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I've been thinking about the kind of writing that some hootooers call 'rants', usually in an indulgent, affectionate sort of way.

I looked this word up and found a few interesting definitions. 'Harangue' was one, 'bombast: pompous or pretentious talk or writing' was another. I particularly liked 'A wild, incoherent, emotional articulation'.

At least it's articulate, then. I'm all for articulation.

I'd always associated the word with Irish and Scottish music...ah, here it is: 'A Scottish reel or hornpipe...' That's more like it. Killiecrankie is a rant, I think. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Just don't rant about it.

My enjoyment of the short essay began as a kid when I used to read Eldon Roark in the Memphis, Tennessee, Press-Scimitar, a rather fine newspaper, I thought and still think. Mr Roark wrote human interest stories with local connections, sort of rambling essays that entertained me and improved my vocabulary and appreciation for the written word.

He also stirred people up about oddities. One year he had a display at the Mid-South Fair - like a county fair, only larger - which imitated Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not on a small scale. One part especially fascinated me: a number of pictures or interesting objects under glass, with a wooden panel you could slide away to identify these odd things.

The one I couldn't figure out at the time was Mayor Loeb's signature, which was totally illegible. Note to self: adults do this, too.

Mr Loeb was a very good mayor, as far as I know. He was a member of the largish Memphis Jewish community. When he became a political leader, he did two perhaps surprising things: he became an Episcopalian, and he passed his chain of local (pork) barbecue restaurants - the best in town, I might add - to his brother.

I suppose some might say that made him not Jewish - becoming an Episcopalian, I mean, not getting rid of the barbecue, which fit in nicely with his brother's dry-cleaning establishments, usually in the same building. One-stop shopping, you see: Memphis barbecue is really messy.

The reason some people might say he stopped being Jewish is that they believe being Jewish is a religion. I don't, personally: I have been friends with Jews in several American states and two European countries, and none of them thought it was a religion. In fact, some of them were Christians, and others had no religion at all. Many of them were kind enough to include me as a sort of honorary member of the ethnic group, since I was willing to learn the languages.

The one person who accused me of racism for thinking that being Jewish was not merely a religion is someone I no longer consider a friend.

In fact, I consider him a bigot who believes the rest of us don't know he thinks all non-Catholics are going to hell.

What I learned from Mr Roark was that people and animals are interesting.

Factoids are not particularly interesting. If there are no people or animals at the end of it, it's just reciting the phone book.

My sister used to say I would be much happier if I weren't so smart.

My friend Helen tells me British people don't use the word 'smart' to mean 'intelligent', so I should explain that Americans do.

My sister said that because I didn't like Bonanza. I didn't like Bonanza because it made the Old West look like the early Sixties.

I wasn't annoyed because this was inaccurate. I just thought the early Sixties were boring.

I can't write rants. Oh, a hornpipe with 4-bar rather than 8-bar parts, sure. Just not the kind intended to persuade.

I couldn't sell greeting cards door-to-door, either. (My mother made me try, once. Ladies just invited me for tea - it was Pittsburgh, they drink it - and told me their problems.)

What I write when I become irritated at the world are rambles...often pointless fake 'essays' that probably accomplish the same purpose as rants: to get something off the writer's chest, and to annoy anybody who reads it.

The annoying part is probably important. Nobody would write graffiti on his own back fence.

My definition of a ramble is a piece of writing with no decent thesis. Topic sentences I can manage, though. I suspect I am too socialised (possibly institutionalised1) to leave out topic sentences.

The fun part about rambles is that they start somewhere and end up somewhere else, hopefully arriving at a few points in between - rather like my dog Ariel on a walk. And rather like me following Ariel, the reader may have had another destination in mind.

Another definition I found for 'rant' was: 'A speech or piece of writing that incites anger or violence'. The good thing about rambles, I think, is that they do not inspire anger or violence.

I may be wrong about that - in which case, there is much to be said for cyberspace.

A hole in the ground.
1Some people say I should be, anyway.

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