A while ago I read a biography of the fourteenth century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer but until recently I’d somehow never read his “Canterbury Tales”. Considering what a compulsive bookworm I’ve always been, that’s quite a major shock. Recently I was looking through the book case downstairs in the den and I noticed that there was a copy of his famous classic narrative poem in standard English so I’ve begun reading it. So far I’m up to the Reeve’s Tale. Often, while reading for a long time, I become unavoidably distracted and my mind wanders. While reading the poem, I somehow spontaneously started thinking back to an incident involving my old friend Jimmy, when we were kids in our early teens. One day Jimmy and I had nothing better to do so in order to avoid boredom he started cracking corn. He never asked me to help him but, conveniently, I didn’t care. Often, if I let my guard down while reading, I start humming an old song or two. Last night I couldn’t help humming the Beatles’ classic, “Do You Want to Know A Secret?” My impatience gets me crazy like that but at least I always keep on trying to apply myself as conscientiously as possible to any task. Once I’ve set my mind to something I’m quite the determined character.
Having lived in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania throughout all my lifetime, I’m most certainly quite used, by now, to insane amounts of snow. I’ve also seen lots of it in western New York, including their recent storm, their worst ever. Fortunately, however, I’ve never once been subjected to an avalanche. Were I ever to have to face such a calamity, without hope of being rescued until the next day, I should be forced to think of how relieved I should inevitably be to get out alive. Anxiety often overtakes me so I should have to attempt not to focus on all the first hand circumstances. Perhaps that would be precisely the perfect time during which to indulge my lifelong habit of wallowing in the past. Besides the obvious thoughts of the immediate future, during which I should be able to dwell upon the security of a nice warm environment, I could also think of winters of yore, when even the worst of snowstorms inevitably found me inside someplace, safely awaiting the spring. During the average storm previous to this disaster, I could always expect to be subjected to nothing scarier than shoveling and driving. I wonder if, under those circumstances, I may please be permitted to have in my possession a significant supply of hot coffee, a large cup, and creamer to show for all my troubles. If that were possible, much of my battle could already be won anyway. I could veritably rejoice in the peace and quiet, temporarily isolated from all the disgusting cell phones and pop cultural nightmares. How pleasant it all would be not, at least temporarily, to have to be forcibly reminded, of all the truly atrocious things that are going on these days. That’s having been said, the only truly insurmountable nightmare would be the temperature and other weather problems.
One day recently I wandered, as usual, into a time warp and met 2004 me for coffee. He was happy to see that I still drink coffee so compulsively. He reminded me of what life was like back then, with all its good and bad news. I told him about what was up ahead of him. He was happy to see that I’m still a lay Carmelite. I tried to explain to him that I still have all the same staunchly conservative ideas now as then, but that by now, they’re more fully developed. I gave him the impression that turning fifty didn’t seem to carry with it any major milestones, that the passage of time would, in many ways, leave me neither in better nor worse shape. I explained to him that both my parents died last year and that that left me with quite a few major irrevocable changes in my circumstances. Having lived for much of the past decade in northeastern Pennsylvania gave me some insights into what life in a radically different environment was like. The internet, of course, was quite a major topic of conversation. My younger persona was quite happy to hear of all the advances that were to transpire during the time between then and now. He got a kick out of all the things people have been doing with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and all the others. He was so happy to know that I’ve been able to keep in touch with all my oldest friends from school for so long. Most certainly, he was quite disgusted when I told him about everyone’s having a cell phone these days. He reminded me of the days when my cousins and I were on the Knights of Columbus’ bowling league, with the Wantagh council and recommended that I get involved in something like that again. He also reminded me that since my anxiety, temper and migraines have mostly subsided into virtual obsolescence, I should by now be hepper than ever.
Although I understand that it’s not such a good idea to play games with reality, If I could have a choice between slowing down an event that passes by too fast, or speeding up something that goes by too slowly, I should very much rather speed up the slow circumstances. Things tend to pass exceptionally slowly when they’re difficult to accept. Boring tasks, illness, pain and fear are all quite notorious for lingering. By speeding things up somewhat under those circumstances, even though painful things would still hurt, and difficult circumstances wouldn’t get any easier, at least I could count on their seeming not to linger to such an unbearable degree. It might be nice to let all the enjoyable things feel as if they last forever , but since I’d only be able to make one such change, the smarter one would be the one that would reduce tension and frustration.
I should suppose the biggest walk-off home run for me would be to be finally rid of all the anxiety attacks and migraines I’ve been having throughout my adult lifetime. A lot of them came from food-mostly caffeine-allergies anyway, and most of that trouble has diminished quite significantly. My headaches are rather infrequent these days and my anxiety appears to be easily manageable. For well over the past decade, I’d gotten an insanely violent rash all over my body, with scratch marks that kept showing up in different places at different times. Oddly, I started noticing that since both my parents died last year, my rash has been entirely gone. Maybe it’s only a post hoc ergo propter hoc kind of thing but who knows? Perhaps there’s even a connection somehow. I know perfectly well that I’m able to do anything that anyone else is capable of. I just wish, though, that I didn’t have to go through all the frustrating jitters.
