Toil et cetera

Few items are as necessary for modern day life than a functioning toilet.  If you live in town and don’t have an outhouse your other options are pretty limited.  Religion scholars tend to know quite a bit about what goes on in toilets, so I’ve repaired my fair share over the years.  When we had a leak in a fill valve, I had to wait for a weekend to do the repair.  I figured half an hour and thirty dollars at most.  I left it for an afternoon project.  Once I got the new fill valve installed, there was a problem.  The tank wouldn’t fill with water.  It had been clear that the faulty part was the fill valve, as it was hissing and sputtering and there were no leaks into the bowl.  I made a late trip to Lowes for another valve, following the logic that the one I’d bought earlier must’ve been defective.  It didn’t work either.  We had to flush by buckets of water.

Sunday after church I rushed to Lowe’s since, logic dictates, it has to be the flush valve that was the problem.  These are the only two parts inside a toilet tank that require repair.  So I got the tank off, and after running to the hardware store to buy a specialized tool to get the nut of the valve off, I learned that “fits 99% percent of toilets” left that troubling 1 percent for a reason.  Our toilet was special.  The parts were not standard size and neither my local hardware store nor Lowes had the parts in stock.  If we wanted a working toilet that day we would need to replace the entire thing.  So we went toilet shopping.  Hauling a toilet up the stairs is something I hope never to have to do again.  By late Sunday afternoon my half-hour, thirty-dollar project had turned into a multi-day, three-hundred dollar project.  I followed the installation instructions religiously, but, of course, it leaked.

I ended up having to call the local plumber we’ve got on speed-dial.  We’re in our fourth year in our house and we had plumbers here at least six times.  I picture their office assistant grimacing each time our number comes up on their caller ID.  The plumber came and, apart from generating serious tool envy on my part, demonstrated how everything from the soil pipe up had been misinstalled by over-confident DIYers.  I try not to cut corners with plumbing or electrical.  Despite how easy it is to install, or even repair, a toilet, you have to have the correct foundation.  And even scholars of religion need to admit when they’re in over their heads.

Read the fine print.

Virtually Taxed

Nobody ever explained it to me.  DVDs, with no moving parts, can still go bad.  Having amassed a library of them over the years, and storing them the recommended way, I nevertheless come across several that have “damaged” areas—like a skip in a record—that confuses readers to the point that the movie simply isn’t enjoyable to watch.  The other day my wife had a hankering to watch one of those movies.  I checked our two streaming services and it was only available for rent, or “purchase.”  I still can’t wrap my head around buying something that doesn’t exist with money that’s purely electronic.  And people don’t believe in the spiritual world!  Well, I bit the bullet and clicked to “buy” the movie—perpetual access is what we call it in the biz.  We watched and all was well with the world.

The next day when I went to file away the receipt, which came in the form of an email, I noticed that we’d been virtually taxed for this virtual purchase.  It never occurred to me before that when you’re buying electrons configured in a certain way, that this is a taxable event.  And your tax is based on the state in which you live.  If you’re in a place with no state tax—New Hampshire, I’m looking at you—these electronic purchases will save you some money.  The funny thing about this is the system works only because we believe in it.  The skeptic who says “What, exactly, did I just purchase?” raises a valid question.  Despite current trends, I don’t mind a bit of clutter.  I can always find the physical object I’m looking for.  It’s the electronic ones that give me trouble.

Our world is becoming less and less substantial.  More and more virtual.  Some of us prefer the corporeal sensations of the hunter-gatherer world.  Feet on actual ground, hands on actual book.  Or DVD.  Whatever.  The cloud, with its taxes, strikes me as distinctly odd.  Politicians can virtually live in a state—Dr. Oz wasn’t, and isn’t, a resident of Pennsylvania—so can I virtually move to New Hampshire and not pay taxes on my electronic purchases?  I’ve always wanted to live in New England, but my jobs have never allowed it.  There’s something about this physical universe, and house prices being what they are I can’t see a move anytime soon.  To deal with this reality I guess I’ll stay where I’m physically located and just watch a movie.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

Not Relic

Someone somewhere sometime recommended The Relic to me.  I can’t recollect who, where, or when, so I’m not sure in which direction to point the blame.  (Or maybe they recommended Relic…)  Weekend afternoons are drowsy times, and rather than sleep, I prefer to watch movies.  Those on my wish-watch list don’t often coincide with what’s on the streaming services available to me, so I try to recall those recommended to me at some point.  I mean, The Relic sounds like it should be good: a Meso-American god that’s part lizard, part beetle, and part mammal rampaging through a major museum?  Well, what’s not to like?  Monsters are usually fun.  This one requires hormones from the hypothalamus to survive, so it beheads people to get at their brains.

