The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger is a Midwest Book Award Winner, a national American Book Fest Finalist, and an international Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist. He is also the winner of numerous journalism awards. His books include “Astonishing Tales!* (Your Astonishment May Vary)” and “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He once won an axe-throwing competition.
Sat
01
Jan
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Nihilists

My sister-in-law doesn’t like hobbits, she informed us at dinner last week.

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Their feet,” she replied bluntly. “And their optimism.”

She still loves the stories and worlds they inhabit, of course, but she thinks their naivety is annoying. The fact that she has such strong feelings about them makes them feel even more real, though. She has never tried to argue that they don’t exist; only that she thinks they need to stop being such idiots (and maybe shave their feet).

The thing is, hobbits live in stories. So do countless dragons and heroes. And living in a story is more important than anything else. It is a bastion of immortality and a reservoir of meaning. People can live in stories even if they never set foot in the “real” world, and if we are very lucky and try very hard, we, too, can live on in stories long after our bodies decay and rot.

Fri
10
Dec
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A Mangy Dog Story

Every year I try to write about a stray dog. 

It was 20 years ago, in Alabama. We were staying with my girlfriend’s family for the holidays, and we saw the miserable creature trotting down the side of a lonely, gothic country road one morning, through a haze. She looked like an extra in “The Walking Dead.” Her coat was nearly gone, the skin gnarled and blotted by mange. Her xylophone ribs insisted on the edges of the body. She seemed, and I didn’t even know this was physically possible until then, to be limping on all four legs. I couldn’t tell if her coat had been brindle, or if it was simply striped by scars and dried mud.

Sun
31
Oct
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The Ambiguity of Origins

The first meat our daughter ever ate was turkey. It was Thanksgiving, and I gave her a few tiny pieces, along with a dollop of sweet potato. There is something slightly epic about watching someone gnaw on food for the very first time. 

I told her the thing she was enjoying was called “turkey,” which it turns out is slightly incorrect.

Here in the United States, we call these birds “turkeys.” We call them that because we thought, due to old trade routes, that they were from Turkey. They are not. 

In Turkey, people knew they were not from there, so they decided to call them “hindi,” which means “from India.”

They are not from India, either. 

The Scottish call it “Cearc frangach” (the French chicken), and to the Greeks it is either “The French bird” or “the Egyptian rooster,” depending on who you asked. As an astute reader, you probably guessed, quite correctly, that the bird is not originally from either of these places. 

Sat
25
Sep
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Frozen

One winter night, I fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up to go to bed, I first went into the garage to make sure the light there was off. This is part of being a responsible homeowner. 

What’s NOT part of being a responsible homeowner is groggily slapping the garage door opener on your way back into the house. It’s pure muscle memory, because most of the time, when you leave the garage for the house, you have just gotten out of your car, and the garage door needs to be shut. On this particular night, the garage door did not need to be shut, because it hadn’t been open in the first place. On this particular night, it was -7º outside. On this particular night, I went into my bedroom and slept like a baby, without a care in the world. 

You might think: “Oh, so your garage got a little cold. Who cares?”  

Sun
12
Sep
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All You Can Eat

When I was little, my parents used to stay up late with their friends, drinking wine and watching the fireflies zip across the dark fields below as they talked about very important, very grown up topics. I would catch snippets of their conversations from the top of the stairs or through my bedroom window.

“Iran Contra!”

“Embryo Transplant!”

“Dan Quayle… spelling bee… potato!”

I didn’t know what they were talking about, but it all sounded exotic and significant. I wished I could stay up late, through the night, to hear what they had to say.

Today, I am the age they were then, and I can assure you that if you eavesdrop on ANY adult conversation you will simply hear a groggy person with an uninteresting job listing all the foods they think they might be allergic to. That, apparently, is what passes for enlightened conversation these days.

“I can’t digest dairy,” I said to someone not long ago.

Mon
30
Aug
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The Bear Cub...

