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Anecdotes

The following anecdotes, like those I've required students to write, were modeled after those John Cage wrote for Silence and recorded for Indeterminacy.


Back in 1968 or '69, while living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I sewed a small Confederate flag on a ragged fedora and wore it to school. My purpose was to demonstrate solidarity with fellow white students at racially integrated Brainerd High. At that time, we were all flag-wavers, flying the stars-and-bars on clothes, notebooks, and cars, opposing the black's minority desire to change our school emblem and song. We were "Fighting Rebels." Our alma mater was sung to the tune of "Tara," the theme song to Gone With the Wind; when our football team scored a touchdown, the marching band revved up a spirited version of "Dixie." We were anachronisms, rednecks and proud of it--usually. Though I'll readily admit, on the day I wore that hat, Walter embarrassed me. We were in a locker room, P.E. had just ended, and our class was changing out of gym clothes into school clothes. Walter said, "Hey Jarman, why don't you show Kellogg your hat?" Actually, I shouldn't say I was embarrassed. I was terrified. Rumor had it that Kellogg, a budding black radical with whom I shared a taste in soul music and a couple of classes, always carried a knife to school. I was somewhat relieved that he was still in his underwear. "Yeah, let's see it," he said, and walked towards me. I pulled the hat out of my locker, held it out to him, and said, "Well, here it is." I don't think he even looked at it. Instead, he glared at me and said, "Mo' power to ya, Muthafucka." It was as if I had been rebuked by Jesus Christ.


Ian, who's five, is learning to read. The other day he did a particularly good job recognizing--sounding-out--the letters of the alphabet. Pam, thinking she'd reward him for diligence, asked, "Ian, what special treat would you like from the grocery store? Without hesitation, he replied, "A bag of sugar--brown sugar."


When Mary was a little girl, she had a friend whose father was a psychologist. He worked out of his home: His office was a converted garage, and above it, was the bedroom of Mary's friend. She had been taught to play very quietly during her father's counseling sessions. One day, Mary asked the girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied, "A patient."


Cheryl, whose office is across the hall from mine, says the 11th Commandment is simple--and profound: "If you want the most comfortable seat in a house, you've got to move the cat." With it, ethics begin.


I'm thinking--trying to compose a letter--but out of the corner of my eye, I'm watching two of my sons: eight-year-old Ian and thirteen-year-old Adam. I notice Ian opening a jewel box, preparing to slip a disc into the compact disc player. Once again, he's going to play the Ramones. "Beat on the Brat" and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" are his favorite tunes. He's prone to play them over and over. I like them too, but I'm busy.
"Come on, Ian! Not the Ramones. Not right now."
"Oh Dad, please."
"No, I'm writing."
"I promise. I'll play 'em softly."
"That's impossible. The Ramones can't be played softly."
Adam, then, chimes in. "I hate the Ramones. They're awful."
"They're awsome," counters Ian. "You don't got good taste."
"No, you don't have good taste," I say.
"Yeah," agrees Ian, "That's what I said."

John tells me that, when he was young, people used to say, "You're good looking." Now that he's middle-aged, people say, "You're looking good." John says, when he dies, people will say, "Doesn't he look good?"


One morning, Adam, age 17, was driving to school. As his only passenger, I could see that the rising sun was blinding him. Adam's eyes were watering and his hands fidgeted on the car's steering wheel. I, on the other hand, kept thinking about the sun visor, folded back above Adam's head. Would Adam think to lower it? He's an inexperienced driver. At last, he glanced over at me and, in utter exasperation, exclaimed, "Gosh, Dad! Isn't there anything you can do about this sun!"