Day 141: Build a bird nest.

I’m a day late on this – a first, and 38% of the way through the year, not bad – because I actually had a bird-thing to erect in the front yard, and didn’t have the time to do it yesterday. It’s not a birdhouse, but a bird-feeder: a diner, and not an extended-stay motel.

It’s actually Elanor’s bird-feeder, and she helped set it up, sort of: she told me what to do, and I did it, and then she chastised me when I spilled all some of the seed on the ground instead of into the feeder.

Her grandfather – my father-in-law, Kelley – “Poppy” – bought her the feeder, several weeks ago, at this point. He’s had one up in his backyard all spring, and he and the kids love watching the birds come and go (and watching the squirrels try, and fail, to climb the vaselined pole).

Kelley had to retire over a year ago, for health reasons – fairly extensive and painful neuropathy in his legs – and bird-watching is one of the hobbies he’s picked up to deal with the boredom and pain. He’s getting Ella interested, too, which is great: learning to pay attention to the natural world is important, and being able to identify the things one sees is a big part of that. It’s the part I never got very good at, despite the example my father set: he can give you the scientific and common names of pretty much anything you’re likely to encounter, at least in the parts of the world where he’s lived and/or worked.

Hopefully Ella will take after her grandfathers in this, and be able to say – not, like me, “Hey, look at that bird” – but, “Hey, look at that Hirundo spilodera, or African swallow, well-known from a scene in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail where several characters are discussing how a coconut made it to England.”

I can’t really even take credit for the pop-culture knowledge, because I learned that from my father. Now, if Ella then launched into an extended and insightful (but boring to the people around her) analysis of the significance of it being an African swallow, and the importation of African/tropical commodities into England, and what it means that the coconut is empty, dry, hollow – and, further, why it’s crucial to recognize that the coconuts are replacing the horse, an animal first domesticated in the parts of central Asia where British colonial presence was always tenuous – and if she then points out that Arthur is trying to centralize power just by calling himself “King,” and segues into talking about the class hierarchy and exploitation of the worker going on here, which leads her to the anarcho-syndicalist peasants, at which point she realizes everyone’s left the room —— well, then, she got that from me.

Day 124: Buy a parrot…

“…and train it to say some unpalatable truth that you cannot voice yourself in society.”

Aside from the fact that I don’t have the money to buy a parrot, the big problem with today’s task is that there are no unpalatable truths I’m unable to voice.

We’re all going to die. Most babies are ugly. Nobody gives a shit about anything. Mowing your lawn is a waste of time. Bad things will always happen to good people. None of you eat enough vegetables, but that’s okay, because there aren’t enough vegetables to go around. Politicians are liars and crooks, even the nice ones. I’m rocking out to this song. By the time you figure out what’s going on, it’s much too late. And, because it bears repeating: we’re all going to die.

Why would I bother training a parrot to say any of that? Much better to train my kids – and other people’s kids – to say such things.

If I was going to go to the trouble of training a parrot to say anything, I’d teach it John Cleese’s lines from the “Dead Parrot” sketch – except the parrot would refer to itself in the first person, where Cleese refers to it in the third:

I’m not pinin’! I’ve passed on! This parrot is no more! I have ceased to be! I’ve expired, and gone to meet my maker! I’m a stiff! Bereft of life! I rest in peace! If you hadn’t nailed me to the perch I’d be pushin’ up the daisies! My metabolic processes are now history! I’m off the twig! I’ve kicked the bucket, I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! I am an ex-parrot!

That’s existential comedy gold, that is. Really makes you think about the human condition, from a parrot’s point of view. It’s absurd, but it makes sense: it hits you, hard, right in the gut, like a dead kitten. It’s a parrot, and it’s alive, right, but it’s so aware of it’s own death that it can return itself to the pet store, which is obviously a metaphor for … uh, something. Anyway, it’s brilliant.

Sam Beckett never wrote anything half that good.

Day 120: Don’t spend any money today.

This was somewhat difficult.

I’ve certainly spent enough money this week – $600 to replace the hot water heater, $250 to fix the brakes on Lorna’s car – money that I had set aside to spend on other things. On the other hand, to employ a tired cliché—— no, sorry, let’s start this sentence over: Contrariwise, I had work to do on one of my seminar papers, the final push to get the thing written so I can have Lorna make sure it doesn’t suck proofread it tomorrow.

To do this sort of writing, I require lots of coffee and an environment that isn’t my house – which usually means Starbucks, because there isn’t a decent local place around here, except one just opened, but I haven’t been yet, and I don’t want my first visit to be a marathon-writing-session visit, because I need to know what to expect—— anyway, the point is, I went to Starbucks to write. The problem is obvious: when the people at Starbucks give you coffee, they expect money in return.

