Counting

For the first time in my life, I was running late for work.

This was a bad omen.

I blame my mother for my time-keeping obsession.  Since her watch ran seven minutes and twenty-three seconds slow, it was always difficult trying to get anywhere on time with her.  And once I discovered her inaptitude in time management, I tried ever so desperately to get her to set it to the right time. But she never listened to me. So I was always late.  To soccer practice, piano lessons, even school.  I was late to my middle school graduation because my mom swore we had enough time to go to the closest Dunkin Donuts and grab a quick coffee.

Constantly having to wait for her outside the car created my habit of counting to a certain number. It helped alleviate the anxiety my seven-year-old self was holding.  Now no matter what, I make sure I am at least 10 minutes early.

On that day as I sped off to work, I realized my phone vibrating in the cup holder. It was my mother. Probably asking me where I was since we both worked at the same doctor’s office and I wasn’t already at my desk scanning paperwork.  I picked up the phone at the next red light.

“Mom, somehow I lost track of time. Can you tell Lucy I am going to be 10 minutes late?”

“I already talked to Lucy. You’re not going to work today.”  Her voice was calm, but straining.  Something was happening.

“What’s wrong?”

“He’s having complications. You need to come to the hospital now.”

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To Kill a Mockingbird, or just one giant Boo Radley appreciation post

#4 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Published: 1960
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:  
This novel has been repeatedly challenged and banned in numerous states on the grounds that it “contains profanity and racial slurs.”
My Rating: 1 misunderstood town enigma

I have read this book three times now, and each time I do I fall more and more in love with it. I love this book. I love everything about it. I love Scout’s tomboy antics and childish yet truth-telling voice, Jem’s growing up and turning into the man his father is, Calpurnia’s wisdom, Miss Maudie’s acceptance of all people, and Atticus.  But most importantly, I love Boo Radley.

One of the two mockingbirds in Lee’s masterpiece, Boo Radley is the J.D. Salinger of the literary world.  A misunderstood recluse who hides behind dark shadows and town folklore, Boo Radley’s innocence was snuffed out too early by an abusive father.  But Jem and Dill are so adamant about understanding his questionable background that they do whatever they can to try and will him out of his home.  They put notes of fishing hooks, try and look through his window, and even create a game of reenacting his life.  If anything sticks in my mind from reading To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s that scene of Boo Radley allegedly cutting up newspaper clippings, suddenly stabbing his father with the scissors, whipping them out again, and continuing to cut clippings.

Although everything everyone says about Boo Radley is in fact a lie, there is just something so captivating about him.  You can understand why Jem and Dill are so enthralled by him.  The scissors story, his fingers being stained red from eating squirrels and cats, and flowers frost overnight because Boo Radley breathed on them. Every time his name is on the page, it jumps out at you, and you just can’t wait to get there and find out what is being said.

Throughout the novel, we come to grow and love Boo Radley just as much as he grows to care for Jem and Scout. His constant surveillance over the Finch children has not only helped  them once or twice, but he has also saved their lives from the biggest asshole ever known to anyone, aka, Bob Ewell.  (I feel that I should do a Ranking the Assholes of Literature post and look into every character I have ever called one.  Because it seems that I am always calling someone an asshole in these posts)

Bob Ewell is the man who angers the crap out of me and makes Heathcliff and Tom Buchanan look like ant bullies in comparison.  Harper Lee creates Robert E Lee Ewell as the personification of the darkness of the South in the 1930s with his ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice. Bob Ewell’s knowing wrongful accusation of Tom Robinson ruins lives and threatens the wellbeing of others.  But what makes Ewell so awful is that he is so real.  There are still Bob Ewells in this world, but with shifting prejudices.

But then there is Atticus Finch.  Atticus is one of the most amazing characters ever created.  This year, Out Of Print Clothing is doing a Book Madness bracket of Heroes vs Villains.  And although some people are blabbering on the championship match being Harry Potter vs Voldermort, I know in my heart of hearts that if Atticus Finch does not win then I am ashamed to be a book enthusiast.  Because Atticus Finch is a hero among men.  And just like Ewell, Atticus is capable of existing.  A part of him can be in anyone; we all have the ability to be Atticus Finch.

