PureSchmaltz

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MovingScaffolding

movingscaffolding
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎: Fuji with a Scaffold,
Detatched page from
One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei) Vol. 3 (circa 1835-1847)


"The next slice will very likely seem completely different …"


I expect some controversy to continue into the far distant future whenever the question of change enters the conversation, particularly whenever the question of how much shift constitutes a "real" change. I contend that infinitesimal shifts might carry significant impact while others contend that nothing very short of a tectonic event creates much difference. I'm noticing, for instance, just how much difference I experience after I finish MovingScaffolding. I yesterday relocated the tower just two lengths down the wall, a distance of about a dozen feet, yet when I hoisted up the pieces to add the third tier, I felt as though I was standing in absolutely uncharted territory. The sea legs I'd so ably demonstrated atop the prior placement abandoned me and the shaky involuntary twerking motion had moved back into my legs again. I realized that I would have to relearn my whole scaffold repertoire, just like every time before. Twelve feet proved ample shift to qualify as significant.

I began the moving back into ritual, placing a plank across the top support, eying the electric service wire with fresh suspicion.

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MendingMitres

mendingmitres2


" … to square up that which was never square to begin with … "


The Muse holds woodshop fantasies. She dreams of sawing and planing and sanding fine wooden creations into existence. I'm the guy who hopes to never own another power tool and wouldn't use a powered saw if I had one. My sander's plenty of power tool for me. She seems to embrace opportunities to cope with obtuse angles while I seek opportunities to avoid them, yet here I am, facing a stack of mitered corners needing mending.

The Villa might be classified as a foursquare, but it's not precisely square, not rectangular, either.

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TopCoating

topcoating
Vincent van Gogh: The Large Plane Trees
[Road Menders at Saint-Rémy] (1889)


"TopCoating's practice for the FinishCoat's flourish."


I believe our language proves generally inadequate to represent our experience. We adopt labels which, if taken literally, seem to materially misrepresent what they intend to impart, but we've mostly tacitly agreed to let that insufficiency pass, considering no better could possibly be following. To become educated, then, might be to finally be introduced to the real meanings, those which cannot take formal form in words or phrasings. I might say I've been painting without noting or even really intending to suggest that I've said almost nothing about what I've actually been doing, for painting, like everything else, comes in layers, in stages, and it depends upon which stage I've been engaging in, whether I've managed to impart any understanding about what I have actually been doing. I could give a hint, though, that the part of painting I have been engaging in actually involved a brush and paint. This almost makes this stage unique in the various stages of painting. Not all painting involves paint or brushes.

I was engaging in the fine and satisfying art of TopCoating yesterday, this effort distinct from the equally fine and perhaps even more satisfying art of FinishCoating, which I expect to engage in later this morning.

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Transplant

transplant1
Adriaen Coorte: Still Life with Asparagus (1697)


"Most came from somewhere else and grew into this place …"


In this valley, folks give considerable credence to the native born. We use the phrase "born and raised here" to claim that birthright. All others take second place. Though my birth family moved me here when I was eight months old, I cannot rightfully claim the native born title, for I was born elsewhere. I, too, remain a carpet-bagger, like most folks here, not to even mention the forty-some years I did not live here, for I was one of the majority who relocated to someplace with more opportunity than this small city could afford me, and I became one who could not sustain viability after returning, so that I had to go away and reinvent myself all over again a second time before I could try to call this place mine again. I needed a place with a bigger future and a much shorter memory for me to ever outgrow who I'd become known as when growing up here. Like most, I guess, I felt that I sincerely needed to reinvent myself before I could grow into my true self, however self-deluded that might make me seem.

I wonder how the 'born and raised' crowd ever found enough space to properly reinvent themselves for adulthood.

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Respiting

respiting
Camille Pissarro: Rain Effects (1879)


" … a rusty iron fist enclosed in a soggy velvet glove."


