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Student Perception of Speed as Affected by Diction: how charged words, as opposed to academic and neutral language, heighten emotions, create bias and skew judgement with specific emphasis on outliers

It has been a long time since I have done a study. 1988, I think. Designed one or run one. A long time since I have written one, and I know I have made many errors here.

I have been telling my students that words matter. Words create perception and they can be used to create bias, emotion, action or inaction. We study appeals to pathos, logos, ethos, kairos.  Loaded language and logical fallacies. But I often sense they do not believe me.  So I thought I would put them in the middle of their own proof.

The result was many open eyes and one student who insisted he should be filming me as a TED talk.

The results are below.

 

Design
This study is designed to see if using a “charged” term, non-academic diction, can change perception of external events. Such language can be used to create bias or emotional states and it was my desire to demonstrate this to English honors and Advance Placement English Language and Composition classes. If the hypothesis is correct, this can demonstrate how “charged” terms can be used to control the overall responses of populations.

I hypothesis that using terms with a “positive charge” will increase perception of speed in a filmed vehicular accident.

Population
Three classes of tenth grade honors English students were tested, with populations of 18, 19 and 21. All classes were studying the same curriculum and in the same program at the same location in their curriculum and instructed with the same materials, methods and instructor.

Material
Each class was shown a five second film of a vehicular accident or a motorcycle striking a car that had just pulled out of a parking spot, as filled from a helmet camera. The film showed the motorcycle increasing in speed, with the sound of the engine extant, and striking the broadside of the car. It was made obvious, in the film, the rider was not hurt appreciably hurt, and there were no signs of injury in the film.

Method
Each class was asked to estimate the speed of the collision and to write the number, in miles per hour, on a note, but each class was asked using a slightly differently worded query. The control group was asked the question in academic diction devoid of purposefully charged language.  A second group was asked the same question with a word replacement or a neutral for a word with a “positive charge.”  The third group had a query with two words carrying a “positive charge.”

  1. What was the speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred?
  2. What was the speed of the vehicle when it smashed into the other?
  3. How fast was the vehicle when it smashed into the other one?

The notes were collected and the data compiled for mean, median and mode as well as lowest and highest outliers.

 

Population 1

27 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 4 mph. Highest Outlier 53 mph.

 

Population 2

33 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 12 mph. Highest outlier 55 mph.

 

Population 3

38 mph average speed estimate

35 median

35 – 40 split for the mode, with four estimates for each

Lowest outlier 18 mph. Highest outlier was 80 mph.

Results
The language with the least emotional charge, the academic diction, resulted in the lowest perceived mean speed as well as the lowest outliers.

The language with one added “charged” word increased the mean perceived speed 22.22% 33 mph over the control group
The median and mode did not shift but the lowest and highest perceived speed increased by 200% and 3.78% respectively over the control group.

The language with two “charged” words increased the mean perceived speed by 40.74% to 38 mph over the control.
The median increased 16.67% to 35 mph and the mode was split evenly between 35 and 40 mph. Using the mean of this mode to calculate percentage, the mode increased 25% over the control. Seemingly most telling is the increase in the outliers.  The lowest perceived speed increased from 4 mph to 18 mph (350%) and 80 for the highest (50.94%) over the control group.

It is clear using charged words increased perceived speed.

This can be extrapolated to other areas, such as crowd size, levels of violence, impending danger and many other real world events.

Interpretation
This demonstrates several things. Language can be leading/loaded even if language does not appear to be. Academic diction has the lowest “charge,” and this supports the need to teach students to be write in an academic fashion. It also supports the need to instruct them to understand the importance of diction, so they can recognize language which appears to create logos when it is really designed to create pathos, thus allowing students to notice subtle manipulations in language meant to create emotional responses to skew perception and/or drive opinion. Further, it demonstrates the need for careful word choice with high semantic value to decrease linguistic indeterminacy.

Replication and Refinement
In replicating this study, I would select a population corrected for gender and academic level to assure the populations were homogeneous. Further, I would add a 4th group with a variable “negatively charged” term to see if the perception of the estimated speed in such a group would be lower than the control.

In further refinement, I would like to test to see if changing the charged adverb (fast, slowly, quickly) or the verb (smashed, collided, hit) have differing magnitudes of affect.

Discussion
We are aware that journalism can look objective but, upon examination, we find leading words and loaded language hiding in the sentences. This can have an effect on how we perceive an event. The word “mob” used for an assemblage instead of group can, and does, affect how people perceive the assemblage and this carries over to the perception of the individuals within the assemblage.

While I understand, in this test, the outliers skew the data, and it is possible the outliers should be taken into account when calculations are made, the outliers are of interest in themselves. Both ends of the outliers rose with inclusion of the charged words. The outlier at the higher end is of particular interest as it is the outliers in a society that cause the most dramatic and concentrated change and cause the most trauma as well (terrorism, murder, mass shootings) and if a small inclusion of a charged word can create a large increase in the emotional response of the top outliers, this is worth noting.

While we cannot combat this in every instance, we can begin to educate students to be aware it exists and to be on the lookout for the use of such language. Words with a positive charge can be used to excite/increase bias and bring activity when coupled with a call to action.  Words with a negative charge can dampen responses and reduce activity. We see this in political rhetoric as well as in sales, and we are seeing it increasingly in social media and fringe news sources.

It is possible that educating children to recognise and not accept the charging of language may help reduce the effect of this.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Culture, Education, psychology, Social

 

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Service

My father was in the US Navy. He was a bubblehead, as I have been told those who serve aboard submarines are called. He also served aboard a destroyer and it is quite possible I was, shall we say, engendered, within that destroyer, when it was in the Charlestown Navy Yard. I have the American flag that draped his coffin, given to me by an honor guard upon his burial, on my bookcase.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, Albert Cohen, English, joined the Canadian Army as an electrical engineer, and saw combat, during WWII – a Jew fighting fascism and hate during the Holocaust.

I had, as a child, thought about the military. But I wasn’t ready even to leave home to go away to college, and my life took a different direction with marriage, children, and a full life. Nothing to look back upon with even a gram of regret.

In the back of my mind, I always thought of my father’s and grandfather’s service. While I knew I wasn’t cut out for the military, for reasons which would become quite a bit more clear as I grew older, I felt there were ways I could contribute to my country. That I could make my country a better place. To that end, I worked on environmental issues, sat vigiles, walked demonstration lines, and spent many years working with Earth First! in defense of the territory, not just the map. I worked to defend what the flag stood for and what my father and grandfather fought for.

