Gad Meets Godot

“Where I live, I can not speak of it. It takes too long to say its name. Who I love, same thing.”

He goes on. “So they ask us here,” he says, “Look at that.” He points. “‘No Words As Long As This,’ the sign says. And it gives a long list of long words. It is like they want a tall, short thing. Or a short but tall one. How can I fill this for them?”

“We,” I say to him. “We.”

“Right, kid. You and I. How can we give them this? This thing they ask. It is so tough. And it is close to the time we leave.”

“I have no right to tell you what to do.”


“But. We can wait. There is a new day and it comes next.”


“To this day.”

“But why ask us to do this? Like this?”

“This? Oh.” They look at the sign and read out loud:

“The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 8 asks, ‘Today, write a post about the topic of your choice—using only one-syllable words.'”

“There is one word there that I do not like.”

“What is it?”


“Oh.” They do not move.

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Guilty of White

The lottery that I won at 6:37 p.m. on November 18, 1968, was not the product of any hard work on my part. It was not a reward for playing fairly or for especially clean living, nor was it awarded to me for playing by the rules and earning my way.

It was a scratch-off ticket, generated at random, and someone else could have gotten it just as easily as I did. Like the service at a lottery counter in a gas station, life is a first-come, first-served proposition. It was a scratch-off, and, my gosh, did I win a nice jackpot.

If reincarnation existed, one could say that someone else may have deserved this life more than I did or do, and one could certainly argue that someone else might have done a better job with it than I have so far, but it is mine. It is the golden ticket.

The lottery that I won paid off immediately: I am white in a country that treats this minor genetic condition like it is something one diligently worked for and earned. And I am male. I am heterosexual. This world and this country rewards the bearers of those accidental tickets pretty generously, too. When I was a child, my family was middle class in income if not status in a country and at a time when being in the middle of middle-class life in America meant one was living more comfortably than three-fifths of the residents of the rest of the world. And citizens in this country treat that privilege like a victory over immediate enemies rather than the several-generation accumulation of incidents that it is.

Education? Paid for through high school by virtue of being born where I was. By which I do not mean the Spackenkill school district. Nor Poughkeepsie. Not even New York State. Being born in America in 1968 meant an education. (The states were not yet privatizing education or dictating their own local test-versions of education, so I benefited from learning when the dinosaurs existed and the one main reason for the Civil War.) Thanks to my parents, my mom especially, I do not remember the experience of learning how to read or count, because I was taught before my earliest memory (age two and a half) is time-stamped.

Perhaps it is a bit of speculative science fiction to offer the idea that none of these matters are in and of themselves good, righteous, holy, or even earned things. I could have been born in a country that does not privilege the pink pigment of white skin. Or I could have been born in this country but not white. We could have lived in a country where money did not provide some piece of status and “our type” might have been punished at random moments. My mother was born and raised in America, but she had cousins in “the old country” (near Minsk) who were exterminated. They had money.

So I know that I am racist, sexist, whatever-ist. By virtue of being born white, male, and middle class in America in the late 1960s, how could I not be? The day that I walk through (every damn day) is a different day than any woman, black person, gay person—any member of a minority group randomly pre-selected according to these criteria by society—walks through. And the sad, simple fact is that it is a luxury for me to even type that sentence or play with that thought. I do not need to consider what life is like for me, what my day is like, because no power group makes me aware of it.

Oh, sure, it’s society’s rules and some people seem to know how to play by them. “If you don’t commit any crimes, what do you have to worry about?” And that is the thing: I don’t. Simply because I am guilty of white, guilty as charged of male. I am a born member of the power elite, me with my $11,000 annual disability income.

Why does anyone march? Or protest? Or agitate? Or riot, finally? Because if you told me that I had “earned” the genetic anomaly that is taking my legs away, which I did not, not any more than I earned being white or heterosexual, I would attack you with my cane, with every fiber of my being.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 7 asks us to reflect on the word “Protest.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 2, 2016, asks us to reflect on the word “divide.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 4, 2015, asks, “Link to an item in the news you’ve been thinking about lately, and write the op-ed you’d like to see published on the topic.” Today is the 47th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 2, 2014, asks, “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. When was the last time that sentence accurately described your life?”