I claim to be repainting The Villa, but I've only spent about one in five days painting so far. Almost two months in and I've completed only two stripes of wall, with a third one perhaps a day and a half away from done. Had I been able to work steadily each day, I might be a week away from finishing the job, but instead, I'm suspended somewhere not quite in the middle, in the middle of the first third, with no idea when I might finish, confident that my clever plan to complete the work before the searing summer heat reduces operating hours has become a shambles. Further, I carry a decent start on a sense of guilt for not having realized the progress I'd so confidently predicted before I began. Not only have I proven disappointing in delivery, I predicted poorly, too.

What was it that I did with that tranche of non-refundable time?

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ThinkingAboutThinking

thinkingaboutthinking
James Gillray: Political Mathematician’s, Shaking the Broad Bottom’d Hemispheres (1807)


"There are good reasons I'm not a civil engineer."


Frequent offenders (er, readers) here will have noticed my fractured relationship with most things mathematical. I am nobody's mathematician, not even my own, a condition that baffles about as much as it delights me. I understand that I really should not revel in any utter ignorance, but I get some satisfaction in recognizing this difference. I'm clearly not the standard issue. I recognized early that my MannerOfThinking was apparently insufficient to accumulate the requisite inventory of procedures and rules to support even a modest mathematical practice. Further, one apparently needed to exhibit something like a genuine interest in concepts that, quite frankly, never made much of an impression on me. I could never quite find interesting answering or even asking mathematical questions, ones intended to definitely decide something.

I have sometimes, though, gazed longingly across the chasm, wondering if I might someday and somehow stumble upon some spare proficiency in something mathematical.

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TheObserver

theobserver
Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre (early 1887)


" … to feel as if my presence mattered for something …"


I find repainting The Villa refreshing because it involves me actually doing something. I'm scrambling up and down the scaffolding. I'm caulking cracks. I'm rolling and brushing in lengthy 'Wax On, Wax Off' exercises that leave my arms rubbery and my hair in disarray. I ache by the end of the day and I sleep deeply. This pattern seems very different to me because, I realize, that I've spend most of my life not as a doer, but as TheObserver. I did not plan not to do anything for a living, but I quickly became a supervisor then later a consultant, both occupations that observe in lieu of doing. They produce intangibles, exhaust insidiously, and leave little behind, certainly no physical product, not even anything as ordinary as a finished paint job. I could never at the end of a shift walk around something and marvel that I had made that. Like most holding jobs these day, I provided services, working without actually producing anything, a rather lonely and isolating sort of occupation.

Much of what's written these days appears without internal attribution.

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Paranoiac

paranoiac
Francesco Colonna: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
-The terrified Poliphilus flying before the dragon (fol. d iii verso) (1499)

" … reassuring us that we're Hell-bound without hand baskets."


I apologize for what follows, for I find what follows extremely disturbing. I only write the following because I notice myself wrestling with how things seem to be. How things seem to be, to my estimation, should come naturally, yet they do not always seem to come naturally, for we inhabit a distinctly Paranoiac culture, and the paranoid cannot seem to ever just let things be. The paranoid feel as though they somehow owe the world salvation and they're always acting, or always saying that they're acting, to save the world, as if the world needed saving, as if they held leverage to save the world, both deeply questionable propositions. The most paranoid behave as if they are on a mission from God, an affectation that I suspect God, should such a being exist, finds deeply disturbing but hardly surprising, for if we were actually made in God's image, God should be intimately familiar with Paranoiac reactions, and so understand the choices presented and selected.

I suspect that paranoia's a choice, a particularly seductive one, and one which starts with a single victim before working outward from that middle to infect others both inadvertently and also on purpose.

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Challenging

challenging
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Study for "Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys"
Former Title: Study for "The Young Spartans Exercising"
Alternate Title: Petites Filles Spartiates provoquant des Garcons /
Spartan Girls Provoking the Boys (c. 1860-61)


"I'm just wrestling down another run-of-the-mill conundrum."