What really affected me when reading To Kill a Mockingbird was not Atticus’ closing statement, but his walking out of the courtroom afterwards.  There was nothing left for Atticus to do.  He had given his everything in helping Tom Robinson.  There was no way that Robinson was guilty.  The deck was completely stacked against Ewell’s case.  But there was still something going against Robinson.  One. Little. Thing. The fact that he was black and Ewell was white.  Bob may have been trash, but he was white trash.  Which was still good enough to have Robinson convicted.  And when Atticus left that courtroom, he was respected for what he had tried to accomplish.

I believe that To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that should be required to be read by all. Harper Lee’s classic teaches you that you can never understand someone unless you crawl in their skin and walk around in it.  And I truly believe that Atticus — as well as Boo Radley — is one of the greatest creations in all of classic literature.  The fact that this novel is continuously challenged and banned due to the language is completely ridiculous.  Honing in on the language used in a novel about prejudice in the 1930s deep South is like calling the Civil War of the United States the War of Northern Aggression, or firing teachers from public schools for teaching evolution.  It’s trying to hide aspects of history that one does not agree with or understand.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beautiful books in American literature and I thank Harper Lee for her masterpiece.

Your father’s right,” [Miss Maudie] said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy […] they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Want to read along with me?
Check out the Banned Books Challenge page to see my progress!

St. Patrick’s Day: The Rise and Fall of Alcoholism

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be Irish.  I think it had something to do with me going to a catholic school in Connecticut and being one of maybe three tan kids in a K-8 school (we didn’t even have a black kid until I was in 6th grade).  But being Irish seemed to be pretty awesome.  They had a holiday just for them, a college used them as a mascot,  Claddagh rings were worn as if they were symbols of an elite secret society, and they just had the prettiest hair in the world.  My mother — although not Irish, but Northern Italian — as well as most of her six brothers and sisters had beautiful red hair.  I, on the other hand, had boring brown hair, and would have killed for that marvelously beautiful recessive gene.

But alas, red hair, or a drop of Irish blood I do not have.  I have slowly come to terms with the fact that the only way I can be welcomed into the Irish clan is to marry into it.  And I do go to Ireland next week so… it could happen!

I digress. St. Patrick’s Day was the day that even I got to be Irish.  If only for a day.  I loved this holiday.  I would deck myself out in green, and wear shamrock stickers on my cheeks and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons on my sweater.  Yeah, it was a big deal for me.  And then I went to college.

I am a graduate of the University of Illinois.  And anyone within a state’s radius knows of the mystical holiday held each year at the University of Illinois as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.

*ahem* Excuse me while I clear my throat as I prepare to give you the history of this magical holiday.  The year was 1996.  Scott Cochran, our hero and top bar owner of Champaign-Urbana, brought the Brotherhood of Bar Owners together for an important meeting.

“Brethren,” he began.  “We are missing out on a great holiday revenue opportunity here.”  His fellow brothers scratched their heads in confusion, wondering what he could possibly mean.  “Every year the University of Illinois has their Spring Break during any college student’s highest anticipated holiday for binge drinking –”

“You mean their first and twentieth birth year?” Meyer interrupted Cochran’s soliloquy.  Everyone groaned at Eric Meyer, and one brother asked under his breath to another why he was even invited in the first place.

“No, Meyer, St. Patrick’s Day.  Jesus, dude.  This is why you are the owner of KAM’S.  If you would just listen.”  After so rudely being interrupted, Cochran scanned the crowd of his brothers, and using his great speech-giving skills, he executed a perfectly timed, long, dramatic pause. “What if we advertised for a new holiday celebrated a week before St. Patrick’s Day?  And we could call it the Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day?”

“By george!” His brothers cried.  “The man’s a genius!”  They patted Cochran’s back and thanked him for all of the money they were going to make.

And as the years went by, it became a campus-wide — and then state-wide — holiday.  Unofficial was never going away.  As a freshman, I remember my mother calling me on the phone asking if I had heard of this holiday.  The University hated this unofficial holiday so much that they sent letters to every students’ parents telling them about what was going to happen.  They tried to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! the holiday, changing Spring Break to after St. Patrick’s Day, but it didn’t work.  The Whos of Alcoholism still came together for that week before St. Patrick’s Day, fahoo fores dahoo doresing around the beer keg.  Nothing could stop them from potentially dying from alcohol poisoning or getting a $300 drinking ticket.

