Location: Utica, NY

I AM the stein that's half empty, half full; I AM the white veins in the sky of a storm; I AM the ivory tusk on the wall; I AM the ants in your pants; I AM burning France; I AM a brooding coffee cup island; I AM fitter, happier, more productive; I AM the sun burning holes; I AM the wraith of long gone; I AM the artist in the television; I AM throwing down; I AM picking up; I AM iambic pentameter; I AM 100 IM; I AM the pox on your socks; I have chicken pox.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ERASER HEAD (part 2)

Here's another installment from my story Eraser Head. No shit but I'm actually starting to like this story now. If you read the first installment and are expecting more after this you might be out of luck. Sorry. I can't publish the complete story on my blog because if somebody steals it and tries to pass it off as their own, and I want to get it published someday, can see how that wouldn't be good. At least you can enjoy this latest installment of my formerly aimless story.

[from Eraser Head, by Tim Freeman]

HAVING acquired so many sobriquets over the years, Patrick Dempsey seldom answered to the name Pat or Patrick anymore. He collected nicknames like patches on a jacket, and each title held a level of significance that Patrick identified with his own uniqueness. There was Special K because he once ate nothing but Special K for a week to lose weight but ended up gaining five pounds instead. The fiasco was so typically Patrick that the name naturally stuck with a certain compartment of his friends who liked to joke about his slight weight problem. There was Patch Adams because he patched up dinks in cars (actually, an eccentric kid from across the street dubbed him that because, well, he was eccentric) There was Malt Shop (he wasn’t sure how he came by that one) and Chop Shop (because some joked, and half-suspected, that he was doing something illegal in his garage with his cars) and still further there was Pet Shop (because Patrick once adopted stray dogs in the neighborhood and sold them when they weren’t claimed). His closest auto-mechanic connections called him The Gopher because Patrick was faster and more reliable--not to mention cheaper--than Advanced AutoParts when it came to tracking down that rare bit of metal needed to bring, say, a dead VW micro van back to life in the dead of winter. “Gopher,” they would say, “do you think you can get me X, Y and Z for a ‘68 Mustang Firebird,” to which Patrick would reply, “I think a have Y and maybe Z lying around my garage somewhere, and I know a guy who might be able to get you X.” The Gopher could never fail. Patrick’s mom called him Hot Box when he was angry and Soap Box when he was clean and Strong Box when she needed his muscles for something she could not do by her own strength alone. “There’s my Strong Box,” she would say as he hoisted a table above his head and carried it to her desired location. “Look out, here comes Hot Box,” she would sometimes utter as Patrick stormed down the hallway mad as Hell with a look on his face that indicated he was bent on destroying something delicate with a lot of sentimental value.

But there was another name Patrick had been known by and associated with growing up. It was a name all but lost in the unfurling of time, tolling out its final echoes in the dark recesses of his brain until that inevitable neurological file dump should come along and eradicate it from his consciousness completely. When this happened only an empty space of blackness would be left, a depth to fill with the synaptic coordinates for a face or perhaps a new telephone number to memorize. Patrick would have wanted that most, he would have wanted the name completely gone for good if he only knew this ghost from his past still lingered in the hollows of his brain.

Perhaps today would be the day his mental updates would identify the useless file and single it out for termination. Yes, please let it be. Or in a more abstract way, an unconscious mental reconnaissance would survey his psyche and find no more traces of the hidden enemy, it having been bombed to dust by beer can grenades and joint missiles, or maybe just fled off the map completely. If Patrick had known he would have begged God to let today be the day when the name vanished forever, when it trickled out of his body in a stream of urine, some microbial form of a name to be washed away into the bowels of the sewers.

Today was Wednesday, a gray and overcast Wednesday, and the gusts of Ohio wind were blowing the rain into screaming diagonal bullets that ricocheted off the windows of Del Franco’s Pizza where Patrick was temping to make some extra dough. He was standing there tapping a pencil and waiting for the phone to ring so he could get to work preparing pizzas, and maybe if he was lucky, get out of the store and go do a delivery. His friend and co-worker Fred was soaping down the tables and whistling a tune to himself. Other than the raindrops which pelted the windows as if seeking to penetrate the thick glass, Freddy’s whistling was the only other sound that broke the silence on that Wednesday afternoon in Del Franco‘s. Patrick’s head was heavy in the palm of his hand and he knew that if he was at home right now he would be in his bedroom with the latest issue of Penthouse sprawled on his knees and a lacy bra clenched in his hands. Somewhere between Patrick’s ononistic reverie and Freddy’s shouting, the phone rang. It momentarily startled Patrick and he looked across the room at Freddy.

“Are you going to get that?” Fred was saying.

Patrick picked up the receiver.


“Eraser Head?”


Patrick stared for a moment wondering what the Hell the person on the phone had just said. Freddy had just gone outside to wash a piece of bird shit off the window and could not help him out on this one. He thought he heard the person say Racer Head but he could not be sure. He watched Freddy reach up with his rag and carefully wipe at the white glob of bird droppings which had been stuck to the window going on days and was now becoming hard and crusty like a rock. He wondered at the angle and trajectory of the flying bird feces. How had landed with such aesthetic precision so high up on the flush windows of Del Franco‘s pizzeria? Why did it not run and drip down as gravity would have it do? All of this went through Patrick’s mind as the silence from the receiver buzzed in his ear.

“Is this Eraser Head?”

The voice sounded very near yet at the same time very distant. It had the inflection of a voice from a memory yet it also could strangely be the voice of a stranger he may have just talked to an hour ago.

“What?” Patrick said.

“I know that’s you Eraser Head.”

Patrick was puzzled. Who was this Eraser Head person the caller was asking for? Was it a prank call? Why would anyone want to prank call Del Franco’s Pizza in New Hatfield, Ohio--a dead-end town in a dead-end state--to begin with? Thinking of how he could have some fun with this person Patrick thought for a moment and more silence ensued. Finally, he gave up trying to figure a way to prank the caller back and said, “Yeah, pizza’s are thirteen fifty for a large and mediums start at ten even.”

Patrick could hear breathing coming from the other end of the line.

Contemplating the gruffness of the caller’s voice, Patrick decided that it sounded eerie in a backwoods sort of way. He pictured an unemployed man in his thirties or forties calling from a trailer on the outskirts of New Hatfield. He pictured the man sitting in a stained Lazy Boy recliner with a sick-pack of cheap, domestic beer by his feet. There was perhaps a flowerpot next to the man overflowing with cigarette buts and maybe a shotgun within arms reach incase things got to that point. Patrick winced at these mental sketches he was making and secretly congratulated himself also for their accuracy. But at the same time it was all very disturbing.
Why me? Why now? he thought.

