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 phenomenon?

The Dream

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, "Yes, please."

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 anti-aircraft fire.

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 lot.

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.


Copyright (c) 2004 - 2007 Patrick Taber, All rights reserved.
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