Thursday, June 30, 2005

#58 Swoggle My Horn

So I’m at my club the other day. That phrase sounds so English doesn’t it? You picture sitting around in huge, overstuffed, high-backed leather chairs, a fire crackling from the grate under the ornate mantelpiece, a butler depositing a hot toddy on the cherry-wood table at your elbow while he hands you a copy of the Times to peruse as you discuss the latest cricket game with your crony across the Persian rug.
Of course, what I mean by club is a sweat-soaked bench in a smelly locker room in a tired building with a few racquetball courts and a couple of rooms of stinky weight equipment.
Anyhow this guy at the club—let’s call him Joe—was telling me how he liked to work out with another guy—let’s call him Fred—cause Fred really knew his stuff when it came to weights and Fred also called Joe “whipper-snapper.” Makes me feel young, Joe said to me. “The voice of experience is good,” I agreed, “but you know, the mere fact you know the term whippersnapper proves you’re at least some old.
And that of course, got me to thinking. Did I know what whippersnapper meant? I use it. And when I do, I use it to indicate youth. But actually, I remember in the old days I always heard it as part of the phrase, “young whippersnapper.” As if there was an older whippersnapper somewhere about. The dictionary wasn’t much help. It defines whippersnapper as “an extended form of whip-snapper: an insignificant, especially young person who appears impertinent or presumptuous.” Hmm. That’s what I always call a twerp.
Another term, “whipping boy,” seemed a little closer to the mark: “Originally, a boy brought up with a young prince and required to take the punishment for the prince’s misdeeds.” There’s a good child-rearing technique. Let’s train our rulers to have someone else take the consequences for their mistakes. Getting punished and beaten while they sit back and enjoy a vacation. Thank God we live in modern times and that stuff doesn’t happen today. How’d they ever hornswoggle people into putting up with that stuff?
And where did that word come from? Hornswoggle? Back to the dictionary. “Fanciful coinage originally associated with cuckoldry. Now meaning to swindle or hoax or trick.” “Cuckoldry” has something to do with the cuckoo bird’s habit of changing mates. I don’t think so.
Thinking maybe it was a compound word I looked up its parts. Horn is pretty obvious. But no entries for either swoggle or woggle. What a waste. Two perfectly good, easy to spell words: woggle and swoggle. And something else to rhyme with toggle. And what did I learn today? Um…Even if I’m a whippersnapper I shouldn’t be anyone’s whipping boy when they try to hornswoggle me into a boondoggle? It makes the mind boggle.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

#57 Hassled and Gruntled

One of the biggest reasons I’m happy I was born an American is that having been born into it, our language doesn’t trick me that often. I’d hate like heck to be a foreigner having to master all this slang and misusage we call English. We can’t even call our language American for gosh sake. It's, it's, Un-American dang it.
Funny how some words can be easily reversed in meaning and still make sense but with others it doesn’t. I say American—I say un-American. I can say funny, I can say unfunny and you get it. Usage—misusage. Hurried—unhurried. Stressed—unstressed. Disband—band. Disagreeable—agreeable. Disgruntled—gruntled. Wait a minute. Who ever heard of anyone being gruntled? I’m guessing anyone who is the opposite of the gun-totin' guy going postal is gruntled. After all, the mailman, I mean mail person, I mean person person, I mean, oh hell, postal worker, must have been gruntled before he was dis-gruntled.
Now, before you tear yourself away from the radio and run to get your dictionaries the answer is yes, there is a word gruntle. Not only that, it’s not recognized in Microsoft Office 2000 spellcheck. Neither is the word “spellcheck” by the way―only its more cumbersome form “spellchecker.” Gruntle is defined as an intransitive verb meaning to grunt repeatedly—presumably in satisfaction, or as a verb: to cause to be more favorably inclined; gain the good will of; "She managed to gruntle the angry customer" [synonyms would be: pacify, conciliate, assuage, appease, mollify, placate, and gentle] Obviously this is a meaning many of us ignore in our everyday speech. If instead of mollifying or pacifying one of my angry customers I said I was going to gruntle them, I think I’d probably make them dismayed. Then, after that, would I have to “may” them? Or would I re-may them? What if they re-fuse to be re-mayed? Would I then try to fuse them? Maybe I could assuage them. I love assuaging people. Sounds like something you need a license for, doesn’t it? I’m a licensed assuage therapist.
My least favorite "dis" word is "dis" itself, as in I dissed him, or I was dissing on him. My slang dictionary says it derives from a shortened form of the word disrespect. Unfortunately, it also derives from a misuse of the word disrespect, namely, the incorrect use of it as a verb, as in I disrespected him or he disrespected me. You can respect someone, but you cannot disrespect them, you can only show them disrespect. Disrespect is a noun. Like, say, an apple. You can show someone an apple. You do not apple them.
Confused? Me too. When I jump into the swamp of our language, I get completely discombobulated. That’s why I keep trying to get back to normal. Cause I don’t know about you, but when I’m combobulated again, I am totally gruntled, dude.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

