I added some extra walking and jogging to my workout today and there is no part of my legs that is happy with that decision right now.
9/11/01 is one of those dates, most everybody who was alive and out of childhood remembers where they were when they heard the news. For people my age, the Kennedy assassination is the only comparable event.
I feel like I was probably among the last to know. I was on vacation that week and installing shelves in my garage on that Tuesday, in a house we hadn’t lived in that long. I didn’t have a TV or radio on. In the middle of the afternoon my wife came out, ashen-faced. She had been inside all day working on other projects, and only found out about the disaster when somebody from work called to talk about it. By the time we got the TV on, the networks had decided to stop showing the videos of the actual strikes over and over, because it was pretty clear by then it had been a terrorist attack instead of a tragic accident, so I didn’t have the images burned into my memory as vividly as so many others did.
I remember that in the next few days, George Bush, who I had not voted for and had not regarded very highly up until that point, seemed very Presidential, and it looked like he might be one of those Presidents who rose to the occasion in a crisis. He was doing and saying all of the right things, and world opinion was clearly on his side. It was a moment which the United States might have built on to improve the world in so many ways. This phase only lasted a week, until the administration decided to go to war with his father’s old nemesis in Iraq instead of with the perpetrators, and leave the bill for this mad adventure unpaid.
As with the Kennedy assassination, a cottage industry of conspiracy theorists sprung up in the aftermath, and will probably thrive as long as the internet does. This seems particularly lunatic to me, but there seems to be no point in arguing with those who believe it. They will not be dissuaded. I will only say that, based on the expression on the President’s face in that classroom when the aide whispered the news, and his reaction in the minutes that followed, it appears clear to me that if there was any government involvement in the attacks, George Bush had no advance warning.
Today I went to a presentation at the East Tennessee History Center. It was about East Tennessee or Appalachian English, and the study thereof. As a native Michigander and longtime Floridian now in my 4th year in Knoxville, I don’t sound much like a native, but it was interesting all the same. Afterwards I was in the urinal bank in the restroom next to a gentleman who appeared to be quite a bit older than me. As a conversation starter, he said, I wonder how they (meaning the locals) would pronounce the word “pee”. This clued me in to the fact that he, too, was not from around here, and also that he was a pretty genial guy.
The world is made up of two types of guys: those who talk to other guys while standing in front of urinals either happily or grudgingly, and those who, under any circumstances, don’t. (Another division is those who pee in urinals and those who pee into (and all over) toilets even when urinals are available. Don’t get me started on those idiots. Apparently they all suffer from paruresis, also known as shy or bashful bladder. I suppose I should be sympathetic but apparently 90% of the men who have this phobia try to compensate for their hang up by strutting around with excessive swagger, which only makes them twice as annoying.) But, I digress.
Having established that neither of us were native East Tennesseans, the conversation moved on to where we were from originally.
Michigan, says I.
Michigan, says he, followed by, what part? With an out of stater, Michiganders, that is to say Lower Michiganders at least, are known for pointing to the corresponding area on their hand while holding it aloft in the familiar “mitten” shape by way of illustration, but this is hardly necessary when conversing with other natives unless the town you are speaking of turns out to unfamiliar to your companion. As my hands were occupied at the moment, I dispensed with this familiar custom.
The Flint area, I said.
His eyes lit up. Me too, said he. I’m from Kearsley. I went to Kearsley High, back when the building was new.
Keeping in mind the lecture we had both just heard, I stated that I knew he was telling the truth as to the city of his origin based on his correct pronunciation of “Kearsley”, which for most people would be KEERS-lee rather than CURS-lee, which is how the locals say it. This is one of the most common pronunciation errors of newcomers to the Flint area, probably second to “Clio”, which out-of-towners invariably pronounce, CLEE-O, while locals say CLY-O. (The fact that the town’s was named after the Greek muse of history and that it SHOULD be pronounced CLEE-O is beside the point. The locals are always right, even when they’re wrong.) At this point I told the man that I had attended Mt. Morris High School, which was, as you might expect, in Mt. Morris, a small town between Flint and Clio, and, as he knew, not very far from Kearsley.
This conversation took us all the way out of the men’s room (after vigorous hand-washing) and into the front lobby, where my new friend’s wife was patiently waiting. My wife was still in the lady’s room, just to keep the story accurate.
This fellow is from Mt. Morris, the man told his wife. Do we know anybody from Mt. Morris?
By this remark I surmised that my new friend’s wife was also from the Flint area, though we never got to specifics. She thought of someone right away and glared at him. Well, there’s your daughter-in-law. She’s from Mt. Morris.
At this point, I’m thinking there’s at least a strong possibility that I will know this person, because Mt. Morris isn’t big. The town population has been stuck at around 3,500 for about as long as I can remember, and I was a mailman there for a couple of years before I left the area. I grew up in a house a couple of miles out of town, to the east of the metropolis. It was kind of remote. My house was on an unpaved, country road but there was a suburban feel to it because directly behind it was a subdivision of tract houses, mostly three bedroom/one bath ranches. Or, as they say here in Tennessee, ranchers, maybe 60 houses altogether. The subdivision happened to be where most of my friends lived. She went on to name a name, which will now be changed to protect the privacy of the subject.
The last name was “Stetson”, she said, but not really. See previous paragraph.
I felt one of those chills you feel sometimes, in the back of the neck. You know the kind, where your senses kind of go on alert because of information you’ve just received or are about to receive. When something seems to be about to happen that defies the odds, like, talking to a complete stranger and suddenly finding out you have a close and totally unexpected connection with them.
