Reflections on Father’s Day [My Split Personality]

My wife showed me the mirror.

“Shall I toss it?”

I looked at the brass Art Nouveau frame, just enough Erte to grab my eye.

“No way,” I said.

I was standing on the deck and I held the object d’art up and found my reflection.  The glass was broken in several places.  My face was distorted, like when I gaze upon a beautiful woman on the Coney Island beach, who happens to be on break from the “Freak Show”.  She is covered in tattoos.  Or, distorted like when I gaze at the rotting carcass of a king crab on the sand of a lonely beach on Grand Manan Island in Maine.  Or, distorted like when I am forced to listen to a CD by Miley Cyrus.  Or, distorted like when I hear someone say that Bob Dylan can’t really sing.

Get the idea?

But, as I looked closely at the broken mirror, I saw several very different versions of myself.  One part of me was the old man I had changed into when I closed my eyes for a nap a few years ago and woke up in late middle age.  I’ve had gray hair most of my life, but what was that white on my head?  (My son told me that I had that Phil Donahue look…and that was twenty years ago).  Another part of me shows the fear I always felt about getting old and facing my own mortality.  Behind that part of my head, I could see the chaos that was the universe…and I remembered all that I did to keep that terror of history at bay.

But there was yet another portion of my visage that I saw…more clearly now.  It was one of contentment and peace.  One of thankfulness that I’ve made it this long, seen so much and, hopefully, affected more than one life.

Yes, I was a father.  Twice.  Now, I’m a grandfather.  A tiny bit of my DNA is residing inside of a little boy living in Orting, Washington.  Another little molecule or two lives in some mitochondria of my daughter, also of Orting.  What did she inherit from me?  A love of travel? An insatiable love of books?  And, a trace or two dwells inside the boy who was once so shy, fearful and gentle.  Now, I see him as a man who outsizes me like I’m Y. A. Tittle and he is Bronco Nagurski.

I put the mirror down and went into the dining room where, in a small frame, is a photo of my father standing proudly beside his 1950 something Sunbeam Alpine.  I took the picture in our driveway of our house in Owego, NY.  Next to that is a another photo of him taken in the early 1930’s.  I looked at that picture for years before I realized it was a “selfie”.  Perhaps one of the first.  I can see a thin white string leading from his hand toward the camera.  He had it rigged so that he just tugged on the string and his image would be frozen forever on a sheet of silver-coated paper.

What did I have inside me that was part of him?  His love of reading?  His Irish heritage?  His restless nature?  His curiosity of nearly everything (even ABBA when he was in his late 80’s).

It’s a funny thing to think about.  How we are all parts of a jigsaw puzzle the size of which would overwhelm your brain if you stopped to consider the random choices, history, a right turn here, a left turn there.

A broken mirror gives me, as a father, so many choices.  To look back on my own dad.  To look at myself.  And, to look at the life I helped to bring into this world.

The store in Saranac Lake called yesterday.  The broken glass of the brass mirror is fixed now.  No more split personalities.


The Sociology of Corn

I was staring at the obvious and it suddenly hit me like a bolt of blue lightning.

People drive past acres of cornfields everyday and most miss it.  I did for a long time, until I saw what was happening in the cornfield.  It was awesome!

On this particular day, I stood at the roadside and studied the rows of corn.  The symmetry was artistic in its way, but the repetitive linear rows were the work of the seeding machine and a farmer.  But something else was going on.  I noticed, really becoming aware for the first time, how even the tops of the corn stalks were.  The field stretched out into the hazy distance.  My view was clear.  The height of the stalks were amazing in their uniformity.

How like humans they are, I pondered.

Inside each and every corn seed that arrives in a burlap bag from a distributor is the DNA of the corn plant.  Deep in the cells of countless seeds is a signal, built in by nature, to tell the plant to stop growing.  And here is the most incredible thing of all: the plants obey!  As a rule it is not a rational choice with vegetation to do what is best or what is expected.  Their soul and brain are sealed in the nucleus.  They cannot exhibit conscious behavior (as far as we know).

We humans, at the top of the Animal Kingdom, can make choices.

Inside our own cells is a similar bit of genetic code that tells a human to stop growing.  The real beauty, here, is that the ‘stop’ signal does allow for variations.  Not all humans are the same height.  But, given the number of individuals involved, (the population of the entire globe over millennia) the height is remarkably within certain perameters.  Some people are small and some are not (google Yao Ming).  These are the outliers…the individuals that do not fall in the bell curve of human height.  But, again, given the countless numbers, its all pretty close.

Back in the cornfield, we see these outliers.  Every so many rows there will be a stalk that has defied the DNA and shot up another 8 inches…or stopped growing 6 inches too soon.

But its still corn.  And the outlier people are still people.

Tonight, the corn chewers look with love at that fat cob, dripping with butter, pepper and salt (hey, watch your Sodium intake).  These eaters are not aware if the ear they’re holding is an outlier or not.  It tastes just as sweet.

But when humans confront human outliers, they marginalize them.  She’s too tall.  He’s too short.

We should study the corn and learn a lesson.  The people who are off the charts in some way, can be more exceptional in ways we have not even considered .


Long Live the King

So, now it’s more or less certain that the bones of Richard III were found buried under a car park in Leicester, England.  I happened to be in London when the news broke that researchers were looking closely at the site.  At first it sounded like a bit from a “Monty Python” sketch…but then I began to read the details and wonder.

It seems so logical.  Here we have a King that not that well liked in his time.  He is reputed to have been killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  It was the battle that ended the “War of the Roses” and succeeded in opening the way for the Tudors to rule England for about 117 years.

But a King, in a car park? Now, that’s surreal.  But think about.  A battle raged.  Men died in messy ways and there was confusion all about.  His body was put into a hole on the grounds of the nearby Grayfriars Abbey.  There it lay, decomposing and nearly becoming soil until some scholars decided in 2012 to have a look at the area where the Abbey was located.

Using state-of-the-art techniques and then DNA analysis, it has now fairly certain that they had located the old misshapen monarch himself.

Pity poor Richard.  Vilified by Shakespeare and history in general, he kept a solitary watch on the substratum of Leicester.  Now, what town or city in England doesn’t need a car park?  Try to find one when you driving on the left and scratching around the great sites trying to avoid hurting a pedestrian.  It’s not easy.

So Leicester has one less car park but England has gained the bones of a key player in the history of Britain.

Without the foibles and darkness of guys like Richard, where would Shakespeare be?  Probably sipping some grog in a Stratford ale house, pinching the wench and dreaming up weird characters with twisted spines.

Long Live the King!