I learned to read when I discovered that books were a form of transportation that could get me from math to the Mississippi in a matter of seconds. Anything to get away from Mrs. Murnau’s screeching chalk and Farmer Brown’s chickens, which were always coming and going from eggs to chicks to skillets and ovens. Today I realize Farmer Brown suffered from OCD, an obsessive-compulsive disorder that drove him to count and recount and divide and multiply and subtract — he was loony — I was immune, and grateful to this day. Two eggs or three? they ask; What’s the difference? I answer.
I learned to write during an in-class essay test on The Scarlet Letter, which I had not read. I didn’t even know what it was about, or which letter. I’d been reading something else. It didn’t stop me from turning in a fine paper. I received high praise for my effort, along with an F, and a private meeting with my English teacher whose only question was: What’s wrong with you? I don’t remember my answer, but I clearly remember the color she turned when I told her she had beautiful eyes. It was scarlet.
Her face, not her eyes. Her eyes were green. She was my English teacher through all four years of high school, which, I’m told, is a mathematical improbability. When she decided in my senior year that I was to be her lover, the math made a little more sense.
I graduated from high school because my time was up, went on to art school where they encouraged behavior like mine, and felt my way through life, eventually becoming a successful freelance writer for various corporate clients in Chicago. About 26 years later I noticed my phone hadn’t rung in about a year. A year after that I was counseled to consider getting a job. The next year brought bankruptcy, the sale of my home and a new residence of the far edge of civilization, followed by nearly a year of nonstop limo driving to and from O’Hare International Airport, undoubtedly the nastiest, rudest, meanest place on Earth. Three months after the first time I awoke at 75 mph I finally had to admit that sleeping while driving was hazardous to tips. I quit the limo business, took up blogging and waited for my IRA to run out, which brings us up to date, roughly.
Old guys, listen up. When the day comes that you think driving a limo is the only way you can survive, it’s already too late. Tie yourself into a Hefty bag and put yourself on the curb. And for God’s sake, if you leave a note, just say you ran out for cigs. That way your family can imagine you’re off somewhere in Wyoming working as a ranch hand instead of being perfectly preserved between layers of phone books.
When I began today’s entry I had no intention of telling the story of my life. I was going to complain about people stealing Newsweek out of my john, leaving me nothing but back issues. I was going to tell you what I’ve learned from reading old news: that two years ago anthrax appeared in envelopes, with both the trail and the story ending at a U.S. government lab; that a month ago came the shocking revelation of zero WMDs in Iraq with the trail twisting into the capillaries of State and Congress and the story ending in varicose dead ends; that a few weeks ago deadly ricin was turning up on pieces of Washington stationery — but whoever wrote the story must have died, because that was the end of it.
The universe is comprised of unfinished stories. I don’t want to add to them. I still prefer the stories unbegun, because that’s where all the hope is. I learned from the limo not to count miles or minutes, and I brought that learning to the blog, where I count neither words nor hits. Not because I’m wiser now, but because I’m still just as dumb as ever. I still don’t know how many chickens Farmer Brown ended up with, anymore than I know why people stopped wondering about the anthrax “scare.”
All I know is that I can only see the heels of bliss as it runs away, but I have to keep chasing it anyway. Even after the secret is blown — that it’s all a big circle — I gotta run gotta run run. On foot. And leave the limos alone.