Big Gora

Big Gora

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Childhood to early teens: My own personal bullies

I remember every last one of my bullies, vividly. I remember their names and will gladly repeat them. I remember their cruel "Hurr hurr hurr"s, the dimwitted delight they took in calling me crude names and scientifically dosing me with just enough pain to hurt but not enough to get them in serious trouble if they got caught. Their foundationless hatred. Their henchmanliness.
My dad moved us to tiny Malad, Idaho in August 1974. He taught fifth grade and I started fourth. (See my earlier dictionary story.) In a town this small and insular, because I hadn't been born there and wasn't related to any locals, I was "the new kid" until mid-high school. One unbreakable law of the children's jungle is: The new kid will be bullied--so I was. I had this odd last name, too, and it proved irresistible to bullies' twisted creativity. "Brian Cauliflower," of course. Also "Collie-dog." The cruder, less religious ones opted for "Cowlishit" or "Cow-shit." One asshole with a little imagination came up with "Captain Caveman," which to be honest I didn't mind; but that one didn't stick. They were all a year or two older than me; I was invisible to kids older than that, and unharassed by those my own age. Barry Daniels, Steve Daniels, Todd Hess, Shawn Thomas, Steve Sweeten, and Jerry Steiner: they grinned like chimps and lobbed ugly names every damn time they spotted me--between classes, at church (!), at Boy Scouts (which I already hated), at sports practice. The namecalling was like the skies in Seattle: forever looming, liable to pour down anytime, not exactly deadly but nothing you'd choose to get caught in, either.
Then there were the bullies who got physical. I remember like it was this week: I'm in fourth grade, it's winter, there is slushy snow outside, and I am in Jax Snax across the street from the Elementary playing pinball. I'm really killing it, too, and it's about to "pop"--to make this loud BANG! alerting everyone around that I've just earned a free game. I am as bad-ass as a new kid who likes books and cats can ever be. The jukebox is playing "I Shot the Sheriff," Eric Clapton's version, and...yeah, baby, I shot the sheriff.
Now there is this BAM! sudden horrible pain in my earlobe. I lose the ball in play. I pull back the plunger for the final one, let it loose, and BAM! that pain again. Turning quickly, I see it's a high school boy I don't even know. He has flipped my ear with his index finger as hard as he can, wound up and let loose. He's a senior, I think, and he's chewing tobacco and wearing boots and a cowboy hat, and his grownup farm-worked body can focus an awful lot of ouch per square inch onto a little boy's flipped earlobe. It glowed and smarted the rest of the day.
Paul Evans was a special kind of bullying asshole--the kind that never lets up. I stupidly chose to play football my ninth-grade year, though I hated the constant smashing and bruising. I just wanted to daydream and read my books, which that year included the "All Creatures Great and Small" veterinary memoirs. I wanted to belong, and sports helped a lot with that. So. I remember desperately thinking, during an extraordinarily hot and unpleasant August practice: "This practice will be over in an hour. An hour isn't that long, really. I can stand an hour. Then it will be done. That time will pass. Look, a minute just passed while I was thinking about this." Because I was shooting up like a skinny weed, the coaches thought I'd make a good tight end. So they had us ninth-graders scrimmage play after play against the tenth-graders. I was permanently assigned to block their defensive end, Paul Evans. He did this filthy thing on every snap: he'd hop a step back, or to the side, and grab my shoulderpads, and throw me to the ground. I'd earnestly try as instructed to make contact and move him: skip, whump! He didn't even try to get involved in the play--all his focus was laser-locked on getting me to the ground. I tried not blocking, just holding my position; coach would yell. I tried holding him; coach yelled and called a penalty. In desperation I tried throwing myself into his knees; Paul just backed out of the way and laughed out loud. Play after play, set-hut-skip-whump. No coach ever intervened--I believe their sentiment was, You're going to face this kind of thing in real games, so buck the fuck up, cowboy.