Now, if you’re not a fan this will sound goofy to you.  The thing is, in the right hands such a film could be very good.  I hear that the novel upon which it’s based is.  Unfortunately the script and the acting don’t really hold up.  The sciencey explanation doesn’t make sense—the evolution from eating certain leaves is too rapid, outpacing even the monsters in Evolution.  And when we learn that the mammal DNA comes from a human, it raises the question of whether indigestion was mistaken for evolution.  Of course, the monster—shown a little too early—is a chimera.  Since it’s part bug and part gecko it can walk up walls, which is admittedly pretty cool.  But the holes in the plot don’t ever really get filled so it’s a lot of running through tunnels in the dark with flashlights.

When I read the description that it involved a god-monster I thought I’d figured out why it’d been recommended.  Religion and horror share gods and monsters, so I thought maybe something would’ve been made of this.  The scenes where the carving of Kothoga is being prepped make no sense—you use carving tools to excavate fossils, not statues—and we learn nothing of this intriguing deity beyond that it was released to eat your enemies brains and when it ran out of brains, it dies.  Of course, it can eat leaves as well.  Ironically and paradoxically, the film makes me want to read the novel to get a fuller explanation.  The combination of gods and monsters is rich territory to explore and when those making a movie credit the audience with enough intelligence to make this work, it might be enough to keep you awake on a drowsy weekend afternoon.  Or it might keep you awake even if they don’t.


Forgot Again?

I’ve noticed a pattern.  I’ve been posting daily on this blog for over thirteen years now.  During the past two of those, several days (including the day before yesterday) have gone without a post.  It’s not that they haven’t been written—no, I have a surplus of ideas—it’s because of the pattern I mention.  I know that early morning is a bad time to be active on social media.  Few others are awake and by the time they are many, many more posts come on top of my meager efforts.  So in my reptilian brain, I think, “Maybe I should wait until about 6:30 to post—you know, when people are awake.”  My reptilian brain tends to rise between three and four (sometimes earlier) and so I really do believe people are shaking off sleep at around 6:30.  I think this although my family repeatedly assures me it’s just not true.

In any case, I load up my daily post on WordPress before starting work, which I also do early.  The pattern for the days I forget to post is this: something sets off my early morning schedule and I forget to click “publish” before getting engrossed with work.  I guess I need a blog posting alarm clock.  For example, two days ago I had an early author call from someone in Europe.  I don’t mind early calls,  as long as they’re pre-arranged, but that meant I had to jog early so that I could get dressed in time—I don’t like meeting someone for business for the first time wearing sweats.  By the time I’d jogged, changed, and wolfed down breakfast, I’d forgotten to click “publish” for the post already loaded up and ready to go.  Any interruption to my schedule can do this.  Just last month I forgot because election results were coming in.  I need that alarm clock.

Posting daily is a happy part of my routine.  I’ve done in when I have a flight out of the country later in the day.  Or when I’m overseas, I make sure to post ultra early Eastern Time (presuming I’m flying east) to make sure I get one post in each day.  If I fly west I post ultra early local time so that I can keep it about the same time as usual, or else I post later than usual—time zones flummox me.  (So far those western flights haven’t been out of the country, I would note.)  When I forget to post, however, I’m home and something disrupts my morning schedule.  Those who live by the clock, I’m told, die by the clock.  And when that happens, I’ll probably have a post loaded but I hope I’ll be forgiven if I forget to click “publish,” even if my alarm clock does go off.