I knew the name Stetson, I was sure of it. But any further information was buried deep inside my brain, filed away in a dusty cabinet that hadn’t even been riffled for ages, in a room so dark and cob-webby and full of dried-out spider corpses that I’d almost forgotten it was there. Stetson! Who the hell were the Stetsons? Neurons sparked and fizzled.
Maggie Stetson? Dan Stetson? she suggested helpfully, seeing both the recognition and confusion in my eyes.
No, that didn’t sound right. Keith, I thought, or maybe Ken? Then the overworked file clerk in my brain cracked open another lost file and eagerly handed it up to me.
The Stetson I’m thinking of, I mused, had a partial eye. Like, half of the iris was missing. The eyeball was intact, but it was just white where he got hit by a stone playing baseball in the backyard. That was a telling detail if ever there was one.
She beamed. That’s Dan. Maggie our daugther-in-law is his little sister.
Well, I said, memory firming up, the Stetsons lived in the subdivision right behind my house, not more than a quarter mile away. I didn’t know him well because he was a couple of years younger, probably around my sister’s age. And Maggie was a lot younger, I seem to recall. Wait- I remember now, we called him Danny, not Dan. Danny Stetson.
We still call him that, she said. She then asked my name, for the purpose of conveying the information to the Stetsons. I gave it to them, along with some free associations to help her remember. I said I thought he would probably remember me, though he was more likely to remember my younger brother or sister better, given that one or the other of them was probably in his class.
Small world, we all agreed.
As we parted, my bathroom buddy made a pitch for the upcoming Scotch-Irish one-day festival in Dandridge, which was where he and the missus had lived for the past twenty-seven years, renewing an earlier plug he had made as we strolled down the hallway on our way to the lobby. I felt at that point he must be one of the festival organizers, owing to the enthusiasm with which he was promoting it, but the conversation did not bend further in that direction. I replied that we would surely try to make it if we were in town, although I do not own a kilt and can work up little enthusiasm for tossing a caber. There would be food and music, he said, and that was good enough for me. However now that I’m home and looking at my calendar, I see that we will not be in town on the day of the festival, curse me luck.
By the time my wife came out, the in-laws of Maggie Stetson had departed, so I repeated the story of our connection, which she found as improbable as I did. What are the chances?
Of course, I have similar stories of other strange meet ups and connections between people where no link is expected; I’m sure we all do, and we remember them because they occur so rarely. A few times in each lifetime. The next hundred or thousand men who strike up a conversation with me in various men’s rooms across the nation and around the world will establish no unexpected or unlikely connection. We remember the rare ones because they are rare, and because our brains file the rare in files that don’t get shuffled off to those remote storage rooms in the dustier parts of the brain, where the more or less constant usual encounters are stored and forgotten. But I met the in-laws of a girl I barely remember but who grew up in the same neighborhood I did in a city 570 miles away, 48 years after I last gave her or her brother a single thought, and now I will remember them for as long as I live, because the crossing of my path wit another person who knows them has made them important to the story of my life.
I made a resolution this year to finally give up the watching of American football. (I’ve never been drawn to soccer, so there’s nothing there to give up.) This epic decision has been a long time coming. The first foundational crack occurred years ago, when I read that the average football game, when you count JUST the amount of time the ball is in play and not the time spent in huddles, on the line while signals are being called, and the untangling of bodies after plays, contains a total of EIGHTEEN MINUTES of actual action.
Eighteen minutes that used to take three hours and now routinely takes closer to four, thanks to additional breaks for television commercials. This lack of action explains why football is ideally suited for television and our decreasing attention span. The viewer can see the same play over and over through multiple replays from every conceivable angle, while expert analysts dissect every element, and never miss a moment of life action, while also drinking and eating copious amounts of his favorite unhealthy snacks and beverages.
Then came those increasingly damning health reports about permanent injuries to brains and spinal cords and poor quality of life for many when their playing days are over. And the performance-enhancing drugs, and the huge fines levied for vicious hits with the perpetrators complaining that it’s the way the game HAS to be played, and the off-the-field horror of domestic wife-beatings, murders, and violence in night clubs and mansions.. And now Mother Jones is trying to get me to care that cheerleaders are underpaid.
Then there’s all the nonsense in the college game, byzantine NCAA regulations and penalties, cheating scandals, eligibility farces, superstar ego-driven program-hopping coaches, big television contracts and rear-round marketing, corrupt boosters and programs, insane fans, and more career-ending injuries, along with lawsuits to get college players recognized as unionized, salaried workers rather than students.
I’ve had enough.
I’ll probably always keep up with the scores and the rankings, just so I can make small talk with the moonies at the gym, but I can do that in a few minutes a day online and in the paper.
Last Saturday night my alma mater played Notre Dame, and got thumped real good. The game started at 7:30, and around 10:30 I thought I’d check the score. Three hours later, they were halfway through the 3rd quarter. THREE HOURS LATER! And of course, the game wasn’t going well for “my” Wolverines. I thought to myself, thank goodness I didn’t waste those three hours, especially to get that result.
It’s good to be free at last.
It’s very important to have a goal. Something you want out of life, something that is always in the back of your mind, something worth striving for whatever the odds.
For example, my goal is to get back home as soon as possible every day I go out and put on comfy clothes, and leave them on as long as possible.
If you dream it, you can do it.
Glass Half Full turned 4 today! Happy Birthday email from the folks at Tumblr.
What a nice gesture. Skipping the cake though, we’re all too fat here.