Category Archives: writings

An unidentified man…

Last night I listened to a podcast episode of Snap Judgment, called Counted: An Oakland Story. The episode was about how Oakland’s homicide rate has declined from a high point of 140 one year to 77 in 2017.

“And about those 77, we wanted to let you know about these artists, singers, students, activists, teachers—they are the Oakland family. They are what make beautiful Oakland, edgy Oakland, woke Oakland. Every loss, makes this place less special. So we’re going to do something a little different in this episode. We’re going to tell you who some of these people were.”

There’s a website associated with the project, and on its “In memory of” page each victim is featured—all with their date of death, some with sketches of them, and most with their names included. But 7 of them—with a sketch of either a rose or a candle in the place of their face—say, “Unidentified man.”

This morning I was still thinking about those unidentified men. How does that happen? And I wrote this short contemplation.


The unidentified man

I’m one of 7. I died in Oakland in 2017 on:

  1. February 15 or
  2. May 30 or
  3. September 28 or
  4. October 21 or
  5. November 23 or
  6. December 12 or
  7. December 16.

Imagine for a minute that you—yes you—are walking down the street, late tonight on your way home, and you get killed. Can you think of 3 people who could identify you? How about 5? 10?

There are so many ways to identify me, but they had no luck. No luck for me that my fingerprints or DNA weren’t in “the database.” And I thought that was a good thing.

I didn’t have good teeth. That wasn’t the reason there were no dental records to match. There were no dentists in my life.

I know why my family isn’t looking for me. There was no father, or mother, in my life. They had their own lives to live. And I was an inconvenience in them.

And don’t think nobody on the street knew me. I did know one other member of this club, a club none of us wanted to join. And that person definitely knew me. But someone got revenge on him for someone he killed.

My favorite member of the club? It has to be Jason. They said about him: “He actually didn’t live on the streets, but inside them. Inside the hollow cement pillars that hold up that off-ramp, where he made a room for himself—he even wired cable and internet inside with a projector, a couch, and a mini-fridge.” That cat was hooked up. I was not so resourceful.

But resources can’t help me now. At least I count. I count among the 77 of 2017—even as I lie in an unguarded tomb, unknown.

Riff on a connection mnemonic…

Like I’m sure a lot of people did last night, I thought about the old adage, “Spring forward, fall back.” But probably unlike a lot of people, this morning I contemplated mnemonics—those memory aids we employ for those things we do either so infrequently or that aren’t so meaningful that they’re hard to remember. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals these 9 types of mnemonics:

1. Music mnemonics: Songs and jingles can be used as a mnemonic. A common example is how children remember the alphabet by singing the ABC’s.

2. Name mnemonics (acronym): The first letter of each word is combined into a new word. For example: VIBGYOR (or ROY G BIV) for the colors of the rainbow or HOMES for the Great Lakes.

3. Expression or word mnemonics: The first letter of each word is combined to form a phrase or sentence — e.g. “Richard of York gave battle in vain” for the colors of the rainbow.

4. Model mnemonics: Some type of representation is constructed to help with understanding and recalling important information.

5. Ode mnemonics: The information is placed into a poem or doggerel, — e.g. ‘Note socer, gener, liberi, and Liber god of revelry, like puer these retain the ‘e (most Latin nouns of the second declension ending in -er drop the -e in all of the oblique cases except the vocative, these are the exceptions).

6. Note organization mnemonics: The way textbook and lecture notes are organized (e.g., notecards, outlines) can inhibit learning and recall or promote it.

7. Image mnemonics: The information is constructed into a picture — e.g. the German weak declension can be remembered as five ‘-e’s’, looking rather like the state of Oklahoma in America, in a sea of ‘-en’s’.

8. Connection mnemonics: New knowledge is connected to knowledge already known.

9. Spelling mnemonics: An example is “i before e except after c” or “when sounding like a in neighbor and weigh.”

I decided that “spring forward, fall back” is a connection mnemonic, and to that end I wrote this piece, which I call “Riff on a Connection Mnemonic,” because there just aren’t enough riffs on connection mnemonics, or any other kind of mnemonic, really.


A CONNECTION MNEMONIC

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.

Spring forward.
Spring has sprung.
Sprung a leak.
Take a leak.
Take a break.
Break a leg.
Get a leg up on it.
Have a leg to stand on.

Going forward.
Going strong.
Strong women.
Women of color.
Color my world.
World peace.
Peace and quiet.
Quietly changing the world.

Fast forward.
Fast as lightning.
Lightning bugs.
The light of a thousand stars.
Star light, star bright.
Bright lights, big city.
City by the sea.
See the light at the end of the tunnel.

Forward, March.
Forward thinking.
Thinking too much.
Too much to handle.
Handle the hands on your clock.
Clean someone’s clock.
Clean up your act.
It’s a balancing act.

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.