ABC 2 QWERTY

I thought this was over after school.  Sitting in a class with a long list of names, always coming in last—or very nearly so—because my name began with W.  Even now, however, it still happens at work.  If there are a limited number of places at an event, just try to register with a W (or X, Y, or Z) name.  Even if you get your name in first, you automatically drop to the bottom of the stack for many electronic lists (AI knows the alphabet, right Hal?).  This got me to thinking about the alphabet.  Alphabetical order is, of course, neither fair nor random.  It follows strict rules and it must in order to work properly.  The assignment of alphabetical order, however, is arbitrary.  More than that, it is a teaching tool cum organizing principle.

Consider your basic keyboard.  It’s used far more often than the alphabet and if we went in QWERTY order, Ws would always be near the front of the list.  Problem is, although our fingers know the keyboard well, who can recite it?  Maybe we need a mnemonic device like “Quite well, early riser, thank you…”   Someone at some stage laid out alphabetic order.  The earliest known abecedaries seem to come from Ugarit.  That doesn’t mean they were invented there, but it also doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been.  We don’t know what the criteria were, but interestingly enough, what we transliterate as w came about sixth place.  The order is largely recognizable to modern schoolchildren, although they had fewer letters and some of them we don’t have.  W was in the middle but closer to the head of the class.

An Ugaritic abecedary

There have likely been psychological studies done on the mental state inflicted by always being last, or near the end.  Granted, a good part of it is because of the gospels, but I wonder if my tendency to think others should go in front of me is a life-long socialization of being a W.  Growing up in a town with few “exotic” names, I don’t recall ever not being last.  There were teachers who would divide by height, but that’s even worse because I’m not tall.  Could it be that something as random as scratch marks made on clay by some priest or scribe in illo tempore, thousands of years ago, led to such a blog post as this in the early twenty-first century?  All I know is that my projects at work still get bumped because kindergarten politics still hold.


Doppelgängers

Maybe this has happened to you.  Two names get stuck and mixed up in your mind until you consistently can’t tell them apart.  Jeff Bridges and Jeff Daniels are two very different actors.  About five years apart in age, they’re both white men, but they play very different roles from each other.  What’s worse, I’m a real fan of a Jeff Daniels movie or two (ahem), and one I watch every year.  When it’s over I inevitably think it was a Jeff Bridges movie.  I’d let this pass as aging gray matter but for one thing—I recently read a book on movies where the author made the same error.  So I tried to exegete it.  Why such a mistake?  They’re not exactly doppelgängers, after all.

Okay, so they’re about the same age.  They don’t look alike and their movie personae are very different.  I tend to think it’s the euphony of the names.  Jeff, followed by a two-syllable last name that ends in s.  As I was talking this through, I said “Both last names begin with a bilabial.”  My daughter corrected me, “D isn’t a bilabial,” she rightly pointed out.  Okay, well, they occur near each other in the alphabet—they’re both in the first four.  What I’m struggling with here is how at least three of us (I had this conversation with someone else years ago who also admitted to confusing the two), have this issue.  And it’s not just the Jeffs.

Back in seminary, the song “Bruce” got a lot of airplay.  By Rick Springfield, it was a lament that he was mistaken for Bruce Springsteen.  The two both play rock (duh) and they were both born in 1949.  Their last names begin with “Spring,” but “steen” and “field” are quite different.  Not to mention Rick and Bruce.  I sometimes think fame is just a mosh of pop culture that gets stuck in our heads and thoughts go around and around like a washing machine until those we don’t really pay attention to end up blending.  And also, famous white guys about the same age with somewhat similar names, have to put up with imperfect doppelgängers.  (Or is it doppelgängeren?)  Academia.edu seems to confuse me with the Steven Wiggins who is an Economics professor at Texas A & M. Or is it the Steve Wiggins, Agricultural Economist at the UK Overseas Development Institute? Since I can only guess from their photo, we seem about the same age.  None of us is famous, but that doesn’t prevent doppelgängers from finding you.


Day Two

You have your suspicions when you first spot them, but you have to wait to confirm it.  You’re flying in mid-to-late November and they’re concentrated around one particular destination.  They won’t be the only ones going there, of course—families with kids, late vacationers, others traveling for business—but they will be among them and you can learn to spot them.  The attendees of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting.  Pre-pandemic there were reliably about 10,000—a biblical myriad—of them.  We’ll have to wait to get the figures on them this time around.  In any case, I make a game of spotting them at the airport.  Well, if you’ve got a connecting flight you need to wait until the final leg.  It’s possible some got on with me in Allentown, but I didn’t spot any likely candidates.