The breathing continued and became deeper and more hoarse.

“Are you going to order a pizza or not, dude?” Patrick said.

“Hhhhuuuuhhhhh?” the voice replied.

Patrick started a little at this and began to lose his patience. What kind of sick fuck was he talking to? Of all the businesses to call, of all the places, of all the people! Why wasn’t this guy calling the FBI or the NRA or the DEA or even the BBC? Why wasn’t he talking? Maybe he was retarded.

“Don’t you remember Eraser Head?” the caller finally breathed out.

“Look! Are you going to order a pizza or not?” Patrick repeated.

“Not!” the caller blurted out and the line went dead.

Patrick slammed the receiver down hard. Just then Freddy came back inside with a look of satisfaction on his face at having successfully removed the bird shit from the window. Perceiving the frustration in Patrick’s eyes his look immediately changed from one of smugness to one of concern.

“What the Hell was that all about?” he inquired.

“Nothing,” Patrick said.


“Just somebody having fun.”

Just then the phone rang again and Patrick quickly fumbled for the receiver and put it to his ear. This time, however, it was a legitimate customer. They ordered three cheese calzones and a two liter bottle of diet soda. Patrick got to work preparing the order while Freddy resumed with his cleaning. The incident was quickly forgotten as they went about with their respective tasks but Patrick was left with a discomforting feeling he could not quite shake or identify for the remainder of the day. He made many mistakes while preparing the calzones. At one point he put pepperoni on one of the calzones and at another point he burned himself on the coils of the stove. The rain was falling harder outside and the customer called back to amend their order: they would not be picking up, they now wanted the calzones and the soda delivered to their house. Patrick would have been formerly relieved by this assignment but now he was overcome by a desire to remain inside of Del Franco’s for the remainder of his shift, which lasted for another half hour. A mob of people was now inexplicably flooding into the pizzeria, however, and Patrick got stuck with the delivery. He grumbled as he tucked the heat-proof box under his arm filled with the calzones and headed out into the rain to his car. He thought about the irony of carrying a heat-proof box and the fact that his mother always called him Hot Box when he was mad. He fumbled with the keys and jerked the car into reverse. The rain was coming down in torrents now and Patrick zoomed through the streets determined to get this mission over with as soon as possible.

Two miles into his trip he got stopped at a long light where his was the only car in sight. Patrick sat there and watched the shrieking rain drops pelt his windshield like bullets of blood sent from some god in the sky. He thought of each drop of rain as a delicate insect sent on a suicide mission from high up in the atmosphere. They were little paratroopers who, instead of landing and combating the inhabitants of earth, blew up upon impact whenever they touched an object. They were exploding on his thick glass windshield now and his wipers were wiping them away like so many hapless casualties of a futile war.

The light was not changing and Patrick was becoming impatient. He still did not see any cars. He muttered a few curses and began to tap his horn as the rain let up a little. The light seemed to be stalled because it was still stuck on red.

“What the fuck!” Patrick yelled.

He was now blaring his horn and cursing at the top of his lungs. Finally the light changed and Patrick raced through the intersection. The sky was clearing and the rain had almost completely stopped. Patrick rolled down his window and exhaled into the cool air and watched the mist of his own spirit escape. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he yelled to anyone who would listen, which was no one. He peeled out at a corner and a stray dog standing across the road looked up from its sniffing hardly appearing to be startled.

Patrick was driving fast now towards the address of the customer. He was racing to make it to the house and back to Del Franco’s in the half hour he had since he left because Del Franco’s would not pay him for the extra time he spent working. As Patrick raced down the endless road that headed away from New Hatfield he was struck with a sudden realization. He could plainly see a metaphor beginning to manifest itself before his eyes. He was running farther and farther away from something that was leading him into the unknowable distances. The monotony that had become his life had him headed down a road that was as ugly as the one that now surrounded and stretched before him. Where did it all go? He looked up at a house number and realized he missed the address of the customer. He stopped in the road, turned around and began to slowly head back. He looked off into the distance at the greenness of the hills flowing around him and at the emptiness of the fields. The sky opened up and a beam of sun shot out like a ray from heaven.

Then he remembered.


reviewed by: Tim Freeman

Happy, feel-good movies can often be said to be cheesy movies as well. You, Me and Dupree has a lot of cheese, but none in the bad sense. The power-packed performance of the characters carries the weight and message of the film more than the plot and script does. Rather than just seeing these characters, we are feeling them.

What begins as a typical comedy about a guy named Dupree (played by Owen Wilson) who crashes at his best friends house only to be the most obnoxious guest ever, quickly turns into a roller coaster ride of testosterone and adrenaline pumped emotion. Dupree’s best friend, whose name is Carl (played by Matt Dillon) just married a beautiful hot blond named Molly (played by Kate Hudson) and the last thing these newlyweds want is the freeloading Dupree spoiling their post-nuptial vibes with his ononistic antics and intolerable aloofness to etiquette. Carl has a glitzy job at a developing firm and Molly is an elementary school teacher and they have a new house in the suburbs. When it is discovered that Dupree--who was Carl’s best man at their wedding--is sleeping on a cot in a bar and has no job, Carl has no choice but to capitulate and offer him temporary residence in their home. “It will only be for a week or two,” Carl explains to Molly. “He’s my best friend.”

Molly knows something is not right when Dupree enters their house with a beanbag chair slung over one arm and a giant moose head tucked underneath the other. In the morning Molly and Carl descend the stairs only to witness the sight of a naked Dupree sprawled on their couch with his hairy ass protruding in a grizly way. Things only unravel from here and reach a crescendo when Dupree practically burns down their house one night in a sexual ritual with a librarian that involves a lot of candles and butter. They finally tell Dupree the next morning that he has to go and Dupree leaves on his ten speed determined to go live with the librarian. That evening, however, Carl and Molly discover a shivering Dupree sitting on a park bench in the pouring rain. Overcome with empathy, Molly convinces Carl to take Dupree back in until he can get his shit together. Dupree is determined not to waste this second chance he has been given and sets off to make things right with his generous hosts. He cleans up the mess he made when he set the fire and remodels the front of the house. He writes Thank You letters to everyone who gave Carl and Molly gifts at their wedding, a job Carl was supposed to do but passed off to Dupree. And he writes romantic poetry.

Meanwhile Carl is having a stressful time at work dealing with his boss (played by Michael Douglas) who is also his father-in-law. Carl finds out only too late that his boss/father-in-law does not approve of him marrying his daughter. The hints Douglas’s character drops range from oblique, subtle suggestions to direct, outright declarations of his dislike for Carl (in one scene he tells Carl that he should have a vasectomy and gives him a pamphlet describing the procedure). Carl’s rage gets worked into a frenzy by all of this which is only exacerbated by his creeping suspicion that Molly is falling for Dupree. As Carl becomes more distant--coming home late from work, drinking, gaining weight--Molly seeks emotional comfort in Dupree who has been the perfect picture of mellowness lately. Dupree, however, has too much integrity to sleep with his best friend’s wife even if she does happen to be Kate Hudson.

