R’s Interview with Big Brother

Big Bro:  On Facebook, you posted a note entitled 17 Books in 17 Minutes.  I find it curious that you only managed to list 6 American titles.

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Twain
  2. Kim – Kipling
  3. Heart of Darkness – Conrad
  4. Bird of Life, Bird of Death: A Political Ornithology of Guatemala – Maslow
  5. The Magic Mountain – Mann
  6. Native Son – Wright
  7. Pather Panchali – Bandopadhyay
  8. Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Freire
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Garcia Marquez
  10. The House of the Spirits – Allende
  11. Hopscotch – Cortazar
  12. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Vargas Llosa
  13. To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee
  14. A Confederacy of Dunces – Kennedy Toole
  15. Germinal – Zola
  16. An American Tragedy – Dreiser
  17. Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky

R:  Well, I was an English major.

Big Bro: How is that relevant?  There are no Englishmen on the list.

R:  English majors don’t just read books by the English…but you are wrong: Kipling was an Englishman and Conrad, a British citizen.

Big Bro:  Your choice of books makes me question your loyalty to this country?

R:  Can’t I have a world view?

Big Bro:  (Pause)….I’ll have to check the regulations, but your books are radical.

R:  I don’t know about radical, but they are books of substance to be sure and touch on topics of universal interest – the death penalty, civil rights, capitalism, racism, workers rights, class struggle, imperialism, political repression, magical realism and the like.

Big Bro:  You posted this on your twitter account : 8 Feb “reports of a flying garbage barrel had commuters terrified this morning in Boston.”
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The Coaster (#Fridayflash)

“Hey dad, you seen my T-pass? I just had it”, said Ralph.

“Check your room”.

“I did, it’s not there”.

“If I find it, you have to clean your room.”


“I said, if I find it….”

Ralph’s dad peeked into his son’s bedroom.  For a second, he thought the room had been ransacked. Socks, t-shirts and jeans spilled out of an open chest of drawers.  Dirty clothes had been flung about – a tube sock dangled from a lampshade.  Wadded up pieces of loose leaf, a rainbow assortment of sharpies, some with their caps missing, and a colorful collection of college brochures littered the floor.  The copy of Great Expectations he had purchased for Ralph last week peeked out from under the bed, still in the Barnes and Noble bag.  Ralph’s MacBook Pro doubled as a plate for a half-eaten hamburger wrapped in foil. Some wayward fries lounged comfortably on a beat up piano bench under his desk.  Ralph had bought the piano bench at a yard sale for 5 bucks along with some Yes albums for .50 a piece for the album cover art, not the music.  He’d never heard of the band and thought the records were giant CDs.  Album covers and vinyl  LPs decorated his bedroom walls.

“I found it”, said Ralph’s dad.


“On your nightstand.  Now I want this room cleaned by tomorrow.”

Ralph had used his T-pass as a coaster for a 72 ounce can of i-Energy drink. And his dad noticed something else – another coaster, a baseball card inside a plastic sleeve under a Pom Tea glass with bits of orange juice pulp dried to the sides. He picked up the card. Bryan Nolen, pitcher for the Arkansas Catfish, a AAAA affiliate of the Ozark Spelunkers.  On the back of the card it said Nolen was an ambidextrous switch hitting pitcher who had recently pitched no hitters from both sides. Height: 6’6″; Wgt: 112; (that had to be a misprint) College: Bardmore State; Home: Drayton, NY. Nickname:  The Hudson Valley Hurler.

Bryan Nolen.  The thought of an ambidextrous pitcher intrigued  Ralph’s dad, so he googled him to find out a little more. Bryan was born Bryan Walker Nolen.  He earned an academic scholarship to Bardmore State College where he majored in linguistics. He spoke a little Spanish, his mother’s mother tongue, and could understand German, but couldn’t speak it.  He had studied the morphology of dozens of endangered indigenous languages and had discovered that English and Spanish had borrowed heavily from them.  Nolen was not only gifted academically, he was quite an accomplished athlete.  He had captained the nationally ranked Bardmore ultimate frisbee team in his junior and senior years.  At a frisbee tournament in Topf, TX, a major league recruiter saw potential in Nolen’s arm.  He was so impressed by his ability to accurately toss from both sides that he offered Nolen a minor league baseball contract on the spot.

In his first year in AAAA pitching for the Catfish, he threw a no-hitter as a lefty serving up mostly knuckleballs.  In one game against the Faulkner County Hush Puppies,  he caused a bench clearing brawl when he threw a pitch over the batter’s head from the left, and then switched to the right arm for the next pitch and beaned the batter in the ribs with a fastball.  The batter charged the mound and hit Nolen in the head with an aluminum bat, knocking him out and ending his baseball career. When Nolen came to, he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak.   He wrote notes in gibberish to his friends and family until a leading polyglot neurologist realized he was writing backwards in Spanish.  “Erbmah ognet” for “I’m hungry,” and so on. One day he miraculously began speaking German fluently during the day and Spanish at night. He had apparently lost his English completely.  Some in the family feared he had been subjected to a dangerous government experiment. The neurologist said the condition was rare, but theoretically possible, given that Ralph’s mother was a native Spanish speaker and that his paternal great-grandparents were German-speaking Swiss immigrants.  The ability to write backwards in a foreign tongue, though never before documented in a head trauma victim, had been observed in several lightning strike survivors.