My daughter, who is seven, recently put on a sweatshirt, pulled the hood down low over her face, and pretended to gaze vacantly into an imaginary phone in her hand, oblivious to the magnificent world around her.

“Look at me, dad,” she said in an apathetic monotone, her best impersonation of a dullard. “I’m a teenager.”

It was funny, but also a bit darkly prescient, like me lying down on the ground and joking: “Look at me, I’m dead of old age.” The next stage of your life always seems exciting, until the final one, I guess.

I often feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet, because seven is not 16, and I still have this person here by my side, for a few more years, always ready for some new adventure or lesson or story. Always eager to investigate the next mystery, as the world gradually unfolds before her.

Mon
16
Aug
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Beyond Good & Bad

A woman won the lottery. All of her friends stopped by to congratulate her. 

“You won $10 million!” they said. “That’s great! You are so lucky.”

“Maybe,” she replied. 

Her friends, who were sure they understood far more of the world than they actually did, walked away shaking their heads, puzzled by her response.

A few months later, the woman bought her son, who was 19, a car with some of the money. It was new and shiny, and full of fancy electronic features. One day, while driving to class, the new car slid on some ice and smashed into another vehicle. The young man’s leg was badly broken. 

“You will walk with a limp for the rest of your life,” said the doctor. “Physical therapy will take many months, maybe years.” 

The woman’s friends all called to offer their condolences. 

“We’re so sorry your son was injured!” they said. “What a horrible accident! This is terrible.”

“Maybe,” the woman replied. 

Thu
15
Jul
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The Tooth Fairy

I remember seeing a trailer 11 years ago for a movie called “The Tooth Fairy.” It was a film in which a wrestler called The Rock played an aging and jaded hockey player who went by the nickname, “The Tooth Fairy” because he knocked out so many players’ teeth. At some point, he convinces a young child not to believe in miracles and is therefore punished by the gods and forced to work as an actual tooth fairy, collecting incisors from under various pillows. 

It looked horrendous. 

“Can you imagine?!” I said to my wife at the time. “Can you imagine spending two hours watching that?!!”

The premise seemed like the laconic fever dream of a chronically uninspired writer who harbored deep contempt for the audience. It was begging for a sequel in which retired NBA superstar Karl “The Mailman” Malone was forced to put on a blue postal uniform and deliver Amazon packages because he told a kid that letter writing was a dead art. 

Fri
04
Jun
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People Ride Horses Again

My seven-year-old daughter came home and told me she had a crush on someone at school. She added that a different classmate had a crush on her. The situation, she explained, was quite complicated.

Three days later, she walked up to me and said, “Dad, I have a question: What’s a crush?”

It was yet another reminder that life is experienced by those who do not understand it in real time. Much of the profundity and meaning in the moments we share only reveals itself later, with the lucidity of hindsight, often on a page or in a song. When things are actually happening, our most common sentiment is: “Huh?”

I like to think I sometimes enjoy little glimpses through the veil, into the true heart of what it means to be human. But these always come after the fact. I never realize how special a small moment is until it is gone, when I can look back on it and see just how immense it really was.

Mon
17
May
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Naked Gardening

This morning, I received a list of the best and worst cities for naked gardening. Miami, FL is the best place to pull weeds in the nude. Lincoln, NE is the worst.

It took 176 years, but someone finally came up with a list on which a place in Florida is first. (Not including that old list of towns where people who can’t read are most likely to be devoured by alligators while voting for an adult film star in a gubernatorial race, obviously.) 

The naked gardening list–which was unsolicited, by the way–clearly took an enormous amount of time and effort to compile. It used a complex methodology, had a lengthy explanation, and even included some addendums in the form of a Q &A with a psychologist and a law professor. It shows just how obsessed with lists the Internet is, and how thin on list-worthy material the universe has become. It was yet another reminder that we, as a species, might be using our doctors and lawyers in ways that are not, well, optimal. 

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