I had never contemplated the concept of counting. Until this last week.
It seemed the only televised event in the USA was media updates from volunteers counting the presidential election votes. Watching Nevada add 53 votes? Better than sex.
Since my earliest days of counting, plunked down in front of my television babysitter, I watched Sesame Street. Aside from socialization, why did we ever go to school?
In the early years, those shabby looking Muppets looked like hands covered in the scree you would drag out of some hippie drug dealer’s shag carpet. Complete with glued-on eyes and arms taped to a stick.
And still we loved them!
We learned we are okay just the way we are. And that everyone is different, giving us reason to celebrate. Feelings are complicated and a little scary. And learning is frickin’ fun.
All before they threw us into “society.” The education system. Playground Culture. Then we learned the truth.
- You are not okay. You are fat or poor or ugly or dumb. Kids are such dickheads. Always pulling at the string tethered to a ball of yarn that is your self-confidence.
- Differences need to be concealed if you don’t want to be teased relentlessly. Unless your skin color is different, then god help you. Judgment rules the playground.
- Feelings make you weak. Life is competition and dominance. Crying is for babies (or when listening to Bette Midler’s “The Rose” – sorry not sorry).
- Learning is fun only in secret circles of trusted nerds and chess club. Outwardly, we don’t need no education. Popularity trumps intelligence.
But in the sacrosanct space of my living room, watching Sesame Street in the early 1970s, I was still me. Nurtured with good, wholesome, liberal, maudlin idealism.
Reality could wait.
One of my favorite Muppets was the Count.
Truth be told, I was a bit of a child prodigy. Learning came easily, and I had a voracious appetite. I was also raised Catholic, so the Count, an unapologetic vampire, initially scared me. He was evil. BAD. Big time.
But the repetition of Sesame Street’s life lessons on tolerance finally sunk in, overruling orthodoxy and church doctrine. I could accept mastering math from an evil, blood-sucking demon because… we’re all okay.
That toothy S.O.B. had everything. Bats. Lightning. Creepy Castle. Insane laughter. And music! The combination created an indelible mark on my brain. Numbers were awesome. Counting was ecstasy.
And my rapacious parietal lobes lit up.
I took seven years of Latin classes in school. My vocabulary was always more… good… than most, but Latin unlocked something in my gray matter when contending with English. A neural pathway that solved the challenge in understanding the root of big words. And a passion to figure them out.
As a four-year-old mathlete, the Count’s impact on me was similar. After enough singing, repetition, and blasphemy, numbers made sense. More than that. Counting made sense. Math made sense. And the accompanying ardor to excel at it consumed me.
Remember your first bump of cocaine? Like that, but as a kid after a tall glass of Tang.
The only entertainment more impactful from my childhood was Schoolhouse Rock. If you cannot sing the preamble to the US Constitution, your parents spent way too much time with you.
If you could not sing the Ready or Not, Here I Come song, part of Multiplication Rock, your parents failed you. Counting by fives led to understanding simple multiplication. Which opened the universe to algebra, then trigonometry, then calculus, then differential equations.
Yeah. My neural pathways shutdown at calculus. Took Advanced Placement Calc in high school. The AP exam scored you 1 through 5. You received a 1 if you put your name on the test. I got a 1.
Back to the basics.
The gerund (a verb acting as a noun – sorry, non-Latin lovers!) “counting” implies more than merely math. Let’s ensure we define it thoroughly to set the table for the rest of this discussion.
- To Add – e.g. “I’m counting my mother-in-law’s number of husbands.” Currently seeking number five. Hey, we all need a little sexy time, and Covid has been lonely. Cut her some slack as she trolls the bingo halls for a fellow octogenarian.
- To Rely – e.g. “I’m counting on you to lower the toilet seat.” Pain is an effective teacher. Living in a houseful of women has taught me not only to lower the seat but also to leave it down. I sit when I pee now. My grandmother said men who wear bow ties sit when they pee. Sigh.
- To Include – e.g. “Thanks for counting me in on your shenanigans.” Who remembers shenanigans? Whacky capers and hijinks we would pull as kids to exert control over our worlds. A personal fave was stuffing kittens into a piñata and laughing when Fat Timmy wailed on it, expecting candy to spill out. Oh, the fun!
- To Matter – e.g. “My vote counting in the 2020 election is very important.” We want our actions to mean something, don’t we? I mean, imagine how impossibly surreal it would feel if someone powerful leveled false claims, lies, and conspiracy theories about our elections being rigged and stolen from them with no evidence whatsoever? Crazy.
As I write this article, I heard CNN announce moments ago that Joe Biden is the new President Elect of the United States. I guess counting votes really matters!
Thanks, Wolf Blitzer. You saved me an entire section of this essay counting words on why counting votes matters. Moving on to other idiomatic things we are counting to ensure we have beaten this horse deader than a doornail.
Counting Your Blessings
Fyodor Dostoyevsky once told us…
“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.”
I know every night when I finish writing in my bedazzled Gratitude Journal, I think of Fyodor and his audacity to hint at expressions of dark humor or even joy in Russian literature.
