Thoughts, Words, and Deeds

Posted on April 12, 2013



After pumping gas into my car while freezing rain pelts the back of my neck and a howling wind blows straight into my face, I trudge into the warm, dry station and locate the cashier. She’s seated behind a tall counter, drinking something hot and watching The Price Is Right. I hand her my money, and before I leave, I thank her. I’m never sure what I’m thanking her for. She hasn’t moved a muscle, or even bothered to glance in my direction, but I’m nevertheless compelled to express my gratitude.

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I don’t like brownies. I’m not kidding. Usually, I avoid telling people this because when I do, they look at me like I have seven heads. You might assume that’s an exaggeration, but it isn’t. I used to have seven heads, and I can’t begin to describe the weird stares I would get. And that was without even mentioning that I didn’t like brownies.

I’m told that some foods are an acquired taste. I wish I knew how to do that, because I’d definitely go out and acquire a taste for broccoli, bean sprouts, and all those other hideous things everyone says I should eat. Friends have suggested that I try to like brownies. Some of them seem to be unnerved, as though their entire sense of reality hinges on a unanimous love for this one dessert. Okay, I tell them. I’ll do my best. But deep inside, I’m certain I’m going to let them down.

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Sometimes I’ll open a dictionary or a telephone book right to the page I wanted, on the first try, and I get a little jolt of excitement. It’s as though at that moment I’m in synch with the rest of the universe. This blissful feeling can linger for several minutes or as long as a few hours. But I typically return to normal that same day, as soon as I flick toothpaste into my eye, walk into a parking meter, or somehow manage to step on my own hand.

BookFriedrich Bessel was one of the first astronomers to figure out how to calculate the distances to specific stars. Based on his findings, we have been told, the light that we see in the night sky has traveled through such an enormous stretch of space that the star it came from could have died out millions of years ago. This idea rattles the brain somewhat, and I needed to hear it over and over before I began to feel comfortable enough to accept it. Then I read that Friedrich Bessel himself had died way back in 1846, so now I don’t know what to believe.

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I can’t get used to talking in a library. When I was growing up, they kicked you out for whispering too loud. I realize there are twelve junior high school students holding a karaoke contest between the reference section and the magazine rack, and there’s a lively volleyball game taking place over in young adult fiction. But I still think the librarian is going to shush me every time I open my mouth.

LibraryI tried wallpapering a bathroom once, and the experience made me want to drown myself. Another time, I went sailing with a man who owned a big sailboat. He told me it would be relaxing. It wasn’t. I never relaxed for a second. In fact, the whole time I was on that boat, I was wishing I could go home and wallpaper the bathroom.

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Following is a list of activities I’ve done exactly once in my life: ice fishing, water skiing, horseback riding, paint-balling, downhill skiing, ice skating, rollerblading, and potato harvesting. I’ve also been to one professional hockey game, one professional soccer match, and one professional wrestling event. I was pretty sure all three were fake. I’m not convinced potato harvesting is real either, but trust me, don’t ever say that to one of those farmers, especially right before lunch.

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Whenever I see a lobster tank in a restaurant, I always wonder if there’s one very old lobster who’s been in there for years, and who’s gotten extremely good at ducking.


Lobster tank photo from

One crisp December day I went up in a glider. In case you don’t know, a glider is an airplane that has no engine. It’s basically a coffin with long wings. The glider gets towed into the sky by another airplane, the kind with an engine, then released at the desired altitude. Before we took off, I told the pilot that I loved flying, but didn’t like being upside down. He apparently had one of those rare neurological conditions that causes people to drop the middle part of sentences and then push the two ends together. He thought I said that I loved being upside-down, and so we did loops continually, for about thirty minutes.

As I said earlier, it was a crisp December day. I was seated way up front, where a cold draft was coming in through small openings near my ankles. Because the glider has no engine, it also has no heat. The pilot had explained all this to me before we left the ground, but I have one of those rare neurological conditions that causes me to focus on impressive-sounding terms, like fuselage and horizontal stabilizer, and to miss more common words, like freezing. Lucky for the pilot, he was seated behind me, so by the time the frigid air reached him, it had been warmed by the process of passing through my upper body.

GliderWhen someone says “It isn’t the money, it’s the principle,” I think they’re lying. It’s the money. I recently called my bank to question an unexpected three-dollar service charge. It wasn’t the principle. I wanted the three dollars back.

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I’ve heard people with strong accents – Irish or German, for example – and when they sing, their accents disappear. Obviously they can control it, so there’s no excuse for them to keep talking that way.

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I’m fifty-seven and I still don’t know what a rutabaga is. I hear the word maybe once every five years, and I always think it’s a car. I also don’t know what capers are, or even if they’re animals or plants, or how it came to be that the word truffle refers to both creamy chocolate and a filthy fungus.

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Have you ever seen the show How It’s Made? That show was my idea. I thought of it about thirty years ago. But when I told people about it, they all said nobody would watch a boring show like that. So now I won’t watch it either, even though I really want to know how they make paper towels.

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I still don’t like brownies. Sorry.