Author Archives: sam

Easy as 123

Today marks my 123rd day without sugar. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up, say, ketchup, which needs it to keep the tomatoes in line. It means saying no to foodstuffs like this

this

this

and yes, even this sweet thing, as I’m also currently avoiding fructose

So basically, everything that makes a life worth living. Though frankly I can live without apples for another 123 days.

This isn’t the first time I’ve deprived my body of the building blocks of fat. In 2016 I managed a similar fast that lasted almost as long, and reduced to my lowest weight in decades. (Cutting down my usual grazing to three meals a day also helped.) Unfortunately I then spent the next couple of years suffering a case of sugar-induced amnesia that made me forget how good it had felt to be 32 again.

It’s been easier this time. Except for a pop tart [what I call all toaster pastry products by default] related delirium about a week ago, I honestly haven’t had cravings.

I sense this has to end at some point. It isn’t sustainable. The centre cannot hold. But perhaps it can get smaller first.

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Hop, skip and jump to the polls

The following was written for an American audience, namely, whoever reads this.

If the British could vote for their next king, it’s likely William would win in a landslide over his tired papa Charles, but the modern game of thrones has certain rules, one of them being you have to wait your turn.


Not going anywhere just yet

We do of course get to vote for Prime Minister, except we don’t quite. We mark our quaint but reliable paper ballots for a member of parliament representing our constituency.

The head of the party that collects the most votes becomes PM and gets to live at 10 Downing Street along with Larry the cat, the current unelected Chief Mouser charged with “greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defences, and testing antique furniture for napping quality.”


Only one of these cats is still in office

It’s a position which has been filled since the time of Henry VIII, when I’m guessing the cats fared better than some of his wives.

There are two main parties and various smaller ones whose only real shot at influence is finding themselves in a position to throw in with either the Tories or Labour when neither gets enough votes to hold a working majority. Thus Theresa May’s government only holds power because in the last election the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland offered—some would suggest were bribed—to prop her up.

For light relief there’s the Monster Raving Loony Party, who I believe have a US branch called the Republicans. I mean Democrats. (Flip a coin.) That party got started in the early 80s by Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, though he wasn’t actually a peer of the realm and needless to say wasn’t born with that name.


Lordy

An early goal of the Loonys was to abolish the income tax introduced as a temporary measure during the Napoleonic Wars, which sounds respectable enough, if a tad unrealistic for a country obligated to promote the general welfare.

Recent “Manicfesto” policy proposals include augmenting leap years with hop, skip and jump years, allowing anyone over 5 years old who can hold a crayon to vote, and legalising broccoli in Wales. Whatever your view of cruciferous vegetables and the preschool franchise, their promise that “should we be elected will will not initiate any of our policies” is refreshing in its candour.


The Greens have their own party

You won’t be surprised to learn they never got close to an electoral upset, their chief success being ruffling a few feathers amongst the sense of humour impaired. Lord Sutch himself lost over 40 elections, so he deserved a medal for perseverance if nothing else.

Just like in the States, a lot of people here feel that voting is pointless, standing with Emma Goldman in the belief that if it ever really changed anything, governments would make it illegal.


Emma standing with Emma

The more passionately partisan will further burden you with backing the right candidate, preferably the one that’s likely to win, otherwise why bother.

It’s not unusual for a “red” Labour supporter who lives in a “blue” constituency, where a majority are Tory and victory is all but assured, to either just stay home, or if they’re already at home contemplating a bleak field of candidates, spoil their postal ballot, perhaps by giving it to their 5 year old with a box of crayons and threatening broccoli for desert if they don’t choose wisely. Naysayers think this is how we ended up with Brexit.

If you want an example of voting having a gigantic impact, look no further than the 2016 referendum. Never have so many caused so much upset with so few talking heads predicting it. A lot of worried people have been wanting a do-over ever since: a vote on the vote, if you will.


Where’s Screaming Lord Sutch when you need him

While technically non-binding, both major parties are committed to honouring the result, or so they claim. To do otherwise might invite their own extinction.

’Tis once again the season for editorialists to plead with you to do your civic duty. By all means vote: I would suggest Janet Garrett, because my mom likes her, and Rachel Crooks, as her name provides added motivation to stay on the straight and narrow, given what a boon it could be to headline writers. I don’t know enough about any of the other candidates to give an informed opinion.

Now to something really important: Who would win a popularity contest, Meghan or Kate?


Sorry but you don’t get to vote twice

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Please stay

For me, the work of writing has always, in some way, been a fight against oblivion. It’s my way of resisting death and (however delusional) of trying to ensure that a trace of me remains after I’m gone.
Julija Šukys

It’s inevitable. At some point after arriving safely home on my annual pilgrimage, I’ll take the short walk to the cemetery lying at the foot of the appropriately dead end street (a good place to run infinite loops as a child, but powerful incentive to go out into the world) and pay a visit to Leslie.