While on topic, why did Vladimir Nabokov hate him so much? He once referred to Dostoyevsky’s magnum opus Crime and Punishment with a “who cares?” Of course, Nabokov hated jazz and William Faulkner, too.
That said, what kind of despicable imbecile hates William Faulkner?
I take it personally. Faulkner is one of my literary heroes. A writing deity. The Sound and the Fury? Light in August? As I Lay Dying? Jesus wept, what was wrong with Nabokov?
I know a certain pretentious, pedophilic Russian immigrant who should count his blessings that his scandalous masterwork Lolita didn’t land him back in a Soviet gulag praying for a pedophile to kill him.
Sting and The Police should have never made him so famous in their 1980 hit Don’t Stand So Close to Me.
Counting Your Chickens Before They Hatch
I had a funny cautionary tale outlined for Joe Biden in this section. You’re a bright lot. I’m sure you’d get the metaphor. Too late. His chickens hatched today.
Let’s try something more personal…
My grandpa was a great guy. And a character.
He developed late onset Type II diabetes, probably in part due to his Depression Era penchant for eating anything at his disposal in case some unseen economic downturn created scarcity of food again.
His breakfasts were renowned. Poached eggs, waffles, home fries – slathered in margarine, butter, syrup, lard, or any lube-like substance made from pure trans fats.
His practical jokes were epic, too.
As a bartender, he once smeared chocolate pie on his shoe and pretended he stepped in dog crap just to elicit a laugh when he ate it. What he did to Ass Ache McGee? Legendary.
So, what he did at breakfast one Sleepover Saturday, after a hard night of Friday Bingo at St. Daniel’s Church, may be no surprise.
He loved to tell us the yolk in eggs was liquefied baby chicken that never hatched. Anything to get you to say, EWWW. This Saturday in question, he ratcheted things up another level.
Before poaching the eggs, he added fresh fingernail clippings into one of the poaching cups. Ensuring he served me the offending egg, grandpa grinned at me wide-eyed as I chewed upon the breakfast feast.
When I crunched down on the altered ovum, and spit the brittle bit onto my plate, he burst out laughing from his toes. “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” he said. Grandpa had zero inhibitions with cursing around kids. “The little bastard melted trying to form a beak.”
I ran away from the table in horror and nausea. My tears flowed in time to the rhythm of his cruel cachinnation.
Sancho tells the eponymous Don Quixote…
“Let your worship keep count of the goats the fisherman is taking across, for if one escapes the memory there will be an end of the story, and it will be impossible to tell another word of it.”
Counting goats (or sheep) may have first appeared in 1605 with Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Although scholars believe the myth of counting sheep to fall asleep pre-dates this literary work by many centuries. Super.
First, the concept of counting sheep is gross. They are filthy creatures, incapable of properly cleaning themselves without assistance.
So, as I’m mindlessly counting those bleating sheep leaping over a white picket fence, I will mainly perseverate on the smears of fecal matter caked in their ass wool. Like Seinfeld with the soft talker. Fixated.
Second, I will then imagine the poop smell of animal farms. Not Orwell’s delicious dystopian denizens. Oh, heck no. Something far more real… and nasty. The stink will infest every molecule of my existence. Always in my nose. Impossible to wash away.
As I’m snuggled down in my warm, freshly washed linens, the relaxing scent of dryer sheets filling my mind with lilac and lavender, I hear the nasty honk of some unfortunate mutton snagged on the fence, defecating in terror. The smell is overwhelming. I cover my head, wishing I would die.
Third, this image leads to insomnia worse than if I hadn’t counted the grimy jumbucks in the first place. That massive disruption in my relaxation fuels delusional, eye-vibrating hate which, in turn, nourishes my compulsion to write decent, albeit dark, poetry.
(which I regularly update here for those interested in poetry, he said with a shameless art plug)
There is a myriad of things in our lives requiring counting. Too many topics for a 2,000-word blog. And after such a hysterically verbose opener, I shall now conclude.
Perchance a few more brief examples?
- Counting cards – pack your favorite Rain Man and head to Vegas, baby. The casinos are desperate for business during Covid. Mask up, count those cards, and win big.
- Counting on one hand – unless you lost your hand in an ironically tragic wood-chipping incident while disposing of a dead body on a cold winter night in North Dakota. Or if you have “grandma’s nubs”. A story for another day.
- Counting down the moments – until we meet again? Barf. Cliché, anyone? Even greeting card writers want to stick an ice pick in their temples when they hear this tripe.
Most importantly, dear invisible Internet friends, keep counting on me to provide you with thought-filled laughter every Sunday. Perhaps with a side dose of cringe on occasion. You can handle it.
As many of you know, I’m reinventing the humor genre. More specifically, I have carved out by own new subgenre: Literary Comedic Nihilism.
With LCN, you learn a little, laugh a lot, and then forget about it all… because it never really mattered anyway. What could be better?
PS – In case you didn’t notice, I never used the word fuck once in this post. Some of you have complained that I say fuck too excessively and that I should say fuck less. To quote one reader, “Why the fuck do you debase your art with such vulgar language as fuck?” So, there we have it. No fucks issued nor a single fuck given. Dear fans, you are most fucking welcome. Hugs.
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