Fall Is Here


WARNING: Read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut before proceeding. Advancing without doing so may result in confusion... Enjoy!!!

“It is just an illusion here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

All this happened, more or less. The school parts, anyway, are pretty much true. I really did repeat three years of middle school while in my early twenties. It looked a lot like the first time, only the desks were smaller.


I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book report cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Eighth Grade twenty-two years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about Slaughterhouse-Five, since all I would have to do would be report what I had read. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least get me an awesome grade, since the book was so great.


But not many words about Slaughterhouse-Five came from my mind then—not enough of them to make a book report anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pearl Jams, with his daughter not quite yet full grown.


I think of how useless the middle school part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Slaughterhouse-Five has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous song:


Fall is here, hear the yell

Back to school, ring the bell

Brand new shoes, walking Blues

Climb the fence, books and pens

I can tell that we are gonna be friends

I can tell that we are gonna be friends


And I’m reminded, too, of verse that goes:


Numbers, letters, learn to spell,

Nouns and books, show and tell,

Play time we will throw the ball,

And back to class through the hall.

Teacher marks our height against the wall.

Teacher marls our height against the wall.


And somewhere in there a nice man named Stephen W. Littell gave me a three-day extension, and I said, ‘O.K.’


The students of Carleton W. Washburn (no relation, as there are many W.’s) call him ‘Mr. Littell.’ And I say to Mr. Littell now: ‘Mr. Littell—here’s the book report.”


It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Mr. Littell, because there is nothing intelligent to say about such a great book. Everybody who’s read it supposedly never says anything new or wants to read anything else ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a great book, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a great book, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?’


I’ve finished my book report now. The next blog I write is going to be fun.


This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by an old fart. It begins like this:


Listen:


Johnny Traveler has come unstuck in time.

It ends like this:

Poo-tee-weet?

Listen:


Johnny Traveler has become unstuck in time. Johnny has gone to sleep a senile coach and awakened on his wedding day. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.


He says.


Johnny is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

The book did not make a strong first impression; the dust jacket certainly wasn’t doing it any favors. I wondered how that pitch meeting went at the Publisher’s… I’ve got it! Let’s slap a gold sticker on the cover: 25th Anniversary Edition… Americans like shiny things! Not enough, you say, what about a second sticker. Too predictable? I know: for the second sticker, we’ll double the font size, make it bold!


I knew better, though, then to doubt any book off his list. Besides, a book’s gotta do what a book’s gotta do these days to compete with Oprah Winfrey and that new book club of hers. I’m starting to wonder: Did people read before Oprah?


So, yea. I took the book. I went home, even turned past the cover, and sat in this new view through the amber.

For those counting at home, the answer is three.

The song, itself, was simple. It contained no more than five chords, one finger plucking sequence designed to accompany one strum pattern, and four verses before needing a bridge to get you to the fifth and final one. So simple, you might even miss it.

To play it was to become unstuck in time and hear it for the first time, the last time. The time Eddie tried it out, which was also the first time they played home since Johnny came to call the city his own, but still the second home show with Patrick. The time we slowed up the bridge, and every time we played it fast, real fast.


But mostly those first times—in a quiet room with a small audience… Fifteen little pounds small. When you only have one song, a baby doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, they offer little else but praise in the form of excited kicks and girgled calls for an encore. Those moments when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

The beginning of the fall marks not only the rebirth of the annual rowing calendar (that’s how everyone measures time, right?), but a return to the classroom for sun burnt kids everywhere. The classrooms I inhabited as kid were most often curated by incredibly talented and extremely hardworking professionals. I’ve been lucky to say the least. Luckier still, I continue to be inspired by colleagues—especially early in my career—and many of my own friends that have elected to become the best of us, charged with the social, intellectual and emotional growth of the next generation of citizens. [No pressure!]


But before we jump in to a new season, out of the many teachers that guided me along the way, I’d like to raise my hand and recognize ‘that one.’


Mr. Littell

“That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

We left our school bus-icle parked below and joined the human tide moving towards the doors of the Art Institute, diverting only to flow up the downstream escalator entering the underground lot. Generally, team field trips like this were predictable—they’d keep us grouped by advisory until one of the teachers tapped out. That was normally our chance.


We walked past the armory. We walked past the Chagall stained glass windows, leaving no time to sit and enjoy its commitment to the color blue. We walked up stairs and down halls. We walked past and through room after room, each packed with students.


