Remember Gumby

Just did a search for it but can’t find the Gumby episode in which Gumby has a dream about eating too many sweets and is forcefed candy from a conveyor belt and suffers distended bloat as a result.  Did I dream this?  Anyone with me?

It comes to mind as I’m thinking about the aperture through which I, an introvert, must filter sensory input.  The aperture narrows as I reach my capacity and when that happens I have to be around fewer people, less noise; I have to cross things off my ‘should do’ list and tend only to the musts.  If that’s not possible, I have sensory distended bloat, just like Gumby.  I get extremely irritable, and seek ways to check out.  I have read that this is why introverts can easily become alcoholics; alcohol blurs the edges of the aperture so the forcefeeding of input is tolerable.  Alcohol has always been an easy fix to a problem I didn’t understand, a way to make this quadrangle fit into the ellipse.  With age and understanding I have learned to say, “no, I don’t want to go.”  “No, I don’t want to be around that many people.  No, I just don’t like parties.  No, I already have one social engagement in a three day span, can’t do the second.  Another time.  Maybe.”

This week the prince was part of an awards ceremony.  His award was modest but unexpected, and as I sat there alone among other beaming parents I found a different sort of aperture dilating and shrinking crazily, like I couldn’t decide how to handle this.  As I listened to the band play “Call Me Maybe” badly, I vacillated between mentally composing the amusing anecdote and feeling the music, allowing the Hallmark-commercial-small-town-parade swell of pride and nostalgia and joy wash over me.  If I could have watched the whole ceremony alone with no regard to needing a public facade I would have sobbed with heart-squeezing exuberance.  As it played out, the vacillation continued: I was amused by the puppy dog lank and curve of the boys and girls, the trombone player jerkily reaching for the low notes, the self-consciously furtive eyeballs of the award winners, including my own, seeking the nods of parents– all of which helped me rally from the tears spilling.

It’s a struggle I struggle to understand.  I came across an interview with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.  Dude is wicked smart:

“We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense–as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.”

It can be easier to close that aperture to a pinprick.  Everything is easier if you experience it only shallowly– what fun, what a lark, isn’t that funny?  That’s how I operate, because it’s a way to kill the scary feelings of resentment and pity and despair, the equally scary feelings of optimism and desire and euphoria.   Sometimes it can be too much.

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.”
Jean Racine

Welcome

My friend Claudia, whom I haven’t seen in a while (hey Claudia!), is among the most gracious people I know.  I have said of her and her white carpeting that one could evacuate one’s bowels on her carpet and she would rush to reassure, “oh, seriously, that happens all the time, don’t worry about it…”  And though she is lying, the sentiment is no lie: “don’t worry.”  She wants you to feel comfortable even if you embarrass yourself, even if you overstep.   But while Claudia, or any excellent host, wants you to feel at ease when she says, “please, make yourself at home,” she doesn’t really mean for you to scratch your balls and make yourself a bologna sandwich to eat on the couch before you take a nap.  What’s meant is, “within the bounds of expectations of reasonable behavior for a guest, please be as comfortable as you can be in my home.”

Who gets to define the bounds of reasonable behavior?  This is where common sense is said to be not so common.  My current annoyance:

Our cul de sac contains about thirty town homes, twenty six of which have tiny backyards.  My home has one of the four BIG yards.  Two of the homes’ yards are largely backyards, while my yard stretches largely to the right side of the house, so it appears to be a sizable gap between our connected string of homes and the next connected string.  Since we bought the home approached people in our yard who, they confess, thought it was public property.

Two weeks ago a fairly new neighbor was allowing their puppy, on a long leash, to romp in the yard.  I approached and offered a plastic bag for the lawn-warming gift the puppy surely would deposit (we have cleaned up many many such gifts over the years).  The neighbor introduced herself and waved her own bag, at the ready.  I said, “oh, that’s great, thanks so much.  I want people to feel welcome here with their dogs, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t clean up after.”  We then chatted for a minute or two and parted.