The movie at this point becomes a whirlwind of energy-laced, nerve racking emotion has Carl seems to experience nothing short of a nervous breakdown. Dillon’s performance is electrifying if not at times completely scary. Even Owen Wilson’s mastery of the mellow-guy persona cannot tame it. Kate Hudson gets pushed to the side by it as well but she still manages to hold her own in some scenes. Somewhere on the margins of all of this is Douglas poking and pushing a few buttons. But Carl is a monster, and he is too blind to see that he loves Molly and too quick to assume that his best friend would go behind his back and betray him. And as for his boss/father-in-law? Carl almost literally attacks him when they invite him over for dinner one night only to be whacked on the head by Michael Douglas who brandishes a candlestick for defense.

This is where Dupree must step up and put the pieces back together. Owen Wilson’s mellow-guy persona grows at this point to fill up everything until it is glowing. Dillon’s fuse has burned out and Wilson, instead of stealing and running away with the spotlight, transfers some of his life-giving love to Dillon and restores him to his former likeable self in the end. What happens is nothing short of magical and will leave audiences feeling transformed and inspired when they leave the theater or get up from the couch. It is a happy message that leaves a good feeling in its wake, and like the song that plays while the credits are rolling, it will makes you want to get up and “Bust a Move.” If you take your girlfriend to see this movie you will probably go home and bust a move with her after it is over. If you go to this movie with a group of friends in all likelihood you will go out dancing afterwards and bust a move. This is the impact of the inspirational feeling projected at the end of You, Me and Dupree. It is one of hope and rebirth. But like a lot of feel-good messages these days its sensation is not lasting. It most likely won’t carry over into the next week or month or even year. It will last the whole night and leave you feeling refreshed the next morning but that is it.

But this is in no way an excuse not to see You, Me and Dupree. The power of the movie lies in its ability to take us to the edge and safely bring us back. In this way we are reminded that it is always darkest before the dawn, and the film serves this message like a spicy plate of nachos: it is hot and fiery at first but will leave us purged afterwards. Seeing this movie is like having a front row seat of an NFL game where the crunch and vibrations from the tackles is palpable enough that you can almost taste the blood in your mouth. Except this NFL game would end with an hour long sermon by one of the world’s finest motivational speakers and Lance Armstrong just might even make an appearance (“That guy’s done more with one nut than we’ve done with four,” Dupree tells Carl in one scene). The only thing You, Me and Dupree will leave us longing for in the end is a future that is wide open with possibilities, and, in this reviewer’s opinion, a slutty mystery librarian as well.

Sunday, December 31, 2006


John Gay, the author of one of the most famous plays of the 18th Century, is also one of the most overlooked figures in the canon of English literature as well. In this essay, which I wrote for a class in the summer of 2006, I attempt to do justice to The Beggar's Opera and the man John Gay.



ENG 345
AUGUST 7, 2006

Morality is nowhere to be found in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. A passage that appropriately sums up the prevailing theme of the play is spoken by Lockit when he says, “lions, wolves, and vultures don’t live together in herds, droves or flocks. Of all animals of prey, man is the only sociable one. Every one of us preys upon his neighbor, and yet we herd together” (98-99). Each character is out for his or her own self in this play. Dishonesty and ignobility have no place in the lexicon of the characters of Gay’s mock-opera. Any means that can be employed to earn of quick shilling or save a character’s own neck from the noose or worse is fair game. This attitude is a reflection of the corrupt times John Gay was living in.

In their introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Beggar’s Opera, Bryan Loughrey and T.O. Treadwell describe eighteenth-century London as corrupt on all levels. Political offices had to be bought and the slums in the St. Giles quarter were “dangerous as well as squalid“ (15). Thief-catcher rings operated much like the mafia with the famous Jonathan Wild controlling most of them much like an eighteenth-century Al Capone. Graft, prostitution, larceny and alcoholism were accepted norms of eighteenth-century London society and no play paints a better picture of this than John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Loughrey and Treadwell say in their introduction that, “the criminal world [in The Beggar’s Opera] is no worse than the world of respectable society, but it is no better either. . .” (29). The Underworld characters often compare themselves to the aristocracy to vindicate themselves, or at least to justify their actions, but they prove to be just as untrustworthy and vice-ridden as the upper-class citizens they condemn. In this essay I will argue that John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera offers a world that is rampant with dishonesty and immorality, where back-stabbing is the norm and greed and self-preservation drives the characters and pits them against each other, and that ultimately these characteristics condemn the characters of the play and the society which they are a reflection of. No one character is truly virtuous and honorable with exception to Polly and possibly some of the members of Macheath‘s gang such as Matt of the Mint. While some of the other characters in the play display virtuous qualities from time to time, they later contradict these qualities by committing greedy or immoral acts.

One of the best and first instances of the play’s immorality comes when Polly tells her mother and father in Act I that she is in love with Macheath and that she is going to marry him. Peachum and his wife’s response to this news is to offer a solution to the timeless perception that marriage is a “trap” for both partners. Peachum says to Polly, “Secure what he hath got, have him peached the next Sessions, and then at once you are made a rich widow” (61). Polly, who is incredulous at this suggestion, says, “the blood runs cold at the very thought of it” (61). While intended to be comedic, this scene also speaks of a darker theme that dominates The Beggar’s Opera. By Peachum instructing Polly to have Macheath hanged so she can be rich and single again, Gay is showing peoples’ motives at their most base and greedy, which he does frequently throughout the play. Furthermore, he is belittling the highly valued institution of marriage by showing it as merely a means to gaining an easy fortune. This faithless view in the institution of marriage is further enhanced by the plethora of prostitutes that populate The Beggar’s Opera and by the pejorative vocabulary used throughout the play to describe women in general, such as “hussies,” “sluts” and “baggage.”

When Pechum and Mrs. Peachum realize that Macheath possess enough evidence to have them hanged instead, their motives for having him peached quickly change from wanting to make Polly a rich widow to a necessity to save their own lives. This betrays their immoral nature because they would not think twice about hanging someone who they believe not only loves and is going to marry their daughter, but also because they would have Macheath executed who Mrs. Peachum said a few scenes earlier that, “. . . there is not a finer gentleman upon the road. . . “ (48). They are purely motivated by greed and a necessity to save and protect themselves and care nothing about Macheath as a person or for what he contributes to the gang. Also, because they automatically assume that Macheath has the same motives as they do--that he will have them hanged once he marries Polly so he can inherit their fortune--this further proves that their own greedy and immoral views extend to how they perceive all of humankind. Already one gets a sense of the kind of world Gay is portraying--a world without morals or any concept of right and wrong.

