Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Meme: The Stupidest Things and Other Personal Info

Thanks go to Loose Leaf: Notes From a Writer's Journal, who tagged me.

1. What are the three stupidest things you’ve ever done in your life?
a. Burglary For Dummies
After dressing in warm clothes and much reflective gear for a March bicycle ride, I felt so well equipped that I inadvertently left home without my fanny pack -- which had my keys, ID, and money. Mary, thinking I had taken the keys, left hers behind as well. We broke into our attic apartment by climbing the fire escape (shucking our reflective gear first) and up part of the roof, during which process we learned how vulnerable our window frames were to burglars -- that is, those who would choose to make the climb. (This article gives more details of the adventure.)

b. My One True Regret
"John-Boy Walton" was my mother's nickname for a friend of mine, who reminded her of the character from Little House on the Prairie. I was an undergraduate student; he was going for his masters. We had a great platonic friendship of all-night talks, followed by breakfasts at a local diner a healthy walk from campus.

Then I fell in love with the man I would later marry, and -- feeling strong vibes that he would not take to my relationship with John-Boy, I broke the friendship off. (The vibes should have informed me right there, but I was in my Young-and-Stupid Phase.) John-Boy and I were both saddened by my decision, but I felt I had no choice in the matter.

After I left my husband I thought I should find John-Boy again and apologize for ending our relationship -- but I was distracted by all the dimensions of living on my own for the first time and in a new state. Before I could get my act together I received my alumni newsletter. Its obituary column included John-Boy's.

I tend to view the mistakes I've made in my life as learning experiences -- useful in and of themselves even if painful -- which means I generally have no regrets. This incident is the exception.

c. Exploding Food, in Two Movements
(1) Solids
I forget who gave me the medium-sized brown egg, or why, or whether it had been part of a carton of eggs I'd used in a recipe. I had no fridge for the 3-1/2 years I rented a small house in Woburn, MA. I lived mainly out of cans then, save for wintertime when I placed perishables in a plastic bag hung out the window.

I generally don't eat eggs. Which is why I'd placed the singleton inside a small plastic container that sat on my kitchen counter. For months.

I had come home after work through bursts of showers in July 1985, enough inclement weather to make my TV dim momentarily. When I heard a loud POP! 15 minutes later I had assumed it was something electrical -- the kind of sound I associated with fat sparks bursting. I followed the sound into the kitchen.

I saw no sparks, no burn marks. But more and more I smelled the stench of sulfur. I swore something was burning, tried not to envision the house smoldering behind its walls. Maybe the storm had caused some kind of discharge.

I unplugged the TV. I sniffed around the stove, opened the door to the basement and inhaled. Nothing.

Then I saw the egg, still in its uncovered plastic container. Only this time a yellow rim of yolk lined the bottom. And some sort of black ooze. Closer inspection proved beyond a doubt that the sulfur smell had come from the exploded egg. Curious, I peeled the egg back from where it had adhered to the plastic. A black, eel-like ring now surrounded a semi-solid yolk that oozed past a shattered shell. In fact, fully a quarter or more of the shell was simply gone.

I found it later, intact and fallen among paint chips left from my ceiling's annual peel. Shell and paint were virtually indistinguishable, save for incriminating bits of yellow. The eruption had flung it at least five feet. Amazingly, except for the bits on the shell, the rest of the egg remained confined to its plastic container.

An acquaintance of mine studied molds and slime and other loathsome things, and I'd been raised not to waste anything. I called her up and asked her if she'd be interested in an exploded egg. She gracefully, amusingly, declined.

(2) Liquids
Five years later I was living in an apartment with a fridge, which by that time seemed an extraordinary luxury. The night before I left for my White Mountains Retreat (the entry prior to this one), and forgetting what I'd learned in the third grade -- namely, that water expands when it freezes -- I'd put my two 12-packs of Diet Coke in the freezer and left them there overnight.

In the morning, as I made final preparations before the drive, I was startled by a loud bang. After fruitless checks in the vicinity of the fridge I opened the freezer door. One of the cardboard Coke containers had ripped open. A can had split, splattering cola ice.

