# On the blank tile

There is a very well-known board game in which contestants put words on a grid that interlock, and they score points and play against one another. Each player has seven tiles, each with a little black letter on it, except for a couple of blank tiles that can be used by players as any letter at all–wild cards, so to speak. The playing board is a colorful grid marked with special squares such as “double letter” or “triple word” and players win by using both the grid and their letters to the greatest advantage, which is all very straight-forward, but just like chess, knowing the rules and developing a strategy are two different things. The blank tiles, which show up sporadically, are a strategic mystery in almost every sense. What point value, for example, constitutes using a blank? Thirty, forty, fifty? Or do you only use it for a seven letter bingo which brings in an extra forty or fifty points? The blank tile is a kind of promise for things to come, a bonanza of points yet to be achieved, an investment in the future. Yet, the blank tile is also a mystery because it doesn’t have a value at all–no points are associated with playing the blank. Even a lowly “a” will get you one point any day of the week, but the blank must derive its value from the other tiles being played. The blank tile brings no value of its own, so while it might be a “z” in “zeta”, that particular “zeta” won’t be worth more than 3 or 4 points. So the blank tile continues to be blank in many ways, unwilling to give up its chameleonic identity, blending with the other tiles as players plot their next moves.

# On the blank tile

There is a very well-known board game in which contestants put words on a grid that interlock, and they score points and play against one another. Each player has seven tiles, each with a little black letter on it, except for a couple of blank tiles that can be used by players as any letter at all–wild cards, so to speak. The playing board is a colorful grid marked with special squares such as “double letter” or “triple word” and players win by using both the grid and their letters to the greatest advantage, which is all very straight-forward, but just like chess, knowing the rules and developing a strategy are two different things. The blank tiles, which show up sporadically, are a strategic mystery in almost every sense. What point value, for example, constitutes using a blank? Thirty, forty, fifty? Or do you only use it for a seven letter bingo which brings in an extra forty or fifty points? The blank tile is a kind of promise for things to come, a bonanza of points yet to be achieved, an investment in the future. Yet, the blank tile is also a mystery because it doesn’t have a value at all–no points are associated with playing the blank. Even a lowly “a” will get you one point any day of the week, but the blank must derive its value from the other tiles being played. The blank tile brings no value of its own, so while it might be a “z” in “zeta”, that particular “zeta” won’t be worth more than 3 or 4 points. So the blank tile continues to be blank in many ways, unwilling to give up its chameleonic identity, blending with the other tiles as players plot their next moves.

# On putting something away in a safe place (and losing it forever)

Have you ever put something away in a safe place and lost it forever? I have lost track of the number of times this has happened to me. Now, I never put things away at all and use a top down stacking method of keeping track of stuff–I just pile it up in plain sight. Otherwise I am in danger of losing it forever. If I put something away in a safe place, I am dead certain it will be lost for at least six months, if not a year. I have lost things that I put in a safe place for good. They just disappeared and I never saw them again. I’ve lost letters, photos, bills, receipts, money, tie tacks, books, magazines, recipes, checks, keys, phones, passwords, pins, hats, socks, and a watch–in other words, just about anything that you can put away, I’ve lost it because I put it away. I one time lost a jacket that was later found hanging in a closet on a hanger–who does that, I ask? I have lost a pair of shoes for weeks only to find them sitting quietly in a front closet where I put them. I once put a set of keys in a safe place, and I’m still looking for those. I’ve lost the light bill because I put it in a safe place with the property tax bill–last I ever saw of either one. Put a library book in a safe place once, never saw it again, either–had to buy the library a new copy. I have lost thousands of pens and pencils because I put them away instead of leaving them out on the counter where they might be useful. I always left the floppy disks with my dissertation just laying about anywhere because I was afraid of losing them–never lost them. I am dead sure that the “safe place” is a mystical, imaginary place where inanimate objects go to escape reality, never to be seen or heard from again. I am also sure that the imaginary “safe place” is also fraught with danger and mystery, sucking unsuspecting objects into a mysterious vortex or fifth dimension outside of our normal time/space, vanishing them once and for all times.