From where I stand atop the scaffolding, I cannot quite see into the one valley on my roof that manages to catch every bit of debris that passes by. There's a clog of accumulated leaves, Maple tree whirligigs, and hardened mud rendering the gutter in that corner, the only inside corner along that roofline, essentially inoperable. When it rains, water pours over the gutter and down onto the fiberglass roof of my cold frame, sounding like an arrhythmic timpani behind the rain's otherwise quiet patter. This clog hangs just above the slice of wall I'm currently Challenging myself to repaint.

I was taught that in order to feel fully alive, a person needs at least one great and almost overwhelming Challenging expectation hanging over their life.

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HollowedDays

HollowedDays
Cornelis Huysmans: The Hollow Road (c. 1700)


" … we're resigned …"


Our mostly feral cat Molly supervises the day-to-day operations around The Villa Vatta Schmaltz. She tends to be the first to notice whenever something, anything's changed. She's sniffing scornfully around the difference, just as if to determine who might be to blame for this latest outrage. I'm convinced that she'd rather everything just stay the same from day to week to year. She insists upon regular meal times and comes sniffing around should I somehow miss the deadline. She's capable of moping when she's denied her way. She's loving, in her fashion, which sometimes means she's slashing at a hand that was only trying to reassure her. She trusts no human.

The times when The Muse goes away for a few days upsets Molly most.

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Sleepwalking

sleepwalking
Honoré Daumier: The Hazard of Sleeping on a Journey (1843)


"I could be participating in One Mysterious Dream."


"I will take to the morning on the first day of my life,
and wander through the sparkling dew and sunshine,
and let her icy tingle wipe the sleep out of my soul,
for it seems to me I surely have been dreaming all this time;
but I almost half remember,
this one mysterious dream,
that came upon me just before I rose."

—One Mysterious Dream (A lyric I wrote back in the seventies)

I'm uncertain whether I'm Sleepwalking through this part of my life since I have little with which to compare my present state of mind, state of mind being at best a fleeting sort of experience, and not the sort to hang around to serve as the basis for any comparison, but I feel as though I might have recently been less than fully attentive.

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Forgivenness

forgivenness
Pier Leone Ghezzie: The Prodigal Son (c. 1720–30)


" … looking for some more Forgivenness to replace it."


If anything, age, maturity, further deepens my sense of inadequacy. What might have begun as a quiet stumble has by now established itself as a repeated pattern, a part of my personality, no longer merely transitive information but established definition. I still hold aspirations, though I mostly successfully hold them at bay. I do not wake up most days with any renewed sense that I might outgrow some long ago established shortcoming. I usually wake up accepting who and what I seem to have become, not often aspiring to overcome or get beyond anything. Some days' though, I'm tempted to ignore the preponderance of evidence and believe again, if only for a few fleeting moments, that I might hold different fates, untapped abilities, long hidden skills that might liberate me from some long-standing embarrassing shortcoming. These beliefs almost never deliver on their innocent promises, and leave me nurturing what I might call Forgivenness for myself again.

I think of Forgivenness as the self-bestowed state allowing acceptance of apparent fate.

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Paced

paced
Xiao Yuncong 蕭雲從: Album of Seasonal Landscapes, Leaf G (previous leaf 7) 山水圖冊 (1668)


"Slow and steady sustains a pace."


All activity seems to possess a pace, a rhythm most natural to its motion. This cadence doesn't always immediately disclose itself. It seems common for initial engagement to feature effort sometimes wildly out of synch with this natural one and it's not at all uncommon for the first few results to suffer somewhat from this absent understanding, too rushed or too painstakingly formed. Either can affect the quality of both the result as well as with the experience of producing the result. Initial discomfort often results from some mis-match between the adopted and the natural pace of a piece of work, and diagnosing this difficulty tends to be complicated, in that too many unknowns enter into the equation. A milling around period's often necessary before an appropriate Pace can emerge, often after investing altogether too much effort. One wonders how anyone could maintain a practice until stumbling upon a rhythm and pace that makes it easy in comparison.

I've long preached about the necessity of finding this natural rhythm but I'm realizing with repainting The Villa, that I had and still have no clue about how to induce this understanding.

