Solitary Characters

Korin-Underground Man

It is not only true that humility is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride. It is also true that vanity is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride. Vanity is social—it is almost a kind of comradeship; pride is solitary and uncivilized. Vanity is active; it desires the applause of infinite multitudes; pride is passive, desiring the applause of only one person, which it has. Vanity is humorous, and can enjoy the joke even of itself; pride is dull and cannot even smile.

G. K. Chesterton ~ Heretics

I equate the novels of Ayn Rand with the word “solitary.” The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged both have as their central character a solitary man, a rugged individualist, who stands alone against the tide of popular opinion.

(Note to self: Are all individualists necessarily rugged? Could other adjectives also apply? John Galt, fluffy individualist. Howard Roark, simpering individualist. Not quite the same magic. No, I think that if a character insists on being an individualist, he (rarely she), must be rugged.)

Solitary characters populate the landscape of Rand’s novels—they are her heroes and heroine’s. One knows they are because (1) only the bad guys travel in packs and (2) the heroes couldn’t tell a joke if their lives depended on it.

(Note to self: Remember that scene where John Galt is tortured by electrical currents? His tormentors want to know where his secret hideout is located. Wouldn’t it be funny if they were trying to force a joke out of him? They would have a better chance of getting him to disclose the hole-in-the-wall gang.)

“What is the joke about a skunk, a mole, and a rabbit who all walk into a bar? Say it, or you’ll get another jolt. Say it! Say it!”

Stubborn—make that rugged—silence.

“Alright, boys, give him another!”

“Wait! The coordinates are 39.1911 degrees north by 106.8175 west. Now may I be excused please?”

Actually, I am not quite correct in stating that Randy characters cannot tell a joke. Sometimes they are the joke. In one scene, Dagny Taggart and Henry Reardon are sitting in a restaurant having a decidedly unsolitary dinner. Their conversation includes comments on how self-conscious all the other diners are. If these two rugged (and apparently hungry) individuals are so hell-bent on being solitary, then why do they even notice the other people in the room? I’m sure their fellow diners did not give Dagny and Henry a second thought.

(Note to self: Don’t tell Dagny and Henry. I mean, what is the good of being a solitary character if your efforts go unnoticed? To stand out in a crowd, one not only needs the crowd, but the crowd must acknowledge one’s solitariness)

Daily Prompt:Solitary

Character Quotes

Alvarez-Mandlebrot

Sometimes I scatter words haphazardly across a sheet of paper without any conscious awareness of pattern—just spontaneous outpourings of thoughts and feelings. But when I step back and regard what I have written, I see the universe meant something after all. And I am willing and not willing to have it so.

Trevor ~ The Book of Rhino

Daily Prompt:Willy-nilly

Children of the Con

Children of the Con

“I’m telling you, Ms. Lamont, it’ll be colossal!” the young man said.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want to make a movie about an alien race of vampires who lure their victims by means of children wearing dollar bills?”

“That’s right,” he said. He placed dollar bills on the ends of his fingers, and walked his hand across my desk.

“It’s like this. People will see these little kids toddling along wearing shoes made of money. They’re greedy, see, and follow the kids, thinking to grab the dough. The kids lead them down a dark alley and BAM! An alien vampire nabs ‘em.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but it’s just doesn’t send me. It’s not spicy enough.”

“What!” he shouted. “It’s got everything! Aliens! Vampires! Babies!

“No,” I said, as I shook my head. “I’m not interested.”

He rose from his chair. “You’ll regret this. I’ll get financing…I’ll do GoFundMe. It will be a HUGE success!”

In his haste to leave, he lost his footing and did a magnificent pirouette to keep from falling.

“That’s it!” I said. “Make it a musical! Call it ‘Children of the Con.’”

Daily Prompt:Spicy

Revealing Character

anthony-trollope

Of all the tradesmen in London the tailors are, no doubt, the most combative—as might be expected from the necessity which lies upon them of living down the general bad character in this respect which the world has wrongly given them.

Anthony Trollope ~ Can You Forgive Her?