If it can obviously be assumed that Peachum and his wife are not the most savory of characters, the reader quickly learns that Macheath is not much better. While at the end of Act I he professes what appears to be his endless and true love for Polly, one can see that his lines are littered with allusions comparing women to money, especially coins. When he is parting from Polly, he sings in air 18, “The miser thus a shilling sees/ Which he’s obliged to pay/ With sighs resigns it by degrees/ And fears ‘tis gone for aye” (67). All the while Polly is singing a tune in which she imagines Macheath is thinking of their parting the way, “The boy, thus, when his sparrow’s flown/ . . . . Whines, wimpers, sobs and cries” (67). Macheath is giving up Polly like a miser gives up a shilling, while she thinks he is imagining giving her up the way a boy would give up a pet bird.

This is not the only passage in the play which likens women to material and monetary possessions. In air 2 Filch sings that, “. . . suits of love, like law, are won by pay/ And beauty must be fee’d into our arms” (44). This alludes to prostitution, but it can also be viewed as expressing the timeless complaint that women are greedy in marriage and spend all of their husbands’ hard earned pay. This can also be taken to mean that marriage, in a way, is a form of prostitution were the man is essentially buying the woman. Consistent with this theme, Mrs. Peachum sings in air 5 that, “A maid is like the golden ore/ Which hath guineas intrinsic in’t,“ but, “A wife’s like a guinea in gold/ Stamped with the name of her spouse” (51). In his article “Similitude as Satire in The Beggar’s Opera” William Bowman Piper interprets these lines to mean that a young unmarried girl, “is like a lump of ore that will make an uncertain number of guineas. . . . when it is minted,“ but, “any wife in general, is like a single golden guinea; every wife, according to the figure, being. . . . precisely interchangeable on the market with every other” (347). This is a very bleak view of the institution of marriage if one takes it seriously, and Gay is making a statement that women are all coins stamped with the image of their husbands and thus are property and serve a monetary and economic function. The institution of marriage must have been marred in the eighteenth-century by the very popular trade of prostitution. Loughrey and Treadwell state that in the St. Giles quarter, “more than one house in every four was a gin shop,” but, “most of the gin shops were also brothels of the cheapest kind and places where stolen goods were received” (14). Since The Beggar’s Opera is described by the authors of the introduction as a “great success” (7) and as “smashing all previous [theater] records,” (7) it is not hard to imagine how popular vices like prostitution, theft and alcoholism--all subjects which The Beggar’s Opera deals with--captured and ran away with the mainstream consciousness of eighteenth-century Londoners.

Just as Macheath is driven by greed in his occupation as a highwayman, he is also driven by lust in his affairs with women. In a soliloquy before he entertains a group of prostitutes, he says, “a man who loves money, might as well be contented with one guinea, as I with one woman,” (72) and he says, “there is nothing unbends the mind like [women]” (72). If in Act I Macheath is a sort of Romeo to Polly who is his Juliet, this view of him is quickly dispatched when he is depicted entertaining the prostitutes in Act II. When he gets to Newgate prison and Lucy is introduced into the plot, five months pregnant by Macheath, his fatal flaw is now manifest to the reader. Macheath cannot keep his hands off females. This works well with the satiric element of the mock-operatic play, but it also carries a more sinister tone to it as well. Both Polly and Lucy are desperately and truly in love with Macheath and they have been seduced by his sweet words and his many promises so that they both consider him their husband. While some women may not mind having light relations with Macheath, Polly and Lucy are deeply wounded by his betrayal and display many of the characteristics of virtuous maidens. Thus Macheath is as much of a back-stabber out for his own gain and pleasure as much as any other character in The Beggar‘s Opera.

While Polly and Lucy may be the most virtuous of all the characters in the play, they have their shortcomings as well. They are both the daughters of shady fathers for one thing. While Lockit’s profession as a jailor may be more legit than Peachum’s as a thief catcher, there is more than one scene when they secretly discuss “going halves” on Macheath. Lucy’s most virtuous act is to help Macheath escape from prison, however, her character ultimately suffers when she attempts to poison Polly with rats-bane. Her wickedness manifests itself when she says, “I never could be hanged for anything that would give me greater comfort, than the poisoning that slut” (108). Polly and Lucy are both culpable for loving so steadfastly a roguish man like Macheath, who neither deserves their loyalty or offers any promise of ever remaining faithful in the future. Something can be said of them by this fact alone, much like what can be said of the women today who fall for the bad-boy or tough-guy type of men. However, if one was to weigh the two characters on a scale, Polly would prove the more virtuous of the two women, which is most likely why Gay has Macheath make her his wife in the end, albeit not without singing the chauvinistic 69th air that concludes with the line, “The wretch of today, may be happy tomorrow” (122).

The characters in The Beggar’s Opera frequently try to justify their evil actions by comparing themselves to respectable society. Peachum, like many of the characters, constantly has it in for lawyers and in the opening scene says, “a lawyer is an honest employment, so is mine. Like me too he acts in a double capacity, both against rogues and for ‘em. . .” (43). This does not amount to much of a vindication of his deeds but rather makes him look more foolish than anything else. By using the excuse that “if the rich guys can do it, well, so can I” he is only absolved so much because he is not in a position where morality is expected of him. Third graders do the same thing. If a basketball star they admire acts immoral than they think they have license to emulate that person, only they are not culpable for their actions because they are young and inexperienced. The basketball star ultimately takes the blame, because he is the one who is supposed to be setting a good example and he is setting a bad one. Peachum is indirectly asserting in these lines, whether he knows it or not, that modes of conduct are set by respectable society and thus trickle down to everybody else. If the citizens with the money and the government offices can act immoral, than immorality becomes the status quo. Peachum’s lines than, in which he tries to pump himself up and look like he is better than lawyers, ultimately make him look like a poor, uneducated peasant of the meanest sort.

