The Old Town Ale House in Chicago, where writers, comedians, poets and musicians go when they weren't doing all that other stuff. Across the street from the fames Second City improv venue.
Facebook is starting to make me hate my friends.
OK, actually they’re doing that all by themselves. But through no fault of their own, Facebook is helping, giving them a well-designed forum to become insufferable jerks.
I get Facebook was conceived to help friends keep in touch with each other. And in most cases it does a fine job of that. I’ve been able to locate people I haven’t talked to or seen in literally decades and send them a short note, give them a “thumbs up” to something new that’s happened in their lives.
But it’s also given some friends the opportunity to become the people they never were in real life: Insufferable know-it-alls. Intolerantly opinionated and quick to dismiss the opinions of longtime friends. Basically, they’ve become blowhards. Dare to disagree with them at your own risk or suffer their densely-worded wrath.
Their posts are either cryptically short word-darts aimed at the latest social issue, or long screeds that ramble and try to cover every base and are generally posted after 11 p.m.
Social issues are the topic on which they seem most confident in flexing their Internet muscles: police brutality, marijuana reform, feminism…some of my friends have apparently become “experts” in these subjects and more.
But it’s not just the subject or the length of the posts that has made me start to hate (some) of my friends. It’s the tone of both the original post and the replies to comments. Dismissive. Quite often unnecessarily rude. Pointlessly insulting. They come with an authoritarian tone, the idea that their beliefs are imperious to criticism.
They stand in clear, sharp contract to the posts of most of my other friends, which consist of funny anecdotes, updates on their kids (OK, that can get a bit annoying), vacation pics, drinking in various bars, etc. Basically inconsequential stuff.
Which is why the unnecessarily arrogant posts are a shock. I know these people in person, some more than others. I’ve never had a similar conversation in person. But behind that Facebook wall, things happen. One person in particular could be described as “meek” in person – never raised his voice, never confronted anyone on an issue during discussion at our writing group, discussions that sometimes veered into subjects other than writing.
But on Facebook they become, well, jackasses. Quick to argue, combatative over minor issues, and not at all reluctant to wave whatever minor credentials they may have on an issue over all others.
The aforementioned “meek” person recently defriended me apparently because I had the audacity to offer a counterpoint to one of his posts. While I took great pains to avoid making the comment personal – something I always do – he nonetheless took it as such and replied with a comment that accuse me of talking to him as if I were his dad (Calling Dr. Freud) and seguing into a rant about why I was never his “friend” (no we weren’t FRIENDS, but we were definitely friendly to each other).
Being defriended, something I never gave a shit about before, was actually a welcome event in that occasion.
That same friend also declared that people can’t handle his “truth - which, in actuality, is merely his version of the truth. Another friend, meanwhile, recently concluded that because his innocuous posts about pets and kids, etc., received more “likes” than his posts about a fatal police shooting, it was evidence of a lack of compassion on the big issues on the part of his friends. “Likes” were a scorecard of social justice and he was an electronic Martin Luther King (eKing).
Because of them, the remaining friends who take Facebook that seriously I hold at arm’s length, picking and choosing carefully which comments I respond to and what I said when I actually do comment - along the lines of “Well said!” or “You nailed it!” or simply hitting the “Like” button.
It’s this quick-to-battle attitude that had made the ads and news posts the only things I really enjoy reading on Facebook these days.
I’m probably going to stay on Facebook. Like I said, it’s a good way to stay in touch with friends. But I’ve already begun limiting my comments and interaction, even with friends. I want to continue to “like” them, no matter how difficult they’re making it for me.
It only took 25 years, but there’s been a break in the famed Isabelle Stuart Gardner Museum art heist.
Video that purportedly shows the guard on duty on March 18, 1990, the day of the theft, has finally been released. It shows him letting a man into the museum through the same door the thieves used to walk out with 13 works of art, including Vermeers and a Degas or two.
The incident is part of Boston lore, like the Tea Party or the Red Sox sucking for so long. Books have been written about it, and there may be a movie in the works. People have long questioned who was behind the theft and where the absconded works may have ended up. Some may question why the video is only being released now.
But when I first learned of the incident, my only big question was:
They still did that stuff in 1990?
