Entries: January 2006


I’m just home from the airport, and the living room where I grew up still smells of cigars and mildew. It’s not my home anymore, but fragments of my family still live here. Cousin Jacob regards me over the rim of his glasses without lifting his head from his bible. “Come on in, mug, take a load off.” Jacob calls everyone by the informal, “mug.” I think it’s a contraction of “man” and… I’m not sure. Possibly “thug.”

I don’t think I’m better than Jacob is. I don’t. But to be honest, I do suffer from the fear that I’ll think I’m better than he is. To some degree I’ve been plagued by this paranoid-superiority complex since I was was old enough to think I might be different from anyone I didn’t make up in my head. Under the burden of these thoughts I endure countless circular arguments with myself on the topic of superiority, particularly when I’m conversing with one of my rural-bred relatives.

You think you’re better than he is.

No I don’t.

You do. Listen to that sylvan drawl. You’re thinking you could think circles around him. He’s simple folk.

That’s absolutely ridiculous. How he talks is immaterial.

Yet even as you say that you’re fairly certain that he wouldn’t be able to use the word “immaterial” in a sentence. You’re artificially governing yourself so as not to seem overly intelligent. In fact you’re over-compensating, and it makes you sound aloof. You’re spending an inordinate amount of time trying to buffer the disparity between you and this creature of the hills.

So much nonsense! That’s just noise! Shut up!

“So whatcha been up to lately?” Jacob asks me. “How’re things in Caylafornia?”

The land of fruits and nuts—you know that’s what he’s really asking.

Shut up.

“Not much, actually. Just tryin’ to take it easy.”

You said “tryin’” to sound rural! For shame.

Not so, we’re just having a conversation.

“We’s jus havin a convuhsahin, ain’t that raht?”

I don’t think like that! And I don’t think of myself in terms of being better than someone else.

Oh, so by thinking about thinking you’re superior to Cousin Jacob, you’re not actually thinking it first hand. You’re preempting the thought entirely by denying it before it’s yours. So it’s just me thinking it, isn’t it? It’s not something that would even occur to you, right?

If you would shut up about it.

“You tired from the plane trip?” As he draws a sip from his beer, I sit back in the wicker chair which squeaks in protest.

He’s asking you that because he knows how you feel about him. Look at him looking you over, full of holy certainty. He’s got a bead on you. He knows you think you’re better than he is, because it’s impossible for you to conceal it. If you’re quiet then he’ll know you’re ridiculing him, and if you’re verbose then he’ll know you’re showing off. You feel awkward because you’re embarrassed. You feel sorry for him.


Go on, spank that muskrat-eater with your frontal lobe!

“Yeah, those plane trips are always draining. Makes me feel asthmatic.”

The jet-setter! Just in from the exotic west. Show the natives your shiny shoes! “Where I come from we stalk Suicide Girls on the internet, and picket Wal-Marts. We’re all gay!”

Please! We are who we are, and that’s all there is to it.

Jacob leafs through his tome halfheartedly. “Me, I never saw much reason to travel, I guess. Seems like everything I need is right here.”

“All I needs is my bible and my whittlin’ knife.”


You think that by denying the thought, you’re not thinking it. But in order to deny the thought it has to cross your mind, so you are indeed thinking it. In fact you’re obsessed by the thought.


Go on, say something erudite.


Because it goes without saying, doesn’t it?

If I didn’t politely dismiss myself to hole up in the guest room then that internal chatter would continue indefinitely. By the end of it, all I can say is that if this is the price of superiority then I’d much rather be one of you losers.

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Silent Shoes

Walking does not come naturally to me.

Many years ago I was that kid with the weird clothes. My attire was completely out of tune with that of my peers, owing to the fact that my mother refused to buy clothes from clothing stores. “A fancy logo got nothin’ to do with keeping your butt covered,” she’d tell me. But it has a lot to do with me getting my butt kicked, I thought. I wasn’t asking for much. I would have settled for jeans that didn’t feature a yarn and studs depiction of that weeping Indian from the “Keep America Beautiful” TV campaign. But try telling my mother that retirement home craft fairs were not bastions of haute couture.