A week later, I had started trimming weeds and hedges and I see the same puppy yards and yards into the lawn (again: “what’s common sense?”  When I walk Lola and let her peruse another’s yard, I allow only shallow access- three feet at most).  At the other end of fifteen yards of leash is a woman my age who, it turns out, is the younger woman’s mother.  Oh, and she was seated.  On the lawn.  On my grass.  While on her I-phone.  Just enjoying the sunshine.  “Hey,” I said, and smiled.  She waved, just comfortable as can be.  Scratching her balls and making a bologna sandwich.  I went over, introduced myself.  We exchanged pleasantries for a minute, this woman clearly more at ease on my lawn than I was.  I said, “hey, I’ll be mowing shortly, just wanted to give you a heads up because I don’t want you to feel I’m running you off.”  ??!!

The next time I ask them to bring the puppy over– hey waitaminute…!

That’s where I veer away from Claudia’s forgiving mindset.  Puppy people, I did not ask you over.  When I said you’re welcome here I did not mean, bring a hammock, relax, mi casa es tu casa.  Do I have to spell it out?  Your dog is welcome to evacuate his bowels on my green lawn.  You are welcome to clean it up.  And then you are welcome to leave.

Callow Youth

To a young co-worker:  Hey, J, I love your dress-  polka dots!  Lovely, you look like something out of 1950…

J: Oh, thanks!

Me: Have you ever seen that show on PBS, “Call the Midwife?”  I love the period fashion featured on it …

J:  Can’t believe you’re saying that, my mom can’t talk about anything else…

Me: Oh, it’s WONDERFUL–  I swear it’s not really an older person’s show, it’s got some pretty timeless themes and quality writing and acting… but I am probably as old as your mother…

J:  Um, probably?  (Appraising me)…  …She’s like, oh gosh– (thinky face) …early sixties?  I can’t remember.

Me: (blink) 😮

Me: (blink) :-/

Me: (blink) 🙁

Me: OK then if I don’t see you have a good weekend.  (Laxative in her coffee?  Or an emetic in her tea…?)

 

Guilty

I was interviewing a client who was shocked and outraged that because of her criminal history and its aftermath she would not be eligible for a certain privilege.  “How can you people (note to self, being addressed in any context as ‘you people’ never ends with the offer of sweet pastries or pots de creme) -how can you people do this to me?  I finally get my life turned around and you can’t give me this one thing?  What am I supposed to do? (she followed this, sotto voce, with a series of curses meant for ‘us people’).”

I said, “I’m sorry that the decisions you made when you were younger are still following you around.  But this is policy that was decided long before you made those decisions, by people I’ve never met, and it can’t be changed in this instant.”

She’s guilty.  She knows it, knows that I know, knows there is no denying it.  Can’t change the facts.  But she wants to change the consequences, and her future, in the moment, when she’s ready to move away from her past.  But we, Society, “Us People,” are not ready to move away from her past.  We have agreed that the perpetrator does not get to dictate the term of the sentence, the depth of the consequences, the half-life of reverberation from her wrongdoing.  We do that.  It sucks to be her– but try telling an 18 year old her, in the moment before she shoplifts $258 worth of stuff from Walmart, that one day she will have children, and won’t have the money to pay her fines and costs, and won’t be eligible for childcare so she can go back to school.  What sayeth the 18 year old, verbatim– for veracity’s sake–?: “Fuck you.”

So the consequences haunt her, as they do all of us who screw up.  When you clomp on my instep with your birkenstock, your saying “sorry!” doesn’t make the pain go away.  It throbs for minutes or hours to come, and that’s how long I’m mad at you and your big clompy shoe.  Forgiveness isn’t automatic– it’s a process, one that I, the victim, dictate.  You say “sorry” until I let you know you’re done, that I’m done needing to hear it.

A partner strays.  She breaks a trust– not a contract, not anything so banal as that: worse.  She breaks the promise made when she looked in your eyes and said, “I love you.”  In that look, that phrase, the promise proffered is this: your well-being is mine.  I am not well if you are not well.

And when you were not well, she was -not well.  Off balance.  Off kilter.  Maybe had not realized how much she depended on you being well, being the caretaker of everything, the level, keeping things seaworthy.  And she did not have the power to make you better.  In this sea of unrest she sought solace elsewhere, maybe not deliberately– maybe more in the way the fourth chocolate finds its way into our bellies.  “Did I really eat that fourth chocolate?  Not possible.”  Oh, the way we lie to ourselves.

