5 Things, for Blue Wren

22 Dec 2006

The Wren-o-Blue (another contributor to the Chumps of Choice blog) tapped me for one of those blog memes the other day. In 12 months of blogging, I've never been tapped for such an exercise. It could be argued, however, that one is not a true blogger until answering a meme. So ... The topic: Five things about myself that you may not know. After a good bit of thought, I decided to answer in a thematic way. In other words, not only will I attempt to reveal five things about myself that few, if any, know -- but, I'll limit my answers to a specific subset topic:

"My Weird Fears."

1. Ruining a Genius. I have a fear that I'll walk into a jazz club and happen to meet one of my Piano Gods -- the unparalleled Marcus Roberts. I'd nervously strike up a conversation with the man, tell him that his album If I Could Be With You is one of my all-time favorites -- what I often think of as a "desert island disc," you know? ( ... as in, "if I were stuck on a desert island and could only bring so many CDs to play ad infinitum on my solar-powered stereo ... "). I'd try to restrain myself from fawning over his inspired and technically flawless solo on Mood Indigo, and we'd discuss interesting, esoteric nuances within Scott Joplin's work. But, the fear I mentioned has nothing to do with an opportunity to interact with someone I revere as a genius. No, as I said, it's weirder than that. You see, Roberts is completely blind, and I'm no good at certain types of social interactions. What some people would filter out during a conversation, I'm afraid I'd recklessly let loose, unaware of any social taboo. In this fictitious scenario, I accidentally phrase what must certainly be a common question to blind musicians (about knowing where the keys are when you can't see them) in some new, heretofore unimagined way. And directly because of my unfortunate word choice, the question backfires; he has no answer. In fact, it only gets worse. The question I ask eats into him, developing, ironically, into an instrument of self-doubt. His performances begin to falter and, in time, he's unable to muster even Cho psticks without a few embarrassing gaffes. And it's all my fault.

2. Discovering a Pee-cam. Several years ago, I learned of the term "pee-cam," which is a camera hidden in a restroom to videotape unsuspecting people relieving themselves. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of public restrooms to begin with. I mean, I'm not weird about it, really. But, there's this whole men's room vibe that I'm just not too fond of. Guys stand there peeing and discussing sports or office politics or, hell, just anything. ("So, did you take a look at that Ferguson file," my boss will ask. "Uh, yeah," I reply, not wanting to say, "Dude, can we just friggin' pee, for Christ's sake?") Sometimes there are "dividers" there so every guy gets his own little space; other times there's no divider. Still other times, you're facing one of those "trough" situations. I'm not a big fan of the trough, as you may have guessed, but perhaps that's a topic for another time. With the dawn of the digital age, though, the possibility for pee-cams has increased exponentially. I used to know a guy who worked in surveillance. He told me (and showed me) how special cameras require no more than a pinhole for perfect operation. So, as I'm "making water" (as Hoak so memorably put it in Driving Miss Daisy ) in gas stations, rest stops, restaurants, etc., I often find myself scanning around the ceiling and walls, wondering which if any cranny or crevice might contain the dreaded pee-cam.

3. Death by Impalement. It always starts the same way: I'm falling. Either from the sky, or from a rooftop. Either way, though ... Below me, there's one of those evil looking wrought iron fences, inch-thick pickets set about 7 or 8 inches apart, each one a nasty javelin with my name on it. As I fall, I somehow have time to plan my landing. If I can only contort myself just so, I think, I can avoid the spear points. For some reason, the thought never occurs to me that I'm probably going to die during this scenario, anyway; even if I avoid the spikes, the impact with the sidewalk would surely do me in. Improbably, that fact bothers me less than the necessity to avoid impalement.

4. Contracting Malaria. Most of the novels or stories I write contain elements drawn from actual experiences. I suppose that's true of most writers, although I do seem particularly drawn to writing creative nonfiction lately. Anyway, this fear of mine surfaced upon my arrival in Bombay in 1994, and made it into an unfinished novel from that period. The relevant paragraph, appearing below, may well be from a work of fiction, but it's also entirely true.

... By 5:00 a.m., the palm-fringed outline of Bombay's hazy dawn emerged from the darkness. Deboarding the Delta 767, they stepped into the thick air of the first-light and were immediately bitten by several mosquitoes. Night time!, he yelled to her over the blaring jet-engines on the tarmac. The malaria mosquitoes are still out! It's safe to assume he was a tad hysterical. Okay, he'd said to the doctor at the Reston, Virginia, immunization center, say I take the Lariam, and an infected mosquito bites me. What happens then? The doctor had replied, Well, let's just hope he isn't. They dropped everything onto the runway, unzipped every bag completely in a desperate search for the repellent: One hundred percent Deet -- Jungle Juice. One hundred percent?, the Tysons Corner, Virginia, camping store employee had asked him, Where the hell are you off to anyway?! He'd responded, Let's just say we're going beyond Skin So Soft. Eureka! Two drops in the palms, to be vigorously rubbed everywhere. The employee in that obscure camping store reportedly had his plastic watchband partially eaten away from contact with this very solution in Florida's Everglades. Malaria was more important than watchbands, however: Couple extra drops ...

5. Cryptomnesia. As a writer (and, to a lesser degree, a composer), this one bothers me quite a bit. Once, when I was 17 or so (Christ, more than two decades ago!), I showed my friend Elijah something I'd written on the guitar. I was pretty proud of it -- at least momentarily. After I played it, he said, "It's a good tune. In fact, it's Ridin' the Storm Out by REO Speedwagon." Oops. Fortunately, I hadn't invested too much time into the piece. But, you know, it's scary stuff. How do you know for sure whether what you've created is entirely original or a product of your unconscious mind having picked up and developed someone else's idea? As a writer, I sometimes hear little snippets of dialogue that seem to beg for inclusion in something. But, is it possible the people I'm overhearing are simply quoting a film or a favorite song lyric? Add to that the odd but well documented phenomenon of different people who work on virtually the same creative ideas simultaneously and unbeknownst to one another! Think of Armageddon and Deep Impact, or Capote and Infamous. The scientific name for "unintentional plagiarism," I've learned thanks to the WonderWiki, is Cryptomnesia. Glad to finally put a name to my fear. I heartily recommend reading that article, btw. You'll find cryptomnesiac tales about Helen Keller, Frederic Nietzsche, and even George Harrison.

* * *

Well, I'm sure I have five fears even weirder than those, but that's what came to mind. I know I'm supposed to pass this along, lest I have bad luck or something for the next two decades. But, I think I'll chance it. If you're a reader and consider yourself moved to continue the thread, by all means continue the chain on your own blog (and let me know about it!). Unofficially, though, I would pass the meme to any reader of mine who does not yet maintain an online presence. Think of it as your "hello world" post.

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On December 25, 2006, roxtar wrote:

"Step back, I tend to spray," always works for me.

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