In the whimsical tradition he is known for, humorist Dennis Ford once again embarks on an amusing exploration into the captivating worlds of science, literature, history, and popular culture-all without ever leaving the comfy air-conditioned interior of his Saturn Ion.
In the style of his previous work, Thinking About Everything, Ford shares a medley of new musings on the worries of the world and the unique friendliness of San Antonio as he plays peek-a-boo with a spider, attempts to climb a rainbow, and captures a leprechaun. Ever the helpful humorist, Ford continues on a journey of thoughtful adventures through the mundane and esoteric as he explains how the postal service can mail itself into a profitable future, why fantastical lies can make elections more interesting, and a way through which one can acquire a window seat on the ferry to the Great Beyond. Included are "Excellent Groaners," a compilation of puns, and "Professor Fawcett's Notorious Lecture on Test-Irrelevant Thoughts," a learned presentation on the psychological perils of test anxiety told partly in acronyms.
Miles of Thoughts offers an amusing glimpse into one man's upside-down world as he commutes through the beautiful scenery of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and contemplates life.
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Miles of Thoughtsincluding Excellent Groaners and Prof. Fawcett's Notorious Lecture on Test-Irrelevant Thoughts
By Dennis Ford
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Dennis Ford
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMILES OF THOUGHTS
1. Many people are convinced the world is coming to an end. Preachers tell us we are living at the end of time—this is presumably the same as the "end times". This sort of religious prognostication has been going on for centuries—twenty centuries, as a matter of record. The current crop of nigh-sayers with white collars and crosses can be considered diremen in the snooker-and-larder brigade.
They ought to know better, but the scientific crowd has grown equally giddy over the possibility that the end is imminent. The modus operandi for Armageddon is a bit diverse in science compared to that in religion in which Jesus and Satan more or less dook it out amid human cannon fodder. Some scientists claim we are going to suffocate as the greenhouse effect squeezes the collective breath out of us. Other scientists claim we are going to take it on the continental chin when the big asteroid unleashes a cosmic right hook. Still other scientists claim the world will end as humanity incinerates itself in a hailstorm of hydrogen bombs. And there are scientists who put the odds on a little creature called a virus that is presently exchanging feathers for hairy nasal passages.
So the world will end with fire and brimstone. Or with carbon dioxide. Or with a cosmic right hook. Or with H-bombs and nuclear rain. Or with wheezing, sneezing, runny noses, and day trips to the toilet. If it turns out that a virus does the human race in, the Four Horsemen will have to be renamed "Sweat", "Pus", "Bile", and "Phlegm".
2. The Four Horsemen are not the four guys in the warehouse with stuffy noses and sore throats. According to the Book of Revelation they are the apocalyptic figures who usher in the end of the world. In our time the Four Horsemen is a sexist term. The modern usage prefers Four Horsepersons. To be equitable to half the world's population and balance things out we need to change the gender of two horsepersons. I opt to make Famine and Pestilence female. War and Death can stay male.
The end of the world will come and it will be nonsexist when it arrives.
3. The world is indeed worried about avian flu. Since we have no immunity, the fear is infection could rapidly turn into a pandemic. If a pandemic breaks out, there won't be any rheum in the ER. As a species we will be in the proverbial "big trouble".
Symptoms of avian flu are similar to that of seasonal flu, with one difference. There are the usual fevers, chills, night sweats, nausea, and trots to the toilet. A symptom unique to avian flu is a fondness for lying in dirt and flapping the arms and legs and dust bathing. If I feel that symptom coming on I intend to buy two bottles of Remy Martin XO. One bottle is for me. The other bottle is for the Ferryman. I prefer a window seat on the boat to the Great Beyond and I hear the Ferryman is susceptible to bribes.
You are welcome to join me if you feel the urge to drop to the ground and dust bathe. Climb up and sit with me on the branch. We can hold hands and reminisce and comfort one another and pass the bottle back and forth.
When it comes to the Ferryman, you'll have to buy your own bottle.
