Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflecting on Words

Today we lost a giant.  We, those of us who trade in words, make words our lives, worship at the altar of words, lost a giant.  Nora Ephron, she of When Harry Met Sally, among others, changed the way women talk in movies, the way people talk in movies. And for that we will never be the same.

This got me thinking about words and reading and writing, and where I might be without those who came before me.  I found my voice because of the imprints of those who wrote ahead of me and those who taught me to love words.  I remember when I fell in love with reading, and by virtue of that, words and writing.  Third grade.  My favorite teacher, Miss Massey (along with my parents), pushed me to read more.  It was important.  Our classroom had a "bookworm," Sylvester, who grew each time one of us read a book.  Sylvester "lived" on the wall and grew by one "circle" for each book a kid in our class read.  By the end of the year, he stretched around the room, down the hall and weaved his way through the school.  And for each book a kid read, her name appeared on a circle as a badge of honor.  In fact, it was even a technique I would later employ in my own classroom when I taught seventh grade nearly 20 years later.

The student who read the most books was recognized at the end of the year at an assembly in the front of the whole school.  I never even considered that I was a contender.  I just read because I had to.  And then there was that day at the end of June 1984 -- the last day of school.  The attendance awards were given out.  So were the awards for academic achievement.  I hadn't been particularly stellar in either.  And then came the "bookworm" award.  Little did I know that I had read the most books in my third grade class.  Wow.  I was definitely proud -- and yet, I still didn't love reading. I didn't realize the gift I would be given that day.  The gift that turned reading from "have to" into "want to."  The gift that would change words from something I learned into something I loved.

Miss Massey changed my life that day by giving me the best book I've ever read.  It's hard to imagine, looking back at my eight-year-old self, that something as simple as one book would change everything about who I am.  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- the greatest words I've ever read.  The words that changed me from someone who read into a reader.  That changed me from someone who used words into someone who loves words. I've read a million words since then -- Shakespeare, Austen, Salinger, Melville, Dickens, Poe,  Hemingway, Rumi, Bronte, Dostoyevski, and yet nothing compares to that book.  And nothing ever will.

There are moments in your life that define who you are and who you are going to be.  That summer after third grade, I had one of those moments.  And I had another moment the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally.  I knew I was experiencing something special.  I had never seen a movie where anyone had talked that way, had used words in quite that way.  And as someone who had already learned to love words, I knew  (as Nora Ephron wrote in When Harry Met Sally), "I knew the way you know about a good melon," that I had found something special.  Someone who understood words in a way that I hadn't yet learned to, someone who had figured out how to talk the way regular people talked, someone who knew how to reach into our souls and tickle places we didn't even know existed. My god, what a gift.

Tonight I celebrate the gift of words and those who turned us onto them, turned us on with them. For me, there was Miss Massey, Norton Juster, and Nora Ephron.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Feral Children of Cleveland Park

The story of "Forest Boy" caught my attention this week, as it did with the international media. Just to catch you up, if you haven't already heard, Forest Boy claimed to have been living in the woods in Europe with his dad for five years.  The dad died, and Forest boy wandered into Berlin with his tent, rucksack, and a fantastic story. Of course, it later came out that he was actually a young Dutchman, who simply wanted to start over.  I was kind of bummed to hear it, because I love a good mystery and I find feral children fascinating.

This got me thinking about some urban feral children that live right here in D.C.  WH and I recently completed a brief stint living in Cleveland Park while we searched for a new home (we found one!).  This is where we came upon the phenomenon known as the Feral Children of Cleveland Park.  Since we've moved south to our new neighborhood (Logan Circle), I haven't seen any Feral Children.  In fact, I never saw any in Adams Morgan when we lived there either (Feral College Students, perhaps, but that's another story for another day), which leads me to believe that the Feral Children are unique to Cleveland Park.

They don't wander up from the bowels of Rock Creek Park, oh no! They live a sheltered, privileged existence in the large homes off Connecticut Avenue.  The typical FC of CP is under the age of five, has parents aged somewhere north of 45, and is generally permitted to run amok in supermarkets, restaurants, houses of worship, nail salons, or anywhere, really, that people gather.  The FC of CP, though he or she comes from a home of considerable means, often looks unkempt, possibly even soiled.