For this, I have paid, but have never been paid, though my price has not been as steep as many. Others have been beaten, or paid with their lives – taken by our own countrymen. Sometimes this was due to ideology, sometimes their bodies stood in the way of profit.

I have been told to leave our country. I have been told to get a job, while already working three. I have been hit by eggs thrown from moving cars, held at gunpoint, run off the road, spat on while chained to doors, pushed up against walls to be photographed by men in black jackets with the letters FBI on the back, had my livelihood and income threatened from within and without, and alienated family. And I have seen those beside me pay far more steeply than I.

I did this most of my life, but, there was a time, for a while, I stepped back. During the time I needed to heal, during the great confusion, depression, fracturing, and despondency that was the aftermath of the death of my wife, I could not act. I could not care. But in 2016 I heard a call my conscience could not refuse, and I began to care again. I attended a meeting for Bernie Sanders. While I would have happily voted for Hillary Clinton, and did, and not felt at all as though I had made a “lesser of the two evils” decision, Bernie was my real deal and I went to work.

A month later I was asked if I would take an actual elected position. I was surprised, to say the least. In an area that is not deeply red, but in which Democrats, let alone Greens, Progressives and Democratic Socialists tend to keep a low profile and don’t often win elections, I was asked to take on an official position – Precinct Committeeperson. I was asked by Sanjay Patel who, at that time, I had no idea I’d be voting for happily, working with delightedly, and stumping for constantly, to help elect to US Congress. But, then, I didn’t see myself running for office either. And that wasn’t the only thing I found myself doing that I would not have foreseen.

I had never worked in an official capacity before, but now I was reaching out to voters in my precinct and attending meetings, planning, and working in concert with many others (nearly never easy or enjoyable for me). I began working on registering people to vote. Then I was asked to be the chairman of the Voter Registration Committee. Then worked on the Candidate and Campaign Committee delineating what positions were coming up, qualifications for each, and then working to find people to run for those offices.

Then came the door to door. No, not me. No. Never. Hold a gun on me, ok. Spit on me. Fine. But I’m not knocking on a stranger’s door! But the candidates… I believed in these people. They were my friends. I worked with them. Knew them. So, now, yes, I’ll try it. And so began the canvassing. The canvassing. The never-ending canvassing.

It was frightful. It still is. It twists my stomach. I hate it. And I did it anyway. Many of us did. But many said no. They had anxiety. It made them nervous. They had as many excuses as to why they could not take an active part in defending and improving our country as they had complaints about what was wrong with it. I could easily have claimed the same. I did not.

And running for office? “No. Have you found anyone to run against _____”? No, not yet. “We need someone to run against ____.” Yes, that is why we are asking you. You are qualified and we think you’d be great. Are you willing to do it? “No. Are you going to find someone to run against _____?” They didn’t see the connection between what they were asking others to do but were unwilling to do themselves. And wondered why change did not come.

But, slowly, our slate filled. And did so with people of sterling quality and character that I am proud to work with. People who are worth fighting anxiety and a roaring head and the dread felt before each and every knock. These people are worth that. Our country is worth that. Our grandchildren are worth that.

All positions but one. One open position. One position with no one to run for it. The position with a name that challenged anyone to dare put it on a sign. So befuddling no one knew what or where it was. Sebastian Inlet Tax District Commission. An environmental position and I said sure. Why not?

“I wish I could vote for you, but I don’t live in Sebastian.” You don’t need to.
“I didn’t know you lived in Sebastian.” I don’t.
“I wish I could vote for you.” You can.

Lee had always wanted me to run for office. School board. But I have seen what happens to teachers who run for school board and lose. And their spouses if they happen to teach as well. No. But, here – this was a position few had heard of, low profile, and science-oriented. I could do this. All I needed to do was learn about coastal engineering, fluid and colloidal dynamics, biosolids, environmental policy and a few other things.

Besides, I wanted to be the first autistic person to win a public office. I filled out the forms.

And I was too late. A year too late. Sarah Hernandez or Enfield, Connecticut. Fine. I was doing it anyway!

Then came the fundraising. The asking for money. The accounting and webforms. The letters from the Florida Division of Elections, Office of Campaign Finance telling me I had done this wrong, that wrong, the other things wrong, and my needing to ask for help, though no one would step up to be the campaign treasurer.

Public speaking was not a problem. But, more and more, the dealing with people, though I should have been just discussing science they wanted to concentrate on anything but, became harder and harder. It was my thought canvassing would become easier the more I did it, but some months in it began to twist my stomach even more. The more I did it, the worse it got. Walking up to a house, I would feel ill. I’d wish no one was home. Beg the deities that no one would answer the door. But they were. They did. And I kept going.

Press conferences were ok, but “meet and greets” would leave me sitting in a corner with my head roaring and my body rocking. During a fundraiser, Arlene found me sitting in a corner rocking back and forth. During a pre-Pride event, Marge found me on the floor, in a corner, singing to myself, holding my head. Even at the election watch party, even with benefit of Cruzian and Coke, I lasted less than an hour and Lisa and I left to bring home Chinese food and watch at home.

Seeing myself spoken about in third person was strange. Even, as so much of it was, positively glowingly. But the attacks. Public attacks on me as a teacher. Attacks that followed me to school. Complaints and allegations out of nowhere two weeks before the election followed by parents writing publicly about me being a “piece of shit” and a “horrible human being.” Nothing I had ever experienced in nearly two decades of education. And these coming from not just locally, but far away as Washington state.

Why did I keep going? Service. To make the world better, in large part. To do my share, as I had done before, but in a new and different way, as it seemed needed at the time. Certainly I am not the first person one thinks of when running for office. A person with great difficulty reading, and misreading, faces or tone, won’t talk to people he doesn’t know, won’t engage in anything that doesn’t have clear rules of parameters, and won’t engage in small-talk or banter but will simply dive into didactic, cannot stand crowds, bright lights, and noise, is not who one looks for as a candidate. I am not well-suited for it. It made Earth First! feel easy.

One of the candidates I grew to know is Mel Martin, who ran for Florida State Senate. She is a Marine Corp veteran and I won’t say anything more about her as a person because if I write one compliment, I will feel compelled, and am quite capable, of filling the next five minutes with her virtues. She is one of the few people who knew what challenges I was running with. Instead, I will simply give her space to speak on her own. She has this to say.

“After serving with the marines – some of the finest people on Earth – and retiring four years ago, I honestly did not believe I’d be in the company of true, selfless warriors again. But I was absolutely wrong. While marines fight for each other to accomplish the mission, with the backdrop of patriotic duty, YOU are directly fighting in the spirit of patriotism – for the very pillars of society we inherited and intend to pass to the following generations. We’re not fighting simply as Americans, we’re fighting FOR America.”