When I first heard the story of the Isabelle Stuart Gardner Museum heist, I assumed it had occurred in some bygone era, when crooks and thieves wore fedoras and suits when they committed their crimes. When each “crew” had a guy who actually practiced the art of safecracking, listening for “tumblers” falling with each turn of the dial. And another guy who was an expert in security alarms, having researched each new model and manual that was printed. And another guy whose only – ONLY – job was to drive the getaway car (usually a former racecar driver who was bounced from the sport for cheating). And a “boss” whom everyone in the gang actually called him “Boss” and who knew which artworks were worth stealing and which weren’t.
But when I found it the crime happened in 1990 - practically yesterday - I was floored. Even though it was 25 years ago, 1990 was still the era of instant gratification. Daytraders trying to become millionaires before lunchtime. Napster bringing people onboard with the idea of downloading their favorite songs without waiting, or even paying for it.
So the idea of someone carefully planning, plotting, orchestrating the theft of specific valuable piece of art is some old school stuff. I mean, while other crooks were content to just stick a gun in someone’s face on the street or rip ATM out of walls with trucks and figure out how to get inside them later, these guys were out there buying police uniforms to exacting physical specifications, drawing diagrams, plotting escape routes. Perfectionism. It’s movie stuff, starring Cary Grant and Danny Kaye as the debonair art thief and his ever-nervous associate attempting to abscond with DuBonfet’s “Cat With Pillow” (Note: not an actual piece of art) from wealthy countess Olivia DeHavilland. Not some guys who earlier in the day could have been watching Forrest Gump on the big screen.
But this sort of - quaint? – criminality is not unusual here in Boston. Bank robbery is big here. Like at-least-once-a-week big. For a city of its size, Boston (and surrounding area) is right up there with the big boys like Chicago and Los Angeles. According to MassMostWanted.com., so far this year there have been three bank robberies in July, four in June, three in May and two in April. In the Chicago, according to BanditTrackerChicago.com, there were two in July, two in June, one in May and two in April. Close, but given their disparity in population, area, etc., quite impressive, Boston.
These old school robberies are but one of the aspects of Boston that seems to show the residents’ love of the old school. Like guys who still wear their baseball caps backwards as if the 1990s never ended. Or kids who are still trying to perfect their skill at popping a wheelie, something me and my friends did in the 1970s.
Sure, they’re probably doing those same things somewhere else in America, but having live in two other time zones and not seen it anywhere else since the dawn of the new millennium, I have to tip my backwards White Sox cap to Bostonians for keeping it old school in the face of the march of time.
I keep wondering what other blasts-from-the-pasts Boston has in store for us here. Do they still breakdance in the subway on large pieces of cardboard? I assume there must still also be cat burglars in Boston, as well as second-story men, counterfeiters, bunko artists, flimflam men and B-girls.
We’re flying back to Chicago for a vacation in a few dans. I hope they don’t hijack our plane to Cuba out of Logan Airport.
I moved out of Chicago in 2010 and moved to Denver. That was hard.
In 2012 I moved from Denver to Boston. That? Not so hard.
Not to knock Denver, but leaving it was pretty easy. It wasn’t, of course, like leaving Chicago, a city I lived in all my life and where nearly everyone I know and everyone who really knows me lives – family, friends I’ve known since I was 10, that sort of thing. I welcomed the adventure of moving to Denver and residing in an entirely new place, but the reality of leaving Chicago was something I held down and tried not to think about.
But leaving Denver, even after living there for almost three years, was rather easy. Now some people might say, “Sure, it’s easy, it was only three years.” But they’d be surprised at the number of people who absolutely fall in love with Denver after, oh, say, three hours of living there. They gush about their new city and walk around like kids who’ve been given $1,000 and sole access to a toy store. You hear “Awesome” a lot about everything in Denver: the mountains (which are not actually IN Denver, but whatever…), the rock climbing (again, not actually in Denver, but I won’t quibble), the music scene (which leans toward the semi-obscure indie rock bands, so not a lot for me personally to get nuts about) and the beer culture (OK, I got on board with that pretty quickly).
But everything else was, as the kids say, “meh.” Of the activities that actually occurred in Denver proper – the weekly jazz fests in the summer, the street fairs, the citywide celebrations, etc., they were nice, but… you know, sort of not what I was used to. Oh, everyone appeared to be having a good time, but to me it seemed as if they were having a good time because they assumed they were supposed to be having a good time. At the jazz fest, people would occasionally get up and dance to music, despite the fact that most jazz really isn’t music for dancing. But they do so because, you know, it’s music and it’s a festival and, well, we’re supposed to be having a good time. Argue with me if you must whether jazz is a dancing music, but I think to truly appreciate it you have to listen to it, to hear that whole “notes between the notes” thing to appreciate the skill. But, yeah, dance if you want to, I guess.
