Shiver Me Timbers

A disquisition on horripilation, cutis anserine, gooseflesh, and goose bumps

I'm talking about sitting down at a dinner party this past Saturday with old friends, new acquaintances, survivors, strivers, and strangers, and asking them about the last time they got goose bumps. I'm talking about people offering up stories about it happening with their kids, jobs, songs they heard, plays and pieces of art they saw. I'm talking about this damaged and delighted chosen family brought together for one night only and letting down its guard.

I'm talking about a question that left many inarticulate and resorting to sighs and grunts. I'm talking about answers that led to invocations of Joseph Campbell, the Mayans, The Motorcycle Diaries, Nietzsche, Malcolm X, Jay-Z, Neutral Milk Hotel, music, football, poetry, channeling, and the warm rush of creation. I'm talking about the musician who confessed to being in a constant state of goose-bumpery, the woman who works with troubled teens, one of whom recently gave her his business card, and the new parents who goosed up at a recent episode of--don't laugh--Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

I'm talking about the woman at one end of the table who confessed that she gets goose bumps every time she pees. I'm talking about the woman at the other end who couldn't remember the last time she got goose bumps, but who, upon leaving the party, wondered if it would be "all right" with me if she posed my question to her family at Christmas dinner.

James O'Brien

And of course it would be all right with me. I mean, how do you corner the market on discussions about horripilation? How do you put borders around the astral plane? How do you argue with the image of a once goose-bumpless woman sitting around with her loved ones on Christmas Eve, swapping cosmic kisses that got their start with a couple of dead-or-alive geezers in a hothouse gym?


Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or

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