Quickly I emptied the freezer of soda. Some cans appeared to be normal; others had expanded as though they had botulism, their bottoms or tops puffed out. One other can had begun to pop its own pop-top.

Even in my near-panic I knew this was a very funny sight. I ran hot water into a Rubbermaid basin and dumped in the cans (except for the one opening its pop-top, which went into the fridge), crying out and grabbing one that suddenly puffed with a warning creak. On the morning of my departure I was dousing cola cans to keep them from blowing up.

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence on your life?
Mary, without a doubt, followed by our cats. (Actually, she's frequently followed by our cats....)

I'd lived alone for 13 years before we got together -- 9 years alone before I'd gotten the cats, so they started changing me first. Red is my hedonism guru; Daisy is my diva. They were the first to crack both the calm of my solitude and the "background radiation" of human-condition loneliness.

I'd gotten set in my ways, enjoyed my own company more than I wanted that of others. Still, something was missing. Eventually I felt the need to nest, starting with the cats. Which turned out to be furballs in my cap by the time Mary and I got together, despite the fact that she's allergic to them.

From then on I have learned to embrace a sort of lovable chaos. Mary and I are both clutter queens, yet we were each neater before our separate accumulations produced a synergistic effect, creating more of a mess than the mere sum of its widely-scattered parts. I have learned to communicate differently, to ask for things, to negotiate. To engage in problem-solving with two brains instead of one. To accommodate a metabolism far different from my own and with its own pros and cons. To witness another worldview close-up and personal, even as we share volumes of common ground. Sometimes that's fairly challenging. More often it's downright fun.

Ten years later we still ask each other, "How'd I get so lucky?"

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to pick up to five people to dine with, whom would you pick?
Assuming we all wore "universal translators":
a. Hypatia, because almost all her work was destroyed when the library at Alexandria burned down. I want to know what she did, how she lived, and what that library was like for her.
b. Einstein, because of the way his genius, humanity, and humor combined.
c. Sacajawea, to get her perspective on the Lewis & Clark expedition and beyond (and before).
d. Any of the artists who drew in the caves at Lascaux, because we don't know, really, what that cave art was for. I want to know how their minds worked, and their beliefs. (Inspiration for this choice comes from Magnificent Octopus's entry Art by any other name.)
e. The woman who allegedly wrote The Book of J, because I'd love to know what was going on in the Temple when she was there and what fueled her narrative. (According to this review, author Harold Bloom "follows the main lines of critical consensus, accepting that “J” is the earliest literary source in the Pentateuch.... The only new suggestions, for which the book has been especially celebrated, is Bloom's suggestion that the author of J is a woman situated among the elite of the Davidic establishment.") I found the book, including David Rosenberg's translation, fascinating.

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?
a. That the global "we" could work together more efficiently and cooperatively to try to solve the world's big problems (e.g., natural resource degradation, hunger, poverty, war, etc.).
b. That entertainment veer away from cheap, mean-spirited exploitation and toward informed discourse (including our modern-day "court jesters"), thereby exchanging one set of "role models" for another.
c. That we nurture in every individual, from childhood on, a strong sense of self-worth, independent thought, and compassion.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret not having in your city, and two things people should avoid.
Regret not having:
a. Like Loose Leaf, I regret not having public transportation, or a separate bicycle path on our major county roads.
b. A Free Dance group. Dance Freedom is one amenity I left behind in metro Boston that I truly miss.
Things to avoid:
a. Fire ants!
b. Avoid driving recklessly, especially after dark, during gopher tortoise mating season.

6. Name one event that changed your life.
One??? I suppose -- even more so than my near-death experience from a car accident when I was 7 (2 weeks in critical condition, 10 weeks in the hospital, 4 months on crutches; but that's an entry for another day) -- the event that changed my life was leaving my first marriage and living on my own. It tested and honed me in more ways than I can count and laid the foundation for future transformative experiences.

7. Want to play? This is the part where you pass it on.
Here's a universal Tag! to anyone who'd like to join in.


Blogger twila said...

Wonderful! It's surprising how much can be learned by these things.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good set-up for some good reading! The John-Boy story was touching and the first husband part hit home.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

I love this.

3:14 PM  

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