Unlike the 18 year old Walmart pocket-shopper, if approached prior to the straying the partner would have said: “I would never do that.  I would never hurt my partner.”  But she did.  She’s guilty, she knows it.  She knows that you know, and that there’s no denying it.

The flip side is mercy, of course.  That doesn’t take away her need to keep apologizing.  She must apologize until she has breathed her last, if that’s what it takes until you say “enough.”  You get to dictate how long the sentence, how deep the consequences, the half-life of the reverb.  But this is not the faceless shoplifter who decades later faces your policy.  This is your partner.  Coparent. The one who knew you when.

Forgiveness may take a while, as it should.  But mercy can be employed immediately.  Not clemency, not off the hook, not a full pardon.

Mercy.  You have this within you.  You’re looking at the pond of the rest of your life: toss in the smooth stone of mercy and watch the ripples, for years to come, as they create good on every shore they touch.

The Outlandish Mini-Me

Search on youtube: “Toddler Cussing,” “Little Kid Swears,” “Baby Says F*ck.”  Mini-me blurting an adult word is funny- obvious, slapstick, funny. In a larger sense it’s a holler or sentiment or evolved thought coming from the unexpected corner, a younger version of ourselves, that is surprising, sometimes in really positive ways.

I’m reminded of a co-worker, a young woman, asking if I had a tampon; I surreptitiously pulled one from my handbag, wrapped the already-wrapped T in a tissue, and handed it to her.  “Christ, clown– it’s a tampon, not contraband.”  She discarded the tissue and strode toward the loo, carrying the fuchsia-wrapped symbol of all things mysteriously feminine as blithely as she’d carry a pen.  It made me so happy– young women who are IN YOUR FACE, guys, about this stuff, no longer feeling the need to protect men from this elemental fact of humanity’s very existence– “we bleed, get over it.”  I loved it.  Outrageous, a young clown: mini-me.

Aligned, at issue: the Princeton student, frankly not quite a man at twenty years old, who wrote an essay that has had some conservatives high-fiving this outlandish mini-me:

http://theprincetontory.com/main/checking-my-privilege-character-as-the-basis-of-privilege/

His name is Tal Fortgang.  He’s already tired and jaded about people minimizing his accomplishments.  Did I mention he’s twenty?  What’s darling and precious and loved by conservatives about his essay is the bold sweep of hyperbole: who now, in their thirties, forties, fifties, would have had the courage to say at twenty that they have just about had it with people saying that just because he’s white he has not earned anything himself but has been hand picked hand held hand delivered –thanks to this white conspiracy, this secret HAND shake from the “invisible patron saint of whiteness.”  He protests: did I not work?  Did my parents not sacrifice, my grandparents, Jews, not suffer discrimination?  Not SUFFER?  We did, damn-all, and I’m tired of apologizing, I’m tired of people believing that nothing I accomplished is real, that there is no true meritocracy.

Sweetheart.   I have to tell you: you can’t see your privilege because it’s in the air you breathe.  It’s in the azaleas and cherry trees on campus, the salmon for dinner, the growing up with smart peers and the being welcomed into families of wealthier kids too.  All your life you have seen a charming life that could be yours.  All your life you have known that this has been within your capability, within your parents’ expectations.  You have never known a mob, a parade, a conga line of people chanting: “you’re shooting too high.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist and black man:  “The fact that I wanted to be a scientist was hands-down the path of MOST RESISTANCE…I wanted to become something that was outside the paradigm of expectation of the people in power… fortunately, my depth of interest was SO DEEP and SO FUEL-ENRICHED that every curve ball that was thrown, every fence built in front of me, every hill I had to climb, I just reached for more fuel and kept going.  But as I look behind me I wonder where are the others who might have been this, who are not there?  What blood is on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not? Who are those who did not survive the forces of society that prevented (progress) at EVERY TURN?”

So, Tal?  The wind you feel at your back is not turbulence from your serious work.  It’s the gentle breeze you can’t credit because you’re flowing in a jetstream with thousands, millions, of others.  You’re being carried on a current as imperceptible as the earth’s rotation.  It isn’t that your work is meaningless, it’s that you don’t, and can’t, acknowledge that many people have to work harder, run against unrelenting gales, surpass low expectations, thrive without encouragement.  So.  Don’t “check your privilege.”  But also, don’t mine your past for any corresponding disadvantage, because it doesn’t exist.

