Toboggan


‘A did comply, sir, with his dug before ‘a
suck’d it. Thus has he, and many more of the same
breed that I know the drossy age dotes on, only got the
tune of the time, and out of an habit of encounter,
a kind of yesty collection, which carries them
through and through the most profound and winnow’d
opinions, and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.

Hamlet
V.ii.187-195


I was incarcerated within the voluntary prison of corporate America for sixteen years, a computer programmer with a B.A. In English, although I did have a minor in Computer Science. Not surprisingly, many a programmer where I was employed had a college degree, but few were in Computer Science. I have, however, learned through many experiences that a college degree does not necessarily connote erudition nor does it always distinguish one intellectually from others who may have no degree at all. I am acquainted with too many who daily demonstrate their lack of mental acuity even though they somehow hoodwinked their way towards a piece of sheepskin bearing an impressive collegiate insignia that would have been better used wiping canine excrement from the bottom of their shoes. Grant it, I’m not all that bright myself (even though my father calls me son); I have no answers to questions that will ultimately guide me to my most worthy post-terrestrial destination.

I do dabble a bit in poetry, but I realize that I’ve too far to go before I can even consider myself a great poet, but it is great fun and mentally therapeutic. Be that as it may, I have met some people who regard themselves word-smithies on the same literary level as Shakespeare yet who haven’t graduated from what I call pubescent poetry–the kind of rhyming poesy that wreaks of teenaged angst, self-pity, self-love, and banal couplets. At the time of the occasion of which I’m now to disclose, I had been writing sonnets in an effort to better learn the craft and so that I’d have a set of guidelines to keep me from writing ad nauseam, which I still tend to do. Anyway, I hung one of my sonnets on my bulletin board at work, a rough draft of a poem on which I was working. One of my fellow employees read it and said with the sincerity of a kindergartner’s descanting about the Easter Bunny’s altruism, “That’s pretty good, but your first line is too long.”

As a computer programmer I met more sycophants to Capitalism than I can count. (Keep in mind that my maximum number in countin’ is ten unless I am barefooted; I can then count to nineteen ‘cause one o’ my toes is missin’.) Sadly, the luxury-driven corporate-embracing zombies I witnessed are more than likely continuing to dream of a ludicrously fabulous retirement to the exclusion of living their current lives to the fullest, but they’re not the only ilk of corporate citizen. I am also familiar with the hygiene-impaired computer geek who dreams of marrying a supermodel after dazzling her with his binary prowess; the late thirty-year-old ex-high school athlete who refuses to acquiesce to the insidious pains that accompany decades of life; the once paragon of plastic distaff perfection—-a blonde-coiffed, green-eyed seductress with an infuriating lack of wit and vestigial traces of what had once been a drop-dead-gorgeous body but who has failed to notice or even acknowledge her transmogrification into a deliquescent puffy carbon-based water balloon; the fifty-year-old player who still chases, and occasionally catches, recreational pubescent coitus; egocentric dilettantes; lascivious divorcees; autumn-winter romances; winter-spring romances; and sophistic pedagogy. (All this coming from me, a writer of bombastic superfluity.)

There was a young woman employee where I worked who adored thinking that she had the answer to everything. Her name will remain unknown because I just don’t want to have to deal with either mitigation or an upset human being who, other than being daft, is hardly threatening. Anyway, she was born in the self-proclaimed academic citadel of Pennsylvania then raised in the fantasy driven utopia of Texas. Through her superior education (that was spearheaded in her youth by transcendent geographic indigenity, the myopic fantasy that one who was reared north of Mason and Dixon’s line understands everything congenitally more effectively than we who were reared in Southern climes, even though she cannot explain why or how this phenomena exists), she has come to believe that the South is filled with unacceptable atavistic barbarism not only surviving but proliferating because of its general lack of respect or knowledge of Aristocratic European Civilization that she and others of her ilk, somehow, innately understand. She, of course, has since moved from Georgia and the asphyxiating effluvium of illiteracy spawned by its intrinsic deleterious geographic condition.

