Archive - May, 2010

Tying the right knot

Left over right. Right over left. Any sailor or boy scout can tell you that’s the way to tie a square knot. But is that the way you tie your shoes? I’ll bet not.

At two years of age I learned to tie my shoes. My big sister, four, had not yet tied her own. After suffering parental mockery and humiliation she delivered me a prompt beating, one that became an invaluable, lifelong lesson in Realpolitik.

But despite my cleverness my shoelaces always came undone unless I tied them double.

Now thanks to Verlyn Klinkenborg, editorial page sage of The New York Times, I tie my shoelaces in square knots that do not come unraveled as I walk.

From Verlyn I learned why it has been that for decades when in a crowded locker room or busy Zen temple for precious minutes I struggle to untangle knots.

Verlyn transformed my life. Overcome with gratitude, I floated the idea of naming the family hound “Verlyn Klinkenborg.”

In single voice my wife and child rose up in anger. “Dad, that’s stupid.” explained Little Henry.

Registering her standard and customary observation, Mrs. Henry added, “You just don’t have practical good sense.”

Perhaps they have a point after all. It is true that Klinkenborg’s three Teutonic syllables do not trip off the tongue melodiously like Lolita or Postlewaite or any number of more appropriate dog names.

In my town’s junior high school a boy named Klinkenborg would not have had an easy time. Might it be the same for a dog?

Worse, with Verlyn for a first name his prospects for health and happiness would have been compromised substantially further, unless, of course, he were a strapping giant with an earnest interest in fist-fighting, in which case he would have been called “Bud,” or “Buzz,” or possibly “Bubba.”

Perhaps I’m simply envious of V. Klinkenborg’s cynosure on The New York Times editorial page, an employ obliging him on occasion to write feelingly about grasses, fences, and seasons. Hoarfrost circling his wizened temples, he chronicles our stately course from bright innocence to dusky death. He is the poet of barns and hay, an unexpected contributor to the Times editorial page, to be sure.

Do newshounds, skeptics and smart-alec journalists really accept Verlyn in all his many parts? I wonder.

I wonder, as well, what sort of shoes V.K. wears. Are they crusty, yellowed old stompers with hard rubber soles, the kind you get at the hardware store? When he shows up at the Times’ 41st Street tower, if indeed he shows up at all, does he sport a sensible pair of academic-issue, English working-class, no-longer-trendy Doc Martins?

Choice of footwear must pose difficulties in the morning. “Let me see. Today, shall I be poet, sage, farmer, professor or New York Times editorial grandee?”

I’ll bet he phones it in.

And then, of course, each and every day Verlyn Klinkenborg must bear the burden of his august name. To achieve manhood despite this permanent handicap cannot have been an easy journey.

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