While conservatives lap up your ballsy stance and embrace it as bold righteousness,  I’m stifling a chortle.  You’re not a toddler cursing, but you’ll be just as embarrassed when you read your essay as a mature person.  They’re using you.  You’re a party trick.  You’re their mini-me.

 

 

Archives: 05/01/1999

“01/28/99: I quit smoking.  02/07/99: I turned 35.  03/18/99: Ann, my mother in law moved to the west coast.  04/29/99: I discovered I was pregnant…

“I still don’t believe it– maybe I won’t until I hear a heartbeat.  I’ve suspected for well over a year and a half that I wouldn’t be able to conceive, and now I suspect that I won’t be able to go full-term.  In other words, there are lots of women who deserve babies and I’m not one of them.  I’m only three weeks along– I have no reason to believe this will end in anything other than a miscarriage (Edit: GOD you’re so pessimistic). My only symptoms so far are extreme fatigue and the massive bosom I’m sporting.  No one (Edit: but for the prince consort) knows yet, and I’m half afraid I’ll forget what this new private thing is like, before everybody knows, and I half hope I will, because it’s 90% anxiety and 10% joy…”

Dear Well-Meaning Healthcare Professional

Oh your heart is in the right place!  You are a dear.  You might be the 75 year old physician, or the 22 year old nurse, or the 40 year old PA.  To a person you went into this field with a desire to help or heal or provide comfort, and for the most part you do.  You smile kindly, you nod appropriately, you act like you know exactly what I’m talking about, you have seen this before and you are not shocked a bit.

I need to give you some advice.  If you need to ask me about my illicit drug use, my risky sexual behavior, my tobacco addiction, my alcohol use, my depression, my triglycerides, my cholesterol, or my blood pressure, and if any of my responses trigger in you an infantilizing need to parent or scold or condescend or advise– SHUT UP.

Here’s the thing.  I haven’t gotten to this age without knowing that certain behaviors are bad for me.  But every time you tell me that smoking is harmful as though I don’t know it already is another reason in a catalog of reasons why I shouldn’t be honest with you.  Every time you, who indulges in 1.5 creme de menthes per calendar year (and then brags about it like you can handle your alcohol), ask me (who wouldn’t touch a creme de menthe because it sounds like a regurgitated Shamrock shake kissed on the cheek by a bottle of vodka and whose drink of choice is Maker’s Mark straight up with a water chaser followed by four more Maker’s Marks) if I’ve ever thought about a 12 step program, you further push me into the “1-3 drinks per week” category on your forms.  If your aim is to make me feel bad, you’ve succeeded.  If your aim is to get the truth out of me, you are failing.  Seriously, grade F.

I know that you want me to be healthy, and I know that you need a complete picture of my past and present. So here’s the practical advice that accompanies the shushing: pass me a single sheet of paper asking about habits or behaviors or risk factors that are difficult to change.  Tell me that you need to know the truth about these things in order to prescribe medicine or treatment plans effectively.  Tell me that you assume, because change is hard, that I have no intention of changing my behavior until I TELL YOU IT IS MY INTENTION TO CHANGE.   In other words, treat me like a grown-up and let me die at a pace that’s comfortable to me.

Sincerely and with thanks,

The Clown with the Disturbingly High Numbers in This or That

The Audacity of the Poppy

Depression is an old old acquaintance, welcome as a yeast infection and as easily recognizable.  The first sign is the molasses of inertia which prevents me from doing anything about it; the second sign is the realization that I really really really must do something about it.  So finally I do, and a therapist waits in the wings, ready to save my soul from more self-destruction.

In the meantime, I endure one of the four perfect days a year.  The perfect days are one’s days of preference; for most people that means sunny and 85 degrees.  For me, that does mean sunny, but a bit cooler: 50 degrees is just about perfect, and I prefer a breeze, please.  My friend Joan says that on one’s perfect days, one is working, or hungover, or sick, leaving just a single day a year for one to enjoy (awkward construction, that).  So last weekend, not working or hungover or sick, I suffered through a perfect day.  Dragged the dog outside, cursed the breeze, grimaced at the sun.  Bore poorly the sounds of birds cooing, felt affronted by the bath of fresh air.  DEFINITELY time for the therapist.

