WASHINGTONIAN

(WHAT DOESN’T FIT)

 

February is the month when America celebrates George Washington’s birthday.

What almost everyone forgets is that he was but one of a group of Washingtons: the Washington Brothers. There was George, plus Otis, Tyrone, Reggie, La’Mario and Abdullah.

A lot of people expected La’Mario to turn pro right after his junior year, but he popped his knee in the penultimate game of the season and, well, that was that. The last anyone heard, La’Mario was serving 12 and a half to 25 on federal drug trafficking charges. The federal firearms charges and witness intimidation charges were dropped in return for pleading guilty to drug trafficking.

 

 

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IN RESPONSE TO THE READER…

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…which will only get worse with time.

 

…who wishes to remain anonymous but who emailed me with questions about the fictional story on this website SO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL THRU TIME:

No, your questions definitely aren’t a waste of anyone’s time. But there’s no reason why others shouldn’t get to see the responses too. I’ll paraphrase your questions for reasons of brevity and clarity.

(1) The language used? That was merely based on the idea that the slack, sloppy, lazy, low-brow written discourse which dominates today’s internet might, by the 22nd century, become not only the norm in casual communication but the norm in formal documents as well. By then people may look at the crystalline prose of writers like George Orwell and have trouble understanding it. Many would probably dismiss it as pretentious (assuming they were able to use the word pretentious).

(2) The unusual symbols at the start and end? By then the internet will be as out of date as the telegraph is to us. (Ask any Brit under the age of 20 what the London newspaper’s name The Telegraph means and you’ll probably get a blank look.) Maybe the 26 letters and 10 numerals currently available to English-users won’t be enough to cover the range of data zapping around the 22nd-century ether and they’ll have to add Greek or Russian letters to create more options.

(3) Time travel as a commercial enterprise? Why not? It’s often assumed by fiction writers that time travel should and would be done for noble reasons, like historical research. The British television drama from the early 1980’s The Flipside of Dominick Hyde assumed that the UFOs reported in 20th-century skies weren’t from other planets, but were time-travel vehicles from the future whose sole purpose was to observe various aspects of 20th-century society – but only at the macro level – from the safety of the sky. (Landing or making the slightest contact with the locals were both strictly forbidden.)

 

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Just wait 150 years

                                                        

But there was also the idea that one could travel to the past and acquire an everyday item from that period which wouldn’t be missed if it were purloined by a visitor from the distant future. So not an original Gutenberg Bible or something as spectacular as that, but something small and common. That everyday item would eventually become so valuable that its owner would become fabulously rich. This was the premise of the ingenious sub-plot in John Crowley’s deservedly well-known science-fiction novella Great Work of Time.

 

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UPON CATCHING A GLIMPSE OF THIS SEASON’S FIRST MORMON MISSIONARIES

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One’s fantasy-drive automatically kicks in, and memories come flooding back of the time you almost made an impact on one of their lives. Elder Kraft was his name, according to his badge.

He was well within range, but he suddenly stopped to adjust his bicycle helmet and my hastily thrown pebble flew harmlessly past his head. So let this be a lesson to us all: aim lower to ensure a hit.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

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SEVEN (7) THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE

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                                                                                        1. Journalists on TV need to stop interviewing other journalists. That’s just a way to fill airtime while providing nothing of substance. In other words, it’s all sizzle and no sausage.

 

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                                                                  2. We need a travel documentary about Romania which doesn’t make even a single reference to Dracula.

 

 

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                                                                                     3.   A History of China told exclusively in the form of limericks would be an excellent idea. One limerick for each historical event or development. Chinese names, after all, are conveniently monosyllabic and lend themselves easily to rhyme. And the limerick form is an excellent aide-mémoire. An example:

The dynasty now known as Han

Was not a mere flash in the pan.

The monks spread far and wide

That ineffable guide

To awareness, the practice of Chan.*

(* Chan reached its full flowering in Japan, where it was pronounced Zen.)  

 

 

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So I said, “Ineffability is its strong point”.

