Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, October 22, 2007

Against Mazes, Etc.

For a variety of reasons, I'm drawn to people with strong, quirky opinions. If the opinions are strong and predictable (take racist views as an example), I usually react with extreme distaste or smoldering fatigue--such as when the old DNA fart, Watson, spouted his nonsense about Africa and Africans. There was so much wrong about what he said that I got angry in about four different directions at once. If the opinions are just quirky, I may or may not be amused. If they're a bit posed--"manufactured quirky"--then I'm not amused. The humor of Gallagher--the guy who hit watermelons with a club or whatever--that seemed "manufactured quirky" to me. But if the opinions are truly quirky and especially strong, I'm likely to be intrigued by them and the person holding them.

I have a friend who thinks the Beatles were/are vastly over-rated, for example. That's a good, strong quirky opinion. Whether I agree with it doesn't matter. I can stand back and look at it and say, "Well done! A good strong opinionated effort!"

I have a colleague who really hates those long sweaters some women wear with jeans--the sweaters that open in front but may have a "tie"--they hang down way below the waist. They usually seem to be brown. She just can't stand them. This is good strong, quirky stuff, this opinion.

I happen to think the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead are/were over-rated, but I know this view amounts to double-heresy, and I wouldn't spend any energy arguing with the Faithful. Moreover, I still try, every so often, to listen to the Stones or the Dead with new appreciation. I really do. But then I gravitate to the old quirky opinion. The Stones seem like rock-&-roll's equivalent to IBM, with Mick as CEO. When I listen to the Dead, my mind drifts almost immediately, as if I'm listening to traffic go by, and sometimes their harmonies sound awfully bad, and if they sound bad to me, I can only imagine what they sound like to real experts. Somehow the status of the Stones and the Dead has not been affected by my quirky opinion; imagine that! Even worse--I'm a huge Johnny Cash fan; just imagine how many people wince when they hear Johnny get off-pitch. (Even Johnny admitted he winced at himself sometimes; he spared no one, not even himself, his brutal honesty.)

But one does not hold strong, quirky opinions in order to try to change minds. Quite the opposite. One holds them for their own worth. They are opinions for opinions' sake. They may be expressed. One may play riffs on them. But they must not be taken to the level of argument and debate. That ruins everything.

To the chagrin of my family, I inherited from my mother a hatred of puppets. A few exceptions are allowed, including one or two of the Muppets. But in general, puppets make me extremely impatient. I always have the urge to go behind the barrier hiding the person and yank him or her up by the shirt-collar and say, "Everybody knows the sock isn't a person, so stop it!" It's irrational, I know--and I've never interrupted a puppet-show. But it's a strong, quirky opinion, and what's more, I never insist that anybody should agree with me. In an abstract kind of way, I can understand why puppets in general appeal to people. The world is more than welcome to its love of puppets, as long as I can take a break from that part of the variety show.

My father would never wait in line, except perhaps at a grocery store, but he usually went to the grocery store right when it opened, so he never had to wait in line. But to him the idea of waiting in line at a restaurant, for a table to open, was the height of insanity. He couldn't understand why anyone would wait in line to pay somebody money--even if that person were going to get a meal in return. Not wanting to wait in line is almost un-American. I just got back from Southern California, and waiting in line is a way of life down there.

Some people really hate TV commercials in which dogs and other animals are made to speak like humans, and this animal-speaking trend is getting more widespread because of computer-technology. I have no strong opinions about this, but I'm glad others do. I think we all need to apply strong opinions in different areas to conserve our outrage and spend it wisely, pretending for one golden moment that our opinions count. (Please see "opinion for opinion's sake" above.)

Strong, quirky opinions about food are always welcome. Most people recoil at the idea of eating those large canned sardines or pickled herring. Not me--but I appreciate the strong anti-pickled-herring viewpoints, nonetheless. Me, I can't stand brussels-sprouts. When they're cooked, they smell like unwashed feet, in my opinion. Sushi: that engenders strong, quirky opinions. I love to hear riffs on sushi--either pro or con.

Strong, quirky opinions can change--just like that! I used to loathe chick-peas (garbanzo beans). Now I like them a lot, especially with curry. I used to like National Public Radio. Now I can't stand it. I used to like sports-talk radio; now I can bear it only once every three months, and even then, only for a few moments.

I hate songs with bell-sounds in them. Fake-sleigh-bells are okay in the cheesy Christmas songs. That's a tradition, and the sleigh-bell sound doesn't annoy me. I'm talking about that single-bell sound that slips into pop-songs sometimes. The triangle makes that sound. (Who aspires to play the triangle?! A geometrist?) It must cause some kind of Pavlovian response in me. I don't salivate, but I get really perturbed.

I don't like convertibles. (Cars, I mean.) I never have. That fabric--it's ridiculous. But of course some people are enthralled by convertibles. Good for them and their strong, quirky opinions--"quirky" in the sense that a very small percentage of the cars sold in the world are convertibles.

I loathe bed-and-breakfasts, most particularly if they are decorated in some kind of "country" style. I feel as if I'm stepping into a horror film, and when I get down to breakfast and have to make nice to strangers, I know I'm in a horror film. I look around for an ax (not really--I'm kidding). I interpret The Shining as an anti-bed-and-breakfast film, even though, technically, it's set in a hotel. I don't know why more owners of bed-and-breakfasts don't go all Nicholson on their guests more often. Heeeere's breakfast! How tiresome it must be to run such a place! But of course, those who run such places have strong, quirky views opposed to mine, so it's all good.

And I don't like mazes--I mean the real kind, made of shrubbery (for example). The ones on paper I can take or leave. The following poem expresses an anti-maze prejudice, although I have invented a character who just so happens to share my views (how coincidental):

An Old Man With An Alternate Plan


Just in case, the old man
carried pruning-shears and matches
into the elaborate garden-maze.
Temporary, planned confusion
was all right with him. He
understood the concepts of art
and play. Still he wasn’t about
to endure genuine bewilderment,
not to mention ridicule, or exile
from his ordered day.

If the maze, which was in his
estimation only sculpted brush,
proved to be too sophisticated,
then he was prepared to cut,
and he was prepared to burn,
the history of landscape-design
be damned.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom
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