Registered Displeasure

“The Bureaucrat,” José Guadalupe Posada, Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

In February I drove a friend to Portsmouth, NH so she could buy a car. The other day I drove a friend to Naugatuck, CT so he could buy a SUV. I would now like to tell all my friends that automobiles are sold in Massachusetts.

Speaking of the Commonwealth, I’ve got a story about the Registry of Motor Vehicles. This was also back in February, but my fear is that what with the subsequent pandemic, my inconvenience may have gone unremarked.

It happened like this. I bought a used car off a friend, and went in to transfer the title. But the friend had written the mileage on the wrong line. I was told that I’d have to obtain from her a notarized letter that she did so in error. So I went and got that – which was, believe me, no bagatelle – and returned that afternoon.

This time the gatekeeper asked if I had proof of insurance. I pointed to the insurance certification stamp on the paperwork. “An insurance certification stamp is not proof of insurance!” she said.

I did not know how to reply. It seemed to me this declaration would be acceptable only in a philosophy seminar. But I stood there and nodded slowly, hoping to convey both that I recognized the import of what she said, and that I was a simpleton in need of charity. Happily, instead of dismissing me again, she sent me to a computer terminal to print out the necessary proof.

Once there I was of course promptly flummoxed, and sought the assistance of another employee, who, after informing me that my previous interlocutor didn’t know what she was talking about, bade me take a number and sit. An hour later I was out with the necessary documents.

I was reminded of this passage in Joseph O’Neill’s estimable Netherland, about a trip to the Herald Square DMV that concludes less satisfactorily:

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School Daze

“There are some imaginary solutions, but no real solutions.”

– Sal Khan

 

I heard him say that a while back and thought “By George, he’s got it!” It was in a lesson on finding zeros of polynomials, but his conclusion does have a broader validity, no?

If you too are stressed about the lack of solutions for the impending school year, read this interview. (For additional soothing, imagine his voice.)

The above photo is from my homeschooling in the spring. I’d left the twins alone to make them lunch and when I came back, they merrily told me their dolls were on Zoom. Pete wept.

 

Cleaveland

America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.

– Tennessee Williams

 

I spent a few days in Cleveland in June. It really liked it, and into the bargain found the ten-hour drive each way positively restorative. That’s quarantine for you.

To my additional surprise, I found Cleveland quite beautiful. The parks, the buildings, the houses. At least where I was staying, in the University District. It’s a pretty big city. Then again, I have the Bostonian provincialism of being forever surprised at how big other cities are.

And yes, I did go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was… fine. I was both underwhelmed and glad I went. It was neat seeing James Jamerson’s upright bass, the receipt Elvis signed for his Army rifle, and #8 below. (“Well done, lads! You’ll go far!”)

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Fraternité

Now and then my mailbag fills with queries à la “O! Pete! How might I, like you, increase the brotherhood of man?” Three practical steps follow.

 

Catch Up

Get a spare baseball glove. Playing catch is satisfying and socially distant amusement.

 

Ides

Every 15th of the month, meet up with your local friends. Everyone’s always busy, and spontaneously trying to organize a night out requires a Cray. So, instead, just pick the 15th*, and you/your friends either make it or don’t. I say from experience that after a few months you’ll have seen your friends more than you’ve seen them in the preceding year.

 

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

If quarantine has shown you anything, it’s that the interior of your residence needs improvement. The estimable William Schaff can help. He’s got a new website and store: https://williamschaff.com

 

 

* Obviously the date doesn’t matter; it’s the consistency that’s important. I chose the 15th because seeing them, I told my friends, was equally dreadful to filing taxes. Funny! Anyway, I stole the idea from this article. Can’t match the proposed ‘Every Wednesday,’ but I do admire it.

Right Said Fred

I don’t know if it’s the quarantine or what, but the above tweet had some resonance. (NB in the Walter Mitty sense; I have neither the interest nor, probably, disposition to be an assassin.)

I’ve been working on a short story and remain displeased with the opening sentence. It’s fine and all, but it ain’t this:

It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.

 

PS I got my copy of “The superthriller of the year!” at the Havre Book Exchange. I bet brand new, though, it started out in a spinner rack. Remember those? Here’s the unhappy tale of how they were coldly executed.

 

Man, Interrupting

“Tell me I’m not your man from Porlock. I’d never forgive myself.”

 

I read that in David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue and was like: huh? So I looked it up. Jeepers!

Shared it with my friends, and one one of them, Jim, proposed the term be employed à la Good Will Hunting badinage, e.g. “I was working on my proof when @#&$% Captain Porlock here…”

 

Lost and Found

When I first started teaching, I received the gift of a plant for my classroom. It joined me from school to school, from Washington State to New York State to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Then, when my dad went into an old folks home, I moved it to his room, where, after a few months, it died. As I put it in the dumpster, I hoped there was no metaphorical significance.

A few years ago a colleague gave me her classroom plant, for she had found a new job. Funny story about this colleague. One time a condolence card was being passed round, and she wrote I am sorry for your loss! I suggested this sentiment could perhaps be better conveyed unexclamatorily. Thereafter, when she’d ask me for help, I’d say stuff like I was busy writing lyrics to the musical “I Am Sorry For Your Loss!” No, I don’t know why she found a new job either.

Anyway, I stupidly forgot to bring the plant home with me for the quarantine. When they let teachers back into school for an hour last week, I prepared to find its corpse. (Again, metaphorical significance was unhappily considered.) But by golly, it was alive! This quite cheered me. Although, in the event, I did have the perfect text to send that colleague.

***

Now that the weather is less ghastly, I’m going to get out for a bit. See you in a few months. Be well.

Shows Effort

… [Jean-François] Champollion had been fascinated with the ancient Near East; he had a gift for learning languages and went on to study, among others, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Aramaic, Syriac (a form of Aramaic), and even Chinese. But his passion soon became Coptic, the language still spoken by a religious minority in Egypt. During his early studies at Grenoble, Champollion had made the acquaintance of a Syrian monk who had spent time in Egypt. The monk reported favorably the Copts’ own claim that their language was actually a later form of the now-lost language of ancient Egypt; he urged Champollion to study that language as well. The young man followed this advice and soon authored a paper offering evidence in support of the Coptic-is-ancient-Egyptian hypothesis, which he submitted to the Academy of Grenoble in 1807. He was sixteen years old.

– How to Read the Bible, James Kugel