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Recuperating

Recuperating
Unknown: Twenty-Armed Dancing God Ganesha,
Remover of Obstacles
(10th century, India, Madhya Pradesh)


" … the true meaning of life was presented on a day
when I was tucked up on the couch, Recuperating from something."


In the middle of it, Recuperating feels indistinguishable from slacking. The inactivity seems identical. I struggle to interpret my condition with the generosity it might not wholly deserve, for if I were true to my upbringing, I would have already cleared myself for reengagement and ended this forced idleness, but I am not true to my upbringing. I have been more or less actively rebelling against my upbringing since before I was fully brought up, and I seem unlikely to change my behavior now. It's not that I was raised by wolves. I mostly revere my parents intentions, even though they were sometimes difficult to discern. My most generous interpretation insists that they always meant well even if they weren't always able to do as well as they intended. In that, I was raised to be like them, but a point came where I needed to make my own decisions, my own choices, and beyond that point I needed to become my own parent and, curiously, my own child.

I wounded my knee painting.

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TheMovie

themovie
Charles Sheeler: Church Street El (1920)


" … none of it can ever be usefully interpreted literally …"


I believe that I am immersed within a movie produced especially for my edification and occasional enlightenment. The scenes I witness reflect something about me, always allegorically, and it's always up to me to interpret what they're trying to say. Some days I pay close attention. Other days, I doze. I know for certain that I miss much that might have proven significant had I paid closer attention, but it remains a significant part of the human condition, to which I'm no less subject than you, to not always pay close enough attention such that opportunities to more deeply understand quite naturally slip by. Nobody else can interpret my movie for me and I can never interpret anyone else's movie for them, either, and not just because I cannot quite see their movie from my perspective. Sometimes, a movie appears that was apparently produced for communal consumption. In those cases, more than one might watch and make shared meaning from the experience. This world is a complex multi-plex, with innumerable simultaneous movies running on an almost infinite number of screens.

Very few things are as they first seem.

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DsKnees

dsknees
Unknown Artist from Mexico, Guerrero, Olmec: Kneeling Figure (c. 1200-600 BC)


"Humility might humiliate …"


That part of planning asking the planner to list vulnerabilities always bugged me. Even I knew that the known vulnerabilities posed little threat, if only because one tends to cringe in sympathetic anticipation whenever anything threatens a known vulnerability. The real vulnerabilities prove to be unlistable. It's their very nature. I, for instance, when starting to repaint The Villa's exterior, would never have thought to identify my knees as anything like a vulnerability. Thanks to a persistent insistence to avoid jogging, skiing, and spinning, my knees have never bothered me. I am not now nor do I ever expect to be enqueued for knee replacement surgery, but six weeks into the effort, D'sKnees have become an unanticipated issue.

Perhaps it was those days spent grubbing out the swamp elm roots behind the garage that first prompted the pain.

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Winering

winering
Willem Claesz Heda: Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635)


" … we already live in a destination now …"


I remember when this valley evoked not a single notion of wine. Decades later, its very identity seems inexorably tied to the stuff. A place once revered for peas became one renowned for wine, with wineries dotting the rural byways and tasting rooms lining Main Street. It's a small city story many aspire to replicate, from backwater to tourist destination, from home town to boom town. I woke from my Rip Van Winkle dream to find myself living in The Napa of the North and I doubt that I will ever successfully adjust to this shift. Cute Crap Shoppes have taken over my once practical central business district. The Goodwill Store's moving out beyond the edge of town, some tourist attraction soon to follow into its space. Barrel Tasting Weekends, periodic seemingly spontaneous celebrations, bring grid lock to downtown and lines of expensively-clad tour bike riders wandering around in circles.

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz still sits on the same three way corner it was built on a hundred and sixteen years ago when this was the edge of civilization and streetcars swept through our streets.

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Affinity

affinity
Leaf from Gratian's Decretum: Table of Affinity
(c. 1270-1300) Italy, probably Naples, 13th century


"almost identical, always unique."


