Illustration by Mitch Handsone
For inspiration, I bought a poster of Thelonious Monk to put over the grand entrance to the bathroom in the palatial two-car garage that is my home. Just a big monochrome Monk head on a bright-yellow background, his name in the lower right overprinted in a fairly benign typeface, large enough to read from 20 paces.
Tacked the poster into place and stepped back to admire, to ingest the first dose of revelations. Ah, Monk. Lifelong friend. The first time I heard his music, I was 10 years old. My brother, Danny, had bought a copy of Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two: At the Blackhawk, Monks 12th record on Riverside, and we listened to it on his brand-new $30 hi-fi from Kays Merchandise Mart. Dannyd been into swing for a few years, and now, at 14, hed found his way to bebop. Id never heard of Thelonious Monk, never heard anything like his music before. It was so stubborn, funny, complicated, confrontational even, but in a friendly way. By the end of the first side, I was hooked.
(Thats just . . . I cant . . . Isnt it . . . its just so weird!)
My brother never paid much attention to rock & roll; wasnt weird enough for him. I liked rock just fine, and often dosed up on the Beatles, Elton John and Five-Man Electrical Band (Sign, sign, everywhere a sign/Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind/Do this, dont do that/Cant you read the sign?), but now I was starting to enjoy the weirdness, as well.
In the basement, Id put together a mismatched, jury-rigged trap set, where I could spend time alone after playing basketball at Hessel Park; spend an hour or so, almost every day, playing drums along with records. Ringo Starr, Nigel Olsson, Floyd Sneed, no problem. But when I tried to keep up with Billy Higgins, the drummer on At the Blackhawk, not even close. Way too complicated.
So I just kept time, and listened.
As seasons passed slowly and money came pouring in from my paper route, I began listening to other jazz artists, bebop and otherwise, but never felt the strong connection I felt to Monk. Maybe because my friends didnt listen to him. Or because my brother had shared it with me almost like a secret. Underground; Brilliant Corners; Straight, No Chaser; Monks Blues each album was different, but all had this unspeakably powerful . . . glee, and an awkward confidence that I could somehow relate to.
So I grew up and got a job and lived indoors and tacked up my brand-new Thelonious Monk poster with pushpins, stood across the garage to feel the effect on the room. Just as I was about to feel inspired, I noticed a small problem. A misspelling. A large problem. Monks first name was misspelled, missing the second o.
Feeling orthographically violated, I made the long, long drive back to the record store. On the way, dozens of misspelled signs attacked my windshield like locusts permanent signs, with businesses offering barbeque accessories, banguet rooms, rot iron, a restaurant called Antartica, vidio rentals, stationary supplies, vallet parking, sangwiches, capaccino, capucinno, cappucino and expresso and I began to simmer in a sour stew of petty bitches: The education budgets slashed, nobody cares about anything but money anymore, no one gets the connection between art and evolution, countrys gone to the dogs, etc.
I dont speak or write, for example, Dutch. But after Bush is re-elected, Ill make sure I can spell Will teach English for food or hash in Dutch on my cardboard sign before I go panhandling through Amsterdam. Likewise, if your business is selling barbecue grills, at some point prior to incorporation you may want to fucking look up how to fucking spell b-a-r-b-e-c-u-e. (Granted, some desperate publishers have been marketing dictionaries listing the -que version as a legitimate alternate spelling, but . . . theyre wrong. They just want you to buy their fucking dictionary.)
Because whos going to trust someone who cant spell his own business/product/service? Other people who cant spell, thats who. And so it behooves the business/product/service people to keep the education budget low, so we dont know how fucked up their signs are.
But if you dont care about the devastating effects that misspellings are having on your own generation, then for Gods sake, man do it for . . . the children! The children are our future! And our childrens children are our futures future! And their childrens futures are our future futures future! (And were all going to be quite stupid enough, thank you, without misspelled rot-iron signage 20 feet high on the side of every multinationally misconglomerated Barbequed Expresso Sangwich Korporation Hedkorters.)
At the record store, then, the man at the Returns counter nodded coolly and said hed give me a credit slip for the price of the poster. Started doing the paperwork.
Thanks, said I. But do you think you could maybe tell the manager? Or maybe I could talk with the manager? Because, you know, Monks name is spelled wrong, and when its on a poster and everything, maybe some people might use it as a reference especially, you know, kids. Maybe you can get your money back from the distributor . . .
Returns-counter man reacted not, but silently slid the slip of paper my way. Twelve dollars plus tax in store credit.
Thanks, I repeated. But, so . . . would it be possible for me to talk with the manager about the . . .
Ill tell the manager, okay? the man spat back, clearly insulted and annoyed as hell. I know who Monk is, and I know how to spell his name, all right? Ill tell the manager.
Okay, thanks, I said, taking the credit slip. Sorry. I just wasnt sure youd heard, and I was . . .
ILL TELL THE MANAGER!
(Hell tell the manager.)
Epilogue: One Year Later
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No. He didnt tell the manager, or else he did, but the manager didnt do a goddamn thing. The fuggin posters still there, same price, same spot on the wall. Someone, please, I beg you take it down. Take it down for the children.