The male of the species is easier to identify at a glance.  Bearded, serious demeanor, slightly out of touch when it comes to fashion.  Incongruously sometimes they’re wearing jeans but you know that’s just their traveling raiment;  once they arrive and get tweeded up they’ll be easier to place.  Otherwise you can identify them on the path by their talk.  If they enter into discussion with a seat mate or someone walking to the baggage claim or getting onto the public transit, or even in restaurants, they will speak of strange things.  Their language will grow technical and their frowns will be discerning.  They are assessing, you know, assessing the ideas that don’t fit with their personal theories about samsara, or Origen, or Jeremiah.  And they don’t mind saying so, right out in public.

As important as I know religion to be, and as much as I know that to understand it deeply you must spend years and decades studying it, I sometimes wonder just how others must view us.  I still dress like them, although I travel in my tweed because it makes my suit-bag too bulky to pack it.  On the plane I read an actual book (likely about religion, but that’s not a guarantee), and once in a while someone who hasn’t realized that the conference is over will want to talk business in the airport while waiting for a flight when all I want to do is pull out a novel and try to get the shop talk out of my head for a little while.  This is the unusual experience of attending AAR/SBL.  I’m sure there’s enough material here for a sociological study, but I think the sociologists have conferences of their own to attend.


Dangers of Bookmarks

So you’re a busy person and you don’t always have time to act on something immediately.  Or you have to wait until the next billing cycle to afford something.  Daily life comes at you like a Russian missile, so you need to leave reminders around so that you don’t forget.  For me, those reminders often take the form of tabs.  On my browser I leave at least a dozen tabs open to remind me of things—I’ve got to get those cartons ready for mailing to recycle; thanks for reminding me.  I actually look forward to being able to click a tab closed because that means I accomplished something.  There are so many things to do and time is so rare.  Then the inevitable happened.

I was leading a Zoom meeting and I had to keep track of attendance.  Since I was leading I didn’t want to stop in the middle and write a bunch of names down, so I took a screenshot.  My poor laptop got confused and kept the screenshot on top.  Since the screen shot showed all the open windows (it’s not just the browser that’s open, but all the writing projects in the two different programs I use as well, all in various stages of completion), I couldn’t tell how to click out of the screenshot.  I couldn’t see the actual Zoom meeting or if someone was raising her or his hand.  I tried to keep the discussion going while trying to get Zoom back to the front.  I began clicking any window shut that I could.  Finally Zoom reemerged.

After the meeting I had to examine the carnage.  My browser had been closed and when I reopened it, the option to restore all closed tabs from the last session was grayed out.  I would have to rebuild my tabs from memory.  It was because of my overwrought memory that I’d kept those tabs open in the first place!  Before going corporate, when I could take my time and pay attention, I had a very good memory for things like this.  (As a professor I had time to act on things during the day instead of constantly thinking “I’ve got to get back to work.”)  Now too much is happening all the time.  I’m having Zoom meetings after work when I normally get my day to day business done.  So I’ve added a new task to all the others—trying to reconstruct my lost tabs.  Yes, it’s a classic “first world problem.”  At least that’s what I think it’s called—let me open a new tab and check.

A different kind of bookmark

Finishing the Set

I hope I didn’t leave you hanging too long.  Autumn is always such a good time for mood reading that I had a couple of books I wanted to be sure to cram in before finishing Austin Dragon’s two-volume Sleepy Hollow Horrors set.  I wrote about volume one, Hollow Blood, some weeks back.  I wanted to read The Devil’s Patch to finish out the series before I forgot too much about the first one.  The subtitle is the same as it is for the first volume: The Hunt for the Foul Murderer of Ichabod Crane.  This imaginative retelling shifts the action away from Sleepy Hollow, although part of it takes place there, to the eponymous Devil’s Patch in upstate New York, near the Canadian border.

