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Clean Sweep

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Gilbert Ford

Spring has sprung, blossoms are blooming, and sinuses are running. It's time for my half-decade spring cleaning. Not of the house. It can go longer. I mean of my computer. Time to sweep out useless files — letters of recommendation for people who've vanished, manuscripts that are now in print, and notes reminding me of things I've forgotten. Part of this purge are Guido columns that I started and lacked the imagination or bad taste to finish. I'll put some of them forward for the taking, like unwanted books outside a faculty office door, ugly ducklings up for adoption. Here are columns that could have been, and probably shouldn't:

The first example was suggested by my wife and is one I still like. The problem is that I couldn't even finish the first paragraph:
    Have you noticed how almost everything comes with an instructional VHS cassette or DVD? We have ones for such things as a cell phone, bread machine, juicer, sewing machine, woodworking tool, and automobile. There are even hospitals that send babies home with instructional videos. But these guides don't ever come when they might actually be useful. We never, for example, got one to explain why we take awful pictures with a "fool-proof" camera, or ...

The next ur-column dealt with a pet peeve. It met a resounding lack of critical approval, not that I ever had a chance to finish making my case for it:
    There are places where no one ever gets to finish a sentence, and they aren't all in the greater New York City area. My time in one such land of perpetual interruption led me to create a game that consists of imagining how much poorer our cultural heritage would be if someone had interrupted famous speeches. For example:

Moses, with an early attorney in the audience:
"...thy neighbor's wife —"
"Could we get some clarification on this 'covet' thing?"

Julius Caesar telling his mother about his exploits:
"I came. I saw. I —"
"You. You. You. It's always about you. It's easy if you've got Roman legions in front of you. Talk about difficult? Try giving birth. They named a procedure after you."

Barbara Fritchie, facing Stonewall Jackson's soldiers:
"Shoot, if you must, this old, gray head, but —"
"M'am, we just want to use your privy."

That one died of editorial good judgment. Then there was an episode that sent the final days of my career flashing before me, but not in ways that I could figure out how to embody in an essay:
    I've been outsourced.
    Well, a small part of what I do was outsourced, but it's an omen. A few weeks ago a package arrived from India, containing page proofs of an article I wrote, ready for my final approval. Such packages used to come from New York City, Chicago, and once from Rugby, Tennessee. When I told a faculty colleague about this, I concluded by saying, "At least we can't be outsourced." He responded with two chilling words: "Distance learning."
    That's when I decided to outsource myself....

Some columns never made it past the opening sentence or two. Both examples are based on real incidents:
    You know it's going to be a tough day when you take your dog for her morning walk and realize that the thing she chased up a tree is a venom-spitting cobra....

Some things are much more endearing in a human being than in a cat. Take, for instance, thinking outside the box....

This one went nowhere and is an appropriate ending for my editorial spring cleaning:
    Sometimes it is best to let a sleeping column lie.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

Return to June 2004 Table of Contents

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