#56 Thinking Outside the Box

Anyone who ever worries about the outsourcing of white collar jobs can feel comfortable knowing it will never happen to copy writers. At least not in the cereal industry. The other day I pulled a box of cereal out of the pantry and was absolutely amazed by how many adjectives were strewn across the front of the box.
First of all, the label on the top left of the box of cereal in question said it was from Kellogg’s. Another red egg-shaped bubble to the right proclaimed it was “NEW.” Below that it was “Frosted.” Then it was “Mini” and finally it was “Wheats.” “Wheats” had a little “R” beside it, indicating that the word “Wheats” or perhaps the entire construction “Mini-Wheats” was a registered trademark. Don’t try calling your latte stand “Mini-Wheats” buster or your going to jail. In case you’d been living in the tullies, they then explained in small letters next to the trademark symbol that mini-wheats were “lightly sweetened whole grain wheat cereal” Hmm. Somehow the fact that it was from Kellogg’s, it was in a cereal box, and it said frosted, kind of gave me that idea.
Mid-box a banner stretched across. It said Vanilla Crème. Cream spelled c-r-e-m-e with a little doohickey over the “e” not cream, c-r-e-a-m, as in from the cow. By using the French spelling Crème, which is also pronounced “crem” as in cremation, they apparently avoid any requirement for bovine origination.
Under that banner were a couple of bannerettes with factual assertions, perhaps to balance the implied indulgence of vanilla crème. The words “Naturally and Artificially Flavored” explained that most of the flavor was indeed artificial—I’m guessing all of it except that cardboard shredded wheat taste—and the second bannerette said that this cereal was an “Excellent Source of Fiber.” As is, coincidentally, cardboard. Underneath the two factoids was another pitch, this one announcing that “Vanilla Crème Flavor was Baked Into Every Bite.” How thoughtful. I’m so glad they didn’t cheapen the product by only baking the artificial flavor into every other bite. At this point on the box, the banners were actually covering up the enticing pictures of the mini-wheats depicted thereon. Which, need I say, were “enlarged to show texture.” This disclaimer, by the way, though now obligatory on every product box, was so small, I had to get a magnifying glass to enlarge it enough to read it. The next graphic was a simulation of a ribbon and seal. The seal had a big message that proclaimed, “Made with Whole Grain.” I sense a struggle here. Health versus indulgence. First you have the “frosted,” then you have the “mini-wheat,” then you have the “vanilla crème,” then you have the “fiber,” then you have the “vanilla crème baked into every bite,” then you have the “made with whole grain.”
The last adjective on the box seemed to finally resolve the dilemma. Or at least throw up its hands and say, oh what the hell. It said simply, “bite size.” Cripes. If flavor and health doesn’t get em, maybe whether or not they can put it in their mouth will.
Funny thing though. Everything I put in my mouth is bite size.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