Instead of focusing solely on Ichabod’s avenging nephew Julian Crane, volume 2 adds an ensemble cast.  The first half of the novel provides the backstory for ten characters who will eventually accompany Crane to the Devil’s Patch to confront the Headless Horseman on his home turf.  The conceit here is that the Horseman, for some reason, has tried to kill each of the posse who eventually form to dispatch him.  Perhaps there’s some prophecy or something that he’s heard.  In any case, once Julian Crane recovers from his own encounter with the Horseman in book one, he begins to gather a group in Sleepy Hollow to go with him further upstate to take care of business.  The group of ten constitute his posse and Brom Bones goes along too.  They encounter the evil and defeat it.

There’s always a sense of accomplishment in finishing a set of books.  What has dawned on me in the process of all this reading is that the story was already told by Washington Irving in one of America’s first literary collections.  If fans want to engage with the story they need to take it in different directions, or tell it from a different perspective.  This is sometimes done cinematically and, increasingly, in literary form.  For me this is an autumn story.  That makes sense since Irving set the climatic scene during a fall party at the Van Tassel estate.  That tradition is frequently carried on in retold versions, but not always.  Whether or not they are set in autumn, they seem to be appropriate reading for this time of year.  That’s in keeping with the spirit of the season, whether in Sleepy Hollow or not.


Hallowed Tradition

The more I learn about the movie industry the more complex I realize it is.  Take Trick ‘r Treat, for example.  It was released to some film festivals—and backed by a major studio—in 2007.  I wondered why I’d never really heard of it, and the reason seems to be that it never had a theatrical release.  Until this month.  It is now playing in theaters.  The thing is, it’s already available on streaming services because it gained a cult following when it was initially released fifteen years ago.  I came to know about it by wandering into one of those Halloween pop-up stores recently.  There were plenty of Sam costumes so I did a little research and discovered a Halloween movie I’d never seen.

I have to say, the first time watching it was confusing.  I didn’t realize it was four or five separate, but interlaced stories.  I kept waiting for a central plot to emerge, but it didn’t.  At the same time, I wasn’t aware that it was a comedy horror either.  I have no problem with comedy horror, of course.  I just like to know that before I get into it.  Once I’d figured these things out, I could see the draw.  It is fun and seasonal.  Clearly it’s holiday horror.  In fact several websites list it as being essential October viewing.  It’s certainly different from many Halloween movies in refusing to be taken seriously.  It’s like adults having fun instead of kids enjoying the holiday.

Perhaps the most self-aware Halloween film, it constantly reinforces that you need to obey Samhain etiquette.  Those who are killed (and there are many) die for having violated the rules of the holiday.  I appreciate the fact that it insists that we do these things for a reason.  Wearing costumes, handing out candy, carving and lighting jack-o-lanterns, these all serve a purpose.  The movie suggests we need to do these things to stay safe from Sam.  Sam, of course, can’t be killed which means that a sequel may be in the works.  Trick ‘r Treat gets full marks for staying focused on the holiday.  Holiday horror has been a fascination of mine for some time and this movie has it in spades.  Even if it’s a little confusing at times, it’s a fun way to celebrate the season.  And this year you have your choice of seeing it in the theater or streaming it on your most convenient device.


Love for the Sky

People long for the sky.  We look at birds with envy and we have historically treated the weather, or the sky itself as divine.  To get oneself into the air is an expensive venture, no matter how it’s done.  One of the earliest forms of overcoming gravity was the hot air balloon.  The principle’s pretty simple: hot air rises.  Trap that hot air in a container large enough and it will lift a person, or people, to the sky.  Today ballooning remains popular, although not generally used for long-distance transit.  Still, to be in the sky is a consolation all its own.  Various hot air balloon festivals tour the country, but the Lehigh Valley Spooktacular Hot Air Balloon Festival was the first time I’d ever been close to an actual hot air balloon.  While not asking, I’m sure it is quite pricey to own and operate one.  Given the number of people there, it’s a safe bet that others are fascinated by the sky too.

Apart from one vampire balloon, two things made this “Spooktacular.”  One was the fact that it’s midway through October, the month for scares.  The other was the vendors selling Halloween merchandise.  Options for disguises have come a long way since my childhood.  Blinking LED lights dangling from tentacles and battery-operated masks of black that show patterns in glowing colors on the faces of the wearers were both popular among attendees.  And not just with children.  Although the festival runs all day for Saturday and Sunday there are those of us who came for the evening finale—a mass inflation of balloons followed by a laser show and fireworks.

