A Thank You Note

Has anyone produced a list of the best of 2015’s “Best of …” lists? No? Anyone? This won’t be that. First, a thank you.

Thank you to everyone who reads this website, even if this post is the first one by me that you have seen: Thank you. If The Gad About Town receives its usual number of visitors today, one of you might give this site the 34,000th view it has received in 2015. More than 18,000 visitors have read or at least gazed at almost 34,000 things here. That stuns me.
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Why Ask Why?

From 1995 till 1997, I wrote a humor column, “The Gad About Town,” for a great weekly newspaper in Sullivan County, New York. (I still read it online.) It held the distinction of being the only column in the newspaper that did not generate even one letter from readers. Another editorial columnist, a genial elderly man, wrote the most innocuous weekly pieces and received the most vituperative letters disagreeing with everything he wrote. I admired that this only amused him.

I did create one controversy, once: our music columnist used his own space one week to disagree with me and take me to task about something I had written the week before. Since he could have written a letter to the editor complaining about me and also submitted his usual column, but chose to sacrifice his space to rebut me, I became skeptical about his music suggestions. (I believe he is still writing for the paper and I am here, writing for no pay two decades later, so I think we can safely say that he won in the long run.)
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Two Awards, Plus a Film Plug

About two years ago, before this blog was launched, an online publication presented without any introduction a short film that I could not stop watching. It was an insomniac night and I no longer remember the name of the publication that made the insomnia worthwhile. (Buzzfeed, perhaps?) I think the only thing the publication said about it was that it was “narrated by Siri,” the iPhone voice, and that it was weird.
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Everyone Wins

I’m a dope. If an acceptance speech was required or expected, I did not deliver one. The one time an award was given to me at a real awards ceremony, I dashed from my seat upon hearing my name, ran to the front of the hotel ballroom, paused long enough to collect the plaque (long since lost), looked at it long enough to see that my name was in fact etched on its surface, and dashed back to my newspaper’s table. The presenters were not looked at long enough for their faces to be retained in my memory.

I grabbed that thing as if I expected the membership of the New York Press Association to demand an instant recount. As if someone had clicked start on a stopwatch. It was not my plan to turn into Carl Lewis and hurdle the tables of our rival newspapers, but something snapped. It was 1997 and I still could run, but I lived a life in which I did not expect good things, so when good things came I was not “pleasantly surprised” as I like to be now, I was shocked into feeling like I was getting away with something that I clearly did not deserve.

I reprinted the column here in December; it was called “The New Wave“; the link is to it.
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2014: Mine, Yours, Ours

I am not the only person to have expressed a desire to see a “Best of 2014’s ‘Best of 2014 Lists'” list, but here are some of the bests of 2014 for The Gad About Town.

First a thank you to everyone who reads this website, even if this post is the first one by me that you have seen: Thank you.

This is a small publication with about 300 subscribers (“followers” in WordPress lingo) and a total of under 10000 views since January 2014. Of those 9000 views, it has received 645 comments and about 2000 “likes” (individuals’ faces and logos appear next to each like, making this feel like a community of sorts) across its 190 posts. Six hundred and forty-five comments out of 9207 visits is a 0.07 rate; I do not know if this is good, bad, an uncommonly high percentage, or so very extremely average and just like everyone else’s website as to be unworthy of even bothering to calculate.

I like to think of myself as a professional writer; a year ago, I built a platform out of nothing for myself, climbed on it, and started typing. Being disabled and with a tiny income means that I no longer need to: voluntarily send my résumé to some publication that I either admire or have never heard of in order to pursue a job that I almost certainly do not understand; hope to be invited to be interviewed; dress up or dress down for an interview in which “first impressions are everything” but when I am looking for a job, I do not make a good first impression; positively envision myself working with this staff for years to come (a silent thought, “I’m going to marry [looks around the office] … her”) but keep my expectations in check and understand that I will probably never lay eyes on any of these people again. Those interviews, many of them, are burned in my memory. They became good anecdotes, some of them; I interviewed for a copy editor job at a porn magazine on Lexington Avenue once.

Of the 645 comments given to this site, most have come from about a half-dozen individuals, none of whom I have (yet) met or even spoken with on the phone. Some readers have engaged me on each and every post for a week or so and then vanished. Some I think of as friends who made 2014 remarkable for me. I’m lucky to have met: Willow, who runs an “award-free” site, which is good, because this is not one of those. It’s a thank you note; Judy, a great writer and versifier who is leading a remarkable life, and I am grateful to be along for the part of the ride she shares; Mary, a fellow “spoonie” who has helped me open up in writing about my own condition; Leigh, who sometimes writes as many words in a response to one of my columns as some of the columns; Rebecca; Martha; Mrs. Anglo-Swiss; Catherine Lyons. I think I owe each of these readers a few comments in return. Please visit their sites.

