Editor's Note: May 2012
Up next on my list will be that succulent-looking Late Harvest Kitchen pork chop. I’m counting on it putting “that orange chicken” to shame.
At the end of the year, when our attention was diverted by Christmas, the new owners of our town’s Dairy Queen bulldozed the restaurant’s storage building, which had begun life in 1852 as a house of worship for the Christian Church. It was a modest structure, the Christians not anticipating a wild burst of growth. After they vacated it in the 1870s, it served as a workshop for the town’s tinsmith, a hatmaker’s space, a candy store, a private home, and finally a plumber’s shop, before Pop Logan opened the Dairy Queen in 1953 and used it for storage.
Every spring, I take my shoebox full of tax receipts to Steve Blacketer in Plainfield. I met Steve 31 years ago, and he has done my taxes ever since, keeping me out of jail. Besides a bureaucrat or two at the IRS, Steve is the only person who knows how much my wife and I earn each year. People tend to be secretive about their income, and I’ve never understood why. It is a fairly simple matter to look at someone’s home and discern how much they make. I don’t mind telling you I make somewhere between $10,000 and $150,000 a year.
On an overcast day this past autumn, I sat across a table at a downtown sandwich shop with my niece Wendy, sobbing. She was there to provide a shoulder and cajole me into eating the chicken-noodle soup that had become my staple since being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer a few weeks before.
Have you ever thought about the march of progress? For many millennia, our ancestors lived much the same way. You could die, be brought back to life 10,000 years later, and discover nothing had changed. Food was still wormy and rancid, tools were still made of rocks, folks still walked everywhere, and the Cubs were still losing. Then, a rapid series of developments dramatically increased the rate of human progress: the domestication of animals; the forging of metals; the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture; the emergence of written language, eventually followed by the printing press, which permitted the dissemination of ideas, which inevitably led to the computer chip, which culminated in our generation’s greatest invention, the battery-powered pepper-grinder.
One of my first writing gigs was a magazine column called “Perspicacity.” Nobody, including me, knew what this meant, although the dictionary defines “perspicacious” as having acute mental vision or discernment. My job was to apply such selectivity as it related to new stores, i.e., discover them and tantalize readers with a sparkling yet reliable description. I don’t know if I came to love shopping because of the column or loved the column because of shopping, but since 1979 I’ve enjoyed the quest.
I miss the phone book. A lot. I realize this makes me sound like Andy Rooney, who proclaimed everything was better the way it used to be, but I am who I am. Old—not Andy Rooney old, at the time of his death, but up there. Set in my ways. Resistant to change. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept two phone books—the white and yellow pages—in my bottom desk drawer, the one deep enough to accommodate the weight without rolling off its hinges.
I recently turned 51 and spent some time on my birthday thinking about the habits I’ve cultivated over the years that have enhanced my life. Probably the most useful habit has been developing a heroic list of prejudices. I’ve made up my mind about a lot of things and am not likely to change it in the 24.1 years the government tells me I have left. These prejudices have been formed after much experience, save me time and trouble, and have been proven right time and again.
Every now and then, I think how better off America would be if we had a dictator instead of a president. I realize the nations of the world are shedding their dictators right and left, but a first-class dictator can work wonders for a country, cutting through the red tape, deporting annoying people, and eliminating the mess and expense of regular elections.
Last summer, when family troubles landed me down in the dumps, I decided I should have a little joy in my life. I got an urge, not unlike the longing a woman gets when it’s time for another child: that stirring deep inside that is at first un-recognizable but slowly gels into actual thought, and, finally, action. I wanted—no, needed—another cat to take the place of my beloved Scooter, who died, cancer-ridden, deaf, and blind, at the age of 21.