Daily Prompt: Or is the New I (The Whichness of What)

Today’s Daily Prompt challenges bloggers to go over to a favorite blog and pick out the fourth and fourteenth words to complete the phrase “___ is the new ___.”

I knew right away that I would cast my lot with A Clown on Fire and hope that one of the two critical words wasn’t an embarrassing swear.  (I still love you, Eric, even though you have an insufferable potty mouth.)

Well, didn’t I just draw the booby prize?  Apparently, “or” is the new “I.”

I could have laughed at the ridiculousness of this, proceeding to another blog post haste.  But that would be cheating, and what kind of example is that to set for my fellow bloggers?

My predicament is reminiscent of a story my father likes to tell of his elementary school days in New York City during World War II.  All the men were off fighting in the European and Pacific theaters and every teacher was of the female persuasion.  Most of them were “old biddies,” as Dad tells it, doddering meanies who, in better times, would have long since retired.

These were teachers who, turning red in the face when a student misbehaved, would shake the hapless kid by the shoulders and yell at the top of her lungs: “What sort of family do you come from?  What sort of parents do you have?  Were you raised in a barn??!!”

Now, my father reports that he enjoyed playing pranks and showing off his sassy mouth just a bit too much for the teachers’ refined tastes.  For example, when sternly told “Take your seat!,” he would lift the chair off the floor and, with an innocent expression, ask “where should I take it to?”  As you may imagine, his ability to engender mirth and merriment made him rather popular with his classmates.

Of course, there were consequences.  Among the worst of the punishments he experienced was being required to stay after school to write an essay on “the whichness of what.”

I have often wondered how I would attack such a task.  As “whichness” is itself a nonce word, I suppose it could be assigned any meaning desired, à la Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.  Perhaps influenced by the approach of Halloween, I rather think I would misspell the word as “witchness” and write a good old fashioned ghost story.

But I digress.  More important subjects beg our attention.  After all, or is the new I, you know.

“Or” is the epitome of choice, and choice is what we all want, isn’t it?  Not according to the current Ford Focus commercial, “And is Better.”  And here I was thinking that we resent having things forced on us, that we want to be the ones who get to choose.  Apparently, I am wrong.  We don’t want choice — we want it all!  To hell with “or;” we want “and!”

But what of the “I,” the ego, the self?  If, contrary to Ford’s assertion, or (not and) is the new I, then we have allowed the overwhelmingly desire for choice to completely take over our identity.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a teeming mass of family background, education, hopes, dreams and loves, we have given it all up for the privilege of choice.  Tell me not who you really are, instead tell me what your choices were and which you selected.

Personally, I’ve always seen myself as something of a rebel, at least when it comes to choices.  Forget Choices A, B, C or D.  Just mark me down as “none of the above.”


Daily Prompt: Home Sweet Homeless

home sweet home

My parents retired from their professional careers in 1994.  They took a year to fix up their suburban New York house, sell it and move to California.  This was the house in which I grew up.  We moved out of a fourth floor walkup in the Bronx and into this brand new home in Rockland County when I was six years old.  Except for four years in college and a stint in graduate school, I lived there until I was well past the age of thirty.  For all that time, the downstairs family room had my mother’s framed embroidery displayed proudly on the wall:  “To know how sweet a home may be, just lock the door but keep the key.”

By the mid-nineties, my sisters were both married and had moved west to Silicon Valley with their engineer husbands.  They started having babies and my parents decided they wanted to be a part of the lives of their grandchildren.

When they retired, I happened to be working in the composition room of a publisher of dozens of local real estate magazines.  You know, the ones with all the pictures of houses and the highly abbreviated captions:  4 BR, 2½ BA, EIK, FDR, motivated seller!

I felt a pang in my heart the day I saw a grainy black and white photo of my childhood home in one of our paper bound books that had just come hot off the press.

And that’s when I decided to quit my job and move to California, too.

I camped out on my sister’s couch for about four months until she kicked me out.  Then I moved in with my other sister.  Turned out Silicon Valley was not exactly the Promised Land for those of us without engineering degrees.

My parents had placed all their belongings in storage.  They were living in a hotel while they looked at houses all over the Central Valley.  Should they buy an existing house or have one custom built the way they did thirty years earlier?  “We’re homeless!” they told me.

I hadn’t thought about this story in years, but it came back to me a couple of months ago when I learned that I’d be laid off from my job and that we’d have to relocate.  One of my employees asked me whether my wife and I were going to “move back home.”

Like my parents twenty years ago, my first thought was “We’re homeless!”

But instead I carefully chose my words and said “there really isn’t any place that I could honestly call home.”

We moved to the desert from Fresno more than three years ago, but we certainly weren’t going back there.  In any event, we lived there for only four years, so I wouldn’t consider it home by any means.  Before that we were in Modesto, which is where my wife and I were married.  As a single guy, I moved all around New England and back and forth to New York.