And there was what I had often wanted to say, thought for years to say, but could not as I had not the experience of both kinds of service. And, so spoken by an actual member of the armed forces, a veteran, this was more appreciated than I could, at the time, express. Service comes in different types. And those on the street don’t get paid, and, sometimes, meet the same ends, at the hands, however, of their own countrymen. Bombed, burned, jailed. Lose our jobs, homes, families. In service to that which is greater than ourselves. Without benefit of remuneration of any sort, we serve.

Different, yes. And I do not pretend to know what it is like to be in a firefight. My hat’s off to members of the armed forces, always. Respect and appreciation. Often amazement. But I also respect those who have given so much to fight at home to make this home better for us all. Those who worked far past their comfort and risked themselves when they could have stayed at home, and often lost so much.

To them, I say, also, thank you for your service.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2018 in Culture, Social

 

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Vote for Adam.  Wait… what? A New Adventure.

Vote for Adam.  Wait… what? A New Adventure.

Not ever wanting to be bored, not having enough to do being a precint committerperson, a chairman of the county’s voter registration committee, teaching full-time, which is never just full-time, and seeing patients, I thought I’d run for office.  But not just any office. I chose an office that is so obscure, yet important, with such a misleading name that I can’t just run for it – I have to fully explain it nearly every time I mention it.

My wife always wanted me to run for office. She was thinking school board. But I know what happens to teachers who run for school board around here. Better win or look for a new job.

I chose Sebastian Inlet District Commission – a commission that is one hundred years old this year and is charged with keeping the beaches and rivers in as natural a condition as possible (after they cut four un-natural inlets into it), restoring them when they are not, with promoting education and conservation, and protecting the lives of the creatures that live in and around them from Vero in the south to Rockledge in the north.  That’s fifty miles, through two counties, of one of the most ecologically diverse waterways in North America.

What they actually do, though, is keep millage rates low so people can afford to buy houses on the beach, and so development can keep moving forward, and business have plenty of rich folks to buy their stuff.

I’m running against a man who believes dinosaurs are still alive and well in Africa. Who doesn’t believe in science. What else am I to do?

I told a local group of about 300 people that I was going to change that. And, if I can’t change it, make the other four people on the commission as miserable as possible for at least four years.  And they know I can do it.

I have worked as an environmentalist in social and direct action for many years.  Since my twenties. From the outside of the Establishment, and sometimes outside of the Law. Now it’s time to do so from the inside.  And, I hope, make my wife proud as well.

For me, this is my dive back into deep ecology and ecospirituality.  In many ways, this may not be quite as exciting as my days with Earth First!, but I hope it will have a deep and lasting benefits and significantly less involvement from the FBI. And it might be safer, although, in this political climate, I might be less dangerous taking my chances sitting in trees and fighting bulldozers.

People who want to dismantle the EPA are the real ecoterrorists, and they are in office.  Time for me to be in office too.

So, if you’d like to help me, I’d love that. Please donate a little bit, or share the link to this, or the link below.

http://bit.ly/adamtritt
https://www.facebook.com/scienceandsustainability

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Nature, Social

 

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An Open Letter to the Obama Campaign and the Republican National Committee upon My leaving the Republican Party

Senator Obama,

I don’t know if anyone in your campaign will see this. I am sure your staff gets so many letters and responses to the notes it sends out that I am sure many, if not most, must be summarily deleted. Regardless, I am writing because I wanted to state something.

I am (OOOPS! WAS) a registered Republican. I would tell the folks, during election cycles, the ones who called on the phone, those who emailed, those who knocked at my door or asked me for support at public events, that I supported the platform but, at this point, rarely the candidates. It has been about fifteen years since I could vote for a Republican candidate. Some Republicans I see eye to eye with but mostly, lately, I do not. I would tell those asking for contributions or support I would be happy to donate and put in the work when the party, MY party, stopped being hate-mongering hypocrites and became more honest and centrist, became as it was during the days of Lincoln, as it was supposed to be – became as it was during Eisenhower when, in his farewell speech in 1961, the general warned us against the military-industrial complex. He coined the term, as you know. He knew what he was talking about.

Not long ago Garrison Keillor made the point that, as a Republican, he was ashamed of the way the party was acting. He wanted the Republicanism of Eisenhower not the Republicanism of hate. He wanted the Republicanism he knew as a child and had come to trust. The one that worked to end segregation. Not the one that legislated division. The one that worked to increase our freedoms, not curtail them.

Well, I can’t stomach it anymore. After the second night of the Republican convention, I officially changed my party affiliation to Democrat. After hearing the hate and disrespect issue from the mouth of the governor of Alaska I felt I had no choice. Sarah Palin pulled the plug on what was, for me, the painful lingering death of my loyalty to a political party. I visited my government center the next day, changed party and I sent my old voter ID card to the Republican HQ with a note. With THIS note. I wanted it to arrive during the convention so I over-nighted it.

You had my vote from the start but now, you have me in the party as well. I just donated and I’ll carry a sign. Get me a yard sign, a phone list, whatever. We can’t let those hateful hypocrites in office.

Adam Byrn Tritt, M.Ed

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2008 in Culture, Social

 

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Giant Peace Dove Nails St. Nick in Float Flap. Sullied Santa Declares Parade “Big Hit.”

It started a few days ago. I had been asked to appear in a film short being produced by students from Florida Metropolitan University. There is a film school there of some repute (notice I didn’t say good or bad, just some) and apparently there is quite a bit of work for short Jews.

I auditioned. It was easy. I read well and the other people who showed couldn’t read at all. I am always amazed, and I say this not as a cliché but truly amazed each time I hear a prospective, hopeful actor state reading is not that important a skill. Sooner or later they either change their mind failed audition after failed audition or they find ways to blame everything and everyone but their own lack of ability to read a script.

In this film, a detective makes a living by finding missing persons. He then augments his meager existence by making sure the missing people continue to stay that way.

I was to play an el sleezo businessman who had a bit of fluff on the side and then paid to have her disappear. I was to act nervous. I can do nervous.

The script read like walking through soup. A mix of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, it hit neither well and slogged from page to page. I asked to be able to redo some of the dialogue and, after hearing some of my suggestions, small snippets of changes, saw in the face of the director, Jason, it would not be so much a problem as a blessing.