Note: Not that I’m Michael Jackson, but I know not-good dancing when I see it. In fact, I concluded they were moving their feet into the spaces BETWEEN where their feet was supposed to be. I cringed.
Despite my “underwhelmedness” with Denver, I liked the city. And I was growing to appreciate it. Not love it, but appreciate it. I learned to keep my mouth shut when people – again, mostly newcomers to the city – raved about everything around them (again, “awesome,” or “fucking awesome” or some other variation utilizing the word “awesome”) and just let them go on. “Don’t you think that’s awesome?” they’d ask about some innocuous thing – a restaurant that had ping-pong tables, a bar that served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Tim Tebow. I’d respond with a non-committal “Mmmmm.” Which sounds like an answer, sounds like an agreeable answer, but is really just a vibrating of the vocal chords signifying nothing.
I used to counter those raves with stories about similar things back home in Chicago and how much better they were there. A bar with ping-pong tables? Eh, back in Chicago there’s a bar that has nightly axe-throwing contests. That bar sells peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Well, in Chicago there’s a bar that makes s’mores over a fire in a metal trashcan in the middle of the room. I found myself trying to one-up almost everything with a similar comparison to something bigger, badder and bolder that was to be found in Chicago.
And I started to realize it was not only obnoxious but unfair. I figured out I did it partly because I missed a lot about Chicago for a number of reasons. And partly because it was all true. But just because something’s true doesn’t mean it needs to be said. But that’s what you do when you’re from a big city: you make instant comparisons to wherever you are. And wherever you are is always inferior to wherever you’re from. It can be world capitals like London, Paris, Madrid or Moscow and a resident of New York City, Los Angeles or, yes, Chicago will always find ways in which their city is better and more badass.
“Soccer hooligans? Whatever. A couple of Gangster Disciple shorties would kick their ass.”
“Damn, the streets of Paris are fucked up…at least Chicago laid them out where they make some fucking sense.”
“Those Russian fuckers think they can drink, but in Chicago the bars stay open until 4 in the morning… 5 on Saturdays!”
So I finally decided to let Denver be Denver. It is what it is, even if it may not really doesn’t know what “it” is.
(In the course of writing this, I tried to figure out the Denver “identity.” A lot of other places, both big and small, have a distinct civic identity. And as far as I could determine, Denver didn’t really have one, as far as I could tell. And “chill” is not an appropriate city identity).
From that point, when people walked up to me in their skinny jeans and told me how “awesome” that bar that featured ‘70s music is, I pushed down the urge to respond, “Not if you actually LIVED in the ‘70s.” Instead, I merely agreed with them. It was difficult, like trying not to tell your best friend that his girlfriend offered to give you blowjob in the bathroom. But I held it in until we finally moved away and I exhaled as we crossed the state line.
But now we’re in Boston and the game is completely different. This is a different fight. Denver was Ali vs. Chuck Wepner. Boston is Ali vs. Frazier, or at the very least, Ali vs. Foreman.
In this corner, a city with a hugely diverse population, a very distinct personality, a strong character, a definite edge, a crazy devotion to sports and an abundance of dark bars where old guys sip cheap beers for hours on end and bitch about whatever the last thing they saw on television when they left the house.
In the other corner…the same thing.
I keep wondering if I can or should play that “yeah, but in Chicago…” game here in Boston. I could probably win the “which city is more dangerous” game. Yeah, that’s a real game played by people who are lifelong residents of a big city. Nobody wants their city to be a thought of as a “punk” city so a guy from Chicago will debate a guy from Boston on which city has the most dangerous neighborhoods, the roughest bars, how you have to watch your ass at all times on the subway. It’s a stupid argument that nonetheless happens.
As of now, I believe have the lead over a Bostonite in the dubious contest of which city is more badass, thanks to an average of, oh, 30 people shot per weekend in Chicago. Boston does has its share of crazy/dangerous people and situations. A while back, a guy chased down a bus and took a couple of swings at a bus driver because he passed him by at a previous stop. Sure, it’s crazy, but it’s not exactly “Chicago crazy.”
I try not to play the game, but a few Boston people have managed to pull me in. I made an off-handed comment a while back on Facebook that joked about a couple of guys in Boston who got in trouble with the law for playing hacky-sack near the subway.
