The Book of Tangents
a collection of the things that kidnap conversations
Voices in the fan
There are people, myself amongst them, who hear voices when there is a fan
going in the room. To me, it sounds like there's a radio somewhere set to an AM
talk station. I can't make out the words, but I hear the rhythm of the
conversation. Of course, our society doesn't think highly of people who hear
voices when there is no one there, so I avoided mentioning it, but one evening I
did and it turns out I'm not the only one subject to this. And I wasn't the only
one hiding it. The conversation turned to the possibility that the vortices of
the fan blades ripped open a hole to the dimension where ghosts could try to
communicate. No one bought it, but everyone had thought it. My personal
explaination is that the fan generates a random "sound field" that our minds try
to impose order on and in so doing turn it to muffled voices speaking words we
just miss hearing. I wonder how many "hauntings" happen this way? And how many
people have been dismissed as looney because of what seems to be a very natural
In the dream, I'm outside standing next to my young son.
He's hungry and wants me to buy him a hot dog. I don't have the money.
I don't have the money for the hot dog. I don't have the money for
clothes or shoes. I don't have the money to live in our house any more.
In my dream I know that we're not going to be going home that night. I
know that he's never going to see his friends at school any more. But I
haven't told him that yet.
I wake up crying.
Lies, damn lies and innate, self-evident truths
The problem with lie detectors is that they only indicate when someone lies.
They don't indicate when someone says something that isn't true. Not twenty
minutes from where I'm sitting I could find a dozen people who firmly believe
that there are space aliens either walking among us or at least in refrigerators
under some Air Force base. There are people who believe that Oswald acted alone
and people who believe there was another gunman on the grassy knoll. Asked to
testify, they would tell the truth and yet, perhaps be wrong.
People tell me that it is self-evident that a society that allows gays to
marry is attacking marriage. They tell me saying "Happy Holidays" is a
fundamental attack on Christianity. The almost Zen reality of it all is that I
believe they are telling the truth, but I also believe they are wrong.
This little philosophical quibble makes a big difference: when people say I
need to get more exercise, maybe they are telling the truth -- but they're
wrong. If they tell me that I have to submit to invasion of privacy
for reasons of security, they may be telling the truth, but they're wrong.
So then we have to examine truth. "Truth" is not "fact." Truth, in
demonstrable fact, is opinion.
At least in my opinion.
And that's the truth.
The Royal Wedding
Aunts are renown for being loony, but the best loony Aunt story I know
involves a friend's aunt who traveled widely and frequently stayed with friends
in England. So when she asked if we'd care to see her pictures of the Royal
Wedding (of Prince Charles & Lady Dianna) we made some assumptions and said,
She went to the hutch and pulled out a large album, which further set up our
presumptions. Imagine our surprise when she opened it and there were photographs
of her television with the Royal Wedding being displayed. The pictures were
somewhat marred by the hot white spot of her camera's flash. We were a little
taken aback, but she described everything as happily as if she was right there.
My Brother the Hero
My brother is hero, not just to me, but in the realest sense. Since he was a
little boy his one desire was to be a pilot (like our mother) and against mighty
odds he became one. Specifically, he became a cargo pilot. Most pilots would
consider the peak of his career to be when he was flying 747's for top pay, but
he hated that job. The job he loved was flying the Hercules (civilian name for
the C-130) in Africa doing famine relief for the UN. He would fly food to
starving people in various African countries; either bringing it in to
postage-stamp-sized runways, or flying over and dropping it out of the back of
his plane. He has a wonderful letter from "The Mothers of Juba" praising him as
a hero of Juba for flying into that besieged city despite rockets and
When the US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, he was went there as
the only American pilot flying for the UN. While the nightly news showed
Americans dropping bombs, he flew "instant school house" kits to the rural areas
and palette loads of textbooks. He said the most effective way for him to give
Osama a black eye was to help educate all the little girls so they'd grow up
knowing enough to reject his poisonous teachings and teach their own children to
do the same.
There are wonderful stories to be told about his selfless acts. The only
thing really stopping it is his own view of them. He believes he flew in Africa,
not for the people, but for the joy of flying a cool plane in uncontrolled
airspace. When I suggest it was something for him to be building Afghanistan
rather than tearing it down, he angrily says that if he could have dropped bombs
he would have.
In the end it comes back to a classic problem in ethics: should you be judged
by your actions or by your intentions? Will God greet him warmly for the lives
he saved or chide him for his selfish act of joyful flight? Will his action of
helping to build a country be judged by his motivation of revenge for the
destruction caused in his own?
"Kids these days..."
Opined a friend of mine, "...are useless babies. And it's the fault of all
these laws. Laws that require helmets and pads for every little thing. Laws that
say you can't ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Kids can't carry knives or
shoot off fireworks. It's a crime."