Robinhood-like virtues can be found in the gang of thieves and alongside Polly this gang is the next closest thing to true virtue in The Beggar’s Opera. Matt of the Mint tries to justify stealing from the rich in the following passage when he says:

“A covetous fellow, like a jackdaw, steals what he was never made to enjoy, for the sake of hiding it. These are the robbers of mankind, for money was made for the freehearted and generous, and where is the injury of taking from another, what he hath not the heart to make use of? (69)

These lines seem to speak of a noble purpose behind the highwaymen’s actions, but one can hardly see the justice in stealing from the rich because they hide what they own. Did it never occur to Matt of the Mint that the rich hide their possessions because robbery was so rampant in eighteenth-century London? In their introduction, Loughrey and Treadwell claim that, “the slums of London were a jungle which the well-dressed and respectable explored at their peril,” (15) and that, “fear of the rope appears to have had little effect on the crime rate” (17). Certainly all of the thieving rings like the one Macheath and Matt of the Mint belong to were responsible for much, if not all of, the crime. Furthermore, for all of the gang’s professed loyalty to one another--for instance, Nimming Ned says, “who is there here that would not die for his friend?” (69)--the solidarity of Macheath’s gang ultimately proves less than perfect in the end. While caught after escaping from prison and facing execution, Macheath alludes to the fact that Jemmy Twitcher, a member of his gang, turned him in. “That Jemmy Twitcher should peach me, “he says to Matt of the Mint, “I own surprised me!” (118). The ultimate message from this is that all friendship and loyalty is false, and that only rogues and dissemblers exist.

This may sound harsh but it was the world John Gay was living in. Scholars have tried to argue that in The Beggar’s Opera Gay is exalting the Underworld and exposing the corruption of wealthy society. They base their arguments on the fact that the rogues, villains and harlots in the play don’t pretend to be anything else than what they are, and that the true villains, rogues and harlots are the upper-class individuals, who affect righteousness and decency and yet are as vile and obscene at the core as the members of the Underworld-classes. But this view ignores the fact that there is not a single character of the respectable-class of Londoners in Gay’s play. There is simply a class of villains being villains, and where is the vindication in that? While they may boast how they are better than the rich, they do it all behind the backs of respectable Londoners in their private dens and brothels. Just as Macheath is being led to the gallows, the Beggar, who is the fictional author of the play, says, “Through the whole piece you may observe such a similitude in high and low life, that it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable vices) the fine gentleman imitate the gentleman of the road, or the gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen” (121). But how is one supposed to deduce this if the play only tells a one-sided story? Where are the fine-gentlemen with fashionable vices to compare to the gentlemen of the road in the play like Macheath and Matt of the Mint?

In conclusion, one thing can be said in favor of The Beggar’s Opera that echoes what scholars who argue that the play is a vindication of the Underworld say. In the end when the Beggar talks of “poetical justice” (120) and having all of the characters either “hanged or transported,” (121) his companion, the Player, interrupts and says they must change the ending to “comply with the taste of the town” (121). Hence Macheath is reprieved and reluctantly marries Polly. “The taste of the town” has as much to do with the audience expecting an opera to end happily as it does with them wanting to see true “poetical justice” done by having Macheath freed. Scholars argue that one of the chief injustices this play addresses is that the citizens of the Underworld are punished for their vices whereas the upper-class citizens are not. By reprieving Macheath at the end, scholars say that this is a bit of poetical justice that is sticking it to the man.

But if Macheath is not the villain who the town wants to see hanged, must we automatically assume that the aristocracy should be hanged? Perhaps the true villains the town wants to see hanged are Peachum and Lockit who are fictional representations of people like Jonathan Wild--those individuals who would rat out their own friends for 40 pounds and who would look like they were doing the world good by ridding it of one more purse snatcher. Loughrey and Treadwell say in their introduction that the public was dubious of Jonathan Wild, “and when, in 1724, he finally overreached himself and was hanged for the offense of receiving a reward for the return of goods which he knew to have been stolen, few tears were shed” (20). Are not the thief-catchers the ones who should hang if poetical justice is to reign victorious in the end?

But poetical justice lives in the epitaph of John Gay, which he composed for himself before he died. For a man who lived during England’s immoral and corrupt eighteenth-century, he is remembered for eternity with lighthearted words of mirth that read: “Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I thought so once; but now I know it.” Being able to laugh in the face of so much corruption is the biggest victory of all, and if the Underworld characters in The Beggar’s Opera were not vindicated, at least John Gay was.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bright Lights, Big City, Very Sleepy

Greetings to all my readers--or reader--from the Big Apple! It is the day after Christmas and I am in an apartment on West 27th St. sipping green tea as my fingers go clickety-clack on the keyboard.

I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time but the whole experience has been anticlimactic in every way. I have been extremely exhausted and not feeling well since arriving in the Big Apple Saturday night, and now that it is Tuesday morning and time to leave I am just starting to feel better. I finally managed to get a full eight hours of uninterupted sleep last night and I am a little more lucid of mind and can now talk without slurring my words. This may be overstating things a bit, but the truth is that I came to New York with a little bit of a cold to begin with and the excitement of being here--not to mention that it's Christmas--has made me feel like a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who is being tortured with sleep deprivation. What follows is an account of my mostly sleepless visit to New York:

The long train ride from upstate New York (delayed for two hours thanks to Amtrak's expedient service) tired me out Saturday evening, and after hanging out at SoHo house with my brothers upon arriving at midnight I didn't end up falling asleep until 5am Sunday morning. After this long night you might think I would want to sleep in the next day--and believe me, I did--but I was up before 10 and my bro and I were out the door before noon. What followed was a tiring day of shopping in Union Square and a night at the cinemas to see The Good Shepherd which starred Matt Damon. I did manage to get a little bit of relaxation time in-between the shopping and the movie, but I was still tired out of my mind the whole day and by 10pm all I could do was bitch about wanting to go home and go to bed (I wonder if the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay get to do that?).

Another night of not sleeping well (slept for 4 hours before being woken up by Jamaican music in the street at 4am. Got another 2 hours after that) and it was Christmas day. The city was a ghost town except for tourists who were mostly Asian. My brother gave me a three hour tour of lower Manhattan which included a stroll through SoHo (we saw Patti Smith's house! Yeah!) and the financial district. Walking down Wall Street felt like being in one of those episodes of the Twilight Zone when some guy wakes up and discovers that he is the last person left on the planet. I wanted to shout, "Hello!" really loud to add to the effect but my tiredness prevented me.

Christmas night was spent with my brothers, a sister in-law and my parents here at 27th St. in the apartment of my brother's girlfriend who is in England. Some of my sister-in-law's friends who live uptown visited in the evening with their adorable twin, infant daughters. I got to feel what it was like to be a father for about an hour as I talked baby-talk to them and held and played with them. Until yesterday I was always the type of person who was terrified of holding tiny children in my arms. This fear had to do with my inability to believe that I could successfully hold onto a baby without it inexplicably slipping though my hands, landing on its head and ending up with permanant brain damage. Yesterday, however, as I sat on the couch watching basketball with a baby asleep on my stomach I felt like I would make a good father someday, and now I can't wait for the next opportunity to play with somebody else's small children as if they were my own.