I have been reading opposite Beth. Evanne is there as make-up artist. Melissa, in film school and of Wild Oats and of the last film I was in, is there as well. Melissa is a good enough reason to be in this film and is great to work with. She seems to have a sharp artistic sense mixed with a bit of frustration over not being able to plunge into her projects or find people who think her ideas have the same merit she does. A frustrated artist. Who’d have thought any of those in film school?

I make a suggestion. This idea is, perhaps, too fundamental a change and is not met by the director with the same enthusiasm as the other suggestions, though, to Jason’s merit, he does listen and hear it out, debate and all. I suggest making the detective female. Females are not thought of as hit-men or contract killers or, largely, as murderers at all. When the end scenes come to play and the detective finds the missing gal and abruptly, brutally ends her life, it will be surprising if it is a guy but utterly shocking as a gal. From the opening scene, with the detective kicking what the director calls a ‘strawberry’ out of bed so he can start his day, I suggest they will be hooked if we discover that “Jack” is Jaqueline.

The ladies agree. And since Beth is, at this moment, the pick for the strawberry, and, according to the screenplay, the strawberry is in bed covered in nothing more than panties and the cool Central Florida December air, both Evanne and Melissa insist they would be best for the part of detective Jack.

Jason laughs. Evanne is, as my dear readers have previously, no doubt, noted, four foot ten, rounded, soft and adorable. While statistics show she may be the person most likely to actually be a serial killer, and she has, herself, pointed this out to me, Jason is sure it simply won’t work for the viewing public who know, in reality, little of the makeup of murderers. Perhaps this is pushing the believability envelope a bit. But Melissa is wiry, tough and, though from Georgia, looks as though she has come from casting marked ‘The Bronx’ and could pull this off handily.

I rethink my idea. Come in slowly on the bed, filming closer and closer and then the voice over. The voice is Melissa’s and it could be female, but it could be male, The audience thinks male because they have a preconception, an expectation, of a detective being male and, then, suddenly, it is male ‘strawberry’ kicked out of bed. I instantly put myself up for the part.

I am reminded I am El Sleezo Georgie Porgie Slickie Sickie Businessman and that, as a teacher, I can’t do a nude scene. I make a note to quit teaching.

But I’ll be wearing undies, I protest. In the end, of course, the entire idea is shot down. No-one will believe a female serial killer.

Evanne protests there are no good parts for women in theatre because no-one will write them. She is right, of course, and I fully plan on doing my part to remedy that.

It is of no matter, anyway, Jason tells us. No-one will be in bed with a barely-clad berry because the producer’s wife has protested, has decided so. She does not trust her hubby, Papa Producer. I am told she has reason, but, all the same, this is a film and she seems to be calling wardrobe decisions. Decisions that affect conceit, concept, nuance and character. The strawberry, the loose girl, playmate of the private eye, one night stand, will be clothed in more. Much more.

She wants her to wear a shirt. And bathing suit bottoms. In bed? A bathing suit in bed? After a night of supposed carnal indulgences, waking up in a bathing suit? I suggest the viewing audience will think enuresis.

And they think a female killer stretches the bounds of believability.

Break comes. I pass small boxes of raisins I’ve brought with me to make sure Beth and Evanne do not become Low-Blood-Sugar-Girls and, while the room is filled with the soft sound of squishing raisins, Melissa and I make plans, tentative but firm sounding, to do the script over, make it the way we think it should be and do it in the most shocking way possible. Would I write it? Of course. Of course.

She will cast Beth as the Strawberry. No doubt.

* * * * * * * *

I was given a shooting schedule. No problem as it worked well around my days teaching. Then an email from Jason, the director, with changes to that schedule. Part of the schedule was created using a Julian calendar and part using the Gregorian. It is all I can figure. My reply:

You have listed on the spreadsheet: Sunday, Dec 10, Saturday Dec 11th and Sunday Dec 13.

Obviously, there is a bit of a snafu there. According to my calendar, Saturday is the 9th, Sunday is the 10th. My scene (19) is listed as Wednesday, Dec 13th. That is an actual date, to be sure, but I will be at work before you have call and leaving work after you have wrap.

Adam

I got a reply with corrected dates. These didn’t stay firm. No surprise there, but at least the dates existed and existed all in this present year.

I replied to the corrected dates:

I have been told stories about the last short film of on-time folk waiting and waiting and waiting for people to arrive. It is my hope this isn’t going to happen. I know I don’t have to tell you this, you know this already, but time volunteered is still valuable. Even more so than time paid for. I am, it seems, supposed to be getting ready for the parade as well, so I fervently hope to be productive and streamline.

Please, please let me know if you foresee any difficulty.

Thanks.

Adam

Jason wrote back he felt as I did, that volunteer time was most valuable, promising me to arrive on time and he would let me know of any changes.

I never asked if we would actually start on time. I asked about arrival. My mistake.

Saturday. I have made arrangements to meet Jason at the 7-11 at the corner of US1 and Post Road. From there I will follow him to the park at which we are to rehearse, joined by the producer and the star of the show, our psycho-killer, ques que ce, Marcus.

It is eight in the morning. I am there, Jason is there. He tells me, though, Jaramy, the producer, is running late. By the way, you may have noticed Jaramy is spelled funny. Not my fault. Odd though, and not the last odd bit of working with Mr. Jaramy.

Jason gets a call some minutes later. Park, no. House, yes. Jaramy’s house. Around the corner. I get into my truck and follow Jason a few blocks down US1, along the contour of the Indian River and turn East into a neighbourhood close by. Down the street a few houses, he pulls over half off the street, half on a yard and I pull in behind him, getting out.

I have dressed the part, as I was asked, be-suited on a day no-one should wear a suit which, for me, is every day. It is getting, already, warm. Jaramy is not there. He is late arriving at his own home for his own film. We enter the house without him.

Remove your shoes, I’m told. I am dressed in a suit and am removing my shoes. Mama Producer has just washed the floors. This doesn’t keep her from walking the tiled floor in high heels, but I remove mine.

A smallish home in a working-class neighbourhood, It is immediately clear these people are upwardly mobile but have started from a place that means Wal-Mart chic as a home décor theme is an upward thrust. I, too, have furniture I had to assemble. I had more when I was younger. Some furniture is just too expensive for too little quality so why not get cheap? Sometimes what one needs just isn’t worth spending the cash on for the advanced quality when it can be found, serviceable, at a good price and good enough for the job. As time has moved on I have a bit less ‘place flange bolt B into barrel nut DD.’ Of course, when I was younger the instructions were not that clear. They were Chinese translated into Korean and then into English. Sometimes they had pictures.

