If you're corresponded with me, you've probably noticed my sig file is a kind of opaque reference: "a wink eventually becomes a twitch, a twitch the sign of some inner disturbance." I've been asked enough about it that it seemed the time to finally commit to the internets the passage it comes from, which had, until now, somehow escaped the Google machine. Ladies and gents, from the oft-forgotten masterpiece, A Fan's Notes, by Fred Exley:
In the Glacial Falls teacher's manual, a booklet I had been assured was Biblical in its authority (chiseled in stone), I one day came across a high-toned and vague clause (very much like a paragraph in any education textbook) calling on teachers to pass with the grade C any student who was "working to capacity" -- a capacity one could, I guessed immediately, determine from the IQ records in the guidance office. With a number of seasoned teachers in the system I tried to discuss this clause, but they seemed reluctant to talk about it -- more than reluctant, tired, very tired, as though the clause had been discussed all too many times. There were some obvious questions needing answers. What about the superior student who doesn't make any effort at all but still manages to get a B? Reversing the principle, do I give him a C, and if I do, does that C, in the eyes of the administration, represent the same as the C of the student capable of doing only 40, 30, 20 percent of the work?
"What the clause means," one young and spirited teacher said finally, winking outrageously, is that everybody, but everybody, daddy, passes."
That outrageous wink answered everything. Through some impossible-to-administer policy, the faculty had been rendered moral monsters. Asked to keep one eye open, cool and detached, in appraising half the students, we were to keep the other eye winking as the rest of the students were passed from grade to grade and eventually into a world that would be all to happy to teach them, as they drifted churlishly from disappointment to disaster, what the school should have been teaching them all along: that even in America, failure is a part of life. (At Glacial Falls the F had been eliminated altogether on the genteel assumption that the D, the -- in Newspeak -- "unpassing" grade, somehow represented a less equivocal failure.) In the end, of course, the policy didn't hurt the student nearly as much as the teacher: a wink eventually becomes a twitch, a twitch the sign of some inner disturbance.
It was either that or "The best place to make lesson plans is at your desk." Shockingly, the book is not really about teaching English at a prep school. It's more about the failure part.
In 2005, we were introduced to Wheatley. Sir Wheatley, really. He was an enormous Golden Retriever with an even bigger heart. He and our dog, Hank, bonded instantly. Hank's a mutt who looks like a Golden who got shrunk in a dryer. Wheatley's mom, Georgia, called them "Wheats and Mini-Wheats." They enjoyed tearing down the apartment halls together and we credit Wheatley for teaching Hank to at least recognize what commands he was ignoring.
Georgia got to be our friend, too. Not just because of Wheatley but -- who are we kidding? -- Wheatley was a major bonus. When Georgia got a job that required her to be out of the country for weeks at a time, we volunteered immediately to take in Wheatley whenever possible. (Silly Georgia thought we were doing HER a favor!)
Wheatley liked people, fetching logs, and B-A-L-L-S. Not neccesarily in that order. He hated thunder and mean dogs. He was one of history's most gentle and happy souls. At 12, he had beat cancer once and mange a few times and seemed destined for years more of scritches. A couple of weeks ago, his health took a sharp turn worse the worse. On Sunday, Georgia and Wheatley came over for a round of porch-sitting, wine and Trivial pursuit. Wheatley was in good spirits (okay, he ALWAYS was). He even found time to try and chew on a log.
This morning, Georgia took him in to the vet and held him while he passed.
The world is poorer without the Big Guy in it.
I know some readers got to know Wheatley through my Tweets and pics, and I hope you felt even a shadow of the gratitude that I feel having known him in all his shaggy, WOOFing glory.
I ask that you hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight, be grateful for the creatures that teach you what it means to be truly happy, and maybe, if you like, wish Wheatley well wherever he is right now. I am sure that whatever he's doing it involves a BALL.
If you want to commemorate him in a more tangible way, Georgia asks that you consider donating to the Washington Animal Rescue League, the terrific low-cost vet center and no-kill shelter that Wheatley supported via their annual "Mutt Strut" (Wheatley did not realize that he was a purebred, or if he did he chose to ignore that fact). A portion of the price for items bought via their Amazon store will also go to support their fantastic programs.
All good dogs may go to heaven, but they also make earth a little more like it.
I got a seat, so there will be a liveblog!
UPDATE: Very Important Hat Tip of the Strongest Gratitude to Aaron at Unlikely Words, who made this list possible. And to Jason, for giving me the idea. (And I admit that I probably should have included "Heavy is the head that eats the crayons." So, uhm, there! It's included!)
“Frank, for all your hard work, please accept this set of solid gold nunchuks.” Trying to come up with two things that don't go together is easy (Apples, oranges! Fish, bicycles! Me, regular employment!) but trying to come with two things that don't go together in a FUNNY WAY is much harder. "Solid gold nunchuks" is fucking genius.
“I watched Boston Legal 9 times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek.” This is showing up on a lot of people's lists (the two other who have made them), and deservedly so, thought I think it says more about Boston Legal than 30 Rock.
“Those two have never paid me any attention. And rightly so, I’m a strange man who can’t be taken seriously. Now they won’t let me out of their sight.” One of the few Tracy lines that isn't funny as a stand-alone non-sequitor. But all you need to know is that the two boys in question are his sons.
“We didn’t know what to get them and then I had a brainstorm. It was a bad one, Jenna had to put my tongue guard in.” This is sort of an easy laugh -- some of the "wordplay!" Tracy likes so much -- but it's elevated by the inclusion of his prissy, primadonna co-star Jenna being the bearer of the tongue guard.
“It’s a practice wheel for when I lose my foot to diabetes.” Exactly.
“N-O-E. No. E.” One of things that makes 30 Rock special is its ability to make one joke, then follow it with a joke that undermines the first one. This may be the shortest example of that technique available.
“Larry, what everyone needs to do is just take a deep breath, calm down, and start preparing their bodies for the Thunderdome. That is the new law.” AND “Devil’s avocado here, Larry. I think people should freak the geek out. Withdraw all your money and hide it.” Both of these are from the episode where Tracy announces that New York is going to become a post-apocalyptic dystopia. I like the certain equanimity of the first and the phrase "Devil's avocado" in the second. I'm going to start using it in my real life.
“I don’t need a birthday cause I buy myself all the presents I need. And because of my drinking, they’re often a surprise.” It may not be the funniest line Tracy has ever spoken (or even the 8th-funniest) but as anyone who follows my episodes of Ambien-induced Amazon-shopping could tell you, you know it hits home.
“Look, when I was a kid growing up in the projects, I would look up at the stars and dream of going into space. Of escaping the slums. Of killing the Ewok! Now the man that kid has become can make those dreams come true. Do you know what that’s like?” And that's how the Ewok was hunted to extinction. Or at least one can hope.
“Well, I might be crazy, but neither he, nor his bird would let me into his bedroom. And why wouldn’t you want to let Tracy Jordan into your bedroom unless you got a bunch of dead nurses in there.” I think we've all had this thought at one point or another.
There, now go make your own!