What grows within, though, is this tiny kernel of hope.  I start to look forward in the measured way you do when you’re at the point of a flu arc when you don’t actively want to die, and can picture having the energy to, oh, eat a cracker without groaning in pain.

And with hope, which is the opposite of depression (for me anyway), comes audacity.  Because, who am I to think I deserve certain things? Oh, my aims are modest, to be sure: I like to pay bills on time, I like seven consecutive hours of sleep,  I like a tidy house.  I like the feeling of contentment that comes with having treated people well, and rationally, without having to review tape and pronounce myself completely socially inept.  These are all things that don’t happen when I’m depressed, so when I can imagine them returning, I feel the same tall poppy syndrome others with bigger britches feel.  The tall, bright red poppy?  You know, the one that attracts the attention of fate, of its peers, of the mower.  The pride which goeth before the fall and all that.

You’d think I’d be off the hook– I’m the smallest of small potatoes, scarcely worthy of fate’s attention.  I’m not reaching for the stars, I’m barely reaching for the transom.  Yet maybe because my desires are so small, maybe because I have the capacity to be satisfied with little, I have more reason to be nervous. The cozy Kater Murr poppy of satisfaction, be it big or small, is what is offensive to the gods.

So in the event the gods are listening: I won’t be be at peace until I have professional landscaping, an iron fence, new windows and appliances and hardwood throughout the house.  While I’m pressing the dissatisfaction, I’d like to see Nova Scotia, and I’ll need a house on the coast of Maine as well.  (If I’m shooting for restless and unhappy, I think I should go big).

Once Upon A Time

A valley village was divided almost in two, with 53% of the people, the Havelots, born on the side of the village that housed the river.  The remaining 47% of the people, the Havenots, were born and lived on the other side, behind a great wall.  The wall contained a small gate, through which the Havenots could access the river one time per month, after dark, for half an hour, for free.  The Havelots were divided themselves over whether this was fair: some said the Havenots should be given more access, others said “What do they expect?  They’re getting free access to what we have to work and pay for!!”

For this was true, the Havelots did work and pay for the upkeep and access to the river.  They each paid one gilder per month for river maintenance, and one hundred gilders per month to maintain the great wall and pay the guards at the gate.  The guards trained for months to learn how to give the Havenots restricted access; not all the Havenots could come in at once lest they overwhelm the wall, so the guards learned to question them for hours about their worthiness to have access.  Once the beseeching Havenots said the proper sequence of words (a sequence known only to the guards and the Havelots), the Havenots were allowed in, one at a time, and were expected to be properly grateful, humble, and quiet.  Very often, especially to Havenots new to the process, they had not thought to bring the proper vessels, so while they could drink freely for half an hour, they had nothing to bring home for the month remaining.

The great wall was indeed great, but had been built many years ago when people began recognizing the need to conserve the purity of what they considered the greatest river in all the land.  The wall had breaches, most from the side of the Havenots but a few, puzzlingly, from the side of the Havelots.  It was said that most of the Havenots believed the wall should come down, and this made sense, but Havelots whispered about certain neighbors, who could be heard late at night cursing the wall and the expense of its upkeep, and bemoaning the cost of paying the guards.  These same neighbors, it was said, could not be trusted to report a daytime sighting of a Havenot, and legend was that some even had helped Havenots through a wall breach.   The Havelots could be heard discussing these things in the local Fine Dining Establishment.  “Damn bleeding ‘Lots, cheapening their birthright.  The ‘Nots can’t be trusted in, they’ll muck it up, they should work like we do,” said one portly Havelot.  “Eh, they do sir,” said his companion.  “I can see them from my high window– they toil away, they do, but I’ve heard they make scarce more than several gilders, and could pay naught on maintenance fees for the wall and the guards’ pay, reckon.”

Over on the Havenots’ side, in the Park by the Dried Up Tributary, a different conversation took place.  “I’d take a shiv to that one guard given half a chance, I would,” said one.  “Ah, shut your piehole man, it’s not the guard’s fault, it’s the Havelots,’ said his friend.  “They think we’re undeserving,  they think we don’t work hard.  They sleep just fine at night, knowing our kids are thirsty, and that we worry day and night about how we’ll cook without water.  They say we can’t afford the maintenance fees, and they don’t want to let us in unless we can show we can pay.  I say we take a shiv to the wall.  No wall equals no guards equals no maintenance fees.”  His friend, stunned, said, “That’s it.  It’s that simple, isn’t it?”

