George Pestana is a poet with a career in computer science and a penchant for penning thoughts (which he calls poems) and pinning them to his non-existent lapels (for, after 50 years, he still wears t-shirts). In his mind he owns a wishing well, into which he will sometimes toss a few of those poems, in the hope that roaming strangers will occasionally fish therefrom a tasty meal; and, in turn, toss a few coins into his wishing well, to wish him well. Such a friendly exchange, he believes, is food for thought. George can be found by himself in Austin, Texas, sharing love with the neighborhood stray cats.
The following is an interview conducted by George Pestana on himself; for indeed, who does not talk to himself from time to time ?
What’s the most memorable thing (to you) that you have written?
Between the ages of 11 and 12 (i.e. 5th – 6th grades), I wrote my own encyclopedia of “animals, letters of the alphabet, and bones of the human body”. It was exactly 500 pages long, on three spiral notebooks, complete with index and cross references. I wrote one page every day for 500 days, and each page was hand written with a different colored marker (7 different colors). My mom drove me to the library after school every day so I could do research for that day’s entry.
Have you ever gotten into an argument with a child?
Yes, when I myself was a child. At age 8 (i.e. in the 2nd grade) I got into an argument with a girl at school about what it meant to “read the bible”. She had said she had read the bible, but I had seen my mom’s bible – it was 1300 pages – and to me, “reading the bible” meant “reading it from cover to cover” – so I called her a liar and told her “no you haven’t. No way.” of course for her “reading the bible” meant “reading selections out of the bible”. So we argued back and forth until we realized we had different definitions. But when I got home, I felt bad about having argued with her. So I thought to myself “if I read 4 pages of my mom’s bible every day, I’ll finish in roughly a year.” So that’s what I did. I read the old testament first, and then the new testament. Now at that time, I had the idea in my head that after you died you would naturally be graded on a test of some sort to see if you could enter heaven – and I realized “hey if I continue this pattern, then by the time I die I will probably have read this thing like I don’t know 60 times, and SURELY by that point I will totally ace that test.” So after the year was up I started over and kept going. I’m not sure anymore how long I did that. At some point I started to suspect that maybe getting into heaven had nothing to do with knowledge, and that, together with actually having to do homework, caused me to stop that particular project.
Do you have any extra muscles in your head?
Why, yes, I do. fancy you should ask that. It indirectly connects my eyelids to my jawbones (I’m not sure exactly how), so that if I chew vigorously my eyelids automatically go up and down with each chew. Roughly 300 people have this anomaly in the United States. My dad told me that when I was born one of the doctors realized it and was more or less ecstatic that he had witnessed that in a newborn.
What is your most valuable skill?
At age 8 (again, the 2nd grade) I was perpetually getting into trouble at school. The punishment at our elementary school was to ‘stand on the sidewalk’ during recess instead of playing with the other kids. I think maybe during the 2nd grade there were perhaps 4 days total when I did not spend recess standing on the sidewalk. I kind of liked it actually. I didn’t have to talk to anyone, and I learned how to fart with my hands while standing there. i can still fart with my hands to this day. this is a GREAT skill to have when you are in elementary school. I also write computer programs and poetry and play the drums, but farting with my hands was clearly the most useful – at that time, anyways. I think that time matters more than my time as an adult, which increases the value of my skills in those days.
Have you ever had an experiment go awry?
When I was in the 5th grade we used to have spelling exercises where we would have 10 words and we would need to use each word in one sentence. One time I thought it would be funny to incorporate each sentence into the next sentence. so the first word was ‘baroque’ (like the type of painting) and I wrote ‘the baroque broke.’ Then the next word was ‘lightning’ and I wrote ‘the baroque broke because lightning struck it’. Around sentence 8 or 9, I realized that this was a very bad idea. But I finished it, and turned that whole mess in. I guess that was sort of an experiment. And I guess it sort of went awry.
Have you ever had any run-ins with the IRS ?
