• Under the Covers


    Under the Covers



    Ah Ha, you saw the title and was sure that I had finally stepped across the line to the Dark Side. Writing about some salacious and steamy romance where flames shot out from the sheets, steam rising from the covers amid heavy breathing by all participants – eyes gleaming with desire.  Just like in a harlequin romance –Seducing the ViscountThe Trustworthy RedheadWicked Nights, or some other such trash.


    One of my fondest memories was my 1st Grade Teacher (there was no Kindergarten in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho) reading to us for a half hour each day (if we behaved ourselves).  It was “The Bears of Blue River”– a book I tracked down in my 60’s – still as good as I remembered it.  After a steady diet of Dick and Jane (I preferred their Dog Spot myself), I was ready for heavier material.


    Do you remember, like I, that magical moment in early childhood, when The ink on the pages of a book gelled – that string of confused, alien ciphers — pronounced with help from Phonics, wove into meaning.  Now sentences spoke and gave up their secrets. At that moment, whole universes opened. For me that moment came in the second grade. I quickly found books to be one of my greatest sources of pleasure.  Still feel that way today – would like to read at least three hours a day if I can. Is it a habit? Absolutely. Does it provide a refuge from the stresses and daily irritations of life? Without question.


    Sometimes, unfortunately, I find reading makes the real world a source of disappointment –life is generally not like the exciting adventures and accomplishments of the heroines and heroes we find in the pages, nor do people behave as nobly as the characters in literature.

    Although sometimes it’s the opposite – we get to feel pain and disappointment and great sorrow as we read through the pages.


    As we read we project our own imagination into the stories and the characters – escaping into a world more rewarding than the daily grind of life. Reading is not like seeing a movie (movies based on a good book are generally disappointing) or playing a video game, or surfing the Internet, or fooling with our phones – where everything is laid out without taxing our imagination.  These pastimes stimulate your emotions, but it just isn’t the same as a good book.


    Heber City, Utah’s Library made you wait for a library card until the third grade – then I began hauling books home in my highly polished Radio Flyer Wagon.  They were big and heavy – thick pages with hard covers – Huck Finn, Don Quixote, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Old Man and the Sea. The Wizard of Oz series was my first favorite. And then on to every volume of Tarzan of the Apes and Bomba the Jungle Boy. Then Kidnapped, Ivanhoe, and the Three Musketeers. Tried War and Peace, and then again in my twenties – gave up both times.


    Alas the Measles struck me down in the third grade and I was confined to home – made to stay in a dark room, be quiet, nothing to do. My mother made it a point to tell me not to read because it would ruin my eyes.  Naturally I took no notice of her recommendation, but I couldn’t escape her all-seeing eye during the day.  But, when bedtime had come and gone, and the house quiet, I snuck out my trusty flashlight, got one of my favorite books from under the bed; (Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, as I remember; ok, sometimes It was a comic book, “Tales of the Crypt,” was a much thumbed volume) and went “Under the Covers.”


    As in most cases, my mom was right – two weeks of squinting Under The Covers changed my eyesight from 20/20 to about 20/150 – both eyes. I was blind as a bat.  The solution – glasses with Coke Bottle Bottom Lenses so thick and heavy they caused a permanent crick in my neck – falling off my nose to ding my feet. And of course, every schoolmate, friend or foe, was quick to call me Four-Eyes.  I paid dearly for my two weeks of self-indulgence under those covers.  Sports a disaster. Ask to leave my little league team because I was a danger to myself and other players.  I hit our coach in the back when I thought I was throwing to third.


    Last to be picked for any team.  Plexiglas shield over my entire face for football. Not that I was much of a player anyway, but having my glasses bounce around while trying to look through a hand me down heavily scratched full face mask was a disaster.  I believe the coaches understood, glad to have me to blame as the scapegoat for a 2 –6 season our senior year.

    After football that year – 1960 – I got hard contact lens. I wanted to look cool, be attractive to the girls – no more Mister Four-eyes. You had to get used to the pain over a couple of month period, so they said. It felt, from beginning to end, that there was a combination of sand and razor blades in my eyes. I looked like a red-eyed demon most of the time as my eye capillaries rebelled.  If you left the lenses in too long the pain faded as your cornea started to wear down, and then you had to keep your eyes closed for a couple of days to get them to heal – my doctor said it was just like snow blindness.


    I gave up all hope next year in the army when the blowing sands of Fort Ord, California caused permanent corneal scratches. Periodic exams brought ever-thickening glasses until Lasik surgery showed up in the nineties and released me.


    Anyway, lets take a quick look at where the delight of reading started?  The Archaeologists tell us that a spoken language goes back 6,000,000 years and written language six thousand.  Doesn’t it ever bug you that these so called experts are able to come up with such exact round numbers – Could it have been 5,375 or 6,234?  And six million for the start – how do they know when speech developed from grunts backed up by a club, to some caveman telling another, “Hey Neanderthal brain, “Your Mother Wears Combat Boots”.