Marty Thorpe usually limited himself to calling me "Cow-shit," but one snowy day on the elementary playground he decided to try his wrestling moves on me. He strode right over and asked me if I knew what a "half-Nelson" was. Gee, no. Did I know what a "whole Nelson" was? Nope. Turns out he was dying to show me. Now, he knew he was going to grab me, that was his plan from the beginning. But I never saw it coming. Before I could react, he captured my head in his elbow, planted a foot between mine, and jerked me straight to the gravel-packed slush. With my head still under his arm and his whole weight on me. He added his other arm to make the full Nelson.
He held that until my vision went fuzzy like a TV station that wouldn't come in and I went limp. Then he contemptuously shoved me off, got up, and stalked away. I sat in the snow for a few minutes waiting, but the fuzziness wouldn't dissipate. My head ached and my pants were soaked. I staggered over to the teacher on duty--which by the way, where the hell had she been all this time?!--and she took me inside to the school nurse. Marty saw me an hour later, as I left the nurse to return to class, and he asked me straight away whether I'd "told on him." No, I hadn't--and thought, but didn't add, Because I'm not a complete idiot. Another law of the children's jungle: You never ever ever snitch, because you will only be bullied worse. He seemed relieved. Maybe he was. Maybe that's why he never bullied me again.
Being bullied accretes fear, and shame, and impotent rage. They eventually require some kind of release. Twice I tried to exorcise all the ugliness by doing some bullying myself. That both incidents happened during ninth-grade football season probably indicates how horrible that whole atmosphere was.
On a bus to Hyrum, where we were to play an eight-grade game and then a ninth-grade game, I had the perfect bullying target sitting right in front of me. William Jaussi (pronounced "Yow-zee"). He was a year younger than me, the stringiest of beans, with a beaky nose and protruding ears. No one thought he was cool; in fact, his whole family was off-putting and weird. "Everyone knew" for example that one of his older sisters had crapped her pants on a pep band bus. I probably said something obnoxious about his name, but what I remember clearly is, two or three times, thinking to pass on the same shock and pain I'd felt, I wound up and flipped his ears. As hard as I could. Just like that asshole cowboy. I attempted a triumphant laugh; it faltered and died.
One day at football practice, Ed Robbins, the eighth grade's running back, was beating the ninth grade's defense on every play. He was small and fast and slippery, and he kept zipping past us for what would be touchdowns. I was playing defensive end--straight up, not trying to throw the tight end down on each snap--and was rapidly becoming fed up with the little bastard. So the next time the eighth-graders sent the ball around my end, I was prepared. I let Ed get around and about half a step past me; then, as planned, I grabbed his facemask and yanked downward. I didn't even try to disguise it or pretend it was an accident.
Ed's dad was one of the coaches, and he quite rightly yelled in my face for a few minutes. He didn't know it was unnecessary. I was already feeling a little queasy and a lot ashamed of myself. I listened and nodded.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