Fortunately, my dear friend Ike provides me on occasion with magical, postcard-like things exchangeable at Starbucks for coffee: they work like money, but they’re not money. I only had one left, which got me an iced Venti six-shot 1-pump-of-white-mocha whole milk no-whip cinnamon dolce latte (we’ve been over this recently), which got me through a few hours of writing. I needed more coffee, though, and going home to make coffee there would have meant no more writing.

So I constructed a wormhole loophole.

I keep loose change in my car. Not much, because the compartment the change goes in isn’t that big, and there’s also two lighters, a pocket-knife, a cigar cutter, a book of matches, a pipe tool, a pair of foam earplugs, a small bulldog clip, and a lone Skandia shelf peg in there – but there was more than I thought. It bought me a doppio and a scone, even, and there was much rejoicing.

I justified the construction of this loophole by telling myself that the coinage in my car didn’t really count as money. It’s legal tender, obviously, exchangeable for goods and services, but it exists for me in a nebulous realm unrelated to my bank account and the occasional bits of folding money that pass through my hands. I put it there, of course, but I will myself to forget how it gets there: must have something to do with the fact that every time I pay cash for something, the total is an even dollar amount…

…this post hasn’t been particularly funny or entertaining, has it? No, not really. Probably the summing up is all any of you really need to read:

TL;DR: I bought coffee with car change, because car change isn’t real money.

Day 97: IN DA HOUSE: Today, rap!

Dear the Book: you have got to be fucking kidding me.

Rapping requires three things that I don’t have: an innate sense of rhythm, a profligate desire for rhyme, and – if one is delivering the lines, and not merely writing them for someone else – a brash, swaggering bravado.

I am not Kanye West: I do not have a nice flow.
If Jay-Z saw me brushing the dirt off my shoulders, he would laugh at me.
I am not fit to be stir-fried in Ad-Rock’s wok.
I can’t even keep up with the words to Wil Wheaton’s theme song mentally; there’s no way I could sing along with them.

I couldn’t write a fucking limerick to save the farm, and it wouldn’t be funny or clever if I managed to scribble one out, and I certainly couldn’t deliver it in the extremely unlikely event that I wrote one that was passably funny. I can’t even deliver limericks written by other people. How the hell am supposed to rap?

I’m not supposed to, of course: I’m supposed to try, and fail, and look ridiculous. If the Book had been written a few years later, it probably would have required me to post a video of my making-a-fool-of-myself to YouTube, so that total strangers could also laugh at me. The only upside to that would be if Keyboard Cat played me off, but he’s a busy cat, and the chances of that happening are slim.

So, sorry to disappoint, but I’m pulling a Brave-Sir-Robin on this one: packing it in, running away, buggering off, chickening out, &c, &c, &c. It worked for him, didn’t it? He may have been the laughingstock of Arthur’s knights, but he survived to the end of the film, didn’t he? Everyone else died or got arrested, but good ol’ brave Sir Robin ended his days comfortably at home, a good book in his lap, a pipe in his mouth, and a snifter of brandy in his hand.

Actually, no. No he didn’t. He died attempting to cross the bridge, because the stupid bastard didn’t know the capital of Assyria.

Anyway, the moral: if you try to rap despite a palpable and blatantly obvious lack of skills, you’ll be cast into a rocky chasm and plummet to your death. Or something like that.

Day 93: Humility day.

This is, really, an impossible post.

If I had been humble today – and that’s not a negligible if – I would completely negate that humility by writing about it here. An act done humbly has, as a necessary component, the element of not-drawing-attention-to-the-fact-that-you’re-doing-it. Can’t have trumpeters walk in front of you to draw attention to your humility, or something like that.

What options am I left with? I could attempt to be funny, and talk about all of the outlandishly humble things I did today – and in such a way as to make it obvious that I didn’t realize what an ass that made me. Something like this:

Yeah, I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning to make waffles and bacon and scrambled eggs and coffee, which I loaded up on my xtracycle and delivered to local homeless people – and I gave them massages while they ate, because I’m just such a nice guy. I painted an orphanage, repaired the playground equipment at a park in the poor part of town, and saved a few kittens on my way to volunteering at the food bank. I had to postpone visiting sick children in the hospital, because I hadn’t finished making the teddy bears I take them – I make them by hand, from sustainable, fair-trade, ethically-sourced materials – and I hadn’t gotten those done because I spent the early afternoon reading to the blind at the local library. Oh, and I built four houses for underprivileged families.

That’s not particularly funny, though, and it made me feel dirty to write it – and not in a good way, either.