Anthony Trollope frequently used the character of a tailor was to advance the plot of a novel. Often a scene with a tailor was to show the financial state of one of the other characters. William Makepeace Thackeray did this in Vanity Fair with the character of Becky Sharp.

More often than not, tailors did not get paid for their work, which is one of the reasons they were despised. It was an embarrassment for a gentleman to be in debt to his tailor; his fine clothes might fool all of London society into thinking he is rich, but his tailor knew better. And he knew that.

I feel sorry for tailors, both literary and real. I feel combative on behalf of all middle class men and women who are defrauded by the wealthy with whom they do business. It is grossly unfair for anyone to cheat a person out of his or her rightful earnings, but it is especially despicable when the cheater is rich and his victim is not.

One of the themes of Anthony Trollope’s novels is social inequity; he exposes the disparity that exists between the classes. The tailor is his poster child. Good for you, Mr. Trollope.

Daily Prompt:Tailor

 

Perseverance

Wyeth-Amalia

Every person’s life is a journey toward himself, the attempt at a journey, the intimation of a path. No person has ever been completely himself, but each one strives to become so, some gropingly, others more lucidly, according to his abilities. 

Hermann Hesse ~ Demian

Daily Prompt:Grit

Plumb Feisty

Bones and Rocket

“Thar’s our doney gal,” a voice called out. “Cuttin’ up capers, plumb feisty. How ‘bout some sweetheartin’?”

Catherine Marshall ~ Christy

Whenever I read or hear the word caper, I remember a scene from the 1978 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Donald Sutherland as a health inspector. In the scene, Sutherland tours a restaurant suspected of health code violations and finds rat turds in the flour bin. The manager of the restaurant tells him that they are capers. That scene has irrevocably linked capers with rat turds in my imagination.

White House press conferences also remind me of that scene whenever a spokesperson starts spinning the truth; like the restaurant manager, they try to pass off rat turds as capers. At times, it’s really funny to see the contortions into which they twist themselves. They are “cuttin’ up capers” and can get “plumb feisty” in the process.

Currently the White House and the Kremlin are presenting their own version of what happened during the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 conference. Frankly, I suspect both sides of cutting up capers.

Daily Prompt:Caper</a

Blossom Trail

Blossom Trail

The first year in our home, we planted four fruit trees–two peach (white and yellow) and two nectarine (white and yellow.) We loved those little guys! Year after year they produced delicious fruit. There was always such an abundance of peaches and nectarines, we could give plenty away to friends and neighbors. Then the fruit diminished in size and quantity. It was time for the trees to go.

Here in the valley, it is a common site to see fruit trees uprooted and orchards replanted. Even thought I know it’s the nature of things, I always feel a tinge of sadness whenever I see it; I try to drive by reverently with my shoes symbolically off my feet because this is holy ground.

Thus when the day came to say goodbye to our old trees, I stood barefoot in the backyard. In the novel Atlas Shrugged, Eddie describes his impression of a large tree on the Taggart estate. He imagines that if a giant pulled it up, it would swing the Earth around. For some reason, I thought our trees’ roots were be similarly imbedded. I anticipated shrieks and groans as they were pulled protesting from the ground.

Instead, they sort of plopped over with one tug. I guess they were tired.

Daily Prompt: Blossom

The Muse ~ Part Two

(Or How My Secret Gift Became Not-So-Secret)

In our last episode, a schoolboy discovered a way to learn math from a very-talkative-and-totally-annoying math teacher. During her lecture, he let his mind wander into a trance-like state in which he had a vision. The vision imparted to him perfect understanding of the math.

Well, I not only got an “A” on my homework, I aced the test Mrs. Fletcher gave at the end of the week. In fact, I was the only one who even passed! Cool beans! I decided to do the mind-wander thing again when Mrs. Fletcher launched into a new topic. It happened again; I had another vision during Mrs. Fletcher’s lecture on “Probability Distributions.”

