Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Get Over Myself, A-G

Someone mentioned to me over the weekend that even though they read my blog they feel like they don't know what's going on in my life. It's true that I don't talk about myself very much, because I am of the opinion that I Am Boring. So I generally prefer to talk about what I'm working on or point you at this cool thing or that little tidbit of news. But for those who are interested, I decided to do a little Alphabet of Me, adapted from various alphabet memes and some things that came right out of my own head, if you can believe it. This may get a little indulgent, so if that makes you roll your eyes I suggest you skip along, la la la, nothing to see here. And it's really turning out to be more of a What Has Gone Before than it is a chronicle of current events, so sorry about that.

It also is getting really damn long, so I'm just going A through G right here.

A - Age I became an atheist: 12 or 13. I was raised Catholic, see--it's one small step from there to complete disillusionment. Age I became an agnostic: 30-ish. The central hubris of atheism is the same as in any religion; the arrogance of believing that you know something. I don't know a damned thing.

B - Broken bones: 3, all fingers--a bike crash. No, I can't really call it a crash, because the only vehicle involved was me. A brand new bike, a long driveway, the exhilaration of going fast, the end of the driveway approaching, the front brake. I have also put a knife into my palm while separating frozen hamburger patties, and cut off a quarter inch of my right thumb slicing tomatoes in a rotary slicer. Ah, the joys of food service. Then there are the chicken pox scars, and the scar under my lip where I put a tooth through it--a complicated story of what passes for daredevil activity in a sheltered suburban home.

C - Candy: M&Ms and Gummi Bears (Haribo only--being a candy snob helps control the sweet tooth, though not by much). Other chocolate as needed. For many years I was not a chocolate fan, and I still tend to get my fill after half of an American-sized chocolate bar, but this is why chocolate truffles were invented. And M&Ms. M&Ms should probably be a controlled substance.

D - Dancing: not in public without alcoholic lubrication. One of these days I really want to learn to swing dance, though. In private, it's mostly Prince or Stevie Wonder that gets the feet moving, although I have been known to shuffle along to the Old 97s ("Singular Girl" in particular), to my roommate Marianne's fiddle playing, and to the music in my head. (It's a trip, it's got a funky beat, and I can bug out to it.)

E - Elephant obsession: As a child I was obsessed with the story of Noah's Ark. I had a little playset, with a ship that really floated, and a bunch of little plastic animal pairs. (My mom sold it at a garage sale when I was away at college. All that remains is a lone plastic koala.) When I was in fifth grade I became fixated on the idea of having animal companions. (I just checked, and this was before The Beastmaster was released, so I can't explain it with that.) I wanted a black panther named Innocence, a white horse named Freedom, and a hawk named for some other whacked-out virtue or other. Courage, maybe. Seriously, how weird was I? The point is, I find animals much more relatable than most people. And when, over the Nebula weekend, I got smacked in the head with "Hey! Elephants!" it was not so very out of the blue. Elephants are smart and beautiful and they love each other. The elephants were the ones who protected the little animals from the predators on the ark. At least, that was my theory. It's also my belief that the elephants tried to talk the unicorns into getting onto the ark, but them silly unicorns were too busy playing silly games.

F - First time: I had no idea what I was doing. First of all, it happened sort of late--I was nearly twenty. And it was something like when you read a word in books and you think you know it, but when you say it out loud everyone gives you a funny look because you're pronouncing it wrong. Actually, it was very like that, since I had read about sex a fair amount but never, um, watched it or participated (obviously). So there was fumbling and confusion and overall very poor pronunciation. I didn't tell the young lady in question of my inexperience until after the fact, and the relationship didn't last, but then they never do, do they? (Well, sure they do, sometimes.)

G - Grandparents: On Dad's side, Frank and Marguerite; on Mom's, Ernest and Hazel. (You know that Frank and Ernest comic? The one that isn't all that funny? I always think of my grandfathers when I see that.) Marguerite was a Cantwell, and a Duffy before that; she went to live with cousins in Milwaukee after her single-parent father fell off the Lutheran church he was roofing and died. Legend has it that the Catholic priest wouldn't let them bury Great-grandpa Duffy in the cemetery because he was a mason; he became one, of course, so he could get work as a roofer. Legend also has it that after he was buried in the Lutheran cemetery a bunch of his buddies got drunk, dug him up, and re-buried him in the Catholic cemetery in the dead of night. Whatever the truth of that story, the result of their father's death meant that Marguerite and her siblings were sent to live with various relatives, and she ended up with the Milwaukee Cantwells. One of the Madison Cantwells, my Great- or Great-great grandpa, ran a printing company; the building which bears his name is still there, across the street and up half a block from the Great Dane Brewery. Grandpa Frank was a journalist in Milwaukee for a while before he met Grandpa; then they moved to St. Paul and raised six kids, my dad being the youngest. I remember that they used to argue, and one time I told my parents I was very afraid that Grandpa wouldn't go to heaven because he yelled at Grandma. He died when I was four; I don't remember him well. Grandma Marguerite lived by herself for a while, in the old house at 1418 Como Parkway in St. Paul. Later she had a series of strokes and lived with us for a while. She was confined to a wheelchair, and her speech was somewhat impaired. She had the only color TV in the house at that time, and us kids used to go to her room to watch "CHiPs," which for some reason she really enjoyed (or perhaps it was just her chance to hang out with us, I don't know). The cousins that had raised Marguerite had money, and she had become somewhat accustomed to finer things. As time went on she was less certain of her surroundings, and one Christmas Eve when we were having a light lunch of sandwiches she was very quiet and finally asked to be moved back into her room. She had thought we were having cold cuts and carrot sticks for Christmas dinner. Eventually she needed more care than we could provide, and she moved into a nursing home near the capitol downtown, where my dad could visit her every day. She died in 1986.