The tiredness seemed to come and go Christmas evening and when it came it was unforgiving to my need to have a relaxing and memorable night (it's not every year that I get to spend Christmas in New York City y'know). The worst part of the evening was when I told my brother in very sober words that I was literally "scared" as I had been tired going on days and there seemed to be no way to turn it off. He told me to lie down and he made me some warm milk--which I didn't drink because I didn't want to feel even more tired--and I asked him to sit by my bed while I tried to fall asleep. Aaaaawwwww! I know, but I was scared as shit. I had this frightening feeling that I was going to succumb to the exhaustion and not be able to breathe or something. Fuck!

Luckily this wave of feeling drained beyond capacity passed over me and I was able to enjoy another hour of social time before I fell asleep for good. I slept like a baby from 11:30pm until 7ish and it felt so fucking sweet. I could go for another three or four hours right now but all the medical wisdom says not to do that. Just go to bed at a regular time tonight and get up at a regular time tomorrow.

So here I am, a bit more lucid of mind and wishing I had had a better trip. But what can I do? I saw a good portion of Manhattan even though sometimes I was so tired it felt like I was in a dream. I even experienced a veritable New York moment when my brother hailed a cab only to have another cabbie pull up and steal us away from the cab my brother hailed. When the incident was over, the cab driver who was robbed of his fair yelled, "Fuck you, black!" to the cabbie who got away with me and my brother. My brother and I will no doubt share many laughs for years to come when we recall this scene. "Fuck you, black!"

And fret though I may, I can't forget all of the Christmas gifts I received. I got an iPod to replace my old iPod which I accidentally washed along with my jacket about a month ago. I have enough books now to keep me reading for the next few months. Some of the books I got for Christmas include books of poems by Pablo Neruda, Matthew Zapruder and Ben Lerner. I also got Dylan's Chronicles (Yeah!) which I had been wanting to read for a while. My dad also got me a Barnes & Noble gift card which I will most likely use to purchase Jonathan Safren Foer's Everything is Illuminated. My brother's girlfriend is his agent and there are copies of his two books all over her apartment--neither of which I have read--and a check he wrote to her for $1,000,000,000 as a joke. I have read Man Walks Into A Room by his wife, Nicole Kraus, and parts of The History of Love, but I have yet to read anything by Foer. He is younger than me by one year and it will be weird to read a published author who I could have actually beaten up at one time.

As you can see, this trip wasn't all slow-brained, slurred speech, feeling-like-my-boots-were-made-of-cement exhaustion. It had its highs along with the lows. I am most taken aback by the enormity of New York and the surrounding buroughs. All of my previous visits here have been limited to brief tours of the various neighborhoods my brother has lived in which did not give me an accurate sense of just how truly large this city is. They say that every 20 blocks is a mile and the blocks just seem to go on and on. Whew! I will need rollerblades the next time I come down here, and it might not be a bad idea to bring some cold medicine too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

ERASER HEAD (part 1)

Here is an excerpt from a story I'm working on entitled "Eraser Head." I am writing the story with no real aim in mind, it is more of an excercise in writing (with style, plot, dialogue, that sort of thing). For that reason I've decided to include it in my blog. The stuff I'm working on with the intent to hopefully publish some day is a lot more serious and--I would say--of better quality. So enjoy this passage from "Eraser Head" and don't get any ideas of copying it and trying to pass it off as your own (because if you do that you're a no-talent f**k!)

[from "Eraser Head" by Tim Freeman]

Ever since Patrick was old enough to suck his thumb he can remember dreaming of the day when he would walk through foreign lands in army-supplied camo brandishing a machine gun for defensive and offensive purposes. He envisioned eating K-ration meals in fox holes and patrolling streets littered with spent shell casings, twisted bits of shrapnel glinting in the sun like metal orange peels and maybe even the occasional body part or two. He liked to imagine the smells of war at family barbeques or on the 4th of July. Having never been in an actual combat zone he wondered how closely these smells approximated the actual aroma of a battlefield.

GI Joe figures littered his house growing up which he sometimes played with in bed wearing his camouflage pajamas with the words SLEEP TROOPER sprawled across the chest. When he entered high school he joined the Junior ROTC and ran Cross-Country. He was also a varsity member of the swim team by his sophomore year. He took karate classes and in the eleventh grade he became a part-time karate instructor. Patrick did everything he could to fortify his body and mind for the trials that lay ahead. He was building the iron constitution that he would need as a man of the military.

By the end of his junior year he was well into the application process for The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Everything was falling into place just like he had imagined.

Then he had his accident.

IT was an unseasonably chilly night in June with a crisp breeze blowing from the northwest through the valley where New Hatfield straddled the border between Hacksack and Totum Counties. It wasn’t just any night in New Hatfield. Tonight was the night of the Senior Ball at Free Mason Academy High School and everybody who was anybody was headed to the house of a popular girl who lived in the hills that overlooked the city. Patrick and his friends Aleisha and Justin climbed into Patrick’s ‘83 Honda Civic and drove to the party from the dance. They were following a long line of cars all headed in the same direction that moved like a noisy funeral procession of partying teenagers in rented tuxedos and sheer, lacy dresses.

“There’s gonna be beer at the party,” Aliesha said as she lit a cigarette. “Beer, beer, beer!” She had a tendency to repeat things over and over like a little kid when she was exited.

“No beer. No drinking,” Patrick said with a fatherly inflection of sternness in his voice.

“What?” Aleisha snorted out a laugh and the question at the same time, almost dropping her cigarette down her cleavage.

“I just don’t want to be responsible for what happens if anybody drinks.”

An incredulous silence hovered in the car for a moment. It seemed that all the air had gone out the windows and Patrick suddenly felt helpless. His cheeks became hot and rosy. He was momentarily embarrassed by being viewed as a prude by his closest friends, but he knew in his heart of hearts he was doing the right thing. Foreseeing the potential for this scenario, he had worn his RIGHT IS WRONG AND I AM STILL CAPTAIN shirt under his tuxedo.

“No one‘s going to force you to drink,” said Justin from the shadows of the back seat.

“You really should though. You don’t want to remember tonight. All your dickweed high school friends being dickweeds for the last time.” Aleisha could muster a persuasive tone when she wanted to and she was using it right now on Patrick.

“No. No alcohol. Can’t drink alcohol.” Patrick reiterated his position and stayed firm to it despite more complaints from his comrades.

The conversation continued this way as they followed the snaking line of cars up into the hilly, suburban streets of New Hatfield where the doctors and lawyers all had sprawling houses with neatly manicured lawns. The house of the girl who was hosting the party was at the top of the hill in a cul de sac of newly developed houses. Half of the houses on the street were still wooden frames erected over concrete foundations. Shadows of people were standing inside of these frames passing around small burning cherries of joints and talking trash and laughing. Aleisha, in a fit of exitement, almost jumped out of the car before it had come to a complete stop.