#55 Mean Streets

If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked yourself: What does it all mean? And if you’ve ever been married, you’ve probably asked yourself: What was I thinking? Just kidding. Everyone knows the key to a successful marriage is communication. Communication is about using words. So understanding what it all means in a slightly different sense is how to make marriage—and life—work. As in: what does that specific word mean?
For example, a good friend of mine was relating a story of his son. They were standing at the checkout stand in the grocery store for the umpty-umpth time over the years and the checker asked him, for at least the jillionth time: Paper or plastic? My friend said paper, the checker shook one out noisily, and the kid said with this huge sense of epiphany: “Oh, the bags!”
You see, for all those years the kid thought the checker was asking about my friend's preferred mode of payment—paper or plastic? Bills or credit cards. The youngin’ had probably heard credit cards referred to as plastic sometime in his early formative years and its default meaning was forever associated to money, not bags.
We all make those assumptions daily. We assume people know what we’re talking about. Look what I just said a few sentences ago. I used the term umpty-umpth. It’s also rendered as um-pet-y-umpth and ump-teenth. But we all know what it means. In the dictionary, I was able to find “umpteen” as slang for “very many” but I’d be willing to bet there aren’t very many foreign language translation dictionaries out there that include it. I also used the word jillionth. Again, not a word foreigners would get but one we use all the time. If you ever want to have some fun with the whole outsourcing thing, make a technical assistance call to one of your computer or electronic device companies. When you get transferred to India, see if you can get the American-job-stealing person on the other end confused with terms like umpty-umpth and knarly. I was in contact with one recently. She was pretty good language-wise until she had to spell something out and use the letter double-u. “That’s dub-ie-you” she said, “as in viskey.”
“How’s the weather in India?” I asked.
“How did you know I was from India?”
“Just a quess. I bet that’s the umpty-umpth time you’ve been asked that.”
“Vat?” she said.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Do they have good viskey there?”
I did have to laugh the other day though. Apparently, one of our local Asian entrepreneurs has mastered the language quite well. I say this because the true test of proficiency in language is to be able to pun. Like when I say I was at the restaurant the other night and I left a tip so big it was a gra-three-ity. You know I know the sound “tu” has two meanings. Anyhow. This entrepreneur’s name is Y-O-N-G. Yong. And she named her beauty shop “Forever Yong.”
Cowabunga, Dude!
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

#54 Honey Do

My wife and I had relatives staying with us last week and it was refreshing to see how they shared their domestic chores. Guess what, I’m one of those modern guys who isn’t afraid to do dread and mysterious things like laundry!! I’ve always wondered why it is that Joe Normal American guy can tune up his pick-up, change the oil, negotiate the subtleties of a router, a reciprocating saw and a 48-bit cordless drill, assemble his toddler’s first bike from tubes, nuts, and bolts and yet not be able to understand wash, rinse, and spin?
When I worked retail, I once had a mom come in who was buying her college son clothes at Christmas time. She was very intent on making sure that everything was the most easy-care possible. To the point of buying everything 100% polyester just to make sure he couldn’t shrink, wrinkle, or fade it. She seemed a little miffed when I explained to her that it was actually possible to ruin polyester too if the young man in question decided to set the dryer on superhot. I was also a little young, and full of myself as well—a condition I’ve fortunately grown out of—and resented the implication that just because we had zip-front trousers us men couldn’t do laundry. I expressed as much to her and she said: “Oh no, my son is totally lost in the laundry room.”
“Perhaps he just hasn’t been trained,” I offered.
“No,” she said, “I tried to show him and he just couldn’t get it. Now he comes home every few weeks to have me do his laundry.”
“And he is how old?” I asked.
“And he is studying what in college?”
“Computer engineering,” she replied proudly.
“Hmm.” I said. “And he just can’t seem to figger out that there complete-icated washin’ machee-en. I think your son is smarter than you think.”
She just looked at me like I’d gone crazy. Their dynamic was easy to understand. She wanted to still be needed for something and he still wanted to need her. That’s cool.
I find my ex-sister-in-law’s sexism a little more disturbing. She, on the other hand, had nothing but scorn and ridicule for all men who couldn’t cook or do laundry and made a big deal about proclaiming her independence from all gender-biased actions, a stance with which I wholeheartedly agree. But lo and behold, when a thick snow fell one year, she thought nothing of trudging down to the Western Auto store and mewling pathetically to a young male attendant that she’d never put on chains before, and let him not only pick out the right chains but drive her back to her car and put them on for little ol’ helpless her. I don’t mind helping people in distress, but opportunistic hypocritical delicate flowers I can do without. Talk the talk, walk the walk, that’s my motto. And please, remember to separate your lights and darks.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