I met Mark and The Muse on the same day, September 14, forever after a holiday, a day for celebrating Affinity, a mysterious attractor, a ceaseless benefactor. I cannot recount or recall how it was that we found ourselves so connected. It seemed quite natural at the time, nothing entirely unexpected yet also something absolutely extraordinary. It seemed as if we could always finish each other's sentences, always understand, always empathize. Now, when Mark visits, old patterns revisit, too. An ease. A conversation cadence more than familiar, so natural as to beg identification. We just are together, picking up wherever we last left off, continuing the narrative where it had always seemed to be headed.

Mark and his wife Rita were the first to visit The Muse and I when we entered into exile.

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SheetMetalScrewed

sheetmetalscrewed
Thomas Hart Benton: Homestead (1934)


" … there's always a trick and … the experts always neglect to mention it …"


It turns out that if I volunteer to serve as my own housepainter, the universe will quite unselfconsciously presume that I am also by extension signing on to become my own sheet metal worker. How this natural expansion occurs remains a mystery, but that it occurs seems indisputable. I set about to paint a slice of south-facing wall, this one with a downspout hanging on it. I ask Kurt, who serves as my painting consultant because he's a real painter, if I really need to take down the downspout to properly paint that face. He reassures me that it's completely optional. I can choose whichever without compromising my highest intentions. I admit that I'm more opposed to the idea of taking down the downspout than actually opposed to the taking down of it, for the idea complicates my simple-minded notion of what I'm supposed to be up to. I signed on to serve as my painter, not, by extension or otherwise, my own sheet metal worker. That downspout was fabricated out of sheet metal and while I know little about painting, I know much less about sheet metal working. I know nothing whatsoever about sheet metal working, so if I were to decide to take down that downspout, I would by extension, again, be agreeing to become my own liability, even more than agreeing to become my own housepainter rendered me. I'd step over that invisible line and crossover into truly clueless territory.

Yea, I ultimately decided that I would have to take down that downspout if I were going to properly paint that wall.

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PaintingMyHead

paintingmyhead
Unknown Artist(s): Busts of Bodhisattvas
[from Mogao Cave 321,
Dunhuang, Gansu province, East Asia, China]
(Tang dynasty, 618-907)


"It's always something."


I first negotiate with myself. The scaffolding always seems impossibly high, higher than it actually stands. It looks modest enough when standing beneath it, but climb up onto the second tier and a primal fear leaks into me. I gaze at that top tier from there and cannot quite imagine myself transported up there. It seems flimsy, however securely assembled. It seems too narrow. There are no railings up there, just a wall face and soffit, not quite six feet above it. I stand transfixed as if any option other than upward existed. I favor my good knee then, pretending that the other hadn't been wounded from too much penitent kneeling on rough concrete and scaffolding. I finally nudge myself upward, having lost or won the negotiating, depending upon how I judge the outcome. In that moment, I feel as though I've lost, but I was burning precious daylight and needed to just get on with the proceedings, wherever they might be leading me. I feel as though I've entered the famed Valley of the Shadow of Death then, and I'm proceeding. Another painting day's begun.

If I could live with myself, I would run in some other direction, but I made myself a promise and I intend to deliver on it, Hell or High Water, maybe both.

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Sprinting

sprinting
Edouard Manet: The Races (1865)


"I might just as well surrender to this feeling."


This Spring, this Reconning Spring, has moved slowly, dragging what passes for her feet every inch of its way. One day, sunny, the next three, raining and cold, some days snowing, other days just blowing, it's been inhospitable if also welcome weather. It's been welcome weather because last year, these rains never arrived. We sat here watching July and August's wheat harvest dehydrate in the fields, expectations for yields steadily plummeting. Conversation out at the Ranch Supply leaned toward catastrophe. Nobody had seen anything very much like it. No end ever came into sight right into August when the worst case descended. Wildfires raged in the mountains and a heat dome hung low over the valley. Every day dawned clear if smoky and the sprinklers ran overtime all summer. The fuchsia didn't make it.