My mother's parents had a farm up in Evansville, Minnesota, near Alexandria. Grandpa Ernest (Burros is the family name) got up every morning at 4 AM to milk the cows. When we were visiting he would always come in just as the rest of us were waking up. He always took one sugar cube in his coffee, and he would ask us to get the sugar cubes for him--then he would give one to us as a reward. He used to take mid-morning naps on the davenport in the entry, and when I was little I would lie there with him, pretending to sleep. (Davenport is one of those regional words; in this case it means a daybed or couch.) During the warmer months he would take us on the tractor and let us try to steer. I don't know if tractors nowadays have power steering, but Grandpa's didn't. I used all my strength to yank the steering wheel to one side, then had to rest my muscles to pull it back. I was incapable of driving straight. Grandpa died very suddenly, at least it seemed that way to me--it was 1978, I think. His funeral was the first time I had some awareness of what death was. As they took the coffin out of the church I realized I was never going to see him again, and I burst into tears, which set off my younger brother and sisters--four of us wailing, not really understanding, afraid. Grandma Hazel (family name Wik) made the best cake donuts and brownies I have ever had. When I go to bakeries I always look to see if they have cake donuts, but even when they do, they are never as good as hers. After Grandpa died she rented the farm out and moved into a small house in town. She took in laundry for all of Grandpa's bachelor brothers and worked part-time cleaning at the bank. Sometimes it seemed like Grandma didn't know how to relate to kids, but perhaps it was just city kids like us that confounded her. I wondered sometimes if she thought we were lazy because we weren't accustomed to doing daily chores. She died a few days before Kurt Cobain. I remember it because my brother drove down to Madison to take me to the funeral, and on the way we heard the news on the radio. So Grandma Hazel and Kurt Cobain, who probably had nothing in common in life, are forever related in my mind because of their deaths.

Up next: Heartbreak! Instruments! Libraries!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously, how weird was I?



- H

1:21 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

True. I just don't know where I came up with that stuff at that age.

3:16 PM  
Blogger haddayr said...

I loved this -- especially the stuff about your grandparents -- and look forward to the rest of the alphabet.

Your F reminded me of Jan's first time (I was there).

Because my mother-in-law reads my blog, I cannot post this in mine, so I will share the news of my Awesome Skill and Sexiness with you and your readers:

Afterwards, we lay next to each other, staring up at the ceiling in silence. Finally, Jan broke it by saying: "Well, that was disappointing."

Yes, boys, you can look but don't touch.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Dave said...


Isn't that always the way with the first time, though? For me it was all the anxiety of wanting to do it right, and so of course I did it entirely wrong.

4:32 PM  
Blogger haddayr said...

My first time was also horribly disappointing. I did not, however -- I emphasize -- NOT mention this to the boy at the time. Because that might have made him FEEL bad. And possibly distracted him from how disappointed he was. Sigh.

I am very cruel and tell this anecdote at parties. I figure it only makes me look bad so I can get away with it, but poor Jan. It's not nice of me at all, not nice at all.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm terribly curious to know how the conversation went after the comment was made . . .

4:43 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Y is for Yay! Alphabet of Dave. Duly and delightedly noted.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

I feel sort of left out. My first time was a lot of fun, but it was with an older girl who knew it was my first time and was really good at making it all just this non-weird thing (well for her it wasn't, because she'd had some years ahead of me of experience) but in any case, I think after my first time my first words were more along the lines of the little girl whose made into a vampire in Interview with the Vampire: "I want some more." Only not so creepy.

Haddayr, you made me crack up laughing!!!

Oh, but I should say that before my first time, I had like this pre-first time that wasn't like, you know, all the way? (This is making me write like a teenager suddenly, you know??) And anyway, that pre-first time first time, that was really disappointing, but I won't go into specifics other than to say it was in a fogged up pickup truck in a Wildlife Preserve. It's starts there and just gets more ridiculous.

9:07 AM  
Blogger haddayr said...

I said: "Um, Jan? Your next girlfriend, after you have sex with her for the first time? Don't say that. Really."

So now Jan knows exactly how to ask when he goes out and gets himself a girlfriend.

10:01 AM  
Blogger haddayr said...

I mean, exactly how to ACT. I'm not going to help him with pickup lines.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Nice burn, Haddayr :-) I trust he was suitably chastened.

Chris, a Wildlife Preserve? I hope no Rangers were involved.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Nope, no rangers, just a girl from the local dairy queen. ;-)

11:25 PM  

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