“Gonna get drunk, drunk-drunk-drunk-drunk!” she sang as she hopped across the front lawn where people were flocking into the party.

“That’s a negative,” Patrick said.

“There’s going to be a big bong,” Justin said.

“Negativity,” Patrick responded. This somewhat jovial response to Justin’s prodding belied an incipient relaxing to his hitherto position of firmness, and Patrick was aware of it.

“Bong. Spell it. Bong,” said Justin.

“Bong. B-O-N-G.”

This was always the way Patrick gave in. Peer pressure. He could maintain his iron constitution as long as he wasn’t with his friends, who he always felt he had to impress. Somewhere up there, he thought, every Remsey is looking down at him with disapproval in their sad little eyes and shaking their heads. “Patrick! You should know better,” they were probably saying right now.

Deep in his heart of hearts there was a voice whispering. It was telling him he should back out, think up an excuse to leave the party. Get away. Go far away. Sit on the levy all alone, maybe, or go home and lie in bed with the lights out and listen to White Snake until he fell asleep. The voice was barely audible, but it was there. If he listened through the din of the party he could just hear it. The voice of his ancestors, a small fountain of voices in his heart springing up. He tried to listen but the faces of his peers standing around told him he was a freak if he did, so he stopped.

“C’mon,” Justin said.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


I tried to get this published with no luck around the time of the 50th aniversary of Ginsberg's Howl. I'm posting it here for your edification and reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Tim Freeman

In his poem “Howl” Allen Ginsberg says he is “con- fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of/ thought” in an effort to delineate “America’s naked mind.” This poem that was published in 1956, and which was the subject of an obscenity trial upon its release, approximately marks a watershed moment in American History. Ten years after “Howl“ appeared on bookshelves, revolutionary changes began to swell across the American landscape. These changes would do much to dissipate the long cherished, old-fashioned conservatism that marked the first half of the 20th Century. Prior to Ginsberg, writers like Hemingway and Mailer were already abandoning the jingo in their fiction about World Wars I and II and were beginning to question some of America‘s attitudes. But “Howl” reads like a pornographic jeremiad, and the language is so graphic and shocking that even today’s readers will flinch at some of the lines.
Its frenetic syntax describing “endless cock and balls” and rooms “full of steam heat and opium” reveals a marginalized segment of America fed up with listening to the “scholars of war” and hearing the “crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox” every night. The answer to conformity is nonconformity, the answer to sober-minded mechanical thinking is drug addled craziness, the answer to capitalism’s “sexless cloud of hydrogen” is reckless bisexual promiscuity. And more than anything, “Howl” asserts that the madness of the world can only be combated by equal madness.

When I went through a crazy teenage phase in the early and mid ‘90s, I did not have the fortune of reading “Howl“ to assure me that other people--even very brilliant and artistic people like Allen Ginsberg--experience insanity in ways similar to how I was experiencing it then. I did not read “Howl” until I was in my twenties when, by then, I had grown an appreciation for what books can do and had developed a love of--and dependence upon--them. In many ways, my thoughts were as scattered and psychotic when I was a teenager as the voice in Ginsberg’s ranting poem. I was fighting a war back then. I was fighting a war against the world and a war in my mind. I smoked pot and took acid so I wouldn’t be like everybody else. I wanted to free my mind from what I saw as the myopia of suburban California, and more than anything, I thought I was being cool by taking drugs.

My rebellious drug use, however, would ultimately have consequences. Like Allen Ginsberg, at my high school I “broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the/ machinery of other skeletons.” When I read this line in “Howl” for the first time I thought Allen Ginsberg and I must share the same spirit. It took me back to a time in my Sophomore year when I smoked pot before a pep rally and felt exactly the same way--like I was naked and everybody was laughing at me. In reality, I was thronged with the stoners in a corner of the gym and nobody probably even noticed me amidst the sea of scraggly hair and beanies. “Howl” glorifies drug use but it does not eschew the damage drugs can cause. Drugs may offer instant gratification, but the user always comes down, “shuddering, mouth-wracked and battered/ bleak of brain all drained of/ brilliance.” Having learned this lesson the hard way too many times, I eventually gave up drugs before I finished high school.

“Howl” also spoke to me in another way the first time I read it. My childhood evenings were spent watching the world kill itself on the nightly news as my mom cooked casseroles and meat loaf and asked me about my day at school. Later, the bombardment of war stock footage I witnessed during these formative years would haunt me as a teenager on afternoons I spent lying in bed listening to heavy metal CDs. Images of executions, tanks exploding and common graves would play through my brain to a discordant soundtrack of lacerating guitar chords and rumbling drums. My mind became one continuous heavy metal video after another on those sunny afternoons. Being more fascinated by the images and pictures of the news broadcasts as a boy, these scenes replayed in my mind with no context to accompany them. To me they were a meaningless montage of chaos that spoke of humankind’s penchant for senseless brutality.
This left me believing that mankind must be intrinsically evil. As a result, I distrusted large institutions and became skeptical of everything that they stood for. I was like a lot of seventeen and eighteen year-olds. Marylyn Manson made more sense to me than Bill Clinton. This nihilism lingered into my early twenties and affected my first reading of “Howl.”

Because of this quashed optimism that I carried around as a vestige of my adolescence, I could identify with part II of the poem. My inner voice chanted along with Ginsberg’s as he cried “Moloch!” I could easily grasp his belief that there is an evil so prevalent in the world yet so mysterious that it can only be expressed by a strange, chanted invocation. “Moloch whose love is endless oil,” the verse shouts. “Moloch who entered my soul early!” “Moloch!” with its “Robot apartments” and “invisible suburbs.” While I was already beginning to become part of Moloch in my early twenties, I still had enough iconoclastic spirit left over in me to feel like Ginsberg was speaking directly to me in these lines. Furthermore, lines in the verse from part I denouncing “the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of/ advertising & the mustard gas of/ sinister intelligent editors” really hit home with me as well.

Allen Ginsberg is at war with the world in “Howl“, but like the truest of all rebels, he is also at war with himself. He is no stranger to the “pingpong & amnesia” of mental hospitals which he recalls “returning years later [to] truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East.” I laughed along with him when I read how he “in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table.” It made me recall a time when I flipped over a desk at an alternative school I attended for a semester after failing out of regular high school in my Sophomore year.
Having spent time in inpatient psychiatric hospitals myself, I can empathize with Ginsberg’s frustration at the futility of fighting a reality that may not always be the reality we want it to be. He dedicates his poem to Carl Solomon “losing the game of the actual pingpong of the abyss” in Rockland where he keeps saying “I’m with you.”