High school: On The Cruise

[This post is best read with one tab open to my map, "The Malad Cruise." ( <-- Click those words.) A hefty portion of this post's content is there, so I recommend not skipping it. All bold black locations are ones I've added. Click on them for commentary/storylets about the different spots.]
With this post I invite you back to my hometown, Malad, Idaho, circa 1980. Then as now, the population was a heifer's hair over 2,000. Some things never change.
I got my daytime driving license a couple of months before my fifteenth birthday, June 1979. At sixteen I received permission to drive at night! Like every other Malad teenager, I putt-putted around The Cruise obsessively, all evening Fridays and Saturdays, doggedly seeking entertainment but rarely finding it. We drove like lowriders--slow, cool, impassive, in no hurry. We gave each other minimal, one- or two-finger waves without moving a hand from the steering wheel. We blasted Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin on our stereos, windows down so everyone would know.
The miles we racked up! If we could retroactively translate those hours into, say, learning another language, we could have become UN translators!
We drove in all weathers, all seasons, sober and drunk. We drove drunk a lot; it's a miracle no one I knew even had an accident. The inside of a moving car was the only place any of us could find privacy, between our huge Mormon families, the schoolmarmish atmosphere, and the simple fact that teenagers always crave a privacy that's unavailable. "You just don't understand."
We followed the Nevada-shaped triangle traced on my map. Go to the Malad Drive-In for a Glamor Burger, fries with fish sauce, and a large Iron Port soda. From there drive south on Main past the Dude Ranch Café and Corner Bar on your right, turn right onto Bannock Street, past the police car usually parked in Pig Alley, right on First West and then another quick right onto First North and back to the Drive-In. Clockwise, always; right turns are easier for beginning drivers. Repeat and repeat until parents' curfew.
In 1980, the KWIK Stop abruptly appeared, a "convenience store" ("Oh, they sell convenience?") just a jaunt east of the Chat 'n' Chew, over by the freeway. Unaccustomed as we were to "snappy" spellings like "KWIK," we were of the opinion that while yes in fact, it was quite a nice novelty to now buy snacks and sodas well into the night (open till 10!), or even on Sunday when all other local businesses were closed, still, that name was just dumb as hell. We referred to it as the "Kay Double-You Eye Kay Stop," never "Quick Stop." The Cruise pattern changed to accommodate it: every half hour or so, we'd break off from the triangle, pass the Chat, and see if anyone interesting was in the Kay Double-You Eye Kay.
Two special cruising crews stand out in memory. There was Jim Goddard driving his parents' mile-long Cadillac, Terry Williams sitting shotgun, and me sprawled in the spacious back seat, all gulping Coors Light (which in those days we found delicious, particularly when paired with that gourmet treat Pizza Puffs), the stereo blasting out The Song Remains the Same on 8-track. We'd set our beer in the cupholder to air drum the long "Moby Dick" solo. Best of all was the Doog-Mobile, Doug Williams's family van, miraculously at his disposal every weekend, completely curfew-free. You couldn't set up a Doog-Mobile cruise in advance, because no one ever seemed to be at home to answer the phone; you could only stay vigilant for a DM sighting, then join in. Like the Chrysler in "Love Shack" it "seats about twenty," boasted a much better stereo than you'd expect any family van to have, and collected all the best drinking companions from Malad High. We talked sports, and girls, but mostly we silently contemplated AC/DC tunes and stared out the windows at the lights of Malad, content in our clearly-established, awesome adulthood. We were bad. We were nationwide.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Kahaani jo sach nahin hai (A story that is not true)

When he was in elementary school, Brian took great pride in his ability to spell words correctly. He got 100% on every spelling test. His teachers were all impressed.
One day, though, he finally missed a word. Horrors! (Sadly, no one remembers which particular word it allegedly was.) Brian got his paper back and stared at it for a couple of minutes. He walked to the teacher's desk (Mrs. Thomas, 4th grade, nearing retirement). "I didn't miss this word."
"I'm sorry, Brian, but you did."
"No, I spelled it right."
Pause. "No, see, look. Here it is in the dictionary. The dictionary spells it this way."
Immediately: "Then the dictionary's wrong."
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यह कहानी सच नहीं है (ye kahaani sach nahin hai/this story isn't true ). My dad loved to tell it about me, and to imply that it reveals my आत्मा (aatma/essence or soul). I'm afraid that's not so; it's just an amusing fiction to say so.
My issue with this canonical telling is that it makes me sound like a little asshole. "I simply know better." Why? Just 'cause it's me, apparently.
No no no. Sticking to my guns I can see; unsupported arrogance, not so much.
Last spring, Paul Auster published a postmodern masterpiece titled 4 3 2 1. I reviewed it for Sequart and, just recently, got my book club to read it (all 800+ pages)! Now here is an infinitely better way to tell "my" story.
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[Young Archie Ferguson hears how the Rosenbergs were "fried" for their espionage, then repeats the word in his own kid-newspaper story on the subject.]
There was some disagreement over the use of the word *fried*, which his grandmother thought was an excessively vulgar way to talk about a tragic event, but Ferguson insisted there was no choice, the language couldn’t be changed because that was how Francie had presented the matter to him, and he found it a good word precisely because it was so vivid and disgusting. Anyway, it was his letter, wasn’t it, and he could write anything he wanted to. Once again, his grandmother shook her head. You never back down, do you, Archie? To which her grandson answered: Why should I back down when I’m right?
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Why indeed?
This is ज़िद्द (ziddh) we're talking about, "stubbornness" or "persistence." Persistence is a good quality--a power. May we all hold firm to our ज़िद्द when we're in the right!

Monday, May 28, 2018

And let us not forget the blindingly obvious

In my last two posts I named five calamities I'd experienced recently. But to spell out the so-obvious-I-didn't-think-to-mention-it, the dirty bomb that struck the whole world: the election of Donald J. Trump as President. That was an unbelievable shock, and it fell right between the trial and the Morrissey cancellation. When that can win an election...