Fortunately, the Book’s secondary instructions gave me a way out of this dilemma: I was directed to meditate on the enormous odds against the existence of human life in general, and my life in particular – sort of the secular version of “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” – a sentiment best expressed (as are so many things) by Bill Watterson:

This sort of cosmic humility is a slightly different animal than the humility-as-action-or-service model that I think is the more common understanding of the word, at least here in the West – and our unmeasurable smallness relative to the universe at large is a good thing to keep in mind, certainly. I’m not sure it’s much easier to write about, though. How would that go? “My life is an unimportant cosmic accident, nothing I do matters, might as well drink all the time and throw golf balls at little kids during recess and wander around the grocery store in my pajamas muttering curse words and bits of the periodic table.”

Maybe. That’s funnier than the smug asshole above, at least a little bit, and more fun to write. Not sure I could do a whole post without talking myself into it, though, and I’m not sure drunken harassment of elementary-school children is a wise career move.

Look. I did some stuff today that benefitted people who weren’t me, and I’ll do more stuff that benefits people who aren’t me tomorrow. Other people have done the same for me, and will continue to do so. That’s how life is supposed to work, right? We all depend on each other, and politeness – if nothing else – dictates that we don’t make a big deal out of the things we do to help others, because it ought not be a big deal; common decency ought to be unremarkable, because it ought to be common.

I really did build four houses today, though, which is pretty awesome, and you should all admire how humble and self-sacrificial I am – because, seriously, nobody’s more humble than I am.


Day 41: Apply for a knighthood.

Apparently, becoming a knight is as easy as sending a letter to the British Prime Minister detailing the “exceptional achievement or service you feel merits the award of a knighthood.” The hard part, I guess, is actually achieving the “exceptional achievements” – but just making them up is probably fine, right?

Before I started making stuff up, though, I needed to know what kinds of “achievements” would get me my knighthood. After a bit of digging, I realized I had to ask a different question first: What sort of knighthood should I apply for? Because there are so fucking many it’s ridiculous.

Ian McKellan, for instance, is a Knight Bachelor, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and a Companion of Honour (CH). Tolkien was also a CBE, Patrick Stewart is an OBE (O=officer), and T.S. Eliot (an American) was an OM. They’re all pretty cool dudes, but a bit intimidating. Are there any knights (or dames) that would be easier to emulate? I somehow doubt it – even the list of people who have declined honours of one sort or another is full of badasses (Yeats, Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, David Bowie, Keith fucking Richards).

Maybe, instead of going through the process of trying bluff my way into some sort of knighthood – and actually trying to earn one is totally out of the question – I mean, J.K. Rowling is an OBE, and Alan Rickman’s got nothing? WTF is up with that? — maybe, I say, I should just start putting letters after my name and call it done.

His Lordship Sir Dr. Harley Christopher Goldsmith, CH, CBE, OM, KT, KG, KCMG, LVO has a nice ring to it, right?

Day 27: YES/NO

“Today you are not allowed to use the words »yes« or »no«. See just how long you last.”

The easy way out of this would have been to use synonyms, like “yeah” and “nope” or “yarp” and “narp” – but that seemed, well, too easy. It seemed like the point was not just not using certain words, but not thinking in terms of affirmation or denial at all, and embracing instead uncertainty, hesitation, deferral, indeterminacy – putting all the day’s “yes or no” questions into a Schrödinger’s box, as it were, and seeing what the answers were on the morrow.

Amazingly, I managed to make it nearly eight hours without saying “yes,” “no,” or any synonym thereof – that’s 480 minutes, nearly 30,000 seconds. As I said – AMAZING. Of course, I was asleep for most of that time, and I said “no” for the first time within ten minutes of getting out of bed – before I’d even had a cup of coffee. Not so amazing.

The rest of the day hasn’t been much better – I’ve said “no” at least a dozen times, and the day’s not over yet. This is, I think, largely because I’ve been home all day, and most of my verbal communication has been with the kids or the dogs – because they outnumber my wife 4 to 1, and nobody else was around today – and, well, I say “NI” “no” to the lot of them with some frequency (“yes” gets said much less often).

I kept getting caught off guard: questions asked when I was reading, dogs jumping in my lap and licking my face, stubborn children who won’t take “NO” for an answer no matter how many times you say it (but you keep saying it, like somehow it’ll work the next time). If I was thinking about it, I could (mostly) avoid saying the words-that-must-not-be-spoken – but I was generally thinking about something else (the taxes, what I’m doing in class tomorrow, Luther, how I’d rather be taking a nap, &c).

It was hopeless from the start – which, probably, was the point. Like the Game, there’s no winning; you just have to postpone losing as long as possible.