The most frequently viewed post on this site in 2014 is “‘So It Goes,'” a brief reflection on Kurt Vonnegut and time’s passage. I have published some thoughts on the poet W.H. Auden five times: W.H. Auden.”

A Christmas Tree Story” received more “likes” than any other piece. “A Conspiracy Theory of Conspiracy Theories” received national attention because I am a jerk and posted a link to it in the comments section of an article on the same idea on Slate magazine, which led to me being called names. “Matt Coleman, Some Memories” and “Requiem for a Sponsor” were difficult to write. Readers wrote kind things about all of these columns. (I continue to insist on calling these posts, “columns,” because I used to work for a newspaper and I resist change.)

I am fond of three columns about equality and inequality: “Guilty of White,” the publication of which led to the end of a personal friendship when one friend revealed that they think that any person wearing a badge (especially if that badge-wearer is white) is always right, no matter what; “Inequality for No One“; and “Ice Water in My Veins,” about being disabled.

The company that hosts this and many other websites took the time to send each one of us and end-of-the-year round-up, which inspired this end-of-the-year round-up. The introduction to the letter reads:

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt: The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,176 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Click here to see the complete report.

Thank you all for a remarkable 2014, Mark Aldrich.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 29 asks, “When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?”

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‘Hindsight Is 50/50’ Sunday

[In 1997, the following column, “The New Wave,” won the New York Press Association’s “Best Column: Humorous Subjects” award in its “Best Newspaper” contest. I was the assistant editor, sports editor, schools page editor, and copy editor for a small-circulation weekly in Sullivan County, New York, which means that I acquired a lot of experience for very little pay. It was mostly worth it.

It is one of the very first columns I ever wrote, which is a fact that I hated for years after—”It was only ‘beginner’s luck’ that won me that award,” I complained silently to myself. (For years, I lived my life as someone who could think of an award or reward as a denial or a subtraction. And then I would spend some more time ruefully rueing the things I rued.) I was 27 at the time, and I think I also assumed more awards were coming my way. Until I started this blog on WordPress, there were no more awards.

The date of June 1996 is a bit of a guess from me as to its publication date. It might have been earlier that year. My family found a copy of the clip recently, so I have typed it up and included it here, back-dated and with some 2014 interjections, because I can not help myself. From 1996, “The New Wave.”]

The line at the local bakery for this morning’s hearty breakfast goodness was a long one. Some people arrived after me and were recognized by others ahead of me. These friends were all about the same age, 20 or so, and they politely took turns saying “Hey.” Eight “heys” rat-a-tatted out before they settled into their “what are you up tos.”

One friend waved to another behind me. The wave was one that has become popular in the last year or so [this was written in 1996] in this age group. Instead of the usual “Hi! How are you doing!” side-to-side shake of the hand next to the head, which has satisfied people in all their hand-waving needs since we first noticed there were people to wave at, it was cool, reserved. The traditional wave is too frantic, just another thing mom and dad do to embarrass us.

He raised his hand to half the height of the traditional wave, crooked his index finger above the rest, jammed his thumb into the crook of this finger, and passed the knot of fingers side to side four or five times. It was more of a grip than a wave. The expression on his face did not change.

To picture this new wave, imagine a baby swinging a rattle more vigorously than needed merely to make a noise, but not hard enough to hit itself in the head. Now imagine the baby without the rattle, but not crying because you took the rattle away. This is the wave. Now picture someone else, say your 20-year-old, doing it. He is sullen, but not so sullen that he cannot wave hello.

There are times when I think this is a valid wave. There are times when friendliness feels conventional, like something people do because they are supposed to. Why bother waving if you do not feel like it?

Conversation revealed that these friends had not seen each other in months. Their joy at seeing one another again after a semester away at college was not palpable. The wave, the greetings, and the conversation were all expressed with the emotional intensity of a lawyer representing a slightly unfriendly witness before a Congressional subcommittee.

People cannot commit even to saying hello to friends with emotion. Emotion is so … old. Their only solid commitment us to its non-expression.

Teenagers’ telephone conversations are traditionally perfunctory: [2014 interrupts: “Why ‘traditionally’? Maybe ‘similarly’?” And why telephone conversations? Oh, right, 1996. Life in the land before texting.]

