“You’re working with a different set of dots”

I often misread things: signs, book titles, menus, other peoples’ intentions (but let’s not go there.)  A couple of summers ago, my extended family and I were in Grand Junction, CO for my niece’s wedding.  We were driving down a street that we’d been down a few times before, and I had misread a sign for an auto repair place, not once but several times.  I hadn’t said anything at first, but I guess I finally couldn’t take it anymore.  So I said, “What kind of business would call themselves ‘Chubby Nut Auto Repair’?” PW and the kids all looked at me like I had three heads and someone said, “What are you talking about?”  I said, “That car repair place back there is called ‘Chubby Nut.'”  Everyone craned their necks to see but it was out of view by then.

A few hours later, on our way back to our bed & breakfast, we passed the “Chubby Nut” establishment again, only to find that the sign resembled nothing like the words “Chubby Nut.”  Not “Tubby Gut” (which in my experience would be a perfect name for an auto repair shop), not “Clubby Putt” (a golf pro shop with NO customers), not “Grubby Rut” (okay, I think that’s enough.)  Much teasing ensued, and by then I had already riffed on it with my family (brothers, sisters-in-law, my wife, our kids, my best friend, etc.) so much that it became a kind of conversational touchstone for the weekend.

The following Christmas, just a few months later, when we opened our present from my brother & sister-in-law it was a huge package of pencils that were imprinted with the words “Chubby Nut.”  By then, my brain had long-since evicted the memory of “Chubby Nut” because it needed to give the space up for really IMPORTANT stuff, which of course I can no longer remember.  As soon as I saw the pencils, though, it all came rushing back to me, and now, thanks to the “Chubby Nut” pencils, I have a utilitarian and jolly reminder of my mind’s ability to play pranks on me.

The Famous Chubby Nut Pencils

The other day, I was hanging out in our local library, which is the base camp for all sorts of people with too much time on their hands.  I found a quiet desk next to a long shelf of non-fiction that begins with auto repair manuals, and then moves into space travel, robots, gardening, pet care, and ends with cookbooks. For you librarians out there, it’s the part of the Dewey Decimal System that runs from 629.287 to 641.5 (but you probably could have told me that.)  Libraries are a lot like cemeteries in the ways that they can spark the imagination.  If the organization of the books themselves isn’t random, the titles certainly are.

Over the course of a couple of hours, I read one particular book title in the space travels/robots section as “Angel of Attack.”  Then, out of nowhere, I realized that it actually said”Angle of Attack.”   THAT made me get up and look at it.  It’s a book about the Apollo space program, the United States’ frantic response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch.  It wasn’t until I read the title correctly, though, that I got up and pulled the book off the shelf to see what it is about.  Somehow, “Angle of Attack” made less sense to me than “Angel of Attack.”

One of the things I do well is make connections between disparate ideas, subjects, people.  I think of it as connecting dots, the way that astronomers connected the stars to create constellations.  So “Angel of Attack” as the title of a book in the space exploration and robots section seemed completely plausible to me. Shoot, this is the same brain that once introduced the prayer of confession at church as being like a Zamboni ice resurfacer.  After the service, a friend of mine asked me how I had come up with the Zamboni metaphor for confession.  I matter-of-factly said that I had seen a Zamboni recently and the next thing I knew I was connecting the dots between how confession feels to me and how a Zamboni works.  My pastor, who was standing there with us, guffawed and cracked, “Yeah, but you’re working with a different set of dots than the rest of us.” I could do worse than to build the rest of my life on that one observation.

Speaking of constellations, here’s a lovely, layered tune “Falling Stars” by Sarah Siskind.  As a video, it’s not much to look at, so cue the song, sit back and picture yourself under a sky filled with stars, some of which are falling right before your eyes.  And now, my people, go forth, misreading signs, recipes, and menus, and may your Angels of Attack use their powers only for good, intercepting the occasional errant line drive that’s zooming right at your head or swooping down to put an oven mitt on your hand before you touch that steaming hot casserole dish.

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One response to ““You’re working with a different set of dots”

  1. Hi Joy — we’ve not met, but I’ve heard many wonderful stories about you and your family from your parents. And today on Facebook your Mom linked us to your blog, which linked to this post.

    Your “Chubby Nut” story reminded me of when our oldest son was about 4 years old and was just learning to read. My wife was driving in stop-and-go traffic down a busy commercial street and she heard him in the back saying “arm- armadillo — Armadillo Pizza!!” When she asked him what he was talking about he said “There — that sign up there on the building”. The brightly lit green sign said “Emerald Plaza” … !

    He too was connecting dots — he had a book about armadillos and we had recently read some pizza flyers together. But to this day (he’s now in his 20’s) our family refers to that building as the Armadillo Pizza, and every time I visit my bank there, it makes me smile.

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