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Aur itihas (More of the story)

My last post here focused on the end of my dad's life, last spring. Today I pull back the camera a bit: the days with Dad ended a ridiculously bad year. Five events, successive body blows, conglomerated into one almost comically awful annum. We'll eventually will get back to Hindi...in time...after a few posts, a few digressions and connections.
In October 2016, I was sued in federal civil court in Muskogee. The Muskogee newspaper summed up the case thus, if you're interested. The judge discharged me personally "with prejudice," meaning, "this person should never have been dragged into this, he's innocent." But, you know, being sued is no fun for anyone. As Morrissey put it,


Speaking of the inimitable Morrissey: my wife had bought me a birthday ticket for his November concert in Dallas! What an awesome present! After the trial's ugliness, I was doubly thrilled to go! "Huh, Morrissey, big fat emo deal," you may be muttering. OH NO, how VERY WRONG you are. Over half of the time I spend listening to recorded music, I devote to Morrissey. After "discovering" him twenty years late in 2008, I've enjoyed his company for more hours than any person I don't know personally--including, say, Charles Dickens and David Foster Wallace. I quote him all the time, post his songs from YouTube on my Facebook page, cheer on his vegetarian activism. Just look at this screenshot from Spotify:


Sure, you're a fan of somebody or other--but are you a "top 1% fan"? It would have been a fabulous day: sleep late, on the road by 10, Morrissey marathon in the car, nap at the hotel, a good Indian meal, then the CONCERT OF A LIFETIME. (At the time, his playlist was the World Peace Is None of Your Business album mixed with all-time favorites like "Speedway" and "Ganglord.") Then 10:30 the night before, CANCELLATION. I was crushed. What should have been doubly fantastic became doubly devastating. Two things: 1) yes, alright, Morrissey is notorious for canceling concerts, so 2) knowing the first thing, I'm supposed to suddenly not care? I tried to personally boycott his music, but that just made me even more miserable, so I quit after a couple of weeks. After all, the whole point of listening to Morrissey is his ability to soothe fans' hearts by expressing what's in them; what would we ever do without him?
So I limped along to the end of the semester, had a restful Christmas break. In late January, the next bomb landed: my promotion for full professor was denied. I had absolutely no indication or reason to expect this. I'd published plenty since receiving tenure, won a few awards, and received no negative evaluations for anything. Promotion appeared to be a mere formality. My committee and department chair said yes. Then the dean pulled the classic "if it were up to me" evasion--the venerable ruse recorded in Dickens's David Copperfield, whereby young David's cowardly boss at the law office says "if it were up to me," he'd totally pay back David's high apprenticeship fees--but his cruel, grasping partner whom one never actually sees, he won't allow that. The cruel partner, naturally, knew nothing of the matter. Here, it was the provost blamed--"he said no, I'm just the bearer of bad news." Later, paperwork showed me it was in fact the dean, and he never did give me a satisfactory explanation. As Morrissey put it when he was with The Smiths, it was pretty much this nonsense:

This was a pretty hard kick while I was down, but I myself made it worse. Totally caught by surprise, tired of being kicked for things I didn't do (cf. the trial)--I quit. I said the words "I quit," multiple times. I pushed into the dean's hands some books I'd written chapters for, and hissed back at him his word "consistency," which he'd said I needed more of, and raised my voice, and stormed out of my office, down the hall, out of the building, down the sidewalk and off campus, intending never to return. "I've worked my last hour here," I said. After some quick, anxious consultation with my wife, I unquit that same afternoon. Somebody's got to bring home the kibbles for our menagerie. And really, I didn't actually want to quit, I was just ambushed. (Again.)
So wow, damn, what a school year so far. At least I had that ten-day trip planned for spring break! London and Oxford! The Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien and Lewis plotted their creations over pints!


