I’ve been on the road now for a little over two months. These past three days I’ve spent in Ashland, Oregon, with my cousins. They have a super comfy guest bedroom that was at my disposal but instead I pitched my tent out on the patio. I’ve spent a total of two nights indoors since leaving Los Angeles and have gotten accustomed to sleeping in my tent. It was kind of a hybrid setup, with the tent on the patio but the bathroom and kitchen just a few steps away.
Living outdoors, cooking each meal on a camp stove and a mess kit makes you appreciate a kitchen with stove, oven, pots, pans, knives, sink, refrigerator, hot running water, and the luxury of being able to eat dinner seated in a chair.
I hit a milestone of sorts a few days ago, namely, I’ve memorized the entirety of The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer, in Middle English. It’s just under four thousand lines long, and takes about four hours to recite.
Ashland is a theater town, even though the theater is closed due to the covids and the fires, but nonetheless I decided to go down to the plaza and recite The Miller’s Tale. My audience was two homeless guys.
“Do you want to hear a poem?” I asked.
“Sure!” they said. Homeless people are often sitting around and even more often, they are open to being entertained.
“It’s in Middle English. Is that okay?”
“Sure!” they said. “What’s Middle English?”
“It’s like modern English only older and mostly impossible to understand.”
“Let ‘er rip!” the first guy said.
So I did, acting out the poem along with the recitation. They were really interested at first and appeared to follow along really well, but after about fifteen minutes it seemed like they were bored, so I stopped.
“Is that all?” the first homeless guy asked.
“No. There’s more. The two guys are still trying to bang the carpenter’s young hot wife.”
“Well shit, have we got to that part yet?”
“Don’t you know it?”
“Then keep going!”
By now another couple of homeless people had shown up. The first guy updated them on the basic story, and they listened raptly, except for the guy who was snoring. Everyone laughed at the part where the clerk kissed the pretty girl’s ass by mistake, and they laughed even harder when he got his revenge by branding the student’s rear end with a red-hot coulter.
“The Middle English is really beautiful,” said one guy, whose name was Adam. “What’s your name, man?”
“That’s an ancient Egyptian name.”
“And later Hebrew,” I said.
“Yep. Middle English sounds like a mixture of German and maybe Saxon and something like French.”
“It mostly is.”
The first homeless guy chimed in. “That is by far and away the best poem I’ve ever heard about someone getting branded in the ass with a hot poker.”
I was pretty tired as the recitation had taken about an hour. But no one had left or asked me to quit, and only one person had fallen asleep. I’ve never been to a symphony or theater performance where a substantial percentage of the patrons weren’t sawing logs, so my feelings weren’t hurt at all.
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