At no point did I furnish a whole home with furniture covered in wood-printed paper. The difference is this family thinks this is great stuff. It’s not about lack but tack. New expensive cars take up the space outside, big expensive electronics take up the space inside. Mama Producer shows me around the house and there isn’t a stick that isn’t prefab. There isn’t a stick at all, actually; it’s all particle board Often that’s hard to tell though because everything, every horizontal surface and most vertical ones as well, are covered with objects memorative or decorative and each was either old or new, antique or made by a six year old in China. Somewhere in there was a small birdhouse that read “See Rock City.” I have no doubt this was a feature home in White Trash Digest.

Mama Producer had two cordless phones hanging from the belt of her low-rise, high-cut dungaree-shorts which made them a bit lower-rise than they might have been designed to be. She had one cellphone which was not apparent until it vibrated and then she jumped ever so slightly and placed her hand to her chest, over a yellow tanktop which looked a bit too tight to be comfortable. The muffled ring that followed became louder as she extracted the phone from her cleavage. She talked as she made her way to the table and motioned for me to sit. There was a child in a highchair. The big screen TV was on, so was a TV in another room.

Jason said this would be where we were rehearsing, at the kitchen table. Ignore the six children, he told me. He talks to me about the script while Mama Producer talks about things of which I paid no attention. Most of her conversation consists of cursing and did not seem to require actual participation. Then the phone rang, she answered it and the cursing escalated. Not particularly creative cursing but rather run of the mill one word here, there and everywhere. I gather it was Jaramy.

Marcus has arrived. He joins us. We start to read the script in and around the household commotion of the constant phone-ringing and baby-yelling, child-feeding and husband-cursing. Once through and I mention I thought we’d rehearse with blocking, working it out as we did the lines so we could, as we memorized our characters, commit the lines to memory muscular as well as verbal. A second time through we were interrupted by the arrival of Papa Producer, in the house in a rush, nearly an hour late, apologetic and introducing himself. We finish the script to the end of my scene.

Papa Producer looks amazed. “Damn, he’s good. Like Woody Allen.”

“See,” I knew this was coming. “You ask a short Jew to act nervous and the next thing you get is a Woody Allen comparison. The whole race is typecast.”

They look worried. He says it’s a compliment and I assure them I understood that. It was just a joke. A joke. Can’t they take a joke? I was only kidding. Woody’s fine. Give me more acting jobs and you can call me anything you want.

“Ok,“ I announce, “Time to try this at a car, like the script says. I’ll be outside.” I am followed, stopping to put on my shoes and leaning against a wall balance as I put them on..

Again and again we go over the lines. They thud, slush, fall. More and more I change them and each time, the Papa Producer smiles, shakes his head “Hey this guy is good. What is he a writer or something?” Jason the director tells him, yes, indeed, El Sleezo Businessman he is a writer.

I change sections around. Build the intimidation instead of letting it drop, rise and fall again. I’m asked to adlib and I do while Jason takes notes for a rewrite. All the while, Mama Producer is commenting, cursing, commenting, cursing, complaining, pulling Papa away. We ask her for coffee, for paper, for water, for anything that will send her away for a few minutes. It never lasts long enough.

The bees are everywhere. Amazing how many there are and I, allergic to bees, am a magnet in that I am wearing black. Mama producer continually swats bees on me, at least, I think she is swatting bees as I run the lines and reform the script. Swat, swat, swat. She might just have been mad at me.

We break after several run-throughs and Papa Producer reads another part of the script. It is full of euphemisms and childish replacements for body bits and carnal activities. He asks me for better childish replacements and more appropriate euphemisms. I listen to them run through term after term and I find it all distasteful and then break in. “How about going with the metaphor instead of the cliché? You want Chandler? Ok. We brought in the dawn together playing games you don’t find in a children’s book.”

“Hey. That’s great,” says Papa Producer. Jason agrees. Papa Producer wants to know if I am interested in a writing job and, he tells me, he has the part of a psychokiller that is just right for me; cold, clinical, quiet and not nervous at all.

All this time the cigarettes are puffing and the cursing is flowing and Papa Producer and Jason are discussing the murder scene, to take place in a bathroom, figuring out angles and logistics while I wait, and wait and wait. Walking back to my truck, running lines again with Marcus. After about a half hour I tell Papa Producer if I hear anymore about bathrooms I’m going to go home and use mine. In the meantime, I want to know where his is and, when I come out, I’d like to finish what they called me here to do. They apologize and tell me we’ll get back to work when I come out and, this time, as I walk into the house to find the bathroom, I do not take off my shoes.

When I come out, they are discussing wardrobe for the opening scene. Mama Producer wants the strawberry to wear a suit of armor. The compromise. It will be chain mail.

* * * * * * * *

It is two in the afternoon and there is little time before I must be at The Henegar Center to dress for the Winter Parade. It is called the Winter Parade, but I know it is a Christmas Parade. I know what the tenor of it will be and I’m doing this anyway.

Two weeks ago, a phone call. “Would you be willing to be in the parade?” Evanne asks.

I have seen one holiday parade and that was in Mebane, North Carolina. Never heard of it? It’s near Efland. Does that help? It was a whole lotta Christmas.

“No guy is willing to do it and we need someone to sit with the ladies on the float.”

She knows I’ll say yes. Just because no other guy will do it and she seems to need someone for this. She seems stuck without a guy. That’s enough reason for me. That she asked, really, is more than sufficient reason for me. Shh… Don’t tell her. So the answer is yes.

“The float is called ‘The Drama Mamas’.”

Really.

“You won’t mind dressing like Charles Dickens, will you?”

Four in the afternoon is the deadline. I have a rocking chair in the back of my truck to be dropped off at the parade start, where the float must be prior to four. I head past downtown Melbourne. I am stopped at the parade-grounds gate and the float isn’t there. I leave it at the gate with the guard and pop a note on it written on a post-it, stained salvaged from under my truck seat.

Kitty was supposed to have picked this chair up and, since her truck is being used, take it with her in its vehicle of destination. Instead of responding to my emails suggesting this, she wrote Evanne, called Evanne, never wrote me. Kittie lives two blocks from me. The rocking chair I just dropped off was hers just two months ago, purchased from her for ten dollars at a garage sale.

“What Church do you go to?” She wanted to know. I don’t, I tell her. I’m Jewish. “Oh,” she eshals, slowly, cocking her head, “I guess that’s ok.” Of course, it is, I answer. That’s how God made me. She looks puzzled. I ask her, You would agree he knows best, yes? On the tailgate of her silver Ford F150 is a magnetic fish on a white background. It is three feet long by a foot and a half high.