Our hostel's internationalist Kensington neighborhood, vast bookstores, Indian feasting, Brick Lane, British television! But gosh, I just couldn't seem to locate that flight plan in my emails, so I asked the trip organizer to send it to me again. Following that guide, I left at dawn for Oklahoma City, drove three hours, walked up to the baggage check desk with a good two hours to clear security. The clerk informed me that my plane had just left fifteen minutes ago. Much computer searching, printout consultation, other-airline-querying, and consultant-telephoning later, we understood: I had been sent last year's itinerary. I was right on time for the flight our group took last year--but this year, I was officially SOL. It being the Friday beginning Spring Break across the country, there wasn't a flight to be had anywhere. Not for days and days. So: no London and Oxford. Worse, that same unheroic dean from earlier demanded that I explain in detail, several times, how 1) missing the flight was an accident and not my fault, though believe me I wanted to be on it and if anything was in doubt it was my return home, and 2) I wasn't somehow making illicit money from this. That second suspicion was just insulting, and in my mind went a long way toward explaining the whole no-promotion thing. With some people, you just can't win.
All through this historically bad year, of course, Dad's health had been dipping down frequently into the danger zone. His acute distress and death didn't ambush him; optimist though he was, he saw it approaching, steadily, inexorably.
So, to add it all up: a court trial of your humble narrator, a literal "federal case"; a last-minute cancellation of the show-of-shows that would have healed the wounds; a shocking "NO" to my promotion bid; a lovely trip across the pond bizarrely snatched away by fate; Dad's speedy decline and death. I spent the rest of last summer in a grief-filled daze. Through fall and spring, when I wasn't busy teaching, grief and my new application for promotion nibbled away much of my attention. I finally got some good news just last month.



And that, my friends, explains why I haven't written here for a year. I simply haven't had the heart, or the will or the energy or the animal spirits, call it what you wish, to initiate any project I didn't absolutely have to do.
Thus I haven't taken time lately to enjoy Indian culture much, and sadly that includes studying the Hindi language. But having cleared the final academic hurdle, and knowing I have not one damn thing more to prove, I have renewed energy, a new sense of freedom to study/pursue the things I care about. I see better too how it's all related: my own story, my love for Indian culture, the things I want to say. I'm putting it all here on Big Gora Learns Hindi. Often it'll be more about Big Gora than about Learning Hindi, but ज़िन्दगी ऐसी गलत है, न? (zindagi aisi galat hai, na?/life's unfair like that, right?).
We'll talk again soon!



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Aaj se, mera itihas (Starting today, my story)

It's been almost a year since I wrote here. No one's demanding that I explain, but I want to anyway. No Hindi-learning stuff today, just me. Here I am, offering you the chair nearest the air conditioner and a cold Coke. Thanks for listening.
My dad died last May 29. I'd gone to see him for a week earlier that month--fearing, quite honestly, that he'd leave us before I got there. In that week, he went from hale/jolly/100% himself, to very near death via antibiotic-resistant superinfection of mysterious origin, back to about 80% himself, and back to Death's door. Here he is fully himself.


He looks freshly shaved here. My kindhearted nephew Gavin was doing that for him.




His health behaved like a basketball dropped from a great height: every fall was succeeded by a bounce back up almost as high as the original elevation, followed by another drop, back up nearly as high, and so on. Zeno's Paradox be damned: with that pattern, it's only a matter of time before there's no more bouncing back. I hated to leave before he stabilized, but it looked like that might never happen, so I anxiously returned to my menagerie.
A couple weeks afterwards, my sister called with the bad news. Then she sent back my medal (see Dad's eulogy below), high school letter jacket, master's thesis, dissertation, and this framed photo I'd claimed from the empty house. I never did grow out of running home with trophies to bask in my parents' loving praise.




I wrote Dad's eulogy, as I'd written Mom's in 2006. This is the blessing and curse of being the English professor in the family--you get called on for these things. Hard as it was to write, at least I didn't have to read it at his funeral. My first cousin Suzanne did--but she butchered it. She Executive Decision-ed out some of my best lines, threw the whole thing off and out of rhythm, made it about her.
I'll end this post with his eulogy, as I wrote it, दिल से. It seems like a good place to stop for now. My next post will continue explaining.

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Life Sketch for David Cowlishaw
written by Brian Cowlishaw (David’s oldest son)
Thank you for coming to this funeral to commemorate, celebrate, and honor David Cowlishaw. David influenced all our lives for the better, one way or another.
To his brothers and sisters, he was Dave. Little Dave. Until he was well into his 20s, he really was little—a slight string bean with a baby face. At 18, in his Navy portrait, he looked 14.