My earliest memory of her was when we were in a play together at school. Actually it was a dramatization of a poem a small working group of us seventh graders were asked to compose. Impatient with poetry-by-committee, I’d made it my homework to just write the damn thing myself, presenting it as a fait accompli the next day in English class.

I don’t recall exactly what it was about, but it involved a murder and I was cast as the guy packing heat. There’s a dramatically off-kilter snapshot of me holding the gun (perversely innocent now we’re in the age of metal detectors beeping at real ones) in the depths of the family archives.

Looking delicate and lovely in her yearbook picture, I’m amazed I didn’t fall for my classmate, but we were just friends, till even friendship passed away for some obscure reason.

She died around the time I was getting married. We’d last run into each other on a chilly afternoon on the quad at the nearest large way station to credentialed adulthood. I remember her telling me about a trip to England, where I’d eventually land.

Leslie has since become my guide to the underworld, as it were: those dark mental caverns where I sit in full Rodin’s Thinker mode contemplating my own time on earth. Her long afterlife haunts me and reminds me not to take breathing for granted. The school where we first met has since vanished, leaving a smooth green sward for drive by memories.

Leslie Faye Hoyda

I don’t know if we’ve all got a book in us, but surely we’ve all got an obit. During the last couple of years I’ve taken to reading these short stories, a habit you’re not supposed to acquire until closer to your three score and ten. One day I was surprised to see William Bradley, face framed by copies of The Best American Essays on the bookshelf behind him.

Bradley had come to my attention around the time I started exploring Facebook, incidentally a medium I’d love to hate were I more invested.*

Hey, a writer in Tiffin! had probably been my first thought. Someone I’d like to get to know.

I was impressed that he made it through so much oncological horror without falling into the bottomless pit of self pity I’m pretty sure would be my final destination. We’d both ruminated over Warren Zevon’s last album, but for him it was a soundtrack to nearly unbearable experiences.

I admired his passion for the essay. He really got meta on its ass.

Alas I was never able to eek more than a polite like out of him when replying to his posts on FB, which nipped any possible RL friendship in the bud. Then again, as I later learned, he was going through rather a lot at the time; there was no opportunity for a concerted charm offensive.

I’ve been lucky in life. The Grim Reaper hasn’t collected anybody close to me. Loved ones are all still present and accounted for. I don’t know many people who’ve made it to their middle ages so unscathed.

Were I superstitious, this would be a good time to find a large piece of wood to knock on. The 300-year-old oak that held court in front of our house would be a suitable candidate if an almighty wind hadn’t brought it down. I’m left pondering its ancient corpse, already sectioned by a tree surgeon but left to bleach in the sun.


happier times

Frankly I’m in wonderment at having made it this far myself. On a few occasions I’ve taken Jack Kerouac too literally and found myself laid out on the road, emerging from limbo.

It’s bad enough losing yourself. The thought of losing others is more painful still.

Fortunately (or not, from my DNA’s point of view), I don’t have children, so never faced the possible horror of that loss.

There is a little heart I fear stops beating, that of the impossibly dear rabbit who shares the house with us. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say I’d rather go before him, which hopefully would make him a very long-lived long ears indeed. It’s amazing what pets can do to you.

Childhood dogs and cats and such are typically said to be the unwitting instructors on how to process grief before you’re old enough to read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s a lesson I haven’t learned.

Recently I went looking for Bradley’s website and was unsettled it was gone. I don’t know that he would’ve cared, but oddly I did, perhaps highlighting my own thanatophobia by putting myself in the shoes of a dead man slowly being erased.

Thus did I recruit myself as curator, reconstituting and expanding the collection of links that had been in his library. Although this will allow anyone who happens upon the page a chance to help him continue to cheat death, it was in fact a selfish act.

He’s both alive and not, like Schrödinger’s cat, but of course, mostly not.

Now I won’t ever get to chat with him about newspapers, one of my favourite topics. Or horror movies, one of his.

Or bone up on puns

Or tell him You’re a Wonder was wonderful, joy rides in second person, less so. (Maybe not right away, but down the line, after a few glasses of wine, though I don’t drink, it’s just a prop.)

Or that I also fear inadvertently revealing my internal monologue underneath my polite, bland, midwestern facade, which would likely see me punctured with pitchfork holes.

Or that the label “creative nonfiction” makes my eyes roll (more vino please. My first impulse is to say let the reader decide, but I know it’s the taxonomy, stupid.) He’d probably then roll his eyes at me for further and quite seriously informing him that bunnies are so much better than cats it isn’t funny…

Or collaborate in crowdfunding a mercenary to put a very liberal whupping on Aaron Sorkin.