Some weeks later, after being approached to be in the parade, I take Evanne, who has been a guest teacher at my school all that day, south a half hour to Grant to work on the float. As it is for Stage 1 Stars and, specifically, the homeschool drama class, I know many of these parents in attendance here, working on the decorations. The home is large, on an acre, right on US1, and I see many people I know, working on tin and hay and fake snow in Jill’s garage. I also see the back of a silver Ford F150 with a giant fish on it. Now I understand why phonecalls to Evanne have lasted longer than normal. Her comment to me, “When I’m talking to you other people are not asking me questions,” is just as obvious but no longer cryptic. Now I understand why Evanne has been having headaches all week.

After a string of questions Kittie asks Evanne to which Evanne answers either yes or that hasn’t changed or I don’t know I’m just decorating the float, I call Evanne, four feet away, on her cellphone. She excuses herself from Kittie to answer and I hang up when she does. Evanne, catching on, proceeds to walk away, into the yard, behind the garage, away from Kittie. She is still talking on the phone as she rounds the corner having a pleasant conversation.

Kittie comes over to me.

“Don’t you live down the block?”

“Sure do. I bought a rocking chair from you.”

Is Evanne your wife?”

Time for some fun. “One of them.”

“Oh… I see. One?” Her face becomes flaccid.

The day of the parade she did, finally, in a rush, come to my house looking for the rocking chair, started to take another, fully different chair off the porch than the one she owned for so many years, stood in the flower bed, walked on the lilies. I’m surprised she didn’t walk through the fishpond.

It is this no-longer-on-my-porch rocking chair I am delivering while she is tiptoeing through my tulips. And I am going to lunch.

Her daughter, Anwwn, is fourteen. She’s going to be a goth. I know it.

* * * * * * * *

I am treating myself to lunch today. Across the street from where the floats are slowly joining into a parade force, is a Chinese buffet. It’s one of my favorite places in town to eat and I go there rarely, partially because I don’t like to spend money out on food and partially, largely, because I have great difficulty in gauging how much I have eaten, how much is too much. And, ultimately, I’ll be mad at myself. Not angry. Mad.

We go there several times a year and at Christmas without fail. The owners are Buddhist and Christmas day at King’s Buffet is like going to temple; you are not guaranteed every person is Jewish, but chances are good.

In the past, I’ve gone quite overboard. I hadn’t thought so, but, in retrospect, knew I had eaten far more than I should, felt shame, disgust, loathing. In asking those with me, however, I’d discover I had barely eaten a thing. I would wonder why I was hungry later in the day and hear from my wife she wasn’t surprised since I had barely eaten. My ability to gauge the amount of food I thought I had put on my plate and into my stomach seems to have little relation to anything happening in reality. Still other times I would think I had taken little and hear amazement at how much I had managed to eat. Reality rarely sits down to dinner with me.

Over time, I have learned to take small amounts and not go back more than twice. Small plates and small portions. A chicken wing? Sure, but just one. Once on my plate, I’d take a bit and not eat the rest. The banquet is in the first bite, I tell myself. The banquet is in the first bit.

I go for the vegetables first, staying away from anything with butter, most things fried. Steamed vegetables, Mongolian grilled, stir-fried vegetables and shrimp. Desert? Tiny bits. I was delighted to discover, lately, the softserve ice cream at such places is nearly always, and it is so at this one, low-fat and has the same fat and only slightly more calories than low-fat milk. Still, small amounts.

This is what I did today. Vegetables, broccoli, onions, peppers, shrimp, bits of duck. No peppersteak. I like froglegs but battered, fried and laid in butter? No. Broiled salmon instead. Then fruit, some softserve and, after the bill comes, breaking the fortune cookie. I never eat these, just break them. Not only have they too much sugar, but they just aren’t worth it. Most of the fortune cookies I’ve had were stale. This one is no exception but, even more stale than the orange hued cookie is the fortune inside. Fortune? This is a bleached slip of pale cliché. After looking at it for a moment to focus, I can start to make out the words. It tells me “Good friends are worth their weight in gold.” It tells me what my lucky numbers are but they are too small to see. It does instruct tell me Yu Ping means duck. That is more useful than the fortune. No, that won’t do. I stop the waitress or, as close to a waitress as one gets in a buffet. I ask for another. “Writing is a skill, not an art.” So much for fortunes. Perhaps I need more practice.

Still, these are far better than what I found in one Gainesville Chinese takeout. They started giving “Southern Baptist Fortune Cookies.” After each meal I would open the cookie and discover one more way Jesus died for me. Some days I would open them and to find a slip telling me I was a sinner or instructing me to visit the church of my choice or suggesting I abstain from sex until marriage. Quite a liberty from a cookie that doesn’t even know me. I chose, instead, to abstain from eating at that takeout.

I pay my bill of $4.25 and head to the Henegar Center while I begin, as usual, to doubt my ability to measure and start to berate myself, thrash myself for the bad choices I must have made over lunch, imagine my portions as they grow in size with each full recounting of my meal, swear I’ll not eat that again, will eat lightly tomorrow, the next few days. Will exercise more tomorrow, when I get home tonight. This is a constancy I can do without. Costume time.

* * * * * * * *
I arrive at five minutes to four. Most of the people are there already and Evanne is costuming the kids and adults alike. She hands me a red evening jacket and asks me how the morning went and I promise to tell her later, that it is far too much to recount while she is busy. She has a collar for me and I try to put it on but it doesn’t fit. It is too tight. She tries but, if I want to continue breathing, this collar will simply not do.

I have to wear black pants, a white shirt, black shoes. These are the same clothes I needed for this morning so most of what I required is already on. As she pulls this here and that there, others are putting on hats, cloaks, skirts. Beaner, a sixteen year old girl of my acquaintance, a homeschooler who, I know, will someday give me the opportunity to cast my vote for her for president, arrives and immediately grabs her costume, disrobes and starts to re-dress. I’m use to this from Beaner.

Beaner and her mom, Jan, are naturists. At fourteen, Beaner even went to trial over her right to top-freedom when arrested as part of “The Topfree Ten.” I actually helped raise money for their defense with a clothing optional poetry night held at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville. Kayla Sosnow, a defendant, was present among the gathered masses and, indeed, we were filled to more than capacity with over two hundred people waiting to listen in a crowd pressed into each in what quickly became a barely-standing room only venue with more than a good half, from quick glance, of the poetry lovers already stripped in solidarity with Kayla and the stalwart poets, dozens of which waited, many impatiently, to do that which would strike fear into most sane people and make death look trivial; read their own poetry, naked, in public. Try baring all while baring poetic your soul, on a stage, to a packed house. Firewalking? Don’t make me laugh.