I wrote: “In Chicago, the guys play hacky-sack with an actual guy’s sack…with his sack still attached.” A Boston friend instantly felt the urge to immediately respond with tales of violent “Southies” (aka South Boston residents), the thugs in Mattapan, and dire warnings of the consequences of wearing a New York Yankees cap, which mostly consisted of getting “beat up.”
Beat up. How quaint.
I think next year I’ll own this town.
Having somewhat recently reduced my intake of cable-generated news (i.e. reduced down to the basic plan to put a dent in our outrageous Comcast bills), I haven’t been able to see first-hand the daily meanderings of the CNN.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hearing what’s been going on at the Ted Turner
CNN, apparently, has become very good at making news while reporting the news. Not “good” news, mind you, but attention-getting news nonetheless.
The latest incident involved Don “When Life Hands You Only One” Lemon, CNN’s bold, intrepid news anchor who is not afraid of asking the hard questions. “Hard” as in no one else seems to be able to come up with such obtuse, confounding, impossible-to-answer-rationally questions.
Following on the heels of such head-scratchers as the possibility of a black hole appearing out of nowhere, swallowing an airliner and then disappearing again, and oral genital mutilation as a valid defense in the event of sexual assault comes Lemon’s hot take on the tragedy at Charleston, S.C.
Lemon made a valiant attempt at bringing the entire tragedy down to a level that anyone (read: he) could understand. Standing proudly before the studio camera, the Edward R. Murrow for our times displayed a giant black placard with one single word printed on it in white.
“Nigger.” Minus the period. All caps.
(For font nerds it appeared to be Myriad Roman or Myriad Pro Regular.)
One can only image the conversation Lemon had while discussing his idea with the twenty-something clerk behind the print center counter at Staples.
Lemon: Hi, I need a big sign printed.
Clerk: Ok, how big?
Lemon: Oh, about…this big? (holds hand approximately 4 feet and then 3 feet apart)
Clerk: Sure, we can do that. What’s on the sign?
Clerk: I’m sorry, what?
Lemon: Nigger. N-I-G-G…
Clerk: I know how to spell it. You want that on a sign?
Clerk: Nothing else?
Lemon: Nope. Just the big ol’ word “Nigger.” How long is it going to take?
Clerk: Um, not long. I mean, it’s just a big black card with the word “Ni…” Um, the N-word.
Lemon: Great. I’m due on the set in about 20 minutes.
Clerk: The set?
Lemon: Yup. I’m a newsman!
Lest you think Lemon was going to use the sign for, I dunno, a new, provocative nightclub or racially charged ice cream shop, the actual use was simpler than that. He brought the sign onto the set, held it up and asked America: “Does this offend you?”
Yes, he could have been talking about his stupid stunt itself, or his very existence as a prominent national news anchor. But he was talking about the word on the sign.
As much as Lemon – who I watched as a local news anchor in my hometown of Chicago before he made a name for himself on CNN - is bearing the brunt of the criticism for this stupid stunt, and deservedly so, I have to think he didn’t orchestrate this alone. The sign was much too big to hide under his suit jacket so he probably didn’t pull a Howard Beale and go rogue. I have to assume some executive – a producer, stage director, etc. – had to know he had this giant sign reading “Nigger” and planned to use it as a prop for his provocative, in-depth and penetrating question for America.
Showing that there are more depths of stupidity to plumb, CNN followed that up a few days later by asking a panel the question: “Should Pres. Obama Apologize for Slavery?” Presumably because Obama has one white parent. Which, following CNN’s logic, means he should only half apologize but who wants a half-assed apology?
Given Lemon’s frequent demonstrations of physical agility by putting his foot well into his mouth, I often wonder how he’s able to keep his job. From suggesting that a rape victim didn’t do enough to prevent the attack because she didn’t chomp down on her assailant’s penis, to asking a human rights advocate is he was, in fact, actually a supporter of ISIS, Lemon is the gift that keeps on giving. If that gift is a hose connected to a sewage treatment plant.
But then I remember that – as James Earl Jones intones – “This is CNN!” A 24-hour “news” channel that routinely runs out of actual news about four hours into the day. Which leaves 20 hours to fill. Which gives us snazzy graphics of the cockpit of missing airplanes that bring nothing to the conversation. Which gives us five people shouting at the same time, with no points being made like a more-topical Jerry Springer. Which gives us Lemon.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with CNN, how I’m supposed to watch it. Do I watch it like a news channel that occasionally features fantasy segments? Is it a freewheeling performance piece that can veer from science fiction to comedy to shout-fest in a matter of seconds?