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“You home?’
“Yeah.”
“You want to do something?”
“Yeah. You?”
“You want to come over?”
“Yeah.”
“Bye.”
“Bye”

But this mode of conversation is extending way past adolescence into adulthood, middle age [2014 again: Ha!], and old age, which is new.

Walk around your town. Notice the other residents doing their shopping and browsing. As you and someone you do not know very well or even at all come upon each other, you may both smile, but it will not involve any teeth. The smiles will instead be grim little grins. You may both even say “Hi” as you pass, but you will wait for the other to speak first, and his faintly whispered “Hi” minus the “i” sound will be returned with your own clipped “Hi” greeting. One of you may even manage a “How are you?” but so inaudibly as to render the question silly.

I have been greeted by, and have returned this greeting to, people I know very well. Family members, even. We both appear to be in such a hurry, even though we are not, and we both know we are not. We cannot commit any emotion to the exchange, because we do not want to look silly. One never knows when interpersonal disaster will strike, apparently.

It seems if we are too warm with each other, we think the other person will walk away muttering to himself, “Drunk.”

A suggestion: The next time you see someone give the new wave, drop him to the ground, pin him, flatten his waving hand against the pavement, and make him greet you. Make him express how truly happy he is to see you. The world should be more friendly, damn it.

Copyright 1996 TRR

[The award citation said some very nice things, as it was an award, about how the column expanded its scope from something small to a larger thought. I guess I still try to do that.]

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 28 asks, “Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.”

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November Thank-yous

This is the 30th post for the month of November 2014 on this website. I have not written something every day, but there have been a couple two-a-days, one “in memoriam” poster, and some reruns (yesterday). All adding up to a very special 30-for-30 episode.

I am beginning to feel like a host at a party with this project, and sometimes I want one reader who posts comments to meet another one (where can we all hang out for lunch?); then sometimes I will read a third person’s columns and see that those two faces have clicked “Like” on that other person’s work. “Ah, I see you two have met. Good.”

In December, The Gad About Town will be one year old on WordPress. I started this in the fall of 2013, on another blog-hosting site, and there it still sits: The Gad About Town. I might have acquired readers beyond my immediate family and immediate friends as I proceeded with the website there, but readers other than my immediate family and immediate friends started to respond to this site right here right from the start, hitting “Like,” or subscribing, or commenting. I did not know what I did not know when I moved to WordPress: That my need for instant gratification, my addiction to numbers, would be met here.

Anyway, it sometimes seemed that most of my page views on that service came from spam-generating sources (anything called “vampire” anything is not something that I feel happy about seeing visit my website fifty times in one short hour).

In the month of November, this site has been visited 1677 times so far (by real people), at a rate of 57 visits each day. Neither of those are big numbers; I am certain that many of the blogs I read every day get thousands of visits per day. There were 38 new followers, which is a term that I have decided I do not like. “Subscribers,” okay; “followers”? No. There was one award from a fellow blogger, Aruna, who writes every day at Ripples N Reflections.

A Facebook page was launched here: The Gad About Town. You can find me on Twitter over here: Mark Aldrich. There are some very supportive Twitterers who Tweet my columns to other Tweeting people. (That’s how that works, I think.) I also have Ello invites if you want one.

All of these numbers have increased dramatically since I started participating in the Daily Prompt exercise in August. Before then, I was publishing once or twice a week and approximately one person (other than my mom or girlfriend) would hit the “Like” button each post. Thank you, Susanne Leist; she is the author of “The Dead Game,” and more than once seeing her face pop up on something that I wrote cajoled me into writing a next one. That is the effect a blogging community can have: We egg each other on.

Here are some more thank yous: Judy at Lifelessons, my fellow spoonie Mary at A Body of Hope, Willow at Willow’s Corner, Leigh at Leigh’s Wordsmithery, Melissa at This, Right Now, Rebecca at Genusrosa, Dixie Copeland, The Reluctant Baptist, Lydia at A Lot from Lydia, Swoosieque at Cancer Isn’t Pink, Mark at Joatmon14, Rose Red at Gelatinous, Ina Vukic at Croatia, The War and the Future. There are other thank yous, but this list is some of the people who communicated with me in November.

In December (wait! that’s tomorrow!) I will start playing around with a new layout and, more important, get my big book co-writing project moving towards the door marked “Publish.” Thank you to all the future purchasers of that future book.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 30 asks, “What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?”

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