That was the first time I read in public.

Two years later I met Jan and Beaner at a homeschool function not actually knowing, for quite some time, our connection of far fewer than six degrees of separation. We got to know them rather well over the last two years and have traveled with them to Playalinda Beach along with Jan’s Husband, Marvin, a physicist who fills his home office with a mixture of wall-covering equations that would make anything done by John Nash look pedestrian and in-process legal briefs he writes himself as the VP of Central Florida Naturists Association on behalf of naturists in legal struggles, in suits against Brevard County.

We have visited with them in their home. The first occasion we did so, my son, fourteen at the time, was with us. They asked us to give a call before heading over there so they could dress. We assured them there was no need and we’d be perfectly comfortable. My son, finding Beaner, fifteen at the time, along with the rest of the family, walking around sans clothing, decided not to make a return visit. It is with Jan (and Kittie. I mentioned Kittie, yes?) whom I shall be floating through this parade. Strange float-fellows.

We are to be at the float, some two miles away, by five and must carpool as there is no parking there. We need to be ready in thirty minutes to make that happen and there is rushing about, pinning of cloth, pulling of hats, fastening of collars, tying of laces.

Jan is looking for her last bit of costume: a bonnet.

Kittie has disappeared into the bathroom with two bonnets of three. She took a third home earlier that week and forgot to bring it. Three bonnets for two ladies by the faux fire. Now two bonnets. She is, it would seem, carefully choosing one over the other, then the other over one, or so her daughter reports, while Jan waits for just one, either of them, to finish her costume. Finally her daughter comes out of the ladies room with one and give it to Jan, having just told her mother it didn’t matter which one looked better as it would take much, much more than a bonnet to make her look good.

Looking at the two bonnets side by side it is obvious, as Evanne had already pointed out, they were exactly the same.

Beth arrives, dressed in white and blinking. She is not on our float but is, instead, with Patriots for Peace and she will be walking with a giant dove, singing songs of peace and freedom. From head to toe she is in white and, under the shirt, chest level, she has blinking LED lights which emerge from the back of her shirt and circle her head in a halo. She tells me she has been stopped several times already, mostly by helpful old ladies.

They ask her, “Do you know your chest is lit up dear?”

“Yes, I do,” she cheerfully answers, which is the manner in which she responds to all such queries and, indeed, most of the absurdities of the world and, especially, those perpetrated by her.

“But it shows your, you know. It draws attention.”

“I figure that’s where they’re looking anyway. So why not make it worth their while?”

For Halloween, she was dressed as a devil and one breast had a picture taped to it of Donald Rumsfeld and the other Dick Cheney letting everyone know, carefully worded below, the two were in her employ. Put ‘em where I know they’re going to look, she told me. Earlier that week we attended a peace rally where she dressed the same way. Even the loyal opposition could not help but catch the message.

As for me, well, that’s eye level for me so I saw a lot of Donald and Dick that evening.

Two weeks later I found a shirt for her. Red, it stated “My eyes are up here.” and helped the less fortunate with an arrow pointing the way. The words were perfectly positioned to make sure no-one would pay attention to the arrow. She loved it.

Tonight she is be-lighted and blinking and it’s a good thing the dove she is escorting on her float is so big or no-one would notice it past Beth.

Out the door and down the stairs. We pile into two vans, with costumes on and gear in tow.
It is quarter to five.

Five minutes later we area at the float. A flatbed trailer pulled by a truck and, behind it in line it, set to follow, Kittie’s silver F150. Everything is covered in evergreen and fake brick, tiny trees and cloth snow. Children will ride in the float and some will walk along and pass out candy. The back of the float will say, in bright cheery backlit marque letters, “Stage 1 Stars.”

The support vehicle, Kitties truck, has a cardboard fireplace, a stool, knitting appliances, blankets to ward of the December chill of seventy degrees, and a rocking chair.

Each float has a generator. There is much boasting by Mr. Kittie about how much each generator can power and I am asked to turn them on when we start. How? Don’t you know? No. Why not? That is the question I’m asked: why not. The question really intended is: you are an American and have the Y chromosome so why can’t you instinctively run power equipment?

There are cords missing so the float must be hastily rearranged and, red though it is, the generator doesn’t look either Christmassy or festive.

In the truck bed, hidden in the fireplace, is the second generator, which is supposed to run lights and some other things I am unclear on. It doesn’t matter. My job is to sit there, rock, sing and wave.

Kittie has a string of questions for Evanne while we rearrange as needed. She goes off to the bathroom and we wait, for her only, a stool ready so she can get into the truck bed. She is the last prop to load.

At six the parade starts. We are number fifty-one. At six-thirty, the parade is still starting. At seven it continues to start. I imagine by the time it finishes starting it will start finishing. At a quarter after seven it is our turn and we lurch forward while Jan’s head is in the fireplace attempting to start the generator, which she does have experience with despite her lack of the proper chromosomes.

I have given up my chair to Kittie, Jan has the stool, or will when she is not on her knees with her backside on parade and her head encased in fake brick and flames. I will be sitting on the edge of the tailgate, bellows in hand, pumping them in time with the music of the marching band and waving.

I won’t be singing. It won’t be heard above the marching band. One thing the generators were supposed to power was a CD player pumping old carols for us to sing along to. But none of it can be heard.

The sky is dark and clear and I am amazed at how crowded the parade route is, how many people have turned out for this, all waving and cheering and wishing Merry Christmas as we wave back, make our way to NASA, turn on Babcock and then onto New Haven and forward to Downtown and Strawbridge.

The wind has picked up and the cardboard fireplace keeps tipping over onto Jan and Kittie. Once, twice. No matter what the fireplace does, Kittie will not move. She has to go to the bathroom, she tells us, and won’t move. It’ll settle if she stays still, she says. It’s just another hour, right? And since it is my rocking chair she is seated on, I don’t move her a bit. I don’t think there is a buyback clause but, she can’t hold it, I want my ten bucks back.

Still, again and again the fireplace bops them on the head so I jump out, walk up to the cab at parade speed and ask for duct tape. Kitti’s husband is driving the truck.

Kittie thought I’d be in the truck as well. Was genuinely chagrinned I would be in the back of the truck with her, was sure I was there to keep her husband company, a man I have never met, who would probably, who knows, want to talk sports, or save me from sin, or complain about wives. If married to Kittie, I imagine it would be the later but I’m rather sure it would be the first two and I want nothing to do with that, thank you. Duct tape will be sufficinet.