Or bump into him at Kroger the next time I’m in town and ask if he remembered to put the eggs on top.

Or thank him for making me consider how essay means to try.

Death be not proud, wrote Johnny Gunther’s father to generations of school kids and John Donne to eternity. Appetizer for last supper conversation though that may be, here’s someone who really knew how to wrap things up:

*I’m not even invested enough to use my real name. Well, my current one.

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Leporidae domesticus

This was written for a domestic audience, ie, my hometown Ohio newspaper. The leporidae in question was introduced here.

Raise your hand if you’ve got a dog. That’s a lot of hands! Cat lovers? Not as many, but still a strong show of support for an animal that likely regards you as the pet, if a moderately useful one. (There are actually fewer dogs than cats in the U.S., but more dog owners. Foolish humans, stacking the odds in the cats’ favor for their eventual overthrow.)

What do you do if you don’t fancy a dog or a cat, but have an opening in your home and your heart for something both great and small?

That might still describe a fair number of creatures. Only one has this resume: Led Alice into Wonderland and John Updike into Pulitzerland. Assisted countless magicians. Outsmarted Elmer Fudd time and again. Established Glenn Close’s credentials as a villain. Got reception for your TV if you lived in the olden days.

Yes, it’s—drumroll powered by Energizer batteries—the bunny rabbit, so good they named it twice. There’s one asleep behind the couch as I type these words.


at least before the paparazzo arrived

That’s right, he doesn’t live outside in a hutch, he’s in the house, where we can keep an eye on him and he on us.

He’s got a litter tray, just like a cat, only his is half filled with hay; rabbits spend so much time eating they don’t like to waste time hopping to the bathroom. The hay is to keep his ever-growing teeth in check and his belly happy and healthy. We buy it by the bale from a farmer.

Occasionally I stop and consider the curious picture of him chomping contentedly away not three feet from my desk. Or that I have become, in the parlance of the initiate, a bunny slave. (Google tells me I am not alone.)


confirmation

Because make no mistake: Once there is a rabbit in the house, you will be doing his bidding.

Leporidae are, hands down, the best beggars in the animal kingdom. Show me somebody who can ignore those innocent soulful eyes, those ever-so-politely folded paws as he adorably balances on his hind legs, and I’ll show you, well, a Glenn Close.


sometimes uses a paw rest

Ours frequently begs for new, fresher hay, disdaining the 10-minute-old pile already in his tray. And bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces? Like crack cocaine.

He demands grooming by prostrating himself, front paws splayed out, rump in the air. Stroke up this furry ramp or down it, both work for him. Your reward for a job well done will be what’s known as a tooth-purr: he softly grinds his teeth, jaw working sideways. It’s an oddly satisfying display of bliss.

Although we live to serve him, I think he generally regards people as his equal. We’re just large and rather funny-looking rabbits/companions who don’t happen to leap gracefully onto windowsills. He won’t take orders, yet isn’t aloof, so he’s between the canine and feline poles when it comes to interspecies relations.


probably less unhelpful than a cat with the laundry

He does like to nudge us to say “Hi,” or “Pardon me, you’re in the way, please move,” or “Nice to see you, but I’m just passing through.”

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. From time to time, without notice, he’ll carefully map out a circuit then launch into a furious race against himself. This is known as the Bunny 500.

He hates being picked up, as his instincts tell him being lifted from the ground won’t end well. He’s terrified of birds of prey spotted outside the window, and not too fond of low-flying airplanes, either. His constantly retuning ears don’t miss much.

Unfortunately, his sense of self-preservation doesn’t extend to refraining from nibbling electrical cords (“What delicious looking roots!”), so they have all been tucked out of harm’s way to short circuit that fatal attraction.

He has chosen one vocalization to encompass everything he has to say to us: “Mm-mm-mm.” We have translated this variously as “Here I am!”, “I’m happy!”, “Feed me again!” and “What’s going on and why wasn’t I informed?”—or, as the original wascally wabbit succinctly put it, “What’s up, Doc?”


Who needs Netflix

The bunny slave is healthier for it. More greens now make their way into our shopping cart. “How do you prepare that pak choi?” a woman once asked my wife in the veggie aisle. “It’s for my rabbit,” she said. Wash it and let him at it.

It’s literally impossible to think of him and not smile.

T.S. Eliot famously wrote that cats have three different names. Rabbits aren’t to be outdone:

He’s Oreo, which for obvious reasons is a common choice for those of the Dutch breed. I have fond memories of the eponymous cookie as a child. I also like to imagine it sounds like a Greek god.

He’s Chompsky, spelled almost but not quite like the social critic, linguist and writer, because he’s a chomping champ who likes a good book.


also likes fiction

And his secret name? “Mm-mm-mm.” Which is clearly his way of saying “Sorry, that’s classified.”

More bunnyage here

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