E S S A Y
By "Guido Veloce"
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
The first example was suggested by my wife and is one I
still like. The problem is that I couldn't even finish the
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
Moses, with an early attorney in the audience:
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:
"...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."
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
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
Some things are much more endearing in a human being
than in a cat. Take, for instance, thinking outside the
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
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