I climb onto the small running board and tape the fireplace to the cab roof with one hand as I hold onto the window ledge with the other. One side, then off and run around to the other. Back into the Dickensian living room. Why is it so warm in here? The generator. Why am so lightheaded? The generator. Back off again, remove the faux top of the fireplace (no-one is up there anyway) and let out the exhaust.

Crowds yell Marry Christmas, happy New Year, I shout Happy Hannamassakwanayule and Merry Massahannayulakwanz. A wonderful Hannukwanzayulamass to you and you and you. Joyous Yulakwanzamassahan to everyone. I tell them, as I pump my bellows, they will all be visited by Hannukah Harry, who brings Hannukah joys to all the goyesha girls and boys.

My legs are wrapped tightly on either side of the corner of the tailgate so, in he lurching, I won’t tumble out and more than once Jan grabbs the collar of my red evening jacket to keep me in the here and now and not in the there and gone.

Beaner and two other teens are running back and forth handing out candy to the crowd. Sometimes they linger too long, become too distant from the float and Evanne, kid wrangler, runs up fetch them. She is the parade-child shepherd and cares for her flock with amazing ability and, tonight, alacrity and speed. She is adorned in a long white going-to-church dress that ties in the back and looks like it came out of praerie, just as she did. In that dress she runs to catch the children and bring them floatward, black boots clopping, arm above her holding her Sunday best hat onto her head as she runs. I think of Laura Ingles Wilder, see Melissa Gilbert running through the grass, age twelve, and can’t help but shout, as she passes, “Pa… I’m comin Pa! I’m comin. Wait for me”

I hear, every once in a while, Mr. Tritt!!! And see a student or two waving at me. A small crowd yells, continuously, “Jesus loves you,” Then, “Jesus loves you, Jesus Ohmygod it’s Mr. Tritt” Several of my students are there, in one throng, sitting on the curb among the crowds on the grass, in folding chairs, on blankets.

Waving back, I yell, asking “Even me, Carrie?”

“Umm… I guess so, I think” and she looks confused.

“Happy Hannukah Carrie.”

The Parade is coming into downtown as the band behind us is playing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” for the one, two or three hundredth time. As we reach the end a policeman points the float one direction and asks our driver, Mr. Kittie, to go the other, back to the Henegar Center, at the next corner. That’s it. At the corner, I tell Jan I’ll see her in a bit and jump off. I need to walk.

Off, I run through the crowds, red evening jacket and all, hearing my name yelled again by students who missed me the first time. Back to the eight blocks to the Henegar Center. The truck is there already and I take my jacket off and give it to Jan, asking her to make sure Evanne get’s it, grab a small Tupperware container of raisins and nuts from my own truck run off again, back to the parade, two blocks up and ten back, heading to the end this time.

I am running against the parade current, nuts rattling in my hand keeping an unsteady rhythm as I wend through the masses, past clots of chairs, fields of blankets, over, around, into the street, onto the grass, through parking lots, between bushes and, in the distance, my target. I am looking for a giant dove and a halo above the crowd.

Strawbridge turns to New Haven and, up another block or two, there it is. Twenty feet in the air, the rear of the parade, the penultimate float, the giant dove of peace.

And under it, a haloed lady in white who’s chest is blinking, on, off, on off.

I run up to a float with a dozen people marching to “Happy Christmas (War is over) by John Lennon. Four of the people are holding the peace dove aloft with twenty-foot PCV half-inch pipes. These support its thirty-foot wingspan. The dove’s head, four feet long and two feet wide, is supported by the float trailer and another pipe with a swivel so it can turn this way and that. In the stiff ocean wind, this dove wants to fly and the poles are flexing, this way and that. On wing-duty on the far side, blinking, Beth.

“Room for one more?” I ask the first person in the group? I am answered by several in the affirmative. They are all wearing white tops and I am dressed perfectly for this and fit right in. “Of course,” one person shouts over. “We have room for hundreds. We’d wish the entire parade would join us.

I walk over to Beth, pull out the container of raisins and nuts and offer her some. She looks tired and worn and, no doubt, fighting to keep this dove tethered for an hour has been exhausting. I tell her if she gives me the pole, she’ll be able to eat the raisins more easily. Are you sure? Of course. I have a low center of gravity. It’ll be fine. And I take the pole.

I have the pipe braced in the crook of my arm and I am lifted ever so slightly. The wind picks up more as the music changes to “Let there be Peace on Earth” and the dove is dancing, lifting in the wind.

Behind us, is a Hummer Limo. On it is Santa Clause. There have been many faux Santas in the parade but, by regulation, I am told, there can be only one actual Saint Nick. He smiles, laughs Merry Christmas, honks an assaulting air horn. Every once in a while, he looks sour. He must be spotting some kids on his naughty list.

The reindeer are not present. What does Santa need with reindeer when he has a military vehicle knockoff luxury-mobile? He rides atop it as though it were a sleigh, this stretch Hummer, waving to the masses, overlooking everyone, overlooking our wild windy dove. Overlooking me on left wing and Beth eating cashews and raisins, marching forward.

Kids, students I have passed before, yell Mr. Tritt! Mr. Tritt? They look confused. Hey, he looks like Mr. Tritt. Was that person we saw before him or is that? Isn’t that Mr. Tritt again?

And then the wind once more, a gust, a second gust and the dove’s head seems to swivel a bit more than it should, then lifts. Our dove is now a kite and we hold on to our PVC poles, holding it to Earth tenuously, tightly but, apparently, not well. They slip and in one more gust, all in the space of a few seconds, our dove is in the sky, flipping, somersaulting. Up. For a moment it soars. It is in flight. It is glorious, flying westward in the wind. Winging out peace. Headed for a Hummer.

Santa has the widest look on his face. Perhaps he is singing the Clash hit, “Should I stay of Should I go?” It seems he is considering, momentarily, to dive from his sleigh. But, then, he would not be watching the spectacle of this enormous, soaring dove. And he is getting a great view of it, or so it appears he must as, from my perspective, it is flying right at our one and only Father Christmas.

The other floats moved onward, ours stopped, Santa’s stopped. Only the dove is moving the wrong way and all in the space of a few seconds, there is a noise of cloth and wire on metal, metal on metal, falling, soft, flappy objects of weight hitting hard, ungiving surfaces from great heights. It is a very satisfying thud. Saint Nick had met the Dove of Peace and both lay in heaps on opposite sides of the Hummer.

I didn’t know which to go to first.

“Beth?”

“Yes?”

“May I have a raisin?”

“Sure thing.”

“This would make a hell of a script, wouldn’t it?”

She blinks yes.

Yes.

Yes.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2006 in Culture, Religion, Social

 

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