As close as I can figure, CNN is like a hostage-taker with no demands. They’re holding people captive but we don’t have a clue of their mindset, ideology or demands. They're impossible to negotiate.
It’s strange enough, for me at least, having someone else read something I wrote. I belong to a writing group and, naturally, the whole point is to have other members read your work and make helpful comments/criticisms. I appreciate all of it, of course, but since I’ve always been a little weird about other people reading/hearing my work, it makes me a little uncomfortable. Stupid, I know.
So imagine how I felt when a short play I wrote was not only read but also performed at a recent play festival in Houston. Which meant that not just producers, directors and actors read it, but real, live audience members SAW it. Got dressed up, walked/drove/cabbed their way over to the swanky new theater in which the festival took place, plunked down $20 and sat in their seats waiting to be entertained.
Of course, mine wasn’t the only production in the 10-play festival. And it certainly wasn’t the best (I mean, I liked what I wrote but several others were pretty amazing). But as I took my seat I felt my nerves tingling. I was about to be judged. Again.
Yet, an amazing thing happened. Everything was great. The actors bleeping nailed it. They took what was in my head, and without specific instructions from me, made it real. The staging was perfect: sound effects, lighting and setting captured the scene and transported it to the world I created. It was pretty astonishing to see. After both performances I attended I could not refrain from telling the director and actors how grateful I was for what they accomplished.
And the audience. They laughed at the lines that were meant to be funny. Applauded loudly at the end. I believe it also got a “whooo!” or two.
Writing is almost always a lone process. You come up with ideas alone. You write alone. You self-edit alone. You decide if you’re done alone. But eventually, if it’s your goal, it sees the light of day and is judged by the public. Sometimes it doesn’t accomplish what you intended. But sometimes…
So, of course, there's a lot of speculation and debate about the final episode of Mad Men, which makes sense. I don't recall any show being dissected as thoroughly as this one was on a weekly basis. Not the Sopranos, not Game of Thrones, not even the imminetly dissectable Walking Dead. There are recaps of those shows, pieces on the motivations of characters, etc. But none of the what-does-it-REALLY-mean in-depth analysis that Don Draper, et al, have garnered from the press and fans.
Perhaps much of the search for deeper meaning comes from the fact that the characters on the show were closer to us than people like Tony Soprano or Khaleesi or Rick Grimes. Very few of us have been mob bosses, queens of mystical realms or post-apoclyptic survivors. But most of us have worked in an office, had offices "romances," dealt with asshole bosses and had conflicts with our spouses or other family members.
Then there's the familarity of the subject matter: advertising. It operates on our emotions so it was great to see what goes on behind the scenes, or at least one man's interpretation of what goes on behind the scenes. What do the people who make us feel warm and fuzzy about Chicken McNuggets really do and look like (probably not like Don Draper, but still...).
So in light of that familiarity, most people assumed there was something working under the surface. Which is why you had all of these theories about how the final direction of the show and how it would end. Everything from Don Draper is really D.B. Cooper to Don (or someone) is going to fall out of a window and die, a la the Mad Men opening credits. The mix of theories all pointed to one thing: people wanted something definitive.
Which makes the actual ending all that much more perfect.
There is, actually, something definitive about how the saga of Mad Men wrapped up: Don reaching bliss in a "hippie" mediation/personal growth retreat in California. He's always dabbled in marijuana so he's familiar with a different plane of consciousness. He appeared to be most relaxed and at his TRUE self (Dick Whitman) when visiting the real Mrs. Draper at her home in California. And his "lost weekend" of partying with Hollywood wanna-be starlets and the like seemed right up his alley. And then there's my personal theory that the end of the line would be California: In a promo teaser for the first half of Season 7, Don is shown driving along a coastline, a vast expanse of water behind him. The music playing is Doris Day's version of "Que Sera Sera" which not only was featured in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Man Who Knew Too Much" in which she also starred, but was also the theme song for her TV show in the 1970s - which was set in California (San Francisco, to be exact.)
Then there was the final use of the old "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" Coca-Cola ad of 1971. It was intriguingly jarring an ending as the infamous abrupt blackout closing of The Sopranos.
But it was perfect. Don is an advertising man, through and through. He took to it more than anything else in his life: marriage, kids, responsible drinking. So when a guy like Don finds bliss, he also finds a way to capitalize on it. No one in his office had that kind of connection with that type of counterculture (well, maybe Paul Kinsey and Stan Rizzo, but he wasn't about to listen to them). To him, it was a revelation. So why not share it...and make some bucks in the process?
