Jerome Shea       March 9, 2008      Weekend Wonk

Readers of this cyber-space (you know who you are) will recall “Sally,” who showed up in a couple of recent wonks. Sally was that fellow grad student at Colorado State who went to Mexico with me over Christmas break in 1964 (“Ford Flathead II”). In “Equus Caballus,” Sally’s derisive laughter assaulted my equestrian skills, or lack thereof. After the Mexico trip, I thought I was in love with Sally and suffered the sorrows of young Werther well into the springtime.

I had had no contact with her for over 40 years. When I was writing “FF II,” I considered getting in touch with her so that she could share in those memories. A Google search will turn up a slew of items about Sally, who has had a very impressive career, writing and publishing fiction and poetry. But I knew that already. What the search did not turn up was any reliable contact information, so I sighed and turned to other things. Better, perhaps, that Sally remain a memory and inviolable.

(Don’t get ahead of me now, ok?)

When I got back from class on Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago, and with “FF II” still playing to packed monitors, there in my inbox was an email from Sally! Is that weird or what? We both agree that it certainly is. No, she didn’t stumble onto And no third party figured out who “Sally” was and ratted me out. In her own words, “I bumbled onto your info while browsing and decided to send a note.” Just like that.* Cue the Twilight Zone music.

I am a child of the Enlightenment, a believer in reason. Make that Reason. Old age overtook me well before New Age could. I don’t believe for a minute that with the Power of Wonk I can “call spirits from the vasty deep” or some such nonsense. But still… still….

Anyway, we have been lobbing emails back and forth ever since, catching up. It has been grand fun pulling up pieces of our past, shaking the dust off them, and shaking our heads, sometimes, in disbelief. The first exercise was remembering the Mexico trip. Sally says it was true food poisoning that she suffered, not the simple turistas, and I won’t second-guess someone else’s misery. She says it happened later, on the way back from Mazatlan (we’ll agree to disagree there). She remembers our going to a bullfight. I believe her but I have been ransacking my memory banks for almost a week and still I draw a blank. It would appear to take two to make an experience. Or at least to make a memory.

I don’t want to get too specific here and blow Sally’s cover. But readers will be happy to know that she is well (we are both cancer survivors, though hers was a much closer call and harder fought battle than mine). She is widowed and living half a continent away. We have in some ways followed similar paths. We both are or were academics. We both write, though my efforts and successes are much more modest than hers. On the other hand, Sally married late and had no children, while the Longsuffering Diana and I were blessed with two children and now have three grandchildren.** (Sally has been saying kind, even bubbly, things about the progeny pictures I have been sending her. Thanks, Sally.) So in important ways our lives have been different, too. Pretty much, come to think of it, like any two people’s lives.

Maybe there is a Power of Wonk after all. If there is I am very grateful for it. Now if you will excuse me for just moment, I am going to squinch my eyes and other senses, get out of “Word” and into my email server, and find there a fresh communique from Sally.

And I did! Ok, now I’m getting scared, remembering that the sorcerer’s apprentice came to a bad end (didn’t he?). Perhaps, like Prospero, I had better break my staff and drown my book.

How did we ever get by without email, the email that hooked me back up with Sally, anyway? It is not as intimidating as the telephone. (I have never been comfortable talking on the phone.) You can hang up on the importuning, junk phone call, but Mother taught me not to return rudeness with rudeness, so I often suffer in silence. But spam you can just dump. And email is free. I can email my friend Xavier in London absolutely for free and I don’t have to fumble with an incomprehensibly long number and probably get it wrong anyway or get tongue-tied if he does come on the line. With email you can compose your thoughts more deliberately. If someone on the phone asks me what the capital of Suriname is—and, yes, they are always doing things like that—I wind up stuck and embarrassed. With email I can get out the atlas and write back, “Why, that would be Paramaribo, would it not?” and appear to be ever so smart.

The only problem—which it shares with cocaine and heroin—is how addictive it is. Here I sit, staring at the monitor like a dog waiting to hear his master’s key turn in the lock. I suppose when I was a moony teenager I stared at the phone, but that was then. I can’t imagine doing so now.

Staring. Staring. Sally, are you out there? Help.

*I can be Googled, too, and my email address is there in plain sight.

**On Groundhog Day (2/2) the Sheas’ first grandson arrived to join his two big sisters. I put this here at end so you could hold your applause.

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