Big Gora

Big Gora

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Childhood: Headless Chickens, Freezer Meat, and Other Murderous Beasts, part 2

Our chickens, though, were the diabolical gift that never stopped giving. Trauma, that is.
Dad had worked as a boy on family-owned small farms in Utah and Minnesota as a boy, so he knew what that work is really like. But nostalgia was working Dad's controls, not caution, so as soon as we arrived in Malad he set about creating the farmyard of his daydreams. The first step: lots and lots of chickens. "You see," he explained, "they cost almost nothing to feed, and you get lots of eggs every day, and you can sell the ones you don't eat, then eventually you can even eat the chickens. The house we're renting even has an old log chicken house all ready to use. Amazing, right? Won't it be fun to have a nice flock of chickens?"
One key detail he omitted from this rosy picture: it was eleven-year-old me and nine-year-old Chad with total responsibility for the chickens. Even Jared, just six, had to help sometimes. It wasn't that the work, or the discipline of trudging down to the chickenhouse morning and night without fail, was too much for us. The winter months with their subzero temperatures were a trial, though. For months we had to carry pans of hot water down for the chickens, but it would always refreeze before our next trip. The real problem was that the chickens themselves were so freaky. Their little wet-looking combs. Their beady, reptilian eyeballs. The way they turn their heads aside to look directly at you. Their scaly three-toed feet. Their noisy irritation when we rummaged under them for eggs. Their pecking beaks! And just so darned many of them: Dad went all in from the start, buying 80 newborn chicks all milling around in one Chiquita Bananas box. It's easy to love the idea of chickens when you never actually have to touch them.
We turned out to have 79 hens and one psychotic rooster. Every single time one of us entered the chickenhouse, he commenced attacking and never let up until we closed the door on him. Chad and I quickly developed a sort of military routine: one of us, wielding a wooden yardstick, stood guard over the other, who would quickly (though never quickly enough!) put down water and food and collect eggs. The rooster--whom we never named, as he didn't seem to us to deserve one--would dart here and there, feint, flutter, lunge, yell, assault. We couldn't decide which job was worse--directly facing off with the rooster for those long minutes, which also meant you became his primary target; or facing all those grumpy hens and trying not to drop an egg (or the whole basket!) when the rooster outmaneuvered his guard and PECK! savaged your Achilles tendon. We tried, weakly, weekly, to explain to Dad how terrifying the rooster was, the whole experience, really. He just said "Bah! Bah! You great big boys are afraid of a chicken?"
We were almost glad when one night a rogue raccoon (?) sneaked into the coop and slaughtered half the hens. Forget the "almost": that dang rooster was still there, but now we could get out of the coop in half the time! Happy days are here again!
One day--maybe we were sick--Dad had to care for the chickens himself. We advised him to take the yardstick; he just scoffed. He came back fifteen minutes later and told us he'd just killed the rooster. "That son of a bitch kept attacking me!" ("YES, WE KNOW!") "So I grabbed a two-by-four and hit him in the head."
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! The rooster is dead! The nightmare is gone!
Ah, but the chicken ordeal wasn't, not nearly. Soured now on the whole idea of a permanent flock, Dad declared that we would be slaughtering every single chicken. We would--he'd wield the axe, we'd catch them by the feet and hold their heads steady against the chopping stump.
You know the expression "running around like a chicken with its head cut off"? It exists because that's exactly what happens. You grip the back legs with both hands, like a bat handle, and turn your head--not just to avoid looking, but against an arterial spray in the eye. WHUMP! goes the axe, and you let go...and the headless body jumps, flops, flaps, comes right for you like some terrifying voodoo legend come true.
It takes a long time to kill 40 chickens one at a time with an axe. Years, I think.
We put their corpses, plucked, into the giant freezer chest in our basement. We were still taking out and thawing the tough little bodies for dinner a year later, alternating between cuts from the whole cow we stored there each year.
At that point, I found a new terror lurking in our bare dark cement basement. I watched a movie--an absolutely awful movie, but in entertainment-scarce Malad we took what we could get--screened by the high school for Halloween, called Salem's House of Crazies. I'm sure that was the title, though even IMDB doesn't list it; it was that bad. It was a collection of short horror stories, much like the later Creepshow movies. In one story--the only one I remember at all--a man argues and argues and argues with his wife, then snaps and kills her with an axe. (Flashback to the chicken slaughter.) He cuts her into pieces, wraps her in butcher paper, and puts her in a big freezer just like ours. One of the pieces is identifiable as an arm: you can easily pick out the crook of the elbow. The fingers eventually work their way out. The killer, all unaware, opens his freezer one day to take out some meat for dinner. The frozen arm leaps up somehow, grabs his throat, and throttles him where he stands. Freed now, the arm creeps steadily, extending and flexing, crawling away to find other victims. It strangles several others before being vanquished.
Now, my brothers must have had their turns being sent down to the cold dark scary basement for meat for dinner--but it seemed like it was always my turn. That freezer arm like in the movie could be lurking anywhere! Open the freezer with the fingertips and jump back. Look down inside oh so gingerly. Close the lid and jump back again lest it try a last-minute lunge. Or was it under the stairs, prepared to reach around the bare wood step and drag me down? You never saw someone run up stairs so fast as preteen me with a package of steaks.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Childhood: Headless Chickens, Freezer Meat, and Other Murderous Beasts, part 1