This time, I saw a smooth hill, kind of like the one in Close Encounters, only rounded, not flat, on top. A skateboarder was at the bottom of the hill and was inching his way up the slope. Only this was weird. The dude wasn’t pushing himself at all; he was just gliding along like he was riding a wave downward, only he was going up. An inky stream of liquid trailed from his skateboard and drenched the side of the hill in his wake. He rode the slope of the hill to the top and then rode it back down to the bottom on the other side, all the while covering the hill in black. He turned to me and waved.

“Dude, that was awesome!” I shouted. Laughter broke into my vision. I was sitting at my desk and the students around me were busting up.

“What was awesome?” Jarrod wanted to know.

“Nothing.” I said.

Cynthia turned around.

“Mrs. Fletcher thinks you were talking about her,” she whispered.

I looked at Mrs. Fletcher. She had a pleased smirk on her face. Sick! She looked like she was going to say something to me but luckily the bell rang. I grabbed my books, papers, and backpack and made a beeline for the door. That was a close call. I was glad for the vision ‘cause now I knew what a probability distribution was, but I was going to have to keep quiet about it. Maybe I could put some tape on my mouth if it wasn’t too noticeable.

This continued for the rest of the quarter. For every math topic Mrs. Fletcher taught I had a vision that gave me perfect understanding. “Asymptotic Functions” was Jack-in-the-Beanstalk on steroids. “Logarithms and Exponents” was a Betty Grable dance review. My favorite was “Tangent Line Approximations”. It was a bunch of girls running the fifty-meter dash—naked. I was acing every test.

I felt kind of guilty because two of my best buds were also taking Advanced Math and were struggling just to keep from failing. I considered telling them about my secret gift, but what if it worked for them too? One “A” in the class was okay; it would be an outlier. But what if suddenly there were three A’s? It would look suspicious. So I helped them as best as I could after school in the library and at home on the weekends. Still, there were limits about what Jeff and Carlos could learn the regular way, and the best I could get them to was a C.

Second quarter was halfway through when trouble hit. I was sitting with some friends having lunch when Jeff and Carlos confronted me; Jenny Vue was with them.

“Dude,” said Carlos, “we need to talk to you…privately. Over there.” He nodded in the direction of the basketball court.

“Sure thing, “ I said.

I gathered up my stuff and walked with the three of them in silence to the far side of the basketball court. I had an idea of what they wanted; in fact, I had just about made up my mind to let them in on my secret. But they had Jenny Vue with them. They knew how I felt about her…was that why she was here? Was this to tempt me? I had to be on my guard.

Carlos planted himself in front of me.

“Hey, dude, we want to know what’s up with you. All of a sudden you’re Mr. Math who knows everything, and we know you don’t know shit!”

“Carlos!” Jenny Vue gently but firmly pushed him aside. “Let me,” she said. Jenny Vue then placed her hand on my arm, which suddenly went numb, and looked up in my face. My eyes felt numb.

“It’s just that we noticed that you are doing better than anyone else in Mrs. Fletcher’s math class. It seems so easy for you.”

“Too easy,” Jeff interrupted.

Jenny Vue frowned at him. “Jeff!” She looked back at me and continued.

“We were wondering if you could tell us your secret. We don’t want you to cheat or anything; just, you know, help us out. Tell us what to do, and we will do it. We promise.”

Oh, man! What could I do? Jeff and Carlos were my two best buds and Jenny Vue was, well, she was Jenny Vue. I stood there searching my brain for a way I could tell them what they wanted without sounding like a lunatic. After a few moments of silence, Jeff exploded.

“Man, he ain’t goin’ to tell us nothin’. He just wants to keep it to himself.”

“Wait,” I said. “Remember in Mr. Chavoor’s class when we read Romeo and Juliet? He said not to try and understand Shakespeare word for word but just to relax and let the words surround you? It was like listening but not really concentrating. Well, it’s like that in Mrs. Fletcher’s class. I don’t really concentrate or try to take notes or nothing. I just let my mind relax, and the words seep in.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, I swear; that’s what I do and somehow I end up understanding the math.” Their expressions bugged me. “Hey, I’m tellin’ what I do and it works for me.” I shrugged. “It might not work for you but you might as well try it. It can’t hurt anyhow.”