I've admitted to hiding behind this weather, of taking solace that I could too easily justify slow walking into this season, for I was facing a daunting personal challenge. I'd committed myself to repainting the Villa, to repairing the damage I'd caused when last trying to defend it against inexorable aging, but my heart wasn't in it.

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DoubleBound

doublebound
Georges Seurat: Seated Woman with a Parasol
[study for La Grande Jatte]
(1884/85)


" … I hover on the edge of some fresh enlightenment."


I often experience what I internally mischaracterize as some sort of a problem even though no obvious solution occurs to me. These difficulties can remain remarkably persistent, essentially unsolvable for the longest time. Many of them I never resolve even though they might continue to bedevil me. Sometimes, I just conclude that the difficulty out-smarted me. This conclusion does little for my self esteem, but then I already knew that I had little to hold in very high esteem to begin with. I was just confirming facts already more than adequately evident when I failed to solve the problem that might not have been a problem in the first place. Many of these are dilemmas, damned whatever I do choices. A few fully qualify as DoubleBinds, which I might define as difficulties which straddle contexts, existing in more than one place at once, and therefore conventionally unresolvable from within any single context, or so they appear. My life, like yours, overfloweth with DoubleBinds.

It might be helpful if we each had finished at least some Post Doc work in Theoretical Physics, for if we had, we might find ourselves better positioned to cope with these damnable DoubleBinds we're forever discovering invading our lives.

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LilacSeason

lilacseason
Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt: Sering
[Syringa vulgaris] (1596 - 1610)


" … though this news was never once reliably reported anywhere."


I am reliably informed that this world has already gone to Hell. Reliably informed yet still disbelieving, I somehow manage to face each new morning, influenced for certain by Molly our cat and her first thing in the morning enthusiasm. She's tripping me down the dark staircase, often trilling in apparent anticipation, hopping up onto the dining room table as I pass, to mug for a head scratch our even a full length body stroke. She quivers in anticipation of what comes next. Next, she'll race me into the kitchen where she'll vault onto the kitchen table, glancing back to make certain I followed, where she'll position herself for what must serve as a great conformation for her, her first thing in the morning ration of kitty treats, which I pile up on a piece of newspaper before her. She digs in, every bit the trencher I know her to be at heart, submitting to ever more enthusiastic stroking on my part. I pet her in humble and sincere appreciation for her reminder, served that same time every morning, that this world has not necessarily already gone to Hell, nor does it really seem to be headed in that direction. For that moment if for no other, all's right with the world, whatever calamity flashes just over the horizon.

In the same way that Molly's enthusiasm reassures me every morning, when Spring finally arrives after weeks of unconvincing promising, the world around me takes up Molly's morning role and commences to exhibit considerable enthusiasm for life as it just is in that moment.

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Incivility

incivility
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar: Ballad of the Snail
[Corrido del Caracol] (19th century)


"Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will."


The small pick-up truck parked in front of Popular Donuts featured a tailgate spray painted with the words Fuck Biden. That sight was enough to convince me that I didn't want any donuts that day. I felt deeply disturbed, embarrassed for the pick-up's owner, who, I suspected, had fallen in with a bad crowd. I remembered back to my late grade school days when I first encountered people my age behaving like "adults." I placed adults in quotes there, because even then I recognized that those people were more mimicking their elders than behaving like them, for there seemed a touch of the perverse in a fifth grader dabbling in four letter words and stolen smokes. The effect just embarrassed me and I quickly slipped away from those guys and tried to give them wide berth going forward. I thought them trouble if only due to their decidedly uncivil performance. They didn't so much seem grown up or liberated, as degraded, and they were voluntarily doing that to themselves! I decided that I would choose not to use that sort of language, not even to myself. I still, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, scream "Danged Nab It!" rather than some four letter deep blue facsimile of it. I won't even cuss when it's just me about.

I consider this convention to be a necessary element of civility, and Incivility to be early evidence of rot.

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