Bryan eventually re-learned English, though he was not always easily understood with his thick German accent.  He struggled with irregular verbs and used of lot of slang he picked up from watching 70’s sitcoms and movies – “right on”, “dynamite”, “far out”, “out of sight”, “groovy man,” and “you dig?” And sometimes when he was really tired, he’d launch into backward English with a southern accent. “ll’ay yeh”.  He also discovered another talent – he could understand cat and dog language, an ability he turned into a hit show on the Reality Channel doing pet interventions for the rich and famous.

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Vinyl Hunt (#fridayflash)

Another restless night for Jed – the third in a row since his vacation began.  That Amana AC in his bedroom window awakened him numerous times the last few nights.  The thing was alive and evil, especially on energy saver mode.  Quiet for a while with that soothing white noise and then out of nowhere, a violent hiccup followed by a gagging, gurgling sound.  The AC snored.  It did.  And he couldn’t live without it on these humid New England nights with dew-points in the 70′s.  The Amana wasn’t the only thing that disturbed his sleep.  In the middle of his third or fourth mini-dream, his Samsung Instinct alarm sounded.  It was 5:45, when Jed would normally get up to go to work and he had forgotten once again to deactivate the alarm the night before.  He was on vacation after all.  But it wouldn’t have mattered.  He couldn’t deactivate Ella the cat.  She walked on his back at the first sign of light, licked his arm, purred in his ear and then crashed her head hard into his ribs demanding to be petted.  And she wanted her water bowl filled with fresh Poland Springs from the bottle on the night stand.  She jumped down off the bed and strolled to the water bowl and moved it adroitly with her paw to prove it was empty.  She doesn’t meow – ever.   She eats downstairs in the kitchen and will only drink water upstairs in Jed’s bedroom, and only Poland Springs.  She’d rather dehydrate than touch tap water.  A finicky one that cat.

Jed now out of bed felt light-headed.  He needed a cup of coffee but had run out the day before, leaving him no choice but to rush out for a cup at the local coffee shop.  When he got there, he ordered an extra-large with milk and no sugar.  The coffee served in a styrofoam cup burned his tongue upon first sip and was a little bitter, as if the coffee had been on the burner for a few hours.

Back in the car, Jed noticed he’d left his new Canon PowerShot on the front seat and he had an idea.  He had this urge to go hunting, or fishing.  He had been hunting a few times, but had only shot at  some ducks and scared them away.  He hadn’t killed anything except some beer cans and bottles.  He loved to fish but hadn’t in years and had no gear.  But he was armed with a camera and decided to go hunting in the arboretum just a few miles away.

To the Arb.  What’s that, a yard sale?  It’s early, too early.  Should I stop?  I wonder if they have any records?  Probably not.  Maybe?  I’ll stop.  No, they’re still setting up.  I don’t want to scare them.  Records.  I don’t see any.  I’m slowing down.  Crap, they’re looking at me like I’m a drive by shooter.  I can’t stop now.

Looks like rain.  What’s on the radio? Sports talk.  Oh no they’re talking hockey.  Where’s my Oldies station?  Somebody’s been messing with the presets.  Scan.  This is too complicated.  Alright, plan B – CD.  Some twang from a Nashville guitar, maybe it’s a lap steel, it almost sounds Hawaiian.  Let’s crank this up.  What if I roll down the windows and drive back to the yard sale?  They’d probably call the cops.   But I want some records or rare books.  They just might have a signed first edition Faulkner or some sonically superior seldom played classical or jazz pressing – maybe some Duke Ellington or Miles or an eclectic collection of Stravinsky.

Hey, there’s my personal arboretum parking space.  I need another coffee.  Where is it?  I just had it.  Dag, I left it on the roof of the car back at the coffee shop.  It’s too late now.    I’m already here and I’m not going back.  Onward to the conifer trail.   I’m hunting for color – anything interesting.  Maybe I’ll spot a ivory-billed woodpecker.  Green.  Everything is green.  No color contrast.  Got to get off the conifer trail.

Off in the distance.  Something is moving.  Looks poisonous.  A coral snake maybe. Drat, it’s only a slightly decomposed Skittles wrapper.  I’ll still shoot it.  Need a snake stick to pin its head so I can have closer look, but better not get too close – it might be a venom spitting Skittle snake with a rainbow colored rattle.  I’m off the beaten path and onto the sidewalk near the bus 51 stop.  And something has caught my eye again.  This could be the big one, the one I won’t let get away.  I’m going to real it in.  Newport.  I could never smoke menthols, I just couldn’t.  My dad smoked Kools, the king of menthol.  Kool burn.  Crushed empty box of Newport 100′s , with droplets of moisture inside the cellophane.  Faded aqua like a memory from my first Newport Jazz concert – sweet jazz in the air mixed with the smell of sulfur and brine like a fine wine just starting to open up.

Records.  Wonder if they have any jazz?  Don’t want CD’s.  If they have CD’s, I’ll walk away.  I will.  I want cheap, rare vinyl.  The splendor of spinning plastic. Snap, skip, scratch – POP.  I need a coffee and a smoke.  Wait, I don’t smoke.  I’m going to that yard sale, if that’s what it is.  Could be a garage, carport, or rummage sale.  Or maybe they’re just moving and it’s not a sale at all.  Need to find the conifer path.  Wow, a Red-winged blackbird.  Such a beautiful bird in flight, black with a blur of red.  Looks like a fighter plane as it goes into a dive.  I follow the sweet melodic call of the Black-capped Chickadee, an elusive bird I’ve only ever seen in the Sibley guide.  I think this is it.  Yes, there’s the Larch tree waving branches of alert spidery needles. I’m back on track.

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