Not exactly. Actually, this fits with the previous question as well, because it was an experiment. The first year that I paid taxes, I realized that the fine print said that if you had overpaid anything “a dollar or less” the IRS wouldn’t bother sending you a check for the difference. (I’ve always liked reading the fine print on the tax stuff). Ithought ‘that means that if I overpay by one dollar and one cent, they should send me a check’. so I did it. And sure enough, they sent me a check for one dollar and one cent, “void within a year.” The next year I paid my taxes correctly, and was overjoyed to discover that they sent me ANOTHER check for one dollar and one cent, “void within a year.” apApparently if you didn’t claim the check it would automatically wrap around to the next year. I gleefully envisioned having a collection of 50-some-odd checks from the IRS, each for one dollar and one cent, by the time I was an old fogey. but after three or four years they apparently changed their software, and the cycle was broken. I received mail from the IRS saying that they had noticed that I had consistently overpayed, and that they would do me a “favor” (my quotes) by automatically deducting that amount from my next year’s taxes. damnit!
What intellectual accomplishment has made you feel the most guilty?
Ah, a common question. I made a 101 average for the year in my high school algebra class. That means I made a 100 on every single quiz, test, and homework, plus some extra credit problems here and there. my algebra teacher met my mom years later at a function of some sort and told her I was the best student she had ever had in 25 years. (This is according to my mom). The year before a decision had been made to ‘demote’ me from the gifted & talented math program back to ‘regular’ (skipping the ‘honors’ category altogether) because of some personality “issues” between myself and my geometry teacher. Apparently I belonged in some sort of limbo state between regular and honors. I don’t even remember that teacher’s name – the teacher who praised me I mean – and I’ve never felt the need to find out her name, though I do remember what she looked like. That lack of interest on my part makes me feel a little guilty. Actually, I suppose a ‘lack of interest’ is not an ‘intellectual accomplishment,’ so I haven’t actually answered your question.
Have you ever personally identified with an interviewer?
Yes, with you! why? Because you ignored what I said at the end of the last question, which makes me feel, oh, I don’t know, a sort of affinity with you. In middle school I almost always lost interest in whatever it was someone was saying to me, and would tune them out and think of something else. Eventually my friends caught onto this and they would start off talking to me coherently and then start saying nonsense things in the same tone of voice, and I would continue to say ‘uh-huh’ and ‘yeah’ absent mindedly from time to time. They told me afterwards about this joke they would play on me, and I actually thought it was kind of funny and laughed with them about it.
Have you ever believed that you had supernatural powers?
Yes. I used to play softball for a church group (late elementary school? middle school? not sure) and I would feel absolutely terrified before each game. I didn’t really want to play, I just ended up signing up for it because the charlie brown characters i used to read were always playing baseball. We had a streak of about 5 or 6 games that were all rained out, and during that time I actually convinced myself that I could control the weather by wishing hard enough that the game would be cancelled. This was because ‘being cancelled by rain’ was exactly what I would wish and wish and wish for before every game, so when we had that streak, I thought I had actually caught onto something. Then it finally rained one time, and I was rudely disabused of my notion.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Well… In college I used to like to go to the life sciences library and read Scientific American magazines from the late 1800s, which were buried deep in the stacks. At that time, Scientific American used to be a weekly magazine. When the first gulf war broke out (1991), I decided to write a poem on a sheet of paper and stick the paper into the corresponding week from exactly 100 years earlier (1891). So i did it. I plan to creak back to the library when I am 70 and see if the poem is still in there. Unfortunately I can’t remember which week of 1991 it was, so i guess I’ll have to look through the whole year. If it’s gone, that’ll suck.
What activities did you engage in during your years at university?
In college (when i was a sophomore) during finals week there were a few times when, after I was done with my last exam, I would pick a large introductory freshman class that I didn’t belong to, which would require the use of a ‘blue book’ (so it would be a large English class or a large history class) and look up the time for their final exam. Then I would go to the exam as if I were a student for that class and start to write an essay in the blue book answering the question. But after a few sentences, i would write that “actually, the subject of X is much more interesting than this, so let’s discuss that instead.” X would be something from one of my actual classes that I had studied up on. Then I would write gobs and gobs on that subject X and finish the exam that way. I would make up a name, sign it with that name, and then walk out. I always wondered what the TA (teaching assistant) thought when she opened it up and started reading. I imagined her going ‘whaaatt???’ then looking at the name and realizing that name was not on the list of students. I only did that two or three times ( I think maybe twice ). They didn’t check for IDs at that time, probably because of the size of the classes – checking the ids of hundreds of students would take forever – and this was at a time when i still looked like a freshman.
My books can be found at Smashwords.