Such shows as this obviously require a ton of tech and a lot of set-up, but I couldn’t help but think as I watched that the sky, so eerily lit up at times, that in ancient times this would certainly have been considered as a theophany, an appearance of the gods.  Projected onto the sky itself, or penetrating that very sky, the lights could be made at times to dip, creating the impression of something large descending from above.  It was a show worth seeing.  As we drove home—it was past my bedtime and I had the passive role of passenger—I spotted a large bird winging through the night, dark against a low cloud.  Too dark to identify (although probably an owl), I thought how birds have a view that’s still rare among land-dwellers.  Theirs is the realm of the gods.


Flavor of Childhood

Giant, telepathic crabs whose molecular structure make them impervious to bullets, explosives, and fire, and that know how to use dynamite and who plan to take over the human world?  A group of scientists trapped on an irradiated Pacific island that is slowly sinking into the ocean?  This must be Attack of the Crab Monsters!  I was born during what is generally considered the dearth  period of the American horror industry.  Roger Corman, however, was working hard outside of the studio system to cater to that new demographic—teens with spending money.  Drive-in theaters were big and for about $100,000 you could shoot a double-feature and bring in ten times that much.  If you shoot quickly enough you can produce several of these in a year and not have to worry about the big studios.

It’s been fashionable to laugh Corman off, but he knows how to live the teenage dream.  Monster movies were part of the childhood of many of us during this “dearth.”  Yes, sophisticated frights were yet to come, but these creature features were full of creativity and escapism.  And so many unanswered questions.  How did those giant crabs chop all the radio wires to bits with those indelicate giant claws?  If they could smash through the outside wall of a house, why couldn’t they break through a light-weight door once inside?  And why, knowing that bullets and grenades can’t possibly hurt them, do scientists keep firing away?  What was that oil subplot all about anyway?  And how do you end a film with the lines “He gave his life,” followed up by “I know”?  This is stuff, like Strawberry Quik, I couldn’t get enough of as a kid.

No, this wasn’t intelligent horror—it was often laughable—but it made an impression.  As an adult I can’t recall which of these movies I’ve seen before and I suspect it would take a lifetime to watch all the films Corman directed or produced.  Along with his contemporary indie director/producer William Castle, Corman may be inordinately responsible for my tastes as an adult.  I’ve grown more sophisticated (I hope) in some ways, but I’m at a pay grade where free on Amazon Prime often decides a weekend’s entertainment.  Besides, these movies struggle to top out an hour’s running time.  You can still get a lot done in a day and still have time for a monster crab, giant leech, or wasp woman.  With enough radiation, and imagination, anything can happen.


Eclecticism

Eclectic.  An eclectic approach is experiential.  I don’t mean to be obscure here, but I was once an academic.  Let me try to spell this out a little more clearly.  You’re reading along in your academic study—perhaps it was assigned to you for a class, or perhaps you have unusual interests, or maybe you want a deeper treatment than you find in Barnes and Noble or on the internet.  In any case, what you’ll often find is academics like to glom onto a theoretician that they follow.  Applying Derrida to this, Lacan to that, and Bakhtin to the other.  In doing so they establish their mastery over complex theory, and earn their ticket into the academy.  You, the poor, curious reader, are left wading through explanations of the theory when what you really want is the content—the actual subject of the book.

My own work has been rightly accused of lacking theory.  Or, more precisely, not following a consistent theory.  It’s eclectic.  That’s because I believe in an experiential approach to research.  I trust my own experience.  Your experience is different, I know.  Trust it.  We learn things through experience.  Perhaps others were raised by parents who read and thought deeply and introduced their children to Deleuze (and perhaps Guattari as well), but most of us weren’t.  And some of us came to trust both raw logic and intense feeling.  We call it instinct in animals, but in people we expect more.  What’s wrong with being eclectic?  It seems to make sense.  If Foucault had it right, shouldn’t it be obvious to all of us?

