Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Meditation on the Instructions to Make a List of 10 Random Things about Myself

It's late. I'm tired. And so much in life seems random.

1. As a kid in Thornville I attended the Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC), the same Protestant denomination that Barack Obama famously attended with Jeremiah Wright as his pastor. What I remember most from "church," aside from all the Bible stuff, is that, in the 60s and early 70s, the UCC's national leaders opposed the Vietnam War, welcomed racial integration and were called "ultra-liberals" by many in the "religious establishment." Ironically, my family was rather conservative and generally supported the US war effort, but in church at least I learned of different perspectives. Narrowly missing the draft (by one year), I grew up to strongly oppose the war. In 2008 I would go to Vietnam for the first time, and while visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, I felt such great shame at my country's military actions that I actually shed tears. What weighs more on the scale of human atrocities: random acts of violence or well planned ones?

2. I was delivered into this world by a Japanese doctor working for the US Air Force, one Dr. Suzuki, at Shepherd Air Force Base Hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas. According to my mother, the first words I heard were Japanese. The hospital building where I was born was destroyed several years later by a tornado. 

3. The first childhood fantasy that I remember having is this: I was standing under a tree in the yard of my kindergarten, a one-room former church/then school house in Washington Court House, Ohio. The old wooden building began belching flames, and I ran in and heroically pulled my teacher, my first love, to safety. How random are dreams?

4. In sixth grade (Primary Six) I was randomly asked by my teacher, Mrs. Redd, to help a visiting teacher carry a slide projector and a large screen from his car into the school auditorium. The man I helped that day was gentle, good-natured and talkative. (I can still remember taking the equipment out of his car's trunk.) His presentation was about a trip he had made recently to the then Soviet Union. I watched with great interest. Four years later, as a first-year high school student, I signed up for Russian language class taught by the same man. On the first day of class, the guy, Mr. Ed Taylor, said my name had no Russian equivalent and so jokingly he called me "Viktor" with the patronymic "Venovich" (My father's name was Wayne). When I later studied at Ohio State University, I majored in Russian language and literature, thanks largely to the enthusiasm I had developed for many things Russian (including the Cold War mystique). To what degree was any of this random?

5. As a young kid, I had a cow lick in the front of my short hair that was impossible to comb and it always embarrassed me. As a high school student, I had heroes who included the British rock singers Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant. One thing I liked about them was their wild manes of hair. Though I was "by training" quite the jock (lettering in high school cross country, basketball and track), I really wanted to look like a hippie. This was a point of contention between my father and me. He said his friends called me "a girl," and we had numerous "knock down drag out" fights over my hair's length. For university, I moved away from home, and with my newfound freedom, I grew my hair down the middle of my back. At some point though, just into my second year, I suddenly had the urge to cut my hair, so I went to a stylist, and I had my hair curled. For two years I sported an afro and had to "pick" my hair. Eventually, I grew it straight and down my back again. In the early 80s, living in Portugal, I started teaching for GM and so had my locks cut in a style that a friend said made me look like a fisherman. Today, my head is clean shaven, some folks calling me "a skinhead." I've had it every which way.

6. I lived in Japan for 17 years, and drove to work, but never managed to get a Japanese driver's license (which is a long story). I've never paid US income taxes, aside from Social Security (which is a longer story). I don't much like to cook, but I can eat virtually anything. Does that mean I'm "easily fed"?

7. My great-grandfather, Ira Cooperider, a small-time farmer and lifelong factory worker, collected native American artifacts throughout his life. First with his kids, then his grandkids, then us his great-grandkids in tow, he would walk through the fields between Thornville and Bruno Grange, between New Reading and Cramer's Corner, and all along High Point Road, looking for and salvaging flint pieces and "arrowheads." His collection of scrapers, lances, bird and spear points, adzes, knives and hammers would eventually number three thousand. He meticulously organized many of these suspending them by wires on thick cardboard panels. Along with a collection of old guns, tools, toys and various oddities, they were all stored in a large room above his garage.

Of all of Ira's great grandchildren (over 20 or so), maybe I lusted for his collection the most. Unfortunately, he died before producing a will, and when I was living in Malaysia, his "museum" was auctioned off. With my grandmother's help, I managed to purchase one panel though, with some 50 well worked flints on it, which is now hanging in the room across from me as I sit here typing. What ancient warriors' charms have ended up in this place?

8. Like Louis Armstrong said, I'd agree there are two types of music: good and bad. But I've never met a genre that I didn't like: blues, jazz (New Orleans, big band, bop, West Coast, whatever), rock, punk, hip hop, trip hop, eletronica, Cajun, Karnatic, rembetika, gypsy swing, fado, enka, waltzes, chant, spirituals, bluegrass, folk & pop. Billie was surprised recently when she bought and brought a Katy Perry CD home, and I liked it. I also like Prince, Tupac, Radiohead, Green Day and Duffy. I don't quite like the music of Madonna and Michael Jackson, but I recognize their talents. Still, some bands bore me. Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses and 99% of the metal bands, and smoothies like Kenny G never did it for me. So-called Christian rock? Give me a break. And Japanese pop may be one of my least favorite types. But even there, I could occasionally find myself humming along with Hikaru Utada and some other syrupy songstress. Soundtracks are hard to escape anymore. So what to do?

9. I could never "clean" fish. When I was young my family would make yearly pilgrimages to a rustic cabin on Crow Lake in southeastern Ontario. It was an idyllic place for kids to race through the woods, practice oaring skills, and catch frogs, snakes and turtles. Though the cabins had no modern amenities (we even had to toilet in an outhouse), we all loved that time of the year. My father and grandmother were ace fishermen and fish cleaners, able to whip out fillets from a keep full of perch and blue gills in a heartbeat; my granddad was the king of quiet nights on the lake and the big fish stories ("whoppers"), and us "youngins" --hearing the loons, chasing down raccoons with flashlights, playing cards after dark by Coleman lantern--were forever imbued with a taste for the outdoors.

One year, when I was 12 or 13, I went out early morning fishing with my dad and brought in a three-pound largemouth bass. That was my trophy of trophies. I have a black and white photo of me holding that baby. But to this day I cannot and will not clean a fish. (Why did I evolve into the person I became? Just a matter of socialization? The hand of God? Hard wiring? Random combinations of this strand and that? Why on earth can't I clean fish?)

10. & Rules? It's ironic that a guy who by nature has made a point of questioning the norms, the rules, the ways and means, would become a bit of a grammarian, an occasional pedant and a teacher at a university in Singapore. What's the message here?


Anonymous said...

Hi Peet, it's really refreshing to read an account that is different from the usual blogs (eg Singaporean, work or school), and you've tied up each point to the nature of their randomness (:

Cleaning fish was fun because I remember doing it while my cat was ogling at the fishies and feasted on the innards after I took the gills out.

I also like Prince but I was disappointed to find that he bans posting of his music videos on Youtube other than himself or his label.

Number 10 - by implication your professional choice was accidental?

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks, Cheesy, for your response.

I'm not surprised that you can clean fish, you being a cook (as we see in your blog). I can see you with gills and guts in your hands.

My professional choice was a combination of accident, choice and fate, I suppose.