We spent the rest of lunch period talking about about Mr. Chavoor, Ms. Hart, and the Great Honk. When the bell rang, Carlos, Jeff, and Jenny Vue had agreed to try out my technique next time they were in Mrs. Fletcher’s class.

It turned out that the technique worked for them, too. One thing that was weird was that none of us ever had the same vision. For example, I experienced “DeMoivre’s Theorem” as a battle between Transformers taking place on a polar ice cap. Jenny Vue saw a series of constellations in which the stars danced around right triangles. Carlos’ vision was of French zombies disemboweling the football team. And for some strange reason, Jeff had a vision of a bunch of girls running the 50-meter dash naked. Hey, whatever works!

We all got A’s in Advanced Mathematics, thanks to Mrs. Fletcher and the visions she inspired. There was no doubt that woman could talk!

Terrible Minds Writing Prompt: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/06/09/flash-fiction-challenge-ten-random-titles/

Daily Prompt: Revelation

The Muse

(Or How I Learned to Love Invasive Words)

Dude, that woman could talk—Mrs. Fletcher, I mean. Talk, talk, talk! She talked like a talkative man about anything and everything. I should know because I was in her third period Advanced Mathematics class. Now I don’t know about the mathematics as much as I know about Mrs. Fletcher. I know that she is forty-three years old (her birthday being the same day as Napoleon’s), that she has been divorced for six years (her husband being an emotionally distant, philandering SOB), that she has three children (all girls, thank goodness, so they did not inherit their father’s cheating ways), that she has four siblings (she being the only one to go to college on a swimming scholarship), and that of all the teachers on campus, she is the only one who drives a Renault (having bargained with the dealer for the best deal anyone who has ever bought a Renault has gotten.) Yes, Mrs. Fletcher can talk.

It’s that way all during third period. She talks so much it’s hard to understand the math. She asks a lot of questions but she either answers the questions herself or makes the questions too simple to answer. Now when a teacher asks a really easy question in an Advanced Mathematics class it’s either because she thinks the students are a bunch of morons so she has to spoon feed them or it’s because the question is really hard and when you give the obvious but wrong answer you look like a moron. Like when she asked about the exponential function.

“Okay, everyone,” she said, “Is the exponential function odd or even?”

I knew right away that it was neither, but just to make sure, I tested it. When no one answered, she then showed us a graph of the function on the overhead. Obviously, it was neither. But still not one student dared to speak up. I knew that I was not going to say anything. None of us would say anything. We all knew it was a trick to make us look stupid.

Then Mrs. Fletcher began to talk to us about what it means for a function to be odd and what its graph looks like and what the graph of an even function looks like.

“An odd function is a function that is symmetrical to the…what”, she said, pointing to the origin of the axes.

“Origin?” someone responded.

“Right, the origin. Now does this function go through the origin?”

“Uh, no?”

“Exactly. This function does not go through the origin. So if it doesn’t go through the origin, can it be symmetrical to origin?”

There were a few tense moments of silence before someone volunteered.

“No?”

“Right again. So if the function does not go through the origin and is not symmetrical to the origin, then the function cannot be what type of function?”

“Odd?”

“Excellent! Now getting back to our original question. Is an exponential function an odd or an even function?”

It’s neither, you jerk! I wanted to shout. Why are you torturing us with a trick question? Finally, after several more minutes of Mrs. Fletcher’s questioning, some poor girl in the back finally broke under the pressure.

“Mrs. Fletcher, isn’t it neither? It’s not odd or even, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Fletcher beamed and raised her hand in the air

“High five, sister,” she said, making her way over to the unfortunate student for the obligatory hand slap. “Everyone, Mai has gotten the answer. Let’s give her a round of applause.”

I clapped twice and sat there fuming. It was my answer. I had it all along but couldn’t bring myself to say it because it was too obvious. This is an advanced math class, right? Shouldn’t the questions be hard to understand? Shouldn’t the answers not be so obvious?   Like I said, Mrs. Fletcher talks a lot and with all her talk has managed to make us all dull and stupid. I hate this class. I wanted to transfer to another teacher but my counselor said my schedule didn’t have an opening unless I wanted to drop Theater Movement. No way would I give up my favorite class so I decided to suffer through Mrs. Fletcher’s third period Advanced Mathematics. Then something amazing happened.