And it may be. I know I had more freedom when I was a kid. But if it was that
way when I was a kid and it's not that way now -- where did these laws come
from? Seems to me they were passed by the very people who grew up without them.
What does that say?
The Early Bird Annoys the Boss
If you come in at Midnight and work to 4 pm, the boss will only notice that
you leave at 4. If you come in at Noon and work until 6 pm, the boss will think
you're a hard worker because you're there when he leaves.
The State of Marriage
Some huge number of marriages end in divorce, they say, clucking their tongues.
And I suppose it is a bad thing, unless your marriage is one of the ones that
failed. Huh? Think about it -- if 99% of marriages succeeded and
yours failed, you'd be in a terrible situation. Your chances of finding any love
or companionship would be nil. In the current state of society, if your marriage
fails (a bad thing) you at least have other people out there who understand your
situation and who can help. I'm old enough to remember when divorce was rare and
I remember the stories of how hard it was for divorced people, ostracized from
the community as the great herd of married people avoided them in fear of
"catching" divorce. Now divorced people are mainstream; their lives are better.
The Port o' Missing Men's legacy
I was talking to a fellow at work one time and mentioned I came from Revere (Massachusetts.)
He said, "No kidding? Hey, you remember that place that was down on the corner
of the Boulevard and Revere Street? It changed its name every time someone got
shot in there..."
I had to own up to the fact that he was talking about my Old Man's bar. Of
course, Old Al wasn't involved in that, but it was what The Joint had become as
the 50's faded away and the grim 60's took over. Revere Beach declined; the
amusement parks were torn down and The Joint was taken over by a questionable
group who turned it into a strip club. It went through a few name changes, but
the story goes that the one time it didn't, some guy came in the front door,
dashed across the stripper's stage and had just stepped out the back door when
his pursuer appeared in the front door and shot him in the back. Since the
shooter didn't cross the threshold and the shootee had stepped into the back
street, the investigator ruled he hadn't been shot in the club, so
the club was not at fault.
In the late 70's a hurricane finished the place off (it was called the Ebb
Tide then) and it was taken by the city, which wisely turned it into an empty
Things I Remember
I remember when I was a kid in the 1950's and we actually had a rag man come
around with a horse-drawn wagon. It must have been nearly the last in the Boston
area. He would collect old cotton clothes and such. I also remember the knife
grinder who used to come down the street calling for knives which he'd sharpen
at the curb.
I remember we didn't get our first telephone with a dial until I was 7 or so.
Up to then, you'd pick up the receiver and the operator would ask, "Number
please." I remember telling her "Copley seven one thousand, please" to talk to
my Mom at her office in the city. I also remember my number was "Revere six, six
seven oh eight." My friend was "Atlantic six one six oh two" because he used to
call it "one sick old tool."
I remember the grocery store at the end of the street where you'd go in and
tell the grocer what you wanted and he'd pick it off the shelf for you. I used
to be able to go in there after school and get things on account -- he'd write
them on a piece of cardboard torn from a cigarette carton and hold the strip
until my Mom came by and paid him. Cash registers were unusual in small
businesses then and he totaled up everyone's order in pencil on the side of the
paper bag that he'd put your groceries in.
I remember "Cott Bottle Cap Day" at the beach, where each ride, which
normally cost a quarter, was free if you gave the money-taker a bottle cap from
a Cott (brand) tonic bottle. ("Tonic" is New England talk for soda pop.) And I
remember scavenging everywhere trying to collect bottle caps the week before
Cott Bottle Cap Day.
I remember hanging out at the comic book rack at the corner drug store.
Superman comics were 7 cents then. "Annuals" which probably came out more often
than that cost a quarter. I remember being completely in love with Veronica from
the Archie comics. I also remember almost dying of laughter reading "Denis the
Menace Goes to Camp."
I remember my friend's sister Babs who wore tight black pants with a zipper
up the side. Intellectually I know she couldn't have been more than 12 when I
was 10, but to me she was grown up and the hottest thing that ever wore big
hair. To this day, she sets the standard by which I judge all women. And, yes,
to me she did look like Veronica.
I remember leaving the house in the morning and not coming in until after
dark in the summer time. My friends and I played on railroad tracks that had no
fences around them, we rode bikes in traffic and didn't wear helmets or pads. We
got on trains and rode into Boston. All of this freedom I treasure and yet would
never grant to my own kids.
I remember polio. And I remember the fear of polio that happened every
summer. My friends and I would look at a spot at the beach or in the marsh and
declare that "polio water" if we didn't like the look of it. If we said that, it
was off limits for at least the rest of the day. Even if we went swimming a
dozen yards up from that spot, we knew that the evil polio was waiting for us in
the off-limits area.