Take for instance the Feral Child I once ran into in the Brookville Market.  I was picking up bread and lunch meat, trying to get in and out fairly quickly.  FC was about four years old, had waist-length, unruly, tangled brown hair, a dirty t-shirt, and untied shoes.  I think he might've had a binky, too, but I could be making that up for effect.  He ran up and down each aisle, screaming as if he were being chased (he wasn't).  Alarmed by this obviously unsupervised child, I looked around to see if any adult was willing to claim him (or looked like they might be attached to this wild child).  I was the youngest person in the store by at least 20 years, and didn't see anyone who looked as if they might be his parent.

FC continued to run and scream, and since I had places to be and didn't want to claim him either, I moved to the check out.  In front of me was an elderly man of about 70, paying for his groceries.  As I unloaded my wares from the basket, the Feral Child ran up behind the old man and slapped him, hard, on the ass. I stood there, stunned, waiting for a tirade from this poor old fellow who had been brutalized from behind by a loathsome monster.  But then something completely unexpected happened . . . the old man bent over (rather slowly), playfully grabbed the feral child around the waist, tickled him, and said, "Oh Parker, you are so silly!" And with that, the Feral Child slapped the old man again, saying "Take that, Daddy!" and ran off to cause more mayhem. 

Should you see a Feral Child, don't get too close. He or she is liable to act erratically, prone to throwing tantrums, definitely interested in running, and probably unsupervised.  His or her parents think everything he or she does is adorable, and are frankly too exhausted to adequately discipline said child.  The best advice I can give when dealing with a Feral Child is to not look directly at him.  Finish your business as quickly as possible, and remove yourself from the location where she is wreaking her havoc.  And by all means, do not laugh at, compliment the "adorableness" of, pet, or feed the Feral Children of Cleveland Park . . . or they just might try to follow you home.

*Note: Lest you think I'm anti-child, I feel the need to clarify that not all Cleveland Park children are feral. In fact, there are some rather nicely behaved kids up there.  But it's the feral ones that stand out (and run rampant). 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse, Redux

I don't know about you, but I'm a little concerned about zombies.  I know I've been a skeptic in the past (see here), but recent events have lead me to believe that we are on the cusp of an all-out brain buffet. My sister has whipped me into a frenzy by continually posting zombie updates on her Facebook, and now I am starting to lose sleep.  I may or may not need help.

Let's examine the facts for a moment.  A couple of months ago, I read about some sort of parasite that's turning bees into zombies.  Back in March, there was a story on this horrible mystery illness in Uganda that has completely incapacitated large numbers of children. Earlier this week, there was the guy in Miami who attacked a homeless guy by eating his face off (in case you've been living under a rock, there's more here) -- so severe was the attack that he's even been dubbed the Miami Zombie, leading his girlfriend to assert that he was under a voodoo spell (and don't even get me started on voodoo -- that shit is no joke!).  As if that wasn't enough, yesterday news broke about a guy in Maryland (which is altogether too close to D.C. for comfort, if you ask me) who killed and then ate his roommate's brain and heart. I mean, what?! 

By no means am I trying to make light of these really sad and disturbing stories, but if you don't think it's eyebrow-raising then there's something wrong with you.  There's something going on, and as far as I can tell the CDC, NIH, and the FDA (and possibly the Pentagon -- who knows how far up this goes), are all ignoring it. This is an eat-or-be-eaten world, apparently, and it's time to decide which you will be.  I've always thought I would be the "just let me die in the street" kind of person, not wanting to roam a vast urban wasteland, hiding in warehouses and climbing up bell towers to escape the undead.  But these recent events have made me think a little harder about my reaction, should we be facing an imminent zombie attack.

I would like to pause for a moment and realize that in the marriage lottery, I hit the jackpot.  WH has been studying zombie movies for longer than I can even imagine.  He has his zombie-plan well established, and is ready to take on any brain-eaters that may come.  Now, I don't want to be a zombie-fighting golddigger, so I've got to get on board.  I suppose this will mean I need to take a kickboxing class, maybe learn how to swordfight, and that I revise my "no weapons in the house" policy.  Or, I could just resort to this:

pics on Sodahead

At any rate, I'm on high alert.  What will you do to prepare?