Visit “Occupy Daily Prompt,” the DP Alternative.

No Man Is an Island

Daniel Defoe is officially credited as the author of 28 titles, but it is likely that he was the author of twice that, if one counts the pamphlets, essays, and other works he published under pseudonyms.

One of his titles keeps his name famous almost three centuries after he published it: “Robinson Crusoe.” Its full title on publication in 1719 was longer (ahem): “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Defoe did not attach his name to the book; after that long title a single line of type is set aside with a dark line above and one below and “Written by himself” between.

Thus, from the birth of the novel in English, one of its creators started toying with the basic concept of fiction. It is the truest conceit of all fiction writing and it is there from the beginning: “This is a true story, I swear.” (“A guy told it to me once,” provided the next variation.)

Defoe was no castaway, although more than once in his life he might have desired a desert island life away from creditors and the crown. A dissenter, he was once put in the pillory and sent to Newgate Prison for writing a satirical pamphlet; a lifelong merchant who was sometimes on the unscrupulous side of unscrupulous deals, he spent time in debtors’ sanctuaries and on the run. He even died on the run, aged 70 or so. (His birth date, even the year, was not recorded.) He added the Francophilic “de” to his plain-sounding birth name of “Foe” to give himself a name redolent with upper-classiness.

And he wrote what many consider the first novel in English.

Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” was written and published more than two centuries before “Robinson Crusoe” and is a work of prose fiction that was popular enough to have been read by Defoe and his contemporaries, but its tales are interlocked, not interwoven. It is a collection of semi-separate tales. “Robinson Crusoe” is a first-person account of events that never happened to someone who never existed written by someone who was not that (fake) person. It is an adventure and it is a novel.

Within two decades, other types of novel were added to the fiction shelves: Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” and “Pamela” (picture for yourself modern-day romance novels with Fabio on the cover), Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews” and “Tom Jones” (endless, convoluted plots and comic characters), and Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” (a story about how impossible it is to tell a straight story), and most of the elements that make the novel as we still read it to this day were in place. (The mystery novel and police procedural came along later and complete the picture.)

By 1719, ships had been sailing between the Old World and the New for more than two centuries. The Caribbean was well-mapped, America was colonized by multiple countries, and the South Pacific was being explored, but the idea of a ship running aground on a previously unknown island was no mere fantasy: it was a reality and the story of a shipwrecked sailor long thought dead returning home would have been a familiar one to 18th Century readers.

One such sailor had returned home to London in 1711 after spending the years 1704–1709 alone on an island off the coast of Chile. His name was Alexander Selkirk, and while literary scholars still debate whether Defoe was writing a version of Selkirk’s story or that of one of the many other shipwrecked European sailors, it appears most likely that Robinson Crusoe’s tale is an amalgam of Selkirk’s remarkable story and the others. Crusoe was shipwrecked in the Caribbean and Selkirk had been marooned by his own request in the South Pacific; Crusoe made a friend of a local cannibal and named him Friday, and Selkirk spent more than four years utterly alone. (Why was Selkirk marooned by his own request? Rather than sail any further on what he considered a compromised and not seaworthy ship, he asked to be let off. His request was complied with, and, indeed, the ship sank further on.)

After his return to London, Selkirk was the subject of many books and gazetteer articles about his life alone far from home, but he quickly returned to his pre-maroon life of continuous bar fights interrupted by brief jail stays and took to the sea again, where he died of yellow fever in 1721. In 1966, the government of Chile renamed the island on which Selkirk had resided, Isla Más a Tierra, Robinson Crusoe Island and one of its companion islands, Isla Más Afuera, as Alejandro Selkirk Island.

The imagined life of a solitary shipwrecked sailor, far from the madding crowd and free to read his Bible (as Selkirk said he spent his days), retains its hold on readers, almost three centuries after Defoe fictionalized what was already a remarkable tale.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 1 asks, “We’ve all been asked what five objects we’d take with us to a desert island. Now it’s your best friend’s (or close relative’s) turn to be stranded: what five objects would you send him/her off with?”

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