And at first, Unofficial was awesome.  The brainstorming of your cleverest — or most pop-culturally themed — Unofficial Green Drinking Shirt, the mapping out of your day, the understanding of pacing yourself.  But the shimmer of Unofficial did slowly begin to tarnish.  If you weren’t 21, there was no point in leaving the house party you were at since cops were literally flooding the streets.  By 5pm, the campus was infested with students from other campuses, wreaking havoc on our campus and not giving a shit what they did.  And when you were 21, the bars were so crowded and overpriced it wasn’t even worth it.  If you were alumni, you had only a short amount of time until you came off as creepy instead of nostalgic.

St. Patrick’s day is a double-edge sword now.  You can either be drunk and have an amazing time, or be sober and want to kill everyone around you for being the dumbest people on the planet.  Now, I don’t really feel anything for St. Patrick’s Day.  The celebration of St. Patrick’s banishment of snakes from Ireland got lost somewhere between the ten-foot long beer bong, and painful hangover you have by 7:15.

Maybe it’s because I am so far away from my friends, or because I really am just not at all a bit Irish, but St. Patrick’s Day has become just another day of the year for me.

Like Pi Day or May the Fourth.  Seriously, nerds.  Stop it.

The Grapes of Wrath Part II: What the What?

#3 The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Published:
1939
More Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
It was challenged in Greenville, South Carolina schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner, along with inappropriate sexual references.”
My Rating: ¢20 pay for a ¢30 job

Last post, I had read the first 250 pages of The Grapes of Wrath and things didn’t go well.  Reading 250 pages of snoozefest, I was not looking forward to what was ahead of me. And good god.  I feel like I should have won a medal, or gotten a cookie or something for finishing it.  Because it’s a whopper.  And first thing’s first, I have decided to rename John Steinbeck as Debbie Downer.

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The Joads had finally made it to California, and no one knew what their future held.  Right when the Joads crossed into California, they stop by the Colorado River, cool off, and run into more people heading back east with horror stories of what California actually has to offer.  Ma is the first to experience someone calling her an “Okie” and it really brings everyone down.  The guy tells them they have to leave soon, and they’re all, “Yeah, you got it, we’re going.”  But Noah Joad has such a wonderful time on the riverside that he decided that he is going to live there instead, completely abandoning the family.

So let’s get a quick tally of the Joads:
Granpa Joad
 stroked out
Granma Joad
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

When they get into town, the cops stop them at a checkpoint.  Ma tells the men that they don’t have time to waste, because Granma is very, very sick.  One of the cops shine a light on her, and is all, “Eww, gross.  Yeah, go ahead.”  After driving for a couple hours, they stop for a break.  That’s when Ma breaks it to them that Granma had been dead long before the checkpoint.  But to make sure the cops allowed them to cross, Ma had lied down and slept with Granma’s body.  For like, hours.

I will say that Ma Joad is by far, the most amazing character in this book.  Her husband has lost everything, and has no idea what to do with himself now.  Her brother-in-law is a drunk who is incapable of anything, and her pregnant daughter is whining every ten minutes about her pregnancy.  But Ma Joad is like, “Suck it up, errbody.  We have nothing left behind us, so we have to move forward.”  She is constantly kicking the men’s asses in gear, and doing her damnedest to keep the family together.  Hell.  Yes.  Ma.  Joad.

They get into a Hooverville and all I can say is that it’s bleak.  People are starving and dirty, they can’t find work anywhere, and Ma Joad is trying to make stew while children of the corn surround her, begging for food.  And then, at one point, a cop looking for workers comes in and tries hustling them.  One guy starts a bit of a tussle and Tom tries to calm it down, but instead he trips the cop and clobbers him with his billy club.  Yes, Tom Joad who a) just got out of prison for killing a guy and then b) left Oklahoma which is breaking his parole.  That guy decided to get in a fight.  Casey takes the fall for him, and tells Tom and Al to go hide by the water until the cops leave.  As Al and Tom are laying low by the river, they witness Connie running away from the camp.

Rose of Sharon is in the car/hut/trailer/whatever it is they sleep in and talking to her mom about how Connie is going to go to school, and learn how to fix radios, and they are going to have a wonderful life together.  But when Tom and Al come back and tell her that he ran away from her faster than a frat boy with a peen that burns, she becomes even more of a whiney little girl than she already was.

Granpa Joad stroked out
Granma Joad hallucinates to death next to sleeping Ma
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers pussies out
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

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