Dave was born in 1939, the same year the movies Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame came to theaters. He died this Monday, on Memorial Day, at 77 and a half.
His wife of 40 years, Cheryl, also called him Dave. After she died in 2006, Dave never stopped missing her. He frequently told his kids how much he looked forward to being reunited with her someday. Surely right now they’re together, listening and chuckling and holding hands, in beautiful health and delightful humor.
Dave served in the Navy from 17 to 21, mostly because his mischievous brother Paul convinced him it was an easy gig, a great way to see the world while partying all the time. Dave was a cook on board an aircraft carrier, along with Paul. His experiences there provided a lifetime’s worth of stories. When he really wanted to impress a point upon his kids—maybe about how people in other countries lived very different lives, or how some individuals were just trouble all the time—he tended to begin the speech he would make with the words, “When I was in the Navy…” He taught us empathy through his Navy experiences. He’d describe direst poverty abroad, and violence, and unrelenting hardships, and look penetratingly into our eyes and insist: “Can you imagine? Can you?” He made sure we actually did. He told funny stories too. He told us about the quirky chief petty officer who would opine wistfully, “I’d rather hear a fat boy fart than a pretty girl sing.” We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but it was funny because it featured farts. He slayed us describing Paul’s tendency to push a joke, and push it, and push it some more, until people including Dave positively wanted to smack him.
After the Navy, Dave spent a few years getting his young man’s “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life” out of his system. He briefly tried carpentry, and spent a few years cooking at Denny’s in the Los Angeles area. Then he met Cheryl, they fell in love, and they married in the Los Angeles Mormon temple. They started a family right away. Dave found work at Technicolor in Hollywood. At work, he pressed a button to print a copy of a film, waited a few minutes, boxed the film up for shipping, then started the process again, for eight hours a day.
Although the money at Technicolor was good, and the work was easy, Dave pined to do something more interesting and meaningful with his life. So, with his characteristic powerful determination, he packed up his growing family and moved to Brigham Young University in Provo, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Education and his teaching certificate. His L.A. family thought he was a little crazy to go out to the “middle of nowhere” like that, away from them, but he was determined, and he made it work. Cheryl typed his papers, and he cleaned office buildings in the evenings after class, and he finished in three and a half years.
In 1974 he moved to Malad, Idaho to teach and raise his kids. Each of his four kids had Dave as their teacher for a full year. Each of them will tell you, “It was the worst year of my life.” That was because Dave went out of his way to make sure no one could ever suspect him of favoritism. He was twice as tough on his kids as he was on any other student, and he told them so and explained why.
Malad turned out to be a good place for Dave to live and teach—after the strike. Right as his first teaching year started, the Malad teachers had to go on strike for a living wage. Dave walked the picket lines with them, sometimes accompanied by Cheryl or one of the kids. Fortunately, the strike was successful after just a couple of weeks. Dave taught elementary school, and during his last few years, middle school, for a total of 28 years. Two generations of Malad schoolkids appreciated his dedication to the job, his concern for their well-being, his determination to prepare them well for life.
He valued education and hard work, and working hard to get educated. He stamped these lessons indelibly in his kids’ minds and characters in the most powerful possible way—by example. He didn’t just tell them education is important and they should go get some—he showed them. He always walked the walk. His hard work didn’t end with the last bell of the day, either. Dave was always working, doing the hard physical labor as well. Every year he worked after school and weekends for his friend Rex Evans to pay off a cow for the family’s freezer. For many years he traveled to Preston or Lava Hot Springs to cook in a restaurant on weekends. He catered dozens of Malad events. All his kids learned their strong work ethic directly from him.
You just never wanted to disappoint Dave. He was so determined himself that he made you want to be. One summer, Brian raised a calf for the county fair. This “calf” was huge, and strong, and mean. Even Dave had trouble getting a halter on Ol’ Blue and leading him around. Brian, a skinny eleven-year-old, didn’t have a prayer. Dad insisted that Brian had to practice leading Ol’ Blue to show him in the fair. “Just whatever you do, don’t let go of the rope,” he instructed. After four or five steps, Ol’ Blue bolted and began racing down the field. Brian had his instructions and by God, he was going to follow them. He was Dave’s son. So Brian, tobogganing along the field on his stomach, filling his pants with dirt, clutched the rope while Ol’ Blue raced down to the far edge of the field, turned around, and raced all the way back. Dave, worried that Brian might have been hurt, asked why he didn’t let go. “You said to hang onto the rope!”
One instruction Dave repeated frequently to his kids was to choose their company well. “You are who you hang around with,” he’d remind us, and when we chose companions he didn’t like, he let us know all about it. He wanted not just to keep us out of trouble, but also to give us every opportunity to excel at anything and everything. He encouraged us to play an instrument in the school band, to play every sport, to go onstage, to enter all competitions. He and Cheryl went to every single concert, game, exhibition, and contest their four kids ever participated in. Their behavior at ballgames was 100% exemplary. They politely applauded when our team did something good. They never, not once, yelled at a referee or argued with other parents. Can you begin to fathom the hundreds of hours of dull driving and waiting involved? Dave did it all so we could be “well-rounded”—good at many things, confident, competent in many areas of life. Dave was himself. He was a fantastic teacher, true, and he was always an excellent cook, but he was also a talented artist and photographer. In his fifties he learned how to silkscreen his photos, then traveled to dozens of art shows to share his work.
Dave always expressed the pride he took in his kids. One proud moment that he referred to frequently afterwards came when Brian graduated with his Bachelor’s degree. Brian was inducted into an honor society called Mortar Board, and Dave and Cheryl attended a Mortar Board breakfast on graduation day. Dad positively relished what the speaker said there: that only, say, half of all high school graduates go to college, and only half of those graduate with degrees, and one tenth of those have a certain grade-point average, and so on—so ultimately, the Mortar Board members were “literally one in a million.” If that was true of Brian, it was thanks to his dad. A few weeks before Dave died, Brian gave him a medal he’d received as a professor, the “Circle of Excellence.” Brian explained that Dave was at least as much responsible for it as Brian was, so it should belong to him.