The next day, Mrs. Fletcher introduced a new topic, “The Null Hypothesis,” with the following scenario:

A produce manager at a supermarket wanted to know if he should stock more apples or bananas in order to market to women. He took a survey of one hundred fifty customers one day, sixty men and ninety women. Of the sixty men, fifteen preferred apples and forty-five preferred bananas. Of the ninety women, seventy-two preferred apples and eighteen preferred bananas.

As soon as Mrs. Fletcher began speaking, I adjusted the expression on my face, got myself comfortable, and let my mind wander. I just emptied my mind of all coherent thought and relaxed into sort of a trance. Then, as Mrs. Fletcher droned on, I had a vision.

In my vision I saw a large room filled with apples and bananas. The room was in the shape of a barn and there was music playing. The apples and bananas seemed to be dancing together in the center of the room while the rest of the fruit clapped in time to the music. It was a colorful sight of red, green and yellow swirling shapes and wonderful sounds. Suddenly the music stopped and there was a great silence. Then all of the apples and bananas ran about wildly and flung themselves into four large bins.   After much shuffling and jostling the fruit settled down and began calling out, in sweet, tiny voices.

“Eighteen apples here!”

“Fifteen bananas all here!”

“Here we go, forty-five bananas!”

“All seventy-two apples accounted for!”

The little fruits seemed pleased with their efforts and were patting each other on the back and shaking hands. So preoccupied were they with their congratulations, it took them several minutes to notice the shadow of a large knife snaking its way into the room. At the shadow’s approach, the sounds of laughter died away and the apples and bananas beheld with apprehension the outline of the knife in the doorway.

“THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!” the knife roared. With that, it began scattering the fruit in the bins, hacking and stabbing and forcing the apples and bananas to jump from bin to bin. At length, the knife seemed satisfied and grimly observed the fruit cowering in the bins.

“Now,” it said, “account for yourselves.”

The apples and bananas hesitated a moment as they looked over their numbers in the bins. In thin, reedy voices, they called out.

“Th-thirty-eight bananas here.”

“Twenty-five bananas here.”

“Fifty-four, uh, no… make that, fifty-three apples here”.

“Thirty-four apples here.”

The knife stalked back and forth between the bins. It paused and snatched one apple and one banana from the bins.

“THIS IS STILL NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!” it cried. And with that, the knife hacked at the apple and the banana until they were in two pieces. It then flung the pieces back into the bins. “Now account for yourselves.”

The fruit was in shock. They gathered the broken pieces of their comrades in tender arms and whispered in cracked voices.

“Thirty-seven point eight bananas here.”

“Twenty-five point two bananas here.”

“Fifty-two point two apples here.”

“Thirty-four point eight apples here.”

The knife slowly nodded. “This is what I expected. It makes a difference.”

The bell rang, signaling the end of class. I sat at my desk, stunned, while my fellow students scrambled for the door. The fragments of the vision swirled and vanished like passing smoke. I looked down at my frequency table; it slowly dawned on me that I knew exactly what the null hypothesis was. I smiled as I gathered my things and left the room.

Later, that evening, the vision remained close at hand while I did the homework Mrs. Fletcher had assigned. It was easy. Everything about the null hypothesis made sense. Well, that’s one lesson down, I thought. Only a million more ‘til the end of the semester.

Terrible Minds Writing Challenge: Invasive

 

World Traveler

Daily Post Temporary

Moose

“I tell you, Molly, I’ve got big plans, stupendous dreams!”

*crickets*

“Do you hear me? I tell you there’s no stopping me.”

*more crickets*

“I’ve got places to go, people to meet, sites to see!”

*even more crickets*

“Molly, are you even listening to me? I’ve got big plans, I tell you!”

Molly sighed.

“Dear, in case you haven’t noticed, you are stuffed.”

“What, this? It’s just a temporary inconvenience.”