#53 Ringy-dingy

I’ve finally found a new technology I can use. The other day I was sitting next to this annoying guy in a meeting. He was a cellphone abuser and his name was Carl.
We were at a C.A.A. meeting. Cellphone Abusers Anonymous. A support group designed to wean people from cellphone dependence. A 12 step program helping people first identify that they do have a problem, then leading them through the various steps of acknowledgement, acceptance, ownership, and how to break a long term expensive lease agreement. Cellphone abusers start out just like you and me. Then they find themselves endlessly engaged in the pursuit of “minutes.” At first it’s just a quest for daytime minutes, but soon they’ll think nothing of mortgaging their home for unlimited evening, weekend, and yes, anytime minutes. They sign up imaginary friends and 4th cousins twice-removed to friends and family plans. They totally ignore the normal warning signs that would stop the average social cellphone user: roaming and overages. Soon they’re on their phones everywhere. In the grocery store and at the theatre. At the PTA, changing lanes in their cars, even while they’re having dinner with their family at home. They compulsively enter all their friends’ numbers, addresses, and favorite nicknames in their little phone memories. Get the phones with cameras in them so they have an excuse to take it on a “get a way from it all” a hiking trip. They obsessively upgrade and add on all the new gadgetary accessories: Earphones and speakerphones and microphones that come down in front of their lips like McDonalds order-takers. They even get that little cyber-phone that plugs directly into their ear with that annoyingly bright blue light that announces to all the world that I’m a cellphone addict and I don’t care. It’s only when their life is in a shambles, when all their friends have shunned them in person and worse, put call blocking on their own phones to avoid their persistent, barely audible calls, when they can’t go potty without taking their phone along, when even Cingular won’t sign them up during peak hours, its only then they seek out Cellphone Abusers Anonymous. Hi, they finally say. I’m Carl and I’m a cell-co-holic.
It’s then that the healing can begin.
Just kidding. I did find out something cool though. You can download ringtones. I was shocked the other day because this guys hip started ringing and the sound was a perfect simulation of an old-fashioned phone. I flashed back to the fifties and nearly jumped out of my bobby socks. Then I thought: Great idea. Ringtones come in all kinds of sound effects. Borrow the phone of a cellphone abuser you hate. Download and install a ringtone on it that’s, you guessed it, a fart noise. Give it back to him. He puts it on his belt and next time he’s in an important meeting and his phone rings, out comes this embarrassing blattt from the region of his lap. Now that’s technology I can use.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Monday, June 13, 2005

#52 Vaz or Vayse

A colleague asked me something the other day. I had just used the word vase in one of my commentaries and he asked why I didn’t pronounce it “vaz.” I skipped my brother-in-law’s explanation―that if it’s over 50 bucks it’s a vaz―and instead said that language can be a regional thing. Cause it got me thinking. We here in Warsh-ington do have our fermiliar ways of speakin. Most strangers would naturally assume that Sequim would be pronounced see-quee-im, Yell-em would be Yelm, and Ah-lympia would be Oh-lympia. Maybe it’s not as easy to pick out as some of the major dialects. Like the Brooklyn people wit their fuggetaboutits and the people from Boah-ston driving their cahs. Or the southern-fried cohnpones and rednecks with their use of fewer syllables with words like chit’lins instead of chitterlings and more syllables like when they say mo-ah instead of more.
Some words are more subtle. Like why we say vittles instead of victuals. It’s spelled v-i-c-t-u-a