Friday, September 5, 2008


I was walking across campus today when I overheard a conversation between students. The topic seemed to concern one person's wish to have another person drive his car somewhere. She did not seem entirely committed to the proposition of driving his car. He seemed to be marshaling arguments---until a logistical question popped into his mind. He asked, "Can you drive a stick?"

What a lovely question, especially if you are unfamiliar with American English. "Drive a stick? No, as a matter of fact, I've never driven a stick. Are you mad?" Stick-shift, obviously, was the term in play, but even that term attracts fascination. I believe it springs from a healthy desire to reduce technology to the basic. "Yeah, whatever, it's a lever, and it's connected to a transmission, but I say it's still a stick."

Shifting topics abruptly, I'll mention that, regardless of what toys we acquired for our son when he was quite young, sticks were his favorite implement of fun when he was 4 and 5 years old. We lived in Sweden for 6 months at that time, and he amassed quite a collection of Swedish sticks, which look remarkably like American sticks.

I suppose there's an argument to me made for sticks having been the first human tools, although Kubrick focused on the bone in his famous cinematic rendering of an evolutionary epiphany.

"Stick" is one of those words poets need to keep nearby. Verb and/or noun, with multiple meanings in both parts of speech. A single, brisk syllable. Open to rhyming. A doorway to numerous subjects.

"Stick a feather in your cap, and call it macaroni." Now, that is a folk-song line that continues to perplex me. "No, thank you, I don't have a cap, and if I did, I wouldn't want to stick a feather in it, and even if I stuck a feather in a cap, I wouldn't call the feather or the cap macaroni. What you're asking is excessive. Good day to you, sir."

And looping back to the semi-original topic, let me say that I am surprised (but shouldn't be) how many persons do NOT know "how to drive a stick." My son knows how to drive a car with a stick shift, and he also earned his Ph.D. in stick-driving by practicing on a 1969 Ford F-100 pickup, with none of this "syncro-mesh" nonsense, and no power steering--so while you're madly trying to get the thing in gear, you're also wrestling with the wheel.

Post a Comment