Yes, 2016 has sucked out loud, and I won’t even try to list all the celebrity deaths that have scarred the past year for our celebrity-driven culture. I also won’t note the death of civility in public and political discourse, thanks in large part to social media’s prominence in our nascent “post-truth” civilization.
And I won’t say anything disrespectful about Donald J. Trump, except that he is the perfect president-elect for the glass-half-empty class of people we have become. He’s our latest model American, I guess, until we’re at least half full again and can take more pleasurable roads than the expressway to perdition.
I have always heard that books are portals to other times and places. But when Timberley and I went Christmas shopping last week at Barnes & Noble, I wasn’t expecting to step into a time machine and revisit the 1970s without even opening a book.
That’s what happened, though. It really was deja vu all over again, triggered not by the written word or by a smell, as is often the case, but by the sight of something I thought I’d never see again – a roomful of record albums. LPs. Big, beautiful, shrink-wrapped sleeves of cardboard bearing veritable works of art and enveloping the greatest sounds ever pressed into vinyl or committed to any other medium.
Our heroes – old and young alike – are dying. Our new leader is a liar, and we who elected him – even we Christians who champion truth – knew it. Our choices aren’t choices at all. Everything seems inside out, upside down or backwards. Nothing makes sense. We can’t be sure of anything anymore.
In case you noticed, I didn’t upload a column last week for the first time since the end of August, not because I didn’t want to write something but because my AMC Gremlin of a computer wouldn’t let me. Like so many other beaters, it veered off the Information Highway and crashed into a virtual brick wall last week, and I didn’t get it back on the road until yesterday.
Lest I forget, I want to thank the guys at PeopleCentric Computers on West Union Street, Morganton, for coming to the rescue again. Back in September they helped me bring this ancient Toshiba Satellite laptop back to life by adding some RAM, selling me a whiz-bang USB WiFi adapter, and helping me get the Microsoft Windows monkey off my back for good. It all cost only 40 bucks.
Yesterday, after fiddling with the broken-down laptop for a week, I finally decided that, yes, I needed to replace its hard drive. Sure enough, PeopleCentric Computers had the hard drive I needed for only $20. It took me only about 10 minutes to install the drive after getting back home. Then I installed the Linux Mint operating system – not the latest version, but new enough for me – and here I am.
The other night Timberley and I stopped at Krispy Kreme for a doughnut and cup of coffee. It was Sunday, the day we’ve decided to take a break from our low-carb, low-sugar, low-salt, low-taste, low-down diet. Besides, the “HOT NOW” sign was lit. So it was their fault.
I’m the one to blame for the diet. Since I’m overweight, hypertensive and prediabetic, we’ve spent the past four months watching what we eat and drink, and we’ve tried to get more exercise. My most recent doctor visit last month was encouraging, as I’d lost 15 pounds and had better blood test numbers.
But I had trained for that three-month checkup as if it were my own personal Olympics, and my results were less impressive than expected after all the dietary sacrifices we’d made. I was Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team—happy to be in the competition but definitely out of the medal race.
A couple of weeks ago Timberley and I were watching an interview with Jeff Kinney, author of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. He mentioned how important the illustrations are in his books, especially for children with autism. They give struggling readers “an island to swim to,” he said.
Even before the election, that image of a man lost at sea swimming toward an island on the far horizon resonated with me. It is an image of both hope and salvation. Since the election, the same metaphor has been applicable to various segments of our society that feel displaced by hate and ignorance.
Over the past few years I’ve been wondering about the value of fiction in our lives. That’s right. Fiction.
You know what fiction is—short stories and novels that describe imaginary events and imaginary people. Made-up stories about things that aren’t real. While that may not seem like a personal crisis to you—to wonder if playing make-believe on the written page is important—it is for me for at least two reasons.
First, I worked as an English teacher for 25 years, and I had to decide from one semester to the next how much emphasis to place on the various types of literature that my classes studied. Of course, the curriculum requires that certain literary works be taught, but the average classroom teacher does have some latitude in what she teaches and how she teaches it. After all, she is a professional educator.
Since the arrival of President Obama’s Common Core initiative, English teachers in public schools have been pushed to assign less fiction and more nonfiction for their students to read, since only nerds, geeks and little old ladies in reading circles buy books now, right? But the rest of us do read newspapers and magazines and textbooks and owner’s manuals and all sorts of other written. . . . Oh, please.
No, to be honest, now most of us read Facebook. Or whatever else we can suck from cyberspace into these black holes we call smartphones. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone, whose name is the 21stcentury’s best oxymoron until Jan. 20th when we’re introduced to President Trump. Our phones suck everything in, and they don’t distinguish good from bad. That’s left up to us.
Next Tuesday night it’ll all be over but the shouting, as they say. I ain’t talking about the thrilling World Series, of course, because it ended early this morning in Cleveland, and everybody there was a winner for sure. I wish I could say the same about the presidential race that may also be decided in Ohio.
I’m going to keep this essay short because, Lord knows, I’ve been sick and tired of the 2016 presidential election for weeks now. Maybe I should use capital letters with that phrase—2016 presidential election—but it’s been a lower-case kind of campaign on both sides, so I’ll go with that.
No matter what any poll or pundit says, no matter how many votes, like mine, have already been cast, I’m afraid this election is a toss-up. It could go either way—like last night’s Game 7 of the World Series—partly because election night coverage of a landslide really doesn’t keep viewers glued to the screen the way a good nail-biter does. Be prepared to stay up late again. It, too, could go extra innings.
If you’re a sports fan, you must be in heaven this weekend. All three major American spectator sports—baseball, football and basketball—are underway right now. Even if you can’t attend in person, you can watch the games on TV without too much trouble.
Meanwhile, if you’re an old NASCAR Winston Cup fan like me—one who doesn’t have access to all the sports channels on cable or satellite TV, that is—you may as well be sitting out in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, in a Field of Dreams sort of way. “Is this heaven?” the ghost of Dale Earnhardt might ask as he plops down into my recliner.
“No,” I’d say. “It’s pure hell. We don’t have cable.”
He has orange hair. He sniffs too much. He can’t keep his tiny paws off the girls. He’s a lurker, always peering over one particular female’s shoulder. And we don’t think he’s very smart—at least, he isn’t going out of his way to show his intelligence. But the orange-haired guy is entertaining. He really is.
She is small and fiesty. But she’s smart, really smart. And she is so very determined—when she wants something, she never gives up until she gets it. She’s been ill lately. At first, we didn’t think we’d like her because she was always in trouble, especially with computers, but we’ve come to like her.
The two of them are vying to succeed the coolest cat to ever reside in our white house. He was larger than life. He was unlike any other—the first of his kind—but it was part of the reason we liked him. He was easy-going most of the time but assertive when he had to be. He was our favorite of all time.