4. The Borough of Manhattan Community College is doing what it can to keep avian flu from the halls of learning in the great building on Chambers St. There are signs in the men's room informing students how to wash. I presume the same information is posted in the ladies' room, but I've never been in the ladies' room.
TO STOP THE GERMS the signs advise students to WET, SOAP, SCRUB, RINSE, DRY, TURN OFF THE WATER. Pictures accompany each step in the process. The pictures are for the students who don't read English.
There is a problem. I don't see how any of this good advice can work. The signs tell students to TURN OFF THE WATER. They don't tell students to TURN ON THE WATER. Students can't proceed to WET unless they TURN ON THE WATER, but they're not told to do that.
They will never get to WET.
God keep us from the imminent pan-academic outbreak.
5. The inquiring mind would like to ask, "If the pandemic starts, can we break out of the outbreak?"
6. On summer evenings a Pinelands entrepreneur sells grilled chicken from a flatbed in a parking lot in Warren Grove on County Road 539. He places advertisements along the road. They are simple wooden signs at fender level that announce "Piney chicken!" in magic marker. This kind of ad produces instant curiosity in drivers going slow enough to read road signs. "Piney chicken? How is that different from chicken that isn't Piney grilled—or is it grilled Piney?" The answer is Piney chicken is the same as grilled chicken in the rest of the state except for the feathers.
7. If any movie ever came to a decisive conclusion it was James Cameron's Titanic. The ship has broken in two and sunk. Jack Dawson has drowned. Rose Dewitt Bukater has survived into old age. She revisits the site of the wreck, tosses the jewels her psycho boyfriend hid in her coat pocket, and quietly slips into the gala going on in the Great Beyond. A sequel didn't appear possible—until now. I've sent the studio an outline tentatively entitled Titanic Two.
Here's the story line. Jack won the ticket that got him admission to the doomed liner, but he never got aboard. He was struck by a shillelagh and knocked unconscious by a friend who took the ticket and made the voyage in his place. Jack has been in a coma for days. He's been dreaming he's on board. He's been dreaming the story we saw in Titanic.
He awakes from the coma at the exact moment the black and gold stacks blow. A nurse lovingly rubs his forehead with a cool sponge. Of course, the nurse is Rose. Before Jack can lower the hem of his hospital gown, they fall madly in love. Just like they did on the steamship. They spend the middle of the movie cooing over each other and whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears. They also tour the famous sites in London—the film is in 70 mm. and needs panorama.
The story progresses. Jack can't find steady work and Rose has been fired for missing too much work. They decide to use their dwindling funds to buy tickets to America. They book voyage in steerage class on a liner called Gargantua, an imaginary sister ship of Titanic. (This is literary license on the high seas.) As Gargantua sails the North Atlantic it swerves to the starboard to avoid colliding with an iceberg and runs into a debris field filled with Titanic flotsam. A sharp-edged object tears a hole in the bow. Gargantua promptly fills with water and sinks. There are the requisite scenes of courage and cowardice on the part of the passengers and crew.
The final scene has Jack and Rose afloat on a door. The door can support only one of them. Jack looks at Rose, a last loving look of hope and despair. "Good-by, Rose," he says in a throaty voice. He pushes her off the door and holds on for dear life. Deliciously beautiful though she is, it doesn't have to be Rose in particular. Any woman can make him babies.
Rose drifts into the darkness. Her white dress balloons. Her hair spreads in a black halo. Her fingers curl in a soggy farewell. There's a look of surprise on her face.
I guarantee there won't be a dry eye in the theater.
8. I ask myself what I would have done if I were Jack Dawson and found myself floating on a door in the North Atlantic next to Rose Dewitt Bukater. Would I have let go and slipped into the sea, as in the original? Or would I have shoved Rose off and hugged the door for myself, as in the sequel?