 

 

                                                     4.  The Brits seriously need to rethink their pronunciation of some words. Seriously.    

 

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                                                                                 5.  News programs need to stop acting as if what people are saying on social media is actual news. It isn’t. It’s just what people are saying on social media.

 

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…as opposed to actual news

 

 

                                                                 6. A substantial cash award should be given to the first American-born teenager who can speak on the record for two minutes without using like as a verb or a filler. This would – one hopes – inspire all the others.

 

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                                                   7.  Consider a complete ban on the public, non-ironic use of obvious oxymorons such as sports personality. (You can be celebrated in the world of sports and you can be a unique personality, but you can’t be both.)

 

 

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Could youse dumb that down a bit?

 

 

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UNCRACKABLE NUT

Bob Dylan might have said it but how many people get it?

 

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An American comedy-drama series called  Going to Extremes enjoyed a brief spell on the airwaves in the early 1990’s. It was set on a generic Caribbean island, all reggae and rum and steel drums and dreadlocked guys calling each other mon. The main characters were connected with a medical school catering mainly to Americans who, for whatever reason, couldn’t make it into med school back home.

The school’s founder was an American surgeon, Dr. Henry Croft. Some years earlier he’d sold the patent for a revolutionary medical device, earning him a fortune. He moved to the Caribbean and put his millions to work by starting a medical school from scratch and appointing himself the dean. Croft’s plan was to educate rejects from Stateside medical schools and, come hell or high water, turn them into competent doctors, damn it.

The students were an assortment of eager young things with the usual mental and emotional baggage that any comedy-drama needs for sustenance. Adapting to the slow pace and rough-around-the-edges nature of island society provided plenty of material for story-arcs. The way North American attitudes rubbed up against Caribbean realities was the show’s bread and butter. But Dr. Croft shared none of their problems. He loved island life.

 

 

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Crusty yet benign

Croft was a stock Hollywood character: a crusty yet benign fellow. One day he found himself having to deal with another wealthy American. In this particular episode a lone yachtsman fetched up on the island and he and Croft were inevitably thrown together. The yachtsman was younger and tried to cultivate a maverick image, but essentially he and Croft were in the same league. The visitor had made his millions in the computer field, and decided to take the money and run, or rather sail away. He left the rat race behind and led a nomadic existence, island-hopping in his state-of-the-art yacht.

They became regular drinking partners and passed the time playing chess on the anchored yacht. In one scene Croft confides in him about a ticklish situation he was currently facing, and the millionaire yachtsman replies with an anecdote. It was meant to be relevant to Croft’s problem. And it alluded to his familiarity with top celebrities. The wealthy nomad had earlier dropped a broad hint or two about having rubbed shoulders with some big shots in his time, thereby eliciting a couple of Croftian harrumphs. But now the yachtsman – his name was Richard – started an exchange which went something like:

Richard: You know, when I was living the high life back in the States I used to party a lot with Dylan.

Croft: Who?

Richard: Bob Dylan. This was before his born-again Christian period. I never understood that move. But anyway, do you know what he once told me?

Croft: How could I?

Richard: One time we were alone and Dylan said to me: You know, there comes a point in every man’s life when he finally outsmarts himself.

Croft [after a puzzled silence]: What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Richard: I’ve never been able to work it out. But if you can, it may help you understand what’s going on.

 

There comes a point in every man’s life when he finally outsmarts himself. Croft’s reaction was the only sensible one. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

This obviously apocryphal quote from His Bobness raises a few questions. Just how is it possible for us to outsmart ourselves? How is it possible for one half of the human brain to outwit the other half? And, come to think of it, how can you even tell if you really have outsmarted yourself?

We are surely all prone to self-delusion, choosing fantasy over reality and convincing ourselves that white is black and bad is good. But that is mere self-deception, not self-outsmarting, as in actively outwitting ourselves the way Sherlock Holmes or Lieutenant Colombo always outwit the bad guys.

The question remains unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable. There may be some Zen wisdom contained in the mere  articulation of  “Dylan’s” statement. But since Zen wisdom is supposed to be too lofty to be put into words, there is nothing more to say on the matter.

 

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