Saturday, July 23, 2011

White Knight

A Parable for Our Time

He was a peculiar little boy, an odd little boy. What made him peculiar... odd... was that he was so ordinary. Perhaps a bit taller than average, perhaps a bit thinner than 'normal'. He did not intuitively know how to play the piano, he had no linguistic skills and there was no way he was going to be hitting any balls out of any parks.

In a crowd, he would simply fade into the background.

His friends would prefer to watch paint dry rather than spend a lot of time with him. He was well on his way to downtown Dull.
But by happenstance, he noticed one good feature, one limited positive attribute. He was pretty good at remembering stuff. No, not a photographic memory (actually it's called eidetic memory) but wouldn't that be cool? Imagine a genealogist with an eidetic memory! Whoooaaaa! The connections would be fast and furious! No, the boy's memory was only slightly better than average. But since he had no creativity or raw intelligence, he determined to parlay this tiny advantage to the best of his 'ability'. So he memorized things in school and by dumb luck stumbled into the one occupation where he could really exploit his memory.He was too dull (see above) to take up card counting in gambling games so the only thing left was computer science. His memory and the use of that memory to recognize patterns made the boy a prime candidate for geekdom. His accidental entry into this field is probably the only thing that kept him from the poorhouse (do they still have poorhouses??) and a steady diet of cat food.

It's possible he couldn't have even afforded Fancy Feast. It's more likely the generic store versions would have been on his menu.

So his memory carried the boy into sort-of-manhood on its shoulders, dragging him part of the way when it needed to. It saw him through computer programming and analysis and even a primitive kind of management where he could remember who did what well and then told them to do that.
But time passes. Arteries harden. Synapses poop out. It's a thing.

His neurotransmitters began to stay at lunch longer and longer. Sometimes his post-synaptic density became... how-you-say... a bit too dense.

The boy's memory wasn't what it was. His one positive attribute was going the way of all flesh.

The boy thought, "Crap!"

But then
an event occurred which altered his perception. He was doing some genealogy work digging into his days as a student at William Jennings Bryan Elementary School. One of his favorite memories was about his first grade teacher, Mrs. White. She was his first teacher and it was such a positive experience that his whole view of school may have been properly set by this woman. The boy had remembered her through all these years and years and she had actually come to his mind occasionally and he would wonder how she was and what she was doing.But he didn't know who Mrs. White really was. What did she look like? He recalls that she was impossibly old, but since he was six years old, what did that mean?

The only thing he recalled for certain was that she had white hair, but that hardly narrowed down the pantheon of possibilities.

So the boy went
back to do what research he could. Here's his photo from the first grade. He also found his first grade report card to look for clues. Would you like to know what he discovered?

The idiot had her name wrong. The smartypants who presumptuously believed that his memory was good and was only now beginning to fail due to physiological issues beyond his control had mis-remembered a crucial fact for decades!

Her name was not Mrs. White, it was Mrs. Marjorie S. Knight. So, the boy realized in a flash of clarity that he had never had a memory worth a damn, it had always been bad. In a bizarre way, this was comforting. He wasn't losing his memory, he never had any!

With his soul refreshed, the boy turned to his crack genealogy toolkit to research Mrs. KNIGHT. He discovered she was born August 28, 1910 possibly in Texas where her social security number was issued. She had married James Weldon Knight in the early forties and had a son Jimmy in 1945. James Weldon was born in 1907 and had lived in Amarillo solidifying the Texas connection. They divorced in 1954 so it is possible that she was going through this rough period while the boy was her student in the 1953-54 school year. He then used all the math skills at his disposal to cypher that when she was teaching him, Mrs. Knight was 43 years old. He had been right! She was impossibly old!

During that period, she had lived only a few blocks from the school. Here's an aerial photo of North Miami from 1952. If you click on it, you can make it larger.
In 1984, she moved to Ft. Lauderdale and died there March 20, 1991, twenty years ago. This was also oddly non-stressful to the boy, since he had not just missed her by a week which would have been really annoying.
This is the apartment where she lived and this is the door she went through nearly every day of her life in North Miami. The boy still doesn't have a photo of Mrs. Knight, but that's only a matter of time.

Somewhere little Jimmy Knight who is now 66 years old carries a part of Mrs. Knight with him. Let's hope he is carrying on her tradition.
By now, some of the more clever readers out there have divined that this boy we've been discussing is actually ME! How about that! Quite a little twist at the end, huh?

So, what's the parable I referred to at the opening? You can't lose what you never had, so shut up and enjoy yourself. You can take that to the bank.

Update 06/19/2013: I told you the boy would get a photo of Mrs. Knight eventually and so he has. 