I had no say in matters of wardrobe. I could only wait for my clothing to deteriorate and hope the replacement would be less of a fist magnet. Needless to say that I helped this process along where I could, scraping along the school’s cinderblock halls, or packing my pockets full of rocks until the seams were strained to the breaking point. But despite the cardiovascular benefits of hauling around ten extra pounds every day, my behavior was viewed as eccentric, and it won me no friends.

Neither was I safe in my own home. Money was tight, and we were living with my step-grandparents at the time, a cynical couple with whom I’d developed an adversarial relationship. My grandfather in particular was a balloon-bellied orangutan-like man with arms like the proverbial ten foot pole. One of his most cherished pastimes was cuffing me across the back of the head whenever I passed by his recliner on the way to my room. Regardless of my pace or bearing, his hand always seemed to land its mark. He could be in a gin stupor and fully reclined, and still catch me upside the head as I tried to sneak by.

Where apparel was concerned, shoes became a particularly touchy subject. With my mother perusing church flea markets every weekend there was simply no predicting what would end up on my feet—half the time I was lucky if I got a matching pair. For my birthday I got obligatory new shoes, logo-free as expected, which turned out to be moccasin / saddle-shoe hybrids with a “stars and stripes” bicentennial theme. They were straight out of a playground bully’s wet dream.

I had finally reached the breaking point. “You’re trying to get me killed!” I yelled at my mother, then extended the retractable wheels from my right “Pop-Wheels” shoe and skated to my room, pausing only for the grandfatherly punch to the base of my skull. For more than a month I glowered, refusing to try on the new shoes, during which time my toes cultivated a broad variety of blisters as they sought escape from their increasingly crowded confines. But when I finally did forfeit I learned that good things sometimes come in hideous packages: I found that my new shoes were as silent as slippers.

No, they were better than that: their sonic footprint was virtually nil. Indeed, they were the silent shoes of every kid’s fantasy. Children hold few other things with as much reverence as silent shoes: secret pockets, found money, and snow days, to name several. But none of them conjured such whimsical thoughts as silent shoes. Wearing them was like suddenly gaining a new super power. Indeed, once I stopped packing my pockets with gravel, my gait became a fearsome thing: lizard-quick, but silent as butterflies.

I wish I could say that I gave in to my darkest whims, that I took advantage of the situation. It’s a romantic notion to think of myself becoming so proficient at sneaking up behind my adversaries that they had to slink around with their backs to the walls like Vice cops on a bust. But in fact I realized the greatest benefit at home, where, thanks to my newfound ability to evade detection, I could now slip by my step-grandfather unharmed.

It was all too good to last however. I enjoyed my silent shoes for about three months, from the end of school through the last days of summer break. But my mom wanted me to start the school year off right, so she did the worst thing imaginable: she bought me corduroys. I was beside myself. I mean why get a kid silent shoes if you’re going to then saddle him with the loudest pants on the planet? And just when things start to get good? For the child with silent shoes, cords were like kryptonite to Superman. In addition to producing a sound not unlike a walrus war cry, these pants generated enough static electricity to melt a Tesla coil, a fact that annoyed my step-grandfather for the extra jolt he had to endure when spanking my skull.

Stealth alone had improved my quality of life to such a degree that I wasn’t about to let it go so easily. Committing an unfortunate miscalculation in judgment that I’ve regretted every day since, I began to walk with my legs farther and farther apart to keep the material from announcing my presence. That this was an act of futility didn’t prevent me from lumbering from side to side as if I were playing hopscotch. My days as a graceful walker came to an abrupt end, and the first days of school after the break found me darting down the halls like a little carnival-clothed crab.

I haven’t been able to walk naturally since then. Because I was made self-aware of such a basic thing as ambulation, the method of it became a matter of conscious decision. It wasn’t allowed to develop automatically. Do insects face such mechanical quandaries? Do they ever think, “if I beat my wings a bit more quickly might I hum at a more pleasing pitch?”

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