# On putting something away in a safe place (and losing it forever)

Have you ever put something away in a safe place and lost it forever? I have lost track of the number of times this has happened to me. Now, I never put things away at all and use a top down stacking method of keeping track of stuff–I just pile it up in plain sight. Otherwise I am in danger of losing it forever. If I put something away in a safe place, I am dead certain it will be lost for at least six months, if not a year. I have lost things that I put in a safe place for good. They just disappeared and I never saw them again. I’ve lost letters, photos, bills, receipts, money, tie tacks, books, magazines, recipes, checks, keys, phones, passwords, pins, hats, socks, and a watch–in other words, just about anything that you can put away, I’ve lost it because I put it away. I one time lost a jacket that was later found hanging in a closet on a hanger–who does that, I ask? I have lost a pair of shoes for weeks only to find them sitting quietly in a front closet where I put them. I once put a set of keys in a safe place, and I’m still looking for those. I’ve lost the light bill because I put it in a safe place with the property tax bill–last I ever saw of either one. Put a library book in a safe place once, never saw it again, either–had to buy the library a new copy. I have lost thousands of pens and pencils because I put them away instead of leaving them out on the counter where they might be useful. I always left the floppy disks with my dissertation just laying about anywhere because I was afraid of losing them–never lost them. I am dead sure that the “safe place” is a mystical, imaginary place where inanimate objects go to escape reality, never to be seen or heard from again. I am also sure that the imaginary “safe place” is also fraught with danger and mystery, sucking unsuspecting objects into a mysterious vortex or fifth dimension outside of our normal time/space, vanishing them once and for all times.

# On karaoke

I was just at a place on Thursday night that featured karaoke. Like many forms of entertainment, this past-time is not for everyone, but most people think they can sing. Far be it for me to tell them otherwise, but the strange sounds emanating from the stage caused my beverage to go up my nose at one point. I am not a champion karaoke singer–let’s just get that out on the table, but to sing a popular pop tune just like the original pop star did is nye on impossible and very near hilarious depending on how weird either the song or its singer were in real life. One woman really knocked a Stevie Nicks cover out of the park, but the next guy’s rendition of who-knows-what sent foamy suds up my sinuses. But is that the fun of karaoke in all its kitschy phantasmagoria where popular culture mixes black velvet paintings of dogs playing poker with a live microphone, a drunk audience, and dark desires of fame and failure? You never were Engelbert Humperdinck, but you want to sing one of his crooner masterpieces just like he did? You never met Lynn Anderson, but you want to sing about unpromised rose gardens? It is amazing, however, how brave a person can get after a few beers. They pick up that microphone and stand up in front of their drunk friends and start to sing their own weird cover of “Knock Three Times.” I admire their courage, and although I have sung karaoke a couple of times, I’m not convinced that that little world of pop culture turned odd is for me. My karaoke will have to stay confined to the shower, and even then I know when to stop singing and let Johnny Cash do his thing.

# On karaoke

I was just at a place on Thursday night that featured karaoke. Like many forms of entertainment, this past-time is not for everyone, but most people think they can sing. Far be it for me to tell them otherwise, but the strange sounds emanating from the stage caused my beverage to go up my nose at one point. I am not a champion karaoke singer–let’s just get that out on the table, but to sing a popular pop tune just like the original pop star did is nye on impossible and very near hilarious depending on how weird either the song or its singer were in real life. One woman really knocked a Stevie Nicks cover out of the park, but the next guy’s rendition of who-knows-what sent foamy suds up my sinuses. But is that the fun of karaoke in all its kitschy phantasmagoria where popular culture mixes black velvet paintings of dogs playing poker with a live microphone, a drunk audience, and dark desires of fame and failure? You never were Engelbert Humperdinck, but you want to sing one of his crooner masterpieces just like he did? You never met Lynn Anderson, but you want to sing about unpromised rose gardens? It is amazing, however, how brave a person can get after a few beers. They pick up that microphone and stand up in front of their drunk friends and start to sing their own weird cover of “Knock Three Times.” I admire their courage, and although I have sung karaoke a couple of times, I’m not convinced that that little world of pop culture turned odd is for me. My karaoke will have to stay confined to the shower, and even then I know when to stop singing and let Johnny Cash do his thing.