This should have been my first post. Belatedly, let me explain the name of this blog.
In 1845, Henry David Thoreau quit his job and built a small house in the woods. It was essentially just a shack. But it was an upscale shack, not just some thrown-together lean to. It was small, even by the standards of the day, measuring only 10 feet by 15 feet, containing a single room with a bed, a table and a writing desk. A fireplace kept him warm throughout the winter. He lived comfortably in his upscale shack for a bit over two years, and documented his simple lifestyle in Walden. Thoreau’s most salient advice, which defines the spirit of this blog, was “simplify, simplify.” Continue reading “What is an upscale shack?”
Purple-gloved fingers in my mouth. Surgical steel picks of all shapes and sizes. Her deft fingers manipulate the picks, scraping and digging away at stubborn chunks of tartar below the gum line. She rinses the rubble with a stream of water and then inserts a suction tube which pulls the spit right out of my mouth. She is a detailer of teeth. Buffing and polishing enamel, shining my denticulate bling. She picks and digs, testing the integrity of each suspect spot for hidden rot. My jaw aches. She lets me rest. My gums hurt from the assault. Spraying and spitting, picking and buffing, poking and prodding, she undoes sixth months of neglect. No I don’t floss every day. No I don’t brush after every meal. Just as Santa knows who’s naughty and nice, she knows who smokes, who is addicted to coffee or tea, who chews gum, who chews tobacco, who eats too much candy. My teeth offer a glimpse into my lifestyle and she is the oracle who interprets it. I see her for half an hour every six months but I don’t know her name. Sometimes she asks me questions that I can’t answer with her fingers in my mouth. Sometimes I attempt to reply, but mostly I don’t. She is the cleaner of my teeth. Inspector of my mouth. Chronicler of my oral history. I think her name is Linda?
The Blue Line train was chugging along nicely on an ordinary Wednesday morning rush hour commute, but then it started thinking about things. Asking itself questions like: “What if Metro heaven doesn’t exist? What if this is this all there is? Am I doomed to a lifetime of schlepping these poor slobs back and forth to work every day before being shunted into some railway boneyard and cut up for scrap? I always wanted to see Paris. I could have carried beautiful people who spilled their wine and ground flaky croissant morsels into my carpets under the heals of their glamorous shoes as I glided along elegantly beneath the Champs Elysees whistling La Marseillaise. But alas, here I am in suburban Virginia carrying fat defense contractors in cheap suits to the Pentagon. Oh woe is me.” Then it broke down in a heaving fit of sobs and decided to just sit quietly in a dark tunnel and feel sorry for itself for a while. Eventually it composed itself and, resigned to its fate, decided to get back to work. Stand clear, doors closing.
Grandpa came home one day with a blood-red Arab mare named Suzy. We all thought he was foolish for buying her; a 65-year old man had no business on such a hot-blooded horse, a mare no less, which would be coming into heat every month and acting crazy. We were all afraid he would get thrown and break a hip. But Grandpa didn’t listen to our protests. I think he was attracted to her beauty rather than her practicality, like a man in a mid-life crisis purchasing a flashy red sports car. And Suzy was a beauty, lightly built with sleek graceful lines and a delicate head with the dished shape characteristic of her breed. Beautiful, but entirely impractical. Continue reading “The Arab Mare”
It is very cold, around 15 degrees, and a stout north wind makes it feel even colder. My breath forms a white cloud around my head each time I exhale. In the Franconia/Springfield Metro station a man stands in the entrance to the station holding a handwritten cardboard sign reading “Disabled Veteran. Any help is appreciated.” Continue reading “My People”
We jumped in an Indian-made version of a Jeep with a forest ranger whose services we had borrowed for the day from the government of India. Our destination was a tea estate that faces regular raids from elephants living in the adjacent forest reserve. Continue reading “Waiter, there’s an elephant in my tea!”