If I were to wake up tomorrow morning only to find out that each day would, from then on, last for twenty five hours, I don’t suppose that it would make much difference. That only adds up to 2.5 more minutes for each hour. In the long run it would make quite a difference but no noticeable change would transpire over the course of each specific day. I suppose I could sleep a bit more. Unfortunately I never get any sleep anyway so perhaps I should say that I could lie down a little more. I can imagine that workplaces, schools and other environments where schedules make a difference it would lead to quite a major change of plans, but for the average normal things in a guy’s life a mere hour, whether gained or lost, isn’t exactly the stuff of legends. The bad time change will soon be yet again upon us. With any luck an extra hour could be added to the daylight. If there’s one thing that could be absolutely guaranteed to drive me plum out of my mind it’s even more dark skies. Yet another problem may be my already nasty case of excessive impatience. As long as I don’t have to be kept waiting for things even longer, and to get even more frustrated than I already tend to get, I’m happy with it. Perhaps I could steal the hour from each day and, since I ever so bitterly despise noise, officially declare it a peace and quiet time during which all unwelcome sound would be banished.
Throughout my adult lifetime, I’ve always been, to varying degrees, inordinately anxious, especially under stressful circumstances. The very best thing I can possibly do on the eve of a big moment of truth-a significant trip, a job interview, or some other milestone-is simply to relax and to go to bed even earlier than my accustomed bedtime. Besides that I enjoy reading, playing my guitar or any other simple relaxing activity. I also occasionally watch television, but that’s not a habit of mine anymore. I’ve always quite bitterly despised the telephone so it helps if I can scrupulously avoid that particular thing. I absolutely never even think of taking any risks whatsoever with food. If I know I am going to be subjected to pressure, my diet the day before is inevitably simple with absolutely no spices whatsoever. Any risk of stomach trouble would be terrifying. I always put whatever materials I may be obligated to have in my possession-a number two pencil, identification, money or anything else of any importance-in a very safe, easily accessible place the night before I need them. For the past quite a long time my anxiety hasn’t been overwhelming, but it’s still sufficiently significant that I can’t play games with it.
I think I’ve always been somewhat good at accepting negative criticism, though my patience has its limits. Unfortunately if someone confronts me with something that strikes me as exceptionally difficult to handle I tend to feel quite self conscious and to resist the need to attempt to get things straightened out. My lifelong resistance to difficult change has always worked against me. Brutal honesty is objectively much more important than taking entirely too tactful an approach to things. The older I get the more capable I am of dealing with negative criticism as long as it’s fair. I virtually always assume that the complaints I get are based upon an entirely neutral objective assessment of the circumstances. I try always to treat others entirely appropriately. In return I also fully expect to be treated the same way. Although there are all sorts of things happening inside me that seem desperately to want to prevent the free and unfettered acceptance of negative feedback, I can understand that it’s an unavoidably necessary part of getting things done. Alas all reproofs can’t be gentle for fear of hurt feelings. When it’s legitimate it must never be understood as an ad hominem attack. I just try always to suck it up and to get it over with.
Mabel went away for the weekend. Ralph was used to these occasional excursions of hers. She was in the habit of visiting her family and friends for a few days at a time. He got up very early on Saturday morning, hoping to relax and to take advantage of all the welcome peace and quiet for a while. At around 8:00 a.m., however, there was quite an ominous knock upon his front door.
“Good morning, Mr. Fensterblau,” said the tall, ominous looking stranger.
Ralph didn’t know what to think. The anonymous man walked into the Fensterblau house without an invitation. He proceeded to demand that Ralph sit down, and that he, without question or comment, obey all instructions. All the doors of the house spontaneously locked.
“Mr. Fensterblau,” his visitor proceeded to explain, “I should like to talk with you for a few moments, please, my good man. My associates and I have been keeping very close track of you.”
Ralph, eager to put a stop to all the trouble, attempted to call the local policemen. When he went to call for help, he found that none of the phones was working. Understandably he was starting to get exceptionally anxious and frustrated.
“Mr. Fensterblau,” the stranger went on, “I shall have, unfortunately, to take you away with me permanently. I cannot, however, explain to you the exact circumstances that make your abduction unavoidably mandatory. Pack up your things at once and follow me very quietly please. I assure you it’s quite futile even so much as to try to disobey.”
When Mabel arrived home on Monday afternoon she was confronted by an ominously empty house. Ralph never got a chance to clean up before he left. All was left carelessly thrown around in disarray. None of the neighbors could account for his whereabouts. She spent the next few months trying to explain to their local police precinct, and Ralph’s workplace, the Acme Corporation, about all the trouble.