Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spellcast

I was startled to hear Noam’s voice over my right shoulder.

“Hey! Look at that!” he said, his eyes intent on my keyboard.

His tone and excitement alarmed me, and I pulled my fingers from the home row keys as if a hairy twenty-six-legged creature with probing antennae was crawling toward my wrist.

“What?” I yelled out, looking down at my hands. “My nail polish? I know, I never wear nail polish,” I said, curling my fingers inward to hide the worn spots on my nails. I heard my mother’s voice telling me, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to spruce yourself up once in a while.” She and my father, both snazzy dressers, somehow bore four children, of whom only one had any interest in clothing. I have to admit that I feel better when I wear a new sweater, or spend extra time on my hair, and I always secretly thank her for her well-intended ‘encouragement.’ Having said that, the one and only time I wore a skirt and heels to the office, Noam, who dresses in jeans and sneakers every day, asked with concern, “Are you going on a job interview?”

When I looked up again I saw that Noam was shaking his head. “No, all of your keys are labeled!” he said, pointing his index finger at my keyboard.

“Uhmm, what… what are you saying?” I asked.

“The letters on my keys have all rubbed off!” he said, cocking his head and laughing. 

My mind’s eye lit up with images of Noam’s hunched body, hands hammering away on thesis drafts, letters to the editor, articles, statements of solidarity, petitions, professional correspondence, recommendation letters, arguments, lectures, and email, for decades, on countless keyboards. First manual and electric typewriters, then word processors and progressively streamlined and ergonomically correct wireless keyboards, all the way to the present-time smaller keys of his compact laptop. I imagined tiny white specs of metal, paint and plastic embedding themselves beneath his fingernails, or flying off and landing in his eyebrows and the waves of his graying hair until only hints of letters, like the small upper crescent of the O, and the right most tip of the T, remained. I saw him striking the S with spectacular speed while writing his earliest drafts of Syntactic Structures. I envisioned each subsequent keyboard wailing and heaving as the refractory R succumbed to his repetitive rage against the machine, leaving this last keyboard black and bleak.

But then again, some letters may have disappeared along with others, an entire word at a time: morphophonemics, language, terrorism, thought, mind, media…there are endless possibilities. Or they vanished in long sentences: yawning colorless green ideas tumbling half-awake to his office floor and clinging statically to his slippers, trailing behind him as he navigated his overflowing office. In still another scenario, I could imagine keyboard neighbors “o” and “i” holding hands and jumping ship together, wearing only a diphthong. Or is it possible that his most-quoted phrases, in a show of solidarity, leapt to the floor to guide his steps steadily between rising stacks of journals, photos, old and priceless carbon copies and annotated manuscripts?  Did they level his locomotion as he shuffled through that perpetually diminishing pathway between desk and printer until the floor’s polished sheen gave way to a narrow trail of bare, creaky wood?

Noam rolled a chair next to mine to review the week’s schedule, but I was too distracted by the word “censored” floating from behind his square eyeglass lenses up to his creased brow to notice the strange tone of his voice. Then he hiccupped a partly-formed paragraph that jettisoned under my desk, landing on Roxy’s back where she slept, snoring.  No harm done. I reached down and managed to pinch an entire sentence between my index finger and thumb. It struggled erratically, biting at my nails, and finally relaxed and stretched into its gravitational pull. I apologized to Noam for reading his mind, and recited aloud:

The general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.

I inhaled deeply, shook myself free from my reverie and said, “I’ll get you a new keyboard tomorrow.”

Noam is losing his letters.  I am losing my mind. And the nail polish.




5 comments:

  1. Hello, Bev
    I read your article about how it's like being Professor Chomsky's assistant. And I was hooked ever since... I didn't think I could love him more!

    I've been obsessed with his books and watched hundreds of his interviews and speeches.
    It's an embarrassment of riches. We're so lucky to have someone like him as a single easy source to understanding the world, and you know you can trust a 100% of everything he says about politics and science.
    Because rather than stating opinions, he just hits you with countless facts and dates of real quotes and events.

    However, I never expected we'd ever peak at Mr Noam's everyday life, habits or quips, so I'm loving all these articles. Thank you so much for that!
    This - like all you other blog posts - was a heart-warming read, and I wish for you guys to be able to work together and be friends for many years to come!

    PS: please keep taking good care of him, he's an international treasure, but like any genius, he only cares about his mind and work and how to make the world better.

    Sincerely,
    Nezih

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Nezih. And while you're correct in saying he's very focused on his thoughts and work, he is doing it for everyone of us. This is who he is, at his core.

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  2. I really enjoyed the imagery in this post!

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  3. A delicious confection of humor, alliteration, symbolism, and imagery that is truly enjoyable and captivating! I will be one of your first adoring fans running to the bookstore to purchase your future award-winning tome on Noam! Love always, Nate's mom :)

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