Things I don’t understand how they could come to be

• Pumpkin spice: I’ve never had it, would never want it, but how did the idea of pumpkin flavoring in your coffee possibly come about? You carved your pumpkin into a jack-o’lantern, made pie from the filling – that was it! Anybody puts that crap in my Yukon Jack, they’re in mighty big trouble.

• Oatmeal in soap: Not Cream of Wheat or Lucky Charms or Raisin Bran soap. Does it just have to be breakfast? Bacon-and-egg soap, English-muffin soap, hash-brown soap.

• “Dead as a doornail”: OK, this one’s a cheat, because I do know it goes back to at least the 14th century in English poetry. And of course doornails are dead – a live one would be pretty scary (“Ma, the doornail bit my ass!”). But I maintain, without formal proof, that the expression arises from the fact that after a doornail is pounded through the pieces of wood you join together, the point of the nail is hammered flat – a process of “deadening” the nail. So, a doornail, in place, was and is dead(ened).

• Blind Lemon Jefferson: But no Blind Orange Pekoe?

• “Our number-one priority,” as claimed by corporations and politicians who have no sense of priority beyond power or profit.

• “Unacceptable” and “inappropriate,” as terms applied equally to poor counter service and genocide.

• Egg in beer: Really? Really? Who in hell?

• The revival of vinyl records: I grew up with and loved LPs, but the continuing annoyance of trying to keep dirt out of the grooves (couldn’t), adjusting the needle weight, and futzing with the player’s self-minded innards took more patience that I’ll ever have. Today, I can slip a CD into the slot and it plays, without the background grinding of a slow landslide. At my age, my hearing’s gone to hell, so I’m losing more frequencies then dimes under the bureau, and I may be wrong (I was once), but I think the “more natural” sound of vinyl is largely a delusion of nostalgia. I have intense nostalgia for singers I’ve heard and watched who have died, but not for creaky technology that’s been supplanted by something easier, cleaner and more dependable to use (though I do miss the elaborate liner notes). Likewise, I love looking at and fondling old plumbing, but to install a new line and expect the water to flow rather than leak, I go with plastic tubing and SharkBite fittings.

• “FRIB”: This is the acronym for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, at the University of Michigan, a new particle accelerator. I thought: “Wow, will they really say it “frib”? No, they pronounce it “eff-rib”. That’s damned disappointing, since most research scientists have a wild sense of humor. But… anyway, it should really be “ffrib” – which is likely a Welsh beetle.

• Signs for “Trucks Entering Highway”: I should be surprised? Isn’t that what trucks do?

• Mineral spirits: I was using some to dilute a spill of hydraulic fluid from my log splitter, and I wondered: With the growing idea that everything in the universe has consciousness, there must be room for spirit mediums who reach out to minerals.

*    *    *    *

I don’t think I finished Kerouac’s On the Road or anything else of his, just I just don’t relate to him at all. Odd that with the poetry-reading group that the Friends of the Library here set up, I finally got into Ferlinghetti (about a month before he died at 101) and love much of his work, especially the humor. The rest of the Beat poets have affected me about as much as Kerouac.

Growing up in and into the ‘50s, my life was often hell, but a very different – personal, hardly societal – hell. I knew nothing of drugs or dissolution, only alienation – not from society, but all of life. There have been lots of self-revelatory books out (I’ve read none of them) about growing up with this or that perceived mental or social disturbance (skin color, sexual orientation, autism, depression, abuse, etc.), but I haven’t heard about anything that describes how I saw (didn’t at all see) myself as a child: as someone outside the world, someone who knew none of the rules of existence, who lived in terror of everything human. That’s, I suppose, an exaggeration or I wouldn’t be here today, but it’s something that after 8 decades I still can’t adequately express: the constant terror of being.

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