Then, an empty room. Well, not empty entirely. In fact, there was another room within the room: someone (an artist, maybe?) had conceived a blank cabin within the walls of this larger space. Instead of art hanging from the walls, wooden pegs held outfits, though limited in selection to holiday themed characters. A staff member doled them out purposefully and made sure we were assigned the right costume. Mr. Littell donned the one Santa suit available, leaving the rest of us to the supporting roles of elves and reindeer.


Four televisions, one elevated in each corner of the cabin, began playing.

So as parents we know that there’s one part of the community and one job in particular that deserves so much more notoriety than they’ve received: there are those who teach are children and teach them well. And we’ve had the opportunity and been very blessed to have some teachers that have changed our kids’ lives.


I met Kurt Vonnegut in Seattle many, many years ago, and that night when he spoke he asked everybody in the crowd that had one teacher that completely changed their life—put them on a path that they still follow to this day—and that they still thought about what that teacher taught them… He asked everybody in the crowd to raise their hand if they had that one teacher.


So, I’m gonna ask you tonight, if you had one teacher who changed your life…


[Raises Hand]


Eddie Veddar

Wednesday, August 9, 2018

Safeco Field (Seattle, WA)

For those counting at home, the question is: How many blogs until Matt writes about Pearl Jam?

This is the part of the blog where I thank the great teacher for all the great introductions to all the great friends. You know, rich ones like General Zaroff and his island. Creepy ones like Sbirro and his restaurant—I still feel a hand settle beside my neck every time I see a pork shoulder. And don’t forget that poor drunk, Edgar. God, I loved Poe.


I couldn’t seem to shake ‘em though, once acquainted. They were pretty sticky friends, but I unloaded them on those Millennials when I had the chance. Besides, who can resist the specialty of the house… no salt required!


But this guy has boxes of Thank You’s, for sure, packed away and safely stored on the pages of old yearbooks. So, I’ll skip straight to apologies. Sorry. My bad. Fourteen year old me was still pretty stuck in the sequence of things, but he was listening. Sometimes. Maybe. Sorry I couldn’t soak it all up. I tried to gather up all that was left in that four-walled room. I even made a second trip before the first one, but couldn’t quite manage to even put a dent in it. Oh, well. So it goes.

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber.”


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Johnny looked at the clock on the museum wall. They definitely had more than an hour to kill before the bus left. He went into the all-white cabin room, twirling the candy cane like a propeller, and they turned on the televisions inside the room. He left time standing there and came slightly unstuck…. He saw the movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about Christmas characters in the same outfits as us. Seen backwards by Johnny, the story went like this:


School buses, full of holes and wounded children and teachers pulled out backwards from a junior high school in Illinois. The formation drove backwards through a city that was iced over before arriving at the Art Institute, where the human cargo unloaded and moonwalked back to their seats at the cafeteria, where they judiciously regurgitated their lunch and returned it politely to the museum staff.


They continued their backwards ascent through the museum halls, Mr. Littell unexplaining such high-minded concepts—the elements of artistic intent, the creation of empathy in the audience, how the tendency towards shock and a familiarity with taboo are woven into the tapestries of art history—needed to understand the exhibit we were about to reverse. Visibly shaken children matched in number those who nervously stuffed quiet laughter back into their mouths.


Arriving at the room within a room, they all quickly took the Christmas costumes from the attendant and an uncomfortable scurry broke out among the students filing through the exit and into the cabin.


Quietly seated they all froze as the scenes played in reverse, all four corners unplaying a different angle of quite the scene. Some slightly scandalous images—and a few not so slight— were ripped from the children’s consciousness and jumped back into the screen as somehow Mr. Littell successfully reintroduced Pandora to her four walled chamber, as the students, happily reunited with their youthful ignorance, filed out the entrance.


The Christmas characters turned in their costumes, became middle school kids. And Mr. Littell turned into a baby, Johnny Traveler supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Johnny was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

“But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore.”


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five



So, it may have took Eddie putting my hand up, guilting me with teachers on stage to finally get this book report in, but I hope it passes, late points and all. There’s more moments in there, I’m sure, but they’re in the middle. I don’t know when they are, but I could probably guess where: the alien planet, Tralfontana, where the sky is larger than anywhere I’ve seen on the old Blue Marble, the homes are Steady Eddie and the natives measure the day by the number of eagles present within it.


There goes one now. (That’s a three-eagle day!)


I wonder… “What does an eagle say, Dorothy?”


“Poo-tee-weet?”

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