My wife and I had an interesting discussion about this.  “I guess I would call California home,” she told me.  This makes sense, as she was born here in the Golden State and has never lived anywhere else.

Does this mean that I should call New York home? Michelle W’s Daily Prompt post asked “when you’re away from home, what person, thing or place do you miss the most?” Thus, to answer my own question, I would need to decide whether there is any person, thing or place that I miss in New York. I can honestly say that there is not.

I haven’t seen my childhood home in 18 years now, although I can mentally map every inch of it.  But I wouldn’t want to go back there.  A few years ago, I found a picture of it on Google Maps’ Street View.  I didn’t even recognize it.  It had been painted a different color and tall trees had been planted in front.  I had to check twice to make sure it was the same place I had lived in for three decades.

I have no desire to return to that locale, which is a good thing, because my memories no longer jibe with reality.  As they say, you can’t go home again.

Did I say home?  Maybe New York really is my home.  I have few relatives on the east coast and therefore have little incentive to visit.  It’s been so many years since I’ve been back there.  I keep telling myself that one day I will go back, if only to show the old stomping grounds to my wife.  And it is with dread in my heart that I know the day is likely to come when I will have to return for a funeral.

We have a family plot in that colossal cemetery that goes on for miles out by LaGuardia Airport in Queens.  Do those graves mean that this my real home?  I remember the Hebrew and English names carved so carefully into the granite and how we always left little pebbles atop the polished headstones, as if to say “we were here.”

So, at least for today, I would have to say, as my wife does, that California is my home.  It’s where I hang my hat.  It’s what my driver’s license says and where I get my mail.  But in a real sense, I am “in California” but not “of California.”  On the other hand, I hail from New York but have no longer have any current ties there.

I am reminded of the abandoned dog who shows up unwelcomed on a stranger’s front porch.  The owner steps out the front door and claps his hands to chase the dog away.  “Go home!”

And where exactly would that be?


Daily Prompt: New England Dreamin’

apples pumpkins'

Yesterday, the WordPress Daily Prompt encouraged bloggers to describe the strangest place they have ever found themselves posting to their blogs.

As a creature of habit, I prefer writing my blog posts from the comfort of the living room sofa, laptop dangling precariously off the TV tray on which it is balanced.  However, due to our travels up and down the state of California, I have composed numerous posts from our laptops in motel rooms.

What I find particularly challenging is writing blog posts on my iPhone.  I have done so on several occasions, late at night at Motel 6 in Buttonwillow, Kern County.  Now, Motel 6 generally (but not always) charges for wi-fi, so we typically skip the laptop and make due with our phones.  My fat fingers dance across the tiny keyboard display, stopping every third or fourth word to correct an error.  The backspace key is my best friend.  Even so, when I get back to a computer I usually notice more than one typo that makes me want to scream.  And I won’t dwell on the times I have mysteriously lost an iPhone post in progress, nor will I refer to some of the words that have come out of my mouth on such occasions.

Far more interesting than the mundane locales from which I have blogged are the places from which I would like to blog someday.  I am not engaging in fantasies about exotic destinations here.  In fact, I am reminiscing about places that I enjoyed on the other side of the country in the days before the Internet.

It’s October, and inevitably my thoughts return to the riotous red and yellow leaves that set the trees afire in New England and upstate New York.  I am just learning to use Twitter, and if I did not have time for a complete blog post, I imagine I would tweet something like this:


It is apple season, and right now I am munching on a Gala, one of California’s finest.  And while I enjoy the wonderful Fujis, Pink Ladies and Galas out here, it’s not the same as picking out a bushel of Macintosh, Delicious, Cortland or Rome Beauty apples from Dressel Farms on Route 208 in New Paltz, New York.  If I were there, I’d blog about the giant pumpkins out front, the Indian corn grown on site and, if the cider press is operating, the season’s first sweet taste of liquid heaven.  After I got home, I’d be sure to mention the wonderful scent throughout the house when Mom was stirring a pot of applesauce on the stove and had a pie in the oven.


I’d ooh and aah at the bucks, does and fawns that walk out of the thickets and stand wide-eyed along the grassy edges of the Palisades Interstate Parkway.  Then I’d blog my outrage when every other car heading south from Bear Mountain Circle has a dead deer tied to its roof.


Along with everyone else, I’d gripe about the leaf-peeping tourists slowing down traffic with their gawking.  Of course I’d forget to mention all the money that they are pumping into the local economy and how many businesses couldn’t survive without them.


I’d definitely blog from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, describing the candle dippers, the blacksmiths, the printers and the butter-churning maids.  My post would probably make fun of the 18th century costumes and the little kids running amok with ice cream sticky hands.  And I’d be sure to post a photo of the cows and turkeys.


I would do my best to blog from the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Fitzwilly’s restaurant in Northampton, the covered bridge over the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, New Hampshire and the shops in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont.  And just for old time’s sake, I’d have to finish up my time travels by writing a funny post about a round of Glowgolf at Holyoke Mall.



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