What’s always amused me about this is that such theoreticians—and I don’t know how you become one without basing your work on your own experience—come and go like fashions.  Ricoeur was the big name a few years back and now I haven’t seen anybody writing about him for a couple of decades, at least in the fields I’m reading.  I tend to read primary material and think as deeply as I can on it.  Yes, I read others who write on the topic and sometimes I’m even quite taken by someone else’s approach.  Still, my experience tends, alas, toward the Baconian—an embarrassment for a vegan, I suppose—that of gathering information and seeing what makes sense of it.  I read the theoreticians from time-to-time and then I read those not classically considered experts.  We’re all in this knowledge game together.  Even Lévi-Strauss and his school.


Subconscious Humor

It’s good to know your subconscious has a sense of humor.  What with all that’s going on in the world these days, God knows we could use a laugh or two.  At least a smirk now and then.  One of the less-anticipated aspects of becoming old and wise is disrupted sleep.  Our bodies did not evolve for the 925 schedule, and the “eight hours a night” trope is more naturally along a pattern of sleep for maybe four hours, get up for a while and get things done, then sleep for a few more hours, until dawn.  That doesn’t fit well at the office, so we try to cram all of our sleep into one unbroken stint.  When you’re young that’s often not a problem, at least in my experience.

Then you reach a certain age when, with no discernible change in habits, you have to visit the restroom in the middle of the night.  Modern people, of course, have a lot on their minds, so after that mid-night pee it’s difficult to get back to sleep.  For those of us who can’t break the long-term commuting habit, any waking after midnight is likely to be the end of a night’s sleep.  Once you get tired enough, however, you tend to overpower the full bladder and snooze on to the usual rising time.  (For some of us that’s earlier than it is for others, but that’s immaterial.)  This is where the subconscious starts to play its role as the comedian.

Mildly thalassophobic, I tend not to go out on very deep water, especially in small craft.  To be fair, I don’t live too close to the ocean and I don’t own a boat of any kind, so this often isn’t an issue.  One of my biggest traumas in college was meeting the “swim a length of the pool” requirement for graduation—I understand that’s now been abolished.  I nearly didn’t make it, but the last semester as a senior I had a private show—which must’ve been funny—for the swim coach.  So when I need to pee and I sleep through the middle of the night, I have deep water dreams.  I’m on a small boat in an ocean.  Sometimes I see paranormal geysers bursting from the surface and wonder what they are.  Then I wake up and dash for the bathroom.  Hey, it could be worse—my subconscious could find a humorless way of waking me.  Meanwhile, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take some adult swimming lessons.

All that water…

Immature

I’m not immature, but I have to admit to having done a double-take every time I saw the name of the school.  While living in Edinburgh my wife worked for a short while at the Medical School and I couldn’t help but notice the official name of the associated veterinary school: The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.  I was sure Dick was a surname and yet little boys never grow up, it seems.  Fast forward to just last week when I had occasion to look up Arcadia University, here in Pennsylvania.  For those of you who’ve never had the privilege of being an editor at an academic press, I’ll say that one of the things we constantly do is check out colleges and universities.  In the case of some church-related schools it’s easier to get the straight dope from Wikipedia before going to their actual websites.  I never rely on Wikipedia alone, of course.

A defunct college (Marvin College). Image credit: Nyttend, via Wikimedia Commons

Still, the Wikipedia page for Arcadia explains that the school had to change its name because internet searches were being blocked for sexual language.  The former name of the school?  Beaver College.  Human beings have a very wide variety of slang words to refer to our genitalia.  I suspect part of the reason is the fun of establishing, and violating taboos.  There are many schools that could fall into this category (Ball State comes immediately to mind), but when it gets to the point that search engines block you because they assume your mind is in the gutter, what choice have you got?  Changing names is a big expense and even bigger hassle, but everyone searches for everything on the web.  It’s our common reference book.

I don’t know whether to believe Wikipedia on this point or not, but I know from personal experience that employers or commercial servers can block “offensive” information.  I’m a religion editor.  When I took our car in for service some years back—they have free wifi for customers so they can work while they wait—I soon found I could not get onto any websites mentioning religion.  Given my job, that’s a bit of a problem.  The garage had blocked it as a taboo topic, perhaps for good reason—I have no way of knowing.  What it means is that my wife now has to take the car in for service.  Regarding Arcadia, it probably doesn’t help that it was an all-female school.  Its first name was Beaver Female Seminary.  Things have changed since 1853, but I’m afraid that those of us who are immature still find this a little funny.