The Disney films of my childhood had it right: if you want to apply an immediate stranglehold on a kid's feelings, one that will still shake him awake terrified and gasping well into adulthood--use animals. Separate Dumbo from his mommy. Give Ol' Yeller rabies and force his people to shoot him. Kill Bambi's mom.
Real-life animal-induced traumas work even better, and I've certainly had my share. When I was six, I had a pretty sweet deal: my dad cleaned the Biology building on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo--which meant I could spend a couple hours each week filling my hungry eyeballs in the Reptile Room. Gila monsters, chameleons, horned toads, lizards...and more snakes than I thought there could possibly be in the whole world. Cages on shelves, stacked as high as a tall adult's head, all the way around the 30' X 30' room, with only a thin glass layer between me and copperheads, rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and, in an 8' X 8" cuboid cage in the center of the room, insanely huge snakes as big around as a man's waist, eight feet, ten feet, twelve feet long! I couldn't get enough of looking, especially at those monsters in the middle.
One evening I was watching two scaly titans in the center cage, noticing how they neither quite ignored each other nor ever commenced open hostilities, and gee, what would they do anyway, try to swallow each other? or maybe the boa would try what he does...but no, how could the boa constrictor squeeze another snake to death, and...where was that boa, anyway? Oh, he's right there--wrapped around the outside of the cage. And there's his head, sailing smoothly my way like Kaa in The Jungle Book, mouth closed but forked tongue flicking and dead black eyes gazing through my tiny soul and clearly meaning business. I had enough nervous-mammal sense to scamper out the door, just ahead of the unmistakable THUNK of a fist-sized head hitting the door I thought to close behind me.
Henceforth, the very sight of a snake terrifies me. Garter snakes might as well be car-length cottonmouths.
Our first year in Malad was a rough one for animal-related trauma. My family adopted our first cat, a juvenile female Siamese mix we named Socks. In those days, the Mormon church hadn't yet adopted their three-hour-block format for Sunday meetings. Instead, we'd attend Sunday School (everybody) and then Priesthood (boys) or Junior Relief Society (girls) first thing in the morning, then return in the evening for an hour-and-a-half Sacrament Meeting, which typically featured speakers, most of them deadly boring but a few polished and interesting. Mom and Dad let us stay home from a few Sacrament Meetings each year, when certain favorite movies would air on TV: The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz. If only we'd stayed home that Sunday night!
We three boys trooped dutifully across the slush, exhaling breath plumes in the January cold. My mom started backing down the driveway. There, in the glaring headlights, pure horror that still shakes me: little sweet Socks, who knew nothing of cars or tires or getting out of the way, her head and front end bloodied and immobile while her hindquarters thrashed violently. Dad was still in the house, probably looking forward to a couple hours' kidless quiet, and we had no better plan than to hand him poor Socks and beg him through tears, "Help her! Help her!" He had no better plan than to set the suffering cat into the sink, to at least avoid painting the whole kitchen in blood.
He told us to get back in the car and go to church.
Until recently, I thought this was unbearably cruel of Dad. Like, our poor Socks is suffering horribly! Do you have any idea what nightmare I just saw in the driveway? This stupid church meeting is so important compared to that? What is wrong with you?
But now I see myself in his position, and I understand he did the best anyone could. Instead of a nice quiet evening, maybe a little 60 Minutes: three boys crying like it's the end of the world, which for them it actually is, a rapidly dying little cat, no vet, no help, no good way out of this. I never asked him, but I feel sure what he did is: send us to church as a mercy, keeping us in the dark as to details; then stand with Socks for the couple minutes she had left on earth, speaking softly to her and patting her kindly.
Kindly, I believe, despite his habitual grumble that he "didn't care for cats." A decade later, he was still grumbling--but my sister caught him early one weekend morning at the stove, cooking scrambled eggs especially for Mom's cat Pretty. (What can I say: we didn't name animals very imaginatively.)
I do know that when we returned from church that awful night, Socks was dead and sealed in a shoebox. Dad told me I could bury her. I dug the hole and put the box in, then the whole family stood around her grave while Mom said a prayer. We cried a lot. A couple nights later I sat up in bed and begged out loud, "Sooooocks! Come back! Please come back!" I marked her grave with a spare scrap of plywood about the size of a school textbook, shaped like the state of Nevada, on which I scraped with a paring knife the name "Socks."

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."
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.
[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?
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 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!