My troubled teenage years were not easy for me or for my family. I hated going to school and my brothers suffered from guilt as my broken mind stagnated from 1992 to 1995. My parents were forced to pick and choose their battles with me, allowing me to smoke and watch the Playboy channel in exchange for more stringent restrictions on some of my other freedoms. All I could think while all this was going on was “What’s the big deal? There’s nothing wrong with me.” Ten years since graduating from high school those years seem like a distant reverie. Sometimes I wonder if they even happened, if maybe I wasn’t possessed all that time by a foreign spirit. When I read “Howl” it takes me back to those times and everything becomes fresh in my mind again.

After having my college career truncated in 1998 by another psychotic breakdown, I finally resumed my studies three years ago at a four year college in my community. I am a senior now and expecting to graduated in less than a year. I have read “Howl” twice in the last year for two different college courses and I even did a presentation on Allen Ginsberg for a poetry class. Each time I read “Howl,” I pick up on nuances that I did not know existed before. It is as if my reading of the poem evolves as I evolve.

For a person to lose their mind and their sanity is a tragic thing, but for the whole world to lose its mind and its sanity, that is an even sadder thing. This is the truest message “Howl” leaves in its wake, and its ripples can still be felt today, howling America’s naked mind.

Monday, October 02, 2006


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Friday, September 29, 2006


My firsthand experience with learning second languages is quite extensive for the average American--quite extensive, if we assume that all of us are a bunch of arrogant speech-Nazis who expect the rest of the world to know English if they desire any type of communication with us whatsoever. Because we are too lazy to learn a foreign language ourselves, we have cut ourselves off from ever fully learning and understanding a culture other than our own. My desire to study foreign languages arose partly so as not to end up like the stereotypical American which I just described. Also, a knowledge of the romance languages just may come in handy if I ever hope to get laid when I eventually travel to Europe; because face it, you’re not likely to get any in Germany if you only know the words spiel mit mir from the Rammstien song (unless, of course, you‘re in a leather club for swingers). My brother jokes that I’m becoming a polyglot, but actually that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The only language that I show any promising signs of ever being fluent in is Spanish, which I spent two years studying in college and have continued to learn on my own since. A six week course in Italian and a current beginning German class make up the rest of my dabbling in European languages. If you went to Harvard and studied Russian, French and Vietnamese, I’ll slap myself right now for calling my experience in foreign languages extensive. But if you are reading this you probably went to community college like I did and only know how to count to five in Spanish. So I’ll brag away.

My first experience with learning a language was not, as you may be thinking, learning to master the trill in Spanish words like perro or gargling with water so I could better pronounce German phrases such as Ich suche dich. No. Rather it was when I was studying for the SAT and learning for the first time words that sounded completely foreign and alien but which I had probably heard and encountered countless times. Words such as corpulent, lachrymose and irascible found their way into my lexicon and changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. As I acquired these new words my cognitive functions changed. Suddenly I could watch an intellectual program on TV and understand it better than before because certain words didn’t fly over my head like they used to. I would read voraciously and not get stumped on certain sentences thanks to this new vocabulary. These transformations gave me an extreme sense of satisfaction and a new found sense of sophistication. I felt like a completely different person yet I was still myself. I was like a new version of my old self and it was exiting and thrilling to feel this way. The world seemed to open up for me with a myriad of possibilities and at times nothing seemed impossible.

My second encounter with learning a language occurred while I was attending a community college in upstate New York. It was required by the college that students in my major--Liberal Arts--take a full year of either Spanish or French. Having had a bad experience with French in high school I decided to try my hand at Spanish since I thought it would be easier. I passed beginning Spanish with flying colors and decided to go on to intermediate Spanish even though it wasn’t required. In those two years I came to know a lot about a language of which before I had been almost entirely ignorant. Having lived in California, I had bought in to the belief that Hispanics were going to take over the country and take all of our jobs. One of my first voting experiences was voting for one of governor Pete Wilson’s bills that would have denied medical coverage and other social services to illegal immigrants. A few years later when I moved to upstate New York and began learning Spanish I regretted those years spent in the dark. I found that Spanish is a beautiful language and is quite easy to learn and speak. Being able to maintain a few minutes of fluent conversation in Spanish was a joy I had never before experienced. To be able to speak, listen or write Spanish for a few minutes and completely understand it was a gratifying experience. Communicating in a language that before sounded like gibberish caused me to embrace Hispanic-Americans rather than view them as people on the margins of society. Whenever I could I sought out native Spanish speakers to practice my new Spanish with. At my college I befriended a group of Latino girls who knew very little English and we would sit together in the library or the cafeteria and take turns conversing in broken English and broken Spanish. The tradeoff was that I got to practice my Spanish while they got to practice their English so it was a win-win situation. This experience with Spanish formed a nascent desire in me to see what is outside of the lens I view the world through. It is a desire I still have today and although I still feel like I am just scratching the surface of the periphery outside of my lens, there is a whole lot to be learned from just a cursory study of a foreign language.

My latest experiences with learning languages has been just that--more scratching at the surface. I took a fast-paced six week Italian course this summer and got a graze-over of the basics of the language. Unfortunately, I have forgotten most of what I learned--when you cram it all in like that it doesn’t seem to stick--but those six weeks gave me a flavor of the Italian language and the Italian culture. My current experience with German is only one month old but I already feel like I’m starting to get a grasp of some of the most fundamental aspects of the language. German is the only language I have encountered thus far that I have actually had difficulty with the pronunciation but I am slowly making headway. I have always loved to hear German spoken and I am looking forward to the thrill of both hearing it spoken and actually knowing what the speakers are saying.

Learning languages has taught me much about the world and the various people who live in it. One would like to believe that people everywhere are all the same but my experience with language has taught me that this is not the case. Language drives a wedge between societies, between races and between individuals. At the tower of Babel when God confounded the tongues of all the people standing about the tower so that they could not understand one another--the world very much continues to be like this today. Every language carries with it a unique thought process and nuances that cannot be translated across languages or across cultures. Consider the English language for an instance of this. An English speaker with a large vocabulary is able to put his or her thoughts into sophisticated strings of sentences and phrases whereas an uneducated English speaker may often feel the frustration of not being able to articulate their thoughts coherently. Now consider the differences that would arise between the average English speaker and, say, the average French speaker. If one considers all the different languages, dialects and Creoles there are one can instantly imagine the limitless sea of distinct personalities that exist in the world. The Bible says there is only one soul that flows forth from God, but there is a prism that catches this soul from its source and reflects it into an infinite number of different souls. That prism is language.