    Anyway its only since there was any sign of civil behavior do we find any writing.  The Sumerians started out with Logographs – round pieces of clay with signs, pictures and symbols – sort of hard to borrow a book from a friend, especially when he said, “Sure help yourself to the 300 stone pages in the back of the cave – better bring a 100 or so of your closest friends to haul them.  The Phoenicians had an alphabet of consonants with nothing between each word – tough reading..  The Greeks added vowels and formed essentially the alphabet we have today – most reading was done aloud – since the listeners couldn’t read.  Around 200 BC punctuation came into vogue with manuscripts from the Alexandria Library.


    The medieval scribes separated upper and lower class letters, and the last major upgrade came around 900 AD with the installation of spaces between words, but most Kings, Queens, and Nobles still couldn’t read or write – just the clergy.


    Our friend Johannes Gutenberg really was the savior and hero for all of we future readers. Around 1439, he invented movable type and a press to mass-produce writings – 240 pages per hour – within a few years 30,000 bibles had been printed by he and others he trained. Before that time you basically had to whack a priest over the head and steal the hand written scriptures that he had copied.  That was providing that you knew how to read, since the only people who could read anything were the monks, rabbis, Imams and other religious leaders.


    There is a lot of history that shows the religious leaders were not particularly interested in having the unwashed rabble (us) be able to read.  You weren’t a God if you could read but you were close.  Surfs, peasants, slaves, women, etc. were supposed to know their place and that place meant not being able to read, period, – along with lots of other restrictions.

    In some areas of the world writing and reading never took hold.  Lot of cultures just didn’t develop in that way – Polynesia, most of Africa, North and South Hemisphere Indians, Caribbean Islanders, Southern Chinese, Eskimos, Aborigines, many others – never developed a written language.  They have oral histories, but as you well know from hearing tales retold, the content can change very rapidly and so we tend to discount their validity.


    Written language is very important, as it is a fundamental way of communicating, doing so indirectly and over time. It is the main way civilizations accrue and record their technology, educate their citizens, and keep a historical record. This “collective wisdom” for lack of a better term is a hallmark of many great civilizations.  Its what we look for first.  It is a sad fact that 40% of the population of the United States falls below the basic literacy line.  Very Sad. Not only are they missing out on one of life’s greatest rewards.  The chance to get a good job, move up the employment ladder, or become a productive member of society is limited if you can’t read.


    People read for many reasons – pleasure, instruction, research, self-improvement (I avoid these like the plague, the bible is enough for me), religious upliftment, and assignments in school (Law Books on Civil Procedure being the worst) – the list goes on and on.  Conversation can run dry, you can only play so many games or watch so much TV or lengthen your naps or surf the net or cuddle up with your iPhone.  For those of us who love to read, it is very much like a drug – which addicted readers cannot be without. We become irritable and apprehensive, mute and down faced without a book to grasp in our hands.


    The Kindle/Nook/iPad are of multi-functional use, but the true reader likes to turn the paper pages, feel their texture, smell the ink, and turn down corners to mark juicy passages or a stopping point. From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to The Explanation of Quantum Physics by Stephen Hawking – each can be read with much excitement and satisfaction.


    Reading does have some physical disadvantages if not careful – I have a lifelong habit of reading in the tub. Surrounded by warm water, a good light overhead, a sloped support and finally a comforting book. It’s a great way to prepare for sleep.  I do occasionally nod off however and the book and I slide underwater. Even with aggressive squeezing, the pages expand to twice their normal size as they dry. I’ve looked for waterproof books but apparently there is not much of a market for fools like myself.  The solution has been to borrow books from others.  However when I’ve ask to borrow a Kindle, my friends tend to look down their nose as if they have smelled something very disagreeable.


    For a while I tried to read with a book on my steering wheel – glancing up from time to time to see where I was on the road. After all I had steered with my knees many times without any fatalities while dialing phones, sipping a beverage, flossing my teeth, writing or other activities. As you might guess, reading led to the vehicle wandering a bit.  I finally gave up trying after seeing a biker jump off his bike and leap over a guard rail.  I had barely touched his bike with my mirror, so no big deal.  I also watched two joggers running towards me with panic, then terror, then dive into the brush since I was on the wrong side of the road about to hit them and go over the curb.  Most irksome was that I bent two rims, had a flat tire and two side scrapes and other road rash while traveling the highways and byways before quitting.

    Now I have to be content to listen to books on CD.


    So, will there be books in heaven? Yes I’m quite sure, but I’m concerned there might be none in hell.  But just to hedge myself, I have a friend who has guaranteed me that at my burial (especially if he catches the scent of Brimstone) he will put in a tome or two.  I’ve requested that he fill the casket with all manner of books (for sure The Short Stories of Somerset Maugham, the Bible, All of Steinbeck and John Mortimer – but skip War and Peace) on extensive subjects, just in case. If he does as I ask, the Casket, the books, and me will top 500 pounds. My apologies to the pallbearers in advance.


    November 2011



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