Speaking of English: Dave had an able and sometimes humorous way with words. Early in his teaching career, he moonlighted as a milk tester—he drove to dairy farmers’ barns and tested each cow’s milk for health purposes. One farmer had Playboy centerfolds posted around the work area. Dave was describing the scene, and told his family he didn’t quite know where to look, “because here were all these naked ladies with their…linguini hanging out.” Forty years later, his boys still can’t read the word “linguini” on a menu without remembering and laughing. Once Dave became frustrated during a home improvement project. Whatever the thing was that he was fixing, it refused to be fixed. Out of his mouth tumbled a homemade swear phrase: “See homma nah.” This just cracked up the whole family and instantly dissolved the tension. “See homma nah” instantly became a running family joke.
If Dave could change one thing about his life, it would probably be to have traveled more. He greatly valued the traveling he’d done in the Navy, and also the two-week trip he took to Paris and London to celebrate his retirement. If he’d had better luck with Cheryl’s health, and more time, he’d wanted to travel all around the U.S. in an RV and visit every state.
Dave, we love you and will miss you every day of our lives. Thank you for all you did for us.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ramayan update: even more किस्मत!

In episode 22 of the 2010s Ramayan, I've encountered yet another layer of किस्मत [kismat/fate]! It turns out that literally ages ago, when the world was much younger, Vishnu committed a grave sin. There was a huge war between the gods and the demons; the gods, as I'd naturally expect, were routing the demons. A party of stragglers ran to the house of Sage Bhrigu, where Bhrigu's wife Khyati gave them shelter. As we all know, Indian people consider a guest a god, and in this case the fact that they were demons didn't deter her. (Such hospitality!) Khyati forbade the gods entrance, and they stayed outside. (At some point I must comment on this, to me, mindblowing aspect of Hinduism: even the gods can be compelled if humans perform the right penances or prayers. See Raavan, for example.) Vishnu arrived on the scene, and like the other gods, told Khyati to give up her demon guests. She refused, citing the cultural rule I mentioned. Vishnu destroyed them anyway--and Khyati too! The horror! Then Bhrigu returns home to find his beloved wife dead, and is carried away by grief and anger. "I loved her so dearly!"


Like many other figures in the Ramayan and Mahabharat, he expresses his overwhelming emotions in a powerful curse: "May you, Lord Vishnu, be forced one day to reincarnate as a mortal; and may you then suffer the horrible pain of being separated from your wife." The curse lands full force. Here's one more reason, then, that Ram, incarnation of Vishnu, was from ages ago fated to come to earth and live as he did. And Sita--well, we all know what's about to happen at this point in the story, and the recounting of this curse reminds us...