You could argue that the ending was tied up too neatly, with most of the characters finding the place they wanted/needed to be. People can (and do) bitch about how there was no big payoff, no final unmitigated ending. Don dies. The future is shown where Sally looks at her own children and vows to raise them differently. All of the kids secretly birth by Don meet to discuss their never-present old man.
But if having the consumate advertising man find a way to use his newfound happiness in his line of work isn't a realistic and perfect ending, I don't know what it.
I've done design/desktop publishing stuff for a while now, but there's always something new I've seen or heard about that makes it all continually seem new. Which I guess is the great thing about design. It's never stagnant.
If you're interested in design, print or otherwise, there's a great new series of e-mail classes coming up that might be of interest to you. Called "Design Pitfalls," it's a course taught by David Kadavy, who wrote "Design for Hackers" and was a lead designer at a couple of Silicon Valley start-ups and who has won a few international design awards.
Sign up for the course ends soon. Do it here: http://designpitfalls.co/
Born in 1207, St. Elizabeth of Hungary was married at 14, widowed at 20, died at 24 and was canonized four years later. An amazingly rapid run to spiritual stardom by any standards, liturgical or otherwise. Like being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame after a brief, injury-plagued career.
Following her husband's death, Elizabeth pledged herself to the spiritual service of inquisitor Konrad von Marburg, who responded to her devotion by imposing upon her strict standards of behavior. Standards that Elizabeth found impossible to uphold.
As punishment for her shortcomings, Elizabeth was repeatedly beaten and her children sent away. All for not living up to impossible standards.
In the first grade at St. Elizabeth Elementary School, I was told that I could no longer be left-handed. Not explicitly told. It was simply suggested that I use my right hand for writing. Suggested in the way Sr. Paula would removed the pencil from my left hand and reinsert it to my right on a daily basis.
I sit at my desk, the fingers of my left hand wrapped tightly around a No. 2. My face inches from the paper, monitoring each line as I practiced tracing letters.
A. M. R.
Suddenly, the sound of hard-soled shoes padding across the wooden classroom floor. A shadow over my paper. A cold hand wraps its fingers tightly around mine, the stark sleeve of an all black garment in sharp contract to pale white skin.
"Right hand," Sr. Paula says. Firmly. "Remember. Right hand only."
She wrests the pencil from my left hand and nestles it in my right. Uses her own hands to bend and twist my four-year-old fingers into the proper writing position. Each finger individually readjusted.
I grip the pencil awkwardly. It is the shaky supporting beam of a shoddily built house. Holding it there feels like an unnatural act. My hand looks like someone else's. It moves like someone else's. The concentration needed to form a simple "S" is like trying to will a cup to levitate. I need to rewire my brain, to forget what is natural. Relearn how to move. Left is not left any more, but "LEFT." My hand does not do as it is told.
Writing is now a standard that is impossible for me to uphold.
I regress often. Both unconsciously and intentionally. I focus on tracing letters and keeping a lookout for Sr. Paula. She discovers me several times, falling into "bad habits." Each time, the pencil is yanked from my left hand more forcefully than before, sometimes accompanied by a strike with a ruler as painful reinforcement. As if the left hand had been operating on its own in defiance.
The pencil is jammed into my right hand, this time with more determination than before. The fingers squeezed harder as if to fuse them into formation.
Decades later, I learn that the Latin word for "left" is "sinistra." It is also the Latin word for "evil." For centuries, left-handed people were considered evil. In league with the devil. It was believed that Satan used his left hand to baptize his disciples. That those who practiced the dark arts saluted Satan with their left hands. In many cultures, the left hand is used exclusively to wipe oneself after defecating.
So it was in 1960s Chicago that I, a left-handed four year old, had a soul that needed to be saved.
Yet as abruptly as the effort to convert me into a right-hander began, it ended. With no fanfare, the squeezed hands, the twisted fingers, the rapped knuckles simply stopped. The pencil allowed to remain in my left hand, however awkwardly poised. Sr. Paula remained at her desk, rising only to scold gum chewers.
The entire issue was no longer important. The devil inside me left alone.
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Matthew 25:33-34...41 (King James Version)
There's probably an official answer on the end of this practice somewhere. I wouldn't know. My affiliation with the Catholicism pretty much ended after eighth grade. I went to a public high school and Sunday mornings were for watching football. I became a newspaper reporter, taking notes with my left hand, the devil somewhere over my shoulder.