I have no qualms with claiming a heritage from the South. My paternal grandparents were Hoosiers, whatever that is, but my maternal grandparents came from South Carolina and my mother’s maternal grandparents were Cherokee Indians. This is the tradition that I firmly grasp. Both my parents graduated from Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia and I would’ve been born in Columbus if my father had not joined the Air Force and married my mom right after they graduated. Of course, this was during the Vietnam conflict (call it what you will) and chances are that my father would’ve have been drafted into the Army had he not joined the Air Force, so Fate had her alabaster hand controlling the Wheel of Fortune by which it was foreordained that I be born in Wurtzburg, Germany. I have nothing against the foreign country, but I can’t recall a single event involving my birth, and it’s by my parents’ word, and a tattered birth certificate, that I must accept that I was even there. All my memories of life seem to begin around 1972, when I was eight, two years after my father was discharged from the military and my family moved back to Columbus, the land with which I share a special affinity-—as if I’m a mere gossamer on the web that is the South, gaining strength from it as well as making it stronger. I am a Southern boy.

One day in late November, the aforementioned dilettante came to me in a rush and asked me, rather anxiously, if I was from the South. I, of course, replied with an affirmative.

“Do you know what a toboggan is?” she asked.

I replied, rather eloquently, “It’s a long flat sled without runners that seats about four or five people with a front that curves up like elves’ shoes.”

She looked at me as if I had somehow grasped the secrets of quantum mechanics and with lugubrious relief almost cried, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” It seemed as if she wanted to pat my head and give me a dog biscuit. “Everyone else I’ve talked to who is from the South seems to think it’s some kind of a hat!”

It didn’t bother me in the least that she might’ve errantly thought for an instant that I was more astute than Sherlock Holmes, but the respect she feigned toward my perspicacity was but a fulgurous lapse into a more liberal and sympathetic understanding of the human condition with which she was totally uncomfortable. A nanosecond later she, once again, considered me a mal-educated product of Georgia’s Educational System that encourages teenagers to have babies out of wedlock, spit like Roberto Alamar, support the KKK and televangelists with equanimity, idolize Confederate poetry of specious spinsters elucidating unregenerate even destructive memories of the Southern antebellum paradise that never existed, obfuscate justice, suppress and oppress non-compliance, drink beer and belch loudly as we ask our barefoot and pregnant wives to retrieve another long neck bottle of Lethean amber intoxicative liquid while we smoke marijuana stogies and profane the government.

What I didn’t tell her was that not two weeks before she had asked me the all-important toboggan-defining question, I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was a denizen of our fair state but was originally from Michigan. She told me of her plans to return to her home state for the upcoming holidays and take her nephew on a toboggan ride. I was confused at the time because I was silently wondering what all this had to do with a knitted hat, so I asked her what a toboggan was; her eyes sparkled as she described the sled and how much fun she envisioned, her face an enchantingly brilliant expression of pure joy with pleasant remembrances from her past. I, of course, missed all the connotations involved with her exciting story because I have never felt of wind stinging my face as I plummet at seemingly unbearable speeds past blurred trees on a flat sled without runners until I finally stop in complete and exhilarating exhaustion at the bottom of a laughing hill of ice.

Another cohort of mine (who is also from north of the Mason-Dixon line but who, although really intelligent, lacks the critical eagerness to overstate the obvious or to become too amorous with superfluous minutia) later said that toboggan is what people from New York do when they want to haggle over a price.

Winters in west-central Georgia are rarely harsh. That’s why every city in the state, including Atlanta, shuts down at the first sign of snow; it isn’t economically feasible to spend a lot of money preparing for something that rarely occurs and that even when it does, it only produces limited financial damage, too insignificant to justify acquisition of expensive snow-managing equipment. The snow doesn’t stay on the ground more than three days before the temperatures climb back into the 70s… at least until the next ice age. I, obviously, will never ride a toboggan, but I hope that I don’t react so incredulously when a group of people are ignorant about a fact that couldn’t possibly be any less interesting to them—not something that is uninteresting, mind you, but something for which they, under no circumstances, could care less.

Peace Through Music

toboggan – “long, flat-bottomed sled,” 1829, from Canadian Fr. tabagane, from Algonquian (probably Micmac) tobakun “a sled.” The verb is recorded from 1846. As American-English colloquial for a type of long woolen cap, it is recorded from 1929 (earlier toboggan cap, 1928), presumably because one wore such a cap while tobogganing.

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