I like to think I would have done the manly—the manful—thing and let Rose stay afloat, but I can't say for sure. We like to flatter ourselves, but we can't know what we'd do until we're in particular situations. By then, it may be too late to salvage our reputations. The urge to life is very strong and, let's face it, the temperature of the water was 40 degrees.
9. My co-workers were talking about food today. They talk about food nearly every day. The topic was jam, as in which kind do they prefer to smear on bread. Two preferred cranberry jam—they don't acknowledge it, but they are Lutherans. One preferred blueberry. Another preferred boysenberry, whatever that tastes like. One opted for raspberry—she's a Libertine and everyone knows it.
I opted for paper jam. There's nothing more delicious than a slice of paper on a mini-baguette with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and a strip of pickle. I like to soak the insides of the bread with mayo and vinegar. This gives the paper a crinkly taste that tickles the palate.
I prefer lined to unlined paper. The lines give the paper texture. "Al dente," the Italians call it and they ought to know. Sometimes the lines get stuck in my teeth. They can be difficult to floss. If you've ever swallowed a hair in the shower, you know the sensation.
I most definitely prefer blank paper. If I accidentally eat paper that has words written on it, I immediately spit them out. Doing so, I take the words right out of my mouth.
I overdo it on occasion and binge on three-hole lined loose leave paper. I know it sounds déclassé, but I like the cheap paper they sell in the discount stores. The paper gets all stringy in my mouth, but I can crunch on it to my heart's content and give the jaw muscles a workout. It's like eating a ream of celery.
I call this kind of binge a paper jamboree.
10. Apropos of the previous entry, if you and I are on the same page, we're sharing dinner.
11. We're broke down in the parking lot in the Orlando International Airport. The tow-truck operator, a good ole boy type, gets the battery charged. (He was in a hurry to get us fixed—he was on his way to the Clay County mud hop.) I show him my Triple-A card and my driver's license. He looks at the license and snickers, "New Jersey, eh."
The remark was bad enough, but the snicker put me out. Does he snicker when people from Montana break down? Or people from Oklahoma? Or people from Texas or from Nebraska? What is it about New Jersey that brings out the snicker in good ole boy types? Is it pity? Is it compassion? Is it a feeling of superiority? Is it a feeling of resentment? It must be resentment. I don't think the snicker expresses a feeling of admiration. If it were admiration he would have said, "New Jersey, wow," instead of "New Jersey, eh."
12. We've had popes named "John". We've had popes named "Paul". We had a pope named "John Paul". We had another pope named "John Paul". We've never had a pope named "John Paul George Ringo." Maybe we ought to. A pope named "John Paul George Ringo" might invigorate the laity and bring lapsed Catholics back into the blue folds of Holy Mother Church.
On second thought the only Catholics who would return to the fold are senior citizens and people nearing retirement.
It's not a bad thing that seniors and people nearing retirement return to the Church before they cross Abbey Road to the concert hall in the clouds.
13. Pope John Paul George Ringo may not work with the new generation, but young people who don't bathe regularly may find spiritual solace in this. I saw an advertisement for the Church of the Holy Turnbuckle, Pastor Modesto Fidelis ministerin'.
"Join us in worshippin' the World Heavyweight Cham-peen, Superstar Jesus Christ!
"Watch as Pastor Fidelis body slams unbelievers! Watch as Pastor Fidelis slaps the sleeper hold on sinners! Watch as Pastor Fidelis drop kicks the angel of darkness out of the ring and clamps the figure-four leg lock on Satan himself!
"Pastor Fidelis teams up with you know who in a no-disqualification, no-holds-barred match and takes on the Brimstone Bulldogs, Baal and Beel-lousy-bub!
"Come early for front row seats and bring the children. And don't let your hands cramp up when the collection plate circulates."
14. It turns out that Desi Arnaz, the beloved television icon, was into voodoo big-time. He sang songs addressed to "Hey, Baba Looba!" These songs were accompanied by soft shoe steps and a full orchestra of guys in white tuxedoes and snappy red bowties. Off camera Desi waved incense sticks and poured shot glasses of rum over statues of Baba Looba. Back stage Desi slaughtered chickens and rodents in ritual sacrifice to Baba Looba.
