enough would I jump, genuinely startled. I remember her warm smile, extra kind to a newly-discovered handicapper. The handicapper that swung from a crapper.
My parents, almost perfect but very poor, took me immediately to Dr. Iqbal (back in those days, one didn’t have to wait five months for an appointment but only had to pick up the phone). Dr. Iqbal (pronounced: ick-ball), slapped a tuning fork and tested each ear. “Which is louder or softer, hmm?” I loved the cadence of his accent. His jacket was extra-white like the snow and his breath winter mint. One ear was significantly less than the other, but I was too scared to admit it—so I lied. To this day, my parents don’t know. Dr. Iqbal commenced a full head-to-toe exam, pushing, prodding, probing. He had a serious whistler in his nose and I was trying hard not to laugh (he assumed I was merely ticklish). He was also wearing a light on his forehead; it reminded me of my grandfather and uncles who were all West Virginia coal miners. I opened my mouth and said, “Aaaaah” and the tongue depressor tasted like a popsicle stick without the popsicle. I gagged. With a look of deep, professional, compassionate concern, Dr. Iqbal turned to my mother and said what he would say to everybody in every situation, “His tonsils need to be removed.” If you had a vision problem, you needed your tonsils out. If your young penis closed at the tip and you could no longer pee, you needed your tonsils out. If you suffered from an infected bellybutton from not bathing, you needed your tonsils out. Dr. Iqbal stole my brother’s tonsils, but he never got mine. I would see him on occasion after I became an adult and he would turn away from me, shaking his head, mumbling—his career less-fulfilled and disappointingly incomplete because I was the one who got away. I was his Moby Dick. Do whales have tonsils? If my blowhole was blocked, would he take my tonsils? As I write this, I see a headlamp on his forehead, him at the fore of a dinghy, advancing toward me in the water, grim, determined, sucking on a mint.
After the twicefold inaccurate diagnoses of perfect hearing and bad tonsils, my dad told me that I didn’t have a hearing problem but a listening problem and that it would require some butt surgery with a paddle if I didn’t start paying attention in class. The truth is that I was paying attention—rapt attention—with every cell of my body to other things . . . like birds scattering on the lawn, trees swaying in the wind, clouds forming a merchant caravan of camels crossing a blue desert sky. These and a thousand other curious things. Smells (cherry and grape markers, my music teacher’s denture breath, tooth tartar scraped onto my fingernail), tastes (finger paste and sticky, cheesy cafeteria cheeseburgers), physical feelings (something stirring in my young corduroys whenever I stared at Tina’s kissable lips or my teacher’s shiny, sheer pantyhose), emotional feelings (just as intense whenever Tina smiled at me) and my first, tear-popping sorrow when my curly-haired friend Todd never came back to school because he was thrown the length of a football field after getting hit by a speeding car (I remember staring at his silent, empty desk; suddenly, intimately, I knew the definition of loss, whether I ever paid attention in class or not).
Eventually, I discovered I wasn’t much good at anything (especially math), but I loved words, and diagraming simple sentences brought the same quizzical feeling to my pants that Tina did. I was also talented at producing joy and laughter as a constant, good-natured victim of dodge ball; fellow students weren’t supposed to aim at my head, but they did, and my cheeks were often as red as the ball and stinging from the occasional stray up to an hour later on the reading carpet.
Me and my brothers walked to and from our little elementary school on Kansas Road and—no, no, no—we didn’t walk uphill, naked, both ways, in the snow. But I remember the scent of the Delaware River and I dreamt of ships. I was staring out the window again, the wide-open window of my mind. The foul, arresting stench of a dead squirrel brought me back to reality one afternoon. Hungry, frenzied maggots were licked clean by a stray dog and repulsed my uninitiated soul and hinted at a reality I didn’t yet fully understand. A quarter mile later, I opened the side door to our house and reentered a storybook life. Salisbury steaks and tater tots drenched in brown gravy banished from my mind the squirrel, death, decay, and Todd flying like Peter Pan and landing broken and bloody in the street.
There’s so much more to say but these paragraphs are only meant to be a feeble hint at the main point I started to explain earlier. My blog isn’t really a blog but more like a candy sampler. A box of chocolates, full of different flavors, easily consumed. I claim no single genre. I’m a confused, hopefully tasty, mixture of choices. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not famous; however, if anyone opens the box, chooses a curious piece, bites into it, and smiles with satisfaction, well, damn, that’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it?
My hearing may not be the best (now you know my secret, ssshhh, don’t tell), but I am listening to the world around me, this wonderful, frightening world. My senses are still young enough and alert. Hopefully, my heart has not become calloused along the way. We all long for innocence but who can escape exposure, injury, and guilt? Often I reach for the hand of that child of long ago, the one who still sings about the snow.
Anyway, I hope my writing samples will always be surprising, unpredictable, and addictive as a box of candy. Taste this life with me.