Thanks to the collaboration of the wonderful people on the William Jennings Bryan Facebook page, we now have this image of Mrs. Knight from June 1952.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh, the Embarrassment

Sometimes I embarrass my family. Oh, I know,
you're SO shocked and surprised. It's not like I have Tourette's or anything, although that's probably coming right up on my ongoing list of mental deteriorations. I'm not certain that what I have is a genetic anomaly or a hobby that's a trifle out of control.

When we go out to a museum or an antique store or a public building... OK, ANYWHERE, I am driven to try the knob on any closed door. I've never even heard of anyone else having this peculiar aberration, so I am going on record now by claiming it and naming it Kleylein Syndrome. I consider this failing to be a full-blown disability worthy of consideration (and perhaps compensation) under both ADA and ADAAA.
The ADA has done fabulously positive things, and is a tribute to fairness and rational thought. You may know that the ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADAAA is (I'm not kidding) the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008. One more Act and we'll have a three act Act. Boiled down, when my syndrome is proven to fall under such auspices, these acts would protect me from discrimination because I'm a dork.

Other dorks are already protected by this same law and some have even achieved some modest notoriety.

Of course, I've gotten into trouble more than once opening doors to people's offices and there is one especially tragic event when I was touring the US Capitol Building. I should probably try to forget that one. I think my record has been expunged. I think.

As far as I
can tell, I've always had this problem, it didn't just START one day. All children have curiosity, mine just got... let's say... 'a little out of hand'. (It's tough finding an appropriate doorknob joke!)

My earliest recollection of actually getting into trouble because of Kleylein Syndrome was fourth grade. That makes me what? Nine or ten years old? Geez.

I was attending beautiful and historic William Jennings Bryan Elementary School in North Miami, Florida and we were playing on the school grounds. We had to play on the school grounds because there weren't any parks or anything less dangerous than the open streets or perhaps the railroad tracks. Don't laugh, my brother and I played on the tracks all the time, getting our pennies flattened by huge Florida East Coast locomotives. And we both made it to sort-of adulthood. Go figure.

Bryan is historic because the building opened in 1928, which for Miami is an amazingly old building! In Miami, anything with a few years on it is quickly torn down if a hurricane doesn't do it first. Well, I guess that keeps everything fresh. Actually, the current building is the second school on that very site since the first one (the third Arch Creek School), built in 1918, burned down to the ground in 1927. Look how stately and colorful Bryan looks today.
Notice the gates on the front entrance here? Hmm? Well, in 1957 there were gates on every entrance just as there are now. Every entrance... except one. For some reason, lost in the mist of history, the architect (if there was one) decided to stick an extra room out the side of the otherwise geometrically perfect square. A single room with a portico and... a door. A regular old, run-of-the-mill gate-less door.
The poorly-taken photo below shows the northeast corner of the main building with the doorway (now sealed) plainly visible under the portico. Click on the image for an even closer look. Back in the day, there was a door there. A door with a doorknob.
And the doorknob called to me, as doorknobs do to people with my devastating and debilitating illness. The doorknob had been broken for years, it just spun round and round on it's little doorknob axis. Everyone knew that the doorknob was broken so they left it alone. But they didn't know that, while busted, it was also (wait for it) unlocked!

So, with the sparkling magical glow that surrounded me whenever I got near to a closed door, I tried it and it opened right up for me. One step and I was in the school! Nine or ten years old and totally unsupervised! Not an adult in the whole place!! WOW!

Or so I thought.

As I stepped out of the classroom into the hallway, I came face to belly with the head custodian who happened to live directly across the street on NE 13th Avenue. Remember when we used the term 'custodian'? That's a pretty classy word, they had 'custody' of the building. Later in life I was the custodian of the data center I ran. Same thing.

I wish I could remember his name, but Mr. _______ was mostly interested in how the %@&$ I had gotten in. So, I told him and he said, "Show me!"

Do you think I could make that knob open again? Ohhh, noooooo! When Monday morning arrived, there was a new doorknob and the court-martial hearing was fairly brief. Thank goodness my teacher, Mrs. Mugovero, spoke on my behalf so the lashings were kept to a minimum. Nowadays, no jury in the world would convict me because I am damaged goods afflicted as I am with the horror and embarrassment of Kleylein Syndrome.

I'm amazed that my family puts up with me.

Update 06/19/2013: It took a while, but my friends on the William Jennings Bryan Facebook page have come through (as they always do) with the name of Bryan's custodian. He was Leonard Murgatroyd and at the time of the incident above, he was just 46 years old. Mr. Murgatroyd had given up his career in taxidermy to be the custodian at Bryan. And we were the better for it.