Kasey puts up with our whimsy and shenanigans, just like we put up with hers. It’s part of the dog-human bargain.
We learned some things so long ago that we have no recollection of the process. The words “Mom” and “Dad” and the names of our siblings. That you don’t stick your hand into an open flame or onto a glowing red burner. Simple temporal concepts, like “today” and “yesterday” and “tomorrow” and “later.”
And basic words. Anybody who has children knows that kids typically learn the words “yes” and “no” some time before the age of two and then stubbornly and infuriatingly speak, shout, or scream the word “no” exclusively for the next 12 months.
But counting comes later, along with learning your ABCs. Counting is a building block for math, just like learning the alphabet is a building block for reading and spelling. When you think about it, counting is a fairly sophisticated concept. First you grasp the difference between none, one, and many — and then you learn that specific words and symbols represent precise numbers of, say, the little meatballs in the Chef Boyardee spaghetti that your Mom served for lunch.
One of the challenges of counting, of course, is that the words that represent the numbers, and their progression, aren’t intuitive. I thought of counting and its challenges when I stumbled across this article about the words “eleven” and “twelve” and their history. For many kids, the numbers between 10 and 20 are the big challenge because they’re weird and not consistent with the concepts that come before (between 1 and 10) or after (for 20 and up). To this day, I think the only reason I know the world “delve” is because of the rhyme I learned about counting as a kid. (“Eleven, twelve, dig and delve.”)
So where did eleven and twelve come from? According to etymologists, both come from the root word “lif,” which apparently meant “to leave” — the concept being that 11 would mean one left after 10, and 12 would mean two left after 10. It’s weird, and something that would forever after cause kids learning to count to stumble and hesitate after then got to 10, but it’s not unique to English — when you learn how to count in French, at least, you encounter the same issue and strange words just after “dix”.
That suggests that, in the early days among the common folk, most people didn’t need to routinely count up to 573, or for that matter much past ten. That makes sense, because we’ve got ten fingers and kids learning to count often do so using their fingers. Our ancestors created special words for the numbers just past ten, but at a certain point they probably just shrugged and settled for “many” rather than going for precision.
Lots of kids learning to count would like to have taken the same approach.
It was a shock to hear yesterday about the death of Prince, at age 57. The musical star was found dead in an elevator in his home, and the cause of his death is not yet known. It’s a huge hit to the music world, which has been reeling in the wake of a series of deaths — David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, and now Prince — that make it seem like 2016 is the Grim Reaper’s year to swing that scythe of his through the ranks of iconic figures in different branches of the music world.
I first heard of Prince and his music back in the ’80s, during the early days of MTV, when that channel still played music. During Richard’s infant days I spent some nights sitting in our rocking chair, with Richard’s belly pressed against my shoulder, rocking during the wee hours of the early morning and hoping he would fall back asleep. Richard seemed to do better with some background noise, so we often turned the cable channel to MTV and listened to the music of the mid-80s.
One of the frequent songs on the MTV late night/early morning playlist in those days was Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and another was the Bangles’ Manic Monday, which the MTV VJs noted was written by Prince. They were both frothy pop songs, catchy but lightweight, the kind of songs where the melody and lyrics seemed to get injected directly into your brain cells and you can’t get them out no matter how hard you tried. Those songs defined and informed my views of Prince, and I dismissed him as a talented but somewhat insubstantial pop star. When Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and started to get into battles with record companies and others I added egotistical to the list of adjectives I associated with him.
Ironically, it was Richard who reintroduced me to Prince. Perhaps it was his exposure to Raspberry Beret during his infancy — OK, maybe not — but Richard became a huge fan of Prince, and during his college days at Northwestern he hosted a weekly, multi-episode show on the campus radio station that was devoted to Prince’s career and songs. Perhaps fittingly, it was broadcast during the wee hours in Evanston, and aired, I think, during the 5-6 a.m. slot, Eastern time. If I woke up early, as I usually do, I could catch it live via web radio. It was fun and sort of weird to hear Richard’s voice on radio first thing in the morning, so I tried to listen to the show whenever I could.
Through Richard and his radio show I learned a lot more about Prince — and realized that my casual dismissal of him on the basis of two songs was far off base. His music was a lot more thoughtful and interesting and ground-breaking than I had given him credit for, and I added a lot of it to my iPod playlist where it has stayed ever since. I’m sorry to hear of Prince’s untimely death, and sorry to know that Richard has lost a favorite artist — and I’m also sorry that I didn’t appreciate a great talent for so many years. The creative world is poorer without Prince in its ranks.
It’s great to live in modern times because, among other things, it’s easier to wish people happy birthday, and in more communication methods and forms, than ever before. I’ve received grossly inappropriate, unforgivably ageist cards from family and friends, Facebook congratulations from pals old and new and a post from UJ with a picture of us as toddlers, text message birthday greetings, and nice emails from clients and colleagues. It’s been great to be the target of so many good wishes.
I’ve even received happy birthday emails from my optometrist, my periodontist, and the America Red Cross. I suppose there’s a kind of message there, too.