The Havenots, more accustomed to using all their energy merely subsisting, appealed to the ruler of all the land, talked to the guards, and put up posters: “No Wall, No Guards, No Fees.”  The problem, they soon saw, was that as old and battered as it was, the wall was yet strong and people were accustomed to it.  Businesses were set up along the wall on both sides and it was decorated and venerated in song and legend.  It was entrenched in the culture of both sides.  And the guards, most of whom were sympathetic, had no interest in giving up their good pay and their own access to the river.  The ruler of all the land pretended to have an interest, but the hidden truth was that he would not be re-elected without the support of the Havelots.  In secret sessions he won the Havelots’ permission to expand Havenot access to the river for a fee.  Havenots would pay, they were promised, a small percentage of their income for increased access to the river.

The Havenots were appeased; the wall would not come down and in fact, part of what they paid would go toward its maintenance, but at least they would have water for cooking and their children would no longer thirst endlessly.  And the Havelots were appeased; the water-sucking Havenots would no longer have free access, at least they would be paying something, though some of the Havelots grumbled about the pitiably low fees charged.

With increased, though still limited,  access, and new revenue, more guards were needed and hired.  Contractors were paid to buttress and paint the wall.  The original slogan, “No wall, no guards, no fees,” became laughably naive-sounding as the wall grew ever more robust and the guards were unionized.  People on both sides of the wall became accustomed to the shiny strong wall and abundance of guards.

Peace seemed likely for a time but for the sharp divide in the loudest voice of each side.  A small crew of Havelots began organizing to protest the inequity of fees: Havelots paid 101 gilders every month for unlimited access, while Havenots paid only 2 gilders a month for access one day each week.  “We should be paying the same rate!!” said the most unhappy Havelots.  “They pay half a gilder a day, we should pay half a gilder a day!”  Meanwhile, the unhappiest Havenots did the math: the average Havelot salary was over 1,000 gilders a month.  That meant the Havelots paid about ten percent of their income, while Havenots paid twenty five percent.   “Two gilders is too much!” They cried.  “Up the access or lower the rate!!”

Both sides were aware of other river valleys without a wall.  The Havelots just knew those rivers must be tainted, the banks awash in litter.  The Havenots knew these valleys existed but really, it seemed like a fairy tale.  A place where every person had access?  Unbelievable.  A place where no one had ever thought to build a wall– what kind of place is that?

(Austria, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and forty plus other countries, are places like that.)

 

Books ARE Us

Fail: the prince’s water bottle went kablooie in his backpack, soaking his copy of Steinbeck’s The Pearl.  I’m an old hand at this since the flood in our basement several years ago threatened papercide of my vintage journals (note to self: archived gold for future posts, hello 1980!).  So, to the oven; in 35 minutes at 225 degrees it was done, albeit ruffled and slightly brittle.  The prince, a conscientious book borrower, was worried about its condition:  oh, he said, I don’t think they’re gonna like that.  I assured him that we’d pay for it if the Comm Arts teacher objected, but I told him books are meant to be read, held, touched, fondled, loved, abused.  Break that spine!  Bend those corners!  My favorite books open easily to the most reviewed parts and no, they’re not the porny passages.

Speaking of porn, I gave my dear friend Stella a used copy of a cook book by Rocco DiSpirito (from a used book store), realizing only the second I handed it to her that she is more germaphobic than me and that’s saying something.  I told her she didn’t have to cook with it, she could simply use rubber gloves to turn the pages, look at the images of Rocco, and picture him wearing just a tiny red half-apron embroidered with an arrow pointing up and the words “My Eyes are Up There, Ladies.”

But my point is that books of all kinds are the physical manifestation of our love of stories and so are worn, torn, splattered and sneezed on.  I have returned books to the library with Jolly Rancher wrapper book marks; I have delved into library books whose pages were peppered with the previous reader’s popcorn bits.  These are used campsites, sometimes gross with others’ detritus but nearly always temples: learning, or joy, or heartache, happened here.  Holy ground, christened with a kid’s sports bottle.