Desi prayed to Baba Looba that William Frawley never say a funny line or make a funny move on I Love Lucy.
It worked. Fred Mertz, the William Frawley character, never said anything funny or did anything funny in all the years the series ran. He wasn't the least bit funny. He wasn't remotely funny. He wasn't in the same universe as funny. He was the inverse of funny.
There may be something to voodoo after all.
15. Imagine this. Desi Arnaz is God. You know who the Devil is. I can hear God exclaiming in the most exasperated Cuban accent, "Lucy-fer, you ja-have es-plainin' to do."
16. Quoting Romans 3:23, the preacher remarked, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." I think he should speak for himself.
17. There are no stupid questions. There are only stupid people who ask questions.
It never fails. Every semester there is always one student who is not part of the program. This student is so far out of the curriculum he doesn't belong in the same building as his peers, still less in the same classroom. This doesn't stop him from asking questions, multitudes of questions, none of which have any relevance to the topic at hand.
This semester the honor of enunciating non sequiturs fell on Edwin C—, a wiry and often wired eighteen-year-old from the borough of Brooklyn. Edwin had the appreciated talent of never knowing what chapter we were covering and of never knowing what was being discussed in class. If we were covering memory, he asked about clinical psychology. (He noticed a neighbor liked to cross dress.) If we were covering clinical psychology, he asked about memory. (He has a relative who remembered being born and he wanted to know if that were possible and how come he didn't remember being born.) If we were covering motivation, he asked about social psychology. (He was bullied growing up and he wanted to know why everyone picked on him.) If we were covering social psychology, he asked about motivation. (He has an aunt who is grossly overweight and what should she do to slim down before she explodes.) This went on all semester long. There was no way to stop Edwin and no way to prevent him from bringing the class to a flustered, if not flabbergasted, stop—a vexcine is not available for his kind of student. He was never in step with the class and he was always speaking out of turn and asking questions that were not only beside the point they were nowhere in the vicinity of the point. The questions couldn't reach the point with the tongs senior citizens use to pick up their socks and panty hose.
The single occasion Edwin asked a question that was on topic produced a memorable question and an equally memorable answer. I was lecturing on brain plasticity, which is the process in which the ever-malleable neurons of the cerebral cortex form new pathways whenever anything new is learned. I explained how dendrites and axons proliferate on the basis of new learning and new experiences and how brain cells connect and interconnect at the synapses. I mentioned that there are billons of neurons in the cortex and trillions of synaptic connections, more connections than there are stars in the Milky Way. At this glorious point in the lecture Edwin raised his hand and asked before he was called on, "Mister"—we were seven weeks into the semester and Edwin didn't know my name—"if my brain is plastic, does that mean it's made of the same material as a soda bottle?" He pronounced the word "soda" as "sodie".
I wasn't mad at the question. I understood he wasn't being provocative. He was serious, insofar as a witless person could be serious. I pointed my zinger at him and answered with a grin, "Yes, Edwin, your brain is made of the same material as a soda bottle." I pronounced the word "soda". "That's why we call it protoplastic."
18. I was picking up pictures at the photography kiosk at the local pharmacy the other day. I had to wait an interminable period of time for an elderly lady who was getting special treatment and having her pictures developed on the spot. When she was done she laid the pictures on the counter for the sales clerk to see. Presumably, they were meant for me to see as well. They were pictures of bulls and cows. The bulls were identifiable by their immense antlers and by straw goatees. The cows—lady bulls—had the goatees but not the antlers. Both bulls and cows wore the same dumb looks, as befit a species who has never wised up to why they are being fattened.
Excerpted from Miles of Thoughts by Dennis Ford Copyright © 2012 by Dennis Ford. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMILES OF THOUGHTS....................1
PROF. FAWCETT'S NOTORIOUS LECTURE ON TEST-IRRELEVANT THOUGHTS....................233