On April 3, 1982, 34 years ago, Kish and I got married in Vermilion, Ohio. It was her father’s birthday, and the weather then was just like the weather is today. It had been nice and sunny a day or two earlier, but the clouds rolled in and the wind blew and on our wedding day it was brutally cold with snow squalls.
It’s about 6:30 a.m. as I write this. By that time 34 years ago, I had been up for at least an hour already, after tossing and turning for most of the night. I was filled with adrenalin, excited and nervous. I knew I was making the right decision, but I was worried about screwing something up during the ceremony or the reception afterward. So I got up and, in those pre-internet days, sat in my room and tried to read a book and then walked the halls for a while to deal with the burst of jittery energy.
Fortunately, Kish and I had decided to keep the wedding ceremony itself short. We had stripped out pretty much everything but the bare minimum required of a service in her family church. To this day, dozens of weddings later, our own wedding is the shortest wedding ceremony I’ve ever attended. I needed to walk out to my position in front of the altar without tripping, hold Kish’s hand after she and her Dad had walked down the aisle, say I do a few minutes later, put the ring on without dropping it, and then walk out with my lovely bride. I thought I could handle it, and later that day I did. Seeing Kish looking beautiful in her wedding gown helped a lot.
The whole ceremony took about 15 minutes, but they were momentous minutes indeed. More than three decades later, the memories are still vivid, and the decision remains the best decision I ever made. Happy anniversary, Skipper!
Since at least 1700, April 1 has been the day to pull a prank and dupe the gullible. It’s a day to keep your skepticism level set at maximum, to make sure that strange memo you got at work isn’t a jest, and to double-check that what you’re stirring into your morning coffee is sugar and not salt.
The arrival of April 1 made me think about jokes we used to play as kids. One of the most successful and most elaborate was a prank that my sister Cath and I pulled on UJ shortly after our family moved to Columbus in April 1971.
At the time there was a pair of really cheap, almost plastic-looking black loafers lurking around the house. I don’t know where they came from — they weren’t Dad’s, and they certainly weren’t UJ’s or mine — but for some reason they became an object of ridicule and silly humor in our household. We called them the shiners, and they would mysteriously appear on your chair at dinner, or on your pillow when you went to your bedroom at night. It was one of those inside jokes that sometimes develop in families.
After UJ deftly deposited the shiners with one of us, Cath and I decided to kick things up a notch. We came up with the idea of making UJ think he had won a prize in a contest. We decided that the Columbus Dispatch had sponsored a “best brother” contest and, with devilish cleverness, we thought that it would be more believable if we made out that UJ had taken second prize rather than winning outright. So we typed up an official-looking letter stating that, on the nomination of his brother and sisters, UJ had come in second in the Columbus Best Brother Contest, and that the enclosed gift was his award. Then we boxed everything up, wrapped it in brown paper, and mailed it all to make it look even more legitimate.
One day, when we got home from school, Mom announced that UJ had received a mysterious package. With Cath and I barely able to control our glee, UJ first opened and read the letter — and fell for our scheme hook, line, and sinker. As he read the letter he seemed legitimately touched, saying something like: “Gosh you guys, you didn’t need to do that!” Then, with mounting excitement, he opened the inside box and found . . . the shiners. First a look of puzzlement, then a sense that a mistake must have been made, and finally the dawning realization that he was the victim of a practical joke washed over his face, and Cath and I had a good laugh. Mom, on the other hand, declared that enough was enough with the shiners, and they were never seen again.
As is the case with many practical jokes, the planning and execution was fun, but the act of consciously fooling someone ultimately seemed mean-spirited. I’ve always felt kind of guilty about the shiners incident. Sorry about that, UJ!
Happy April Fools’ Day!
The work on our upstairs bathroom proceeds. We knew it would take weeks, and that there would be workers in the house during that time, and that we’d need to use the downstairs bathroom, but the project had one byproduct I didn’t fully anticipate.
Dust. Lots and lots of dust.
When the tile was removed from the drywall in the bathroom, it produced dust. So did pulling down the drywall. So did prying off the floor tile, removing the shower basin and toilet, and taking the medicine cabinet off the wall. I’ve concluded that most bathroom fixtures and coverings must be made of about 90 percent compacted dust.
And here’s another fun fact about dust that I’ve learned: dust is adventurous. Dust likes to explore. Dust apparently wasn’t happy about being trapped in the bathroom for all those years, and now it wants to get out and see the world — or at least the upstairs of our house. And dust must be curious, too, because it seems to be ending up in virtually every nook and cranny of our upstairs sitting room and bedroom and closets.
Every night when I walk upstairs, I enter the dust zone, and I think of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s and photographs of thin, sad-eyed women holding babies and children and staring forlornly into the distance. There’s a fresh layer of fine dust everywhere, on the floor, on chairs, on my desk, and on the clothes in my closet. We’re probably being covered with dust as we sleep, too.
But here’s the worst part — every time I see the dust, the Kansas song Dust in the Wind runs through my head. It’s unquestionably one of the most morose, whiny, annoying songs ever recorded. What could be worse that coming home from a hard day’s work and hearing Dust in the Wind, over and over again? (Well, I suppose hearing Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but that’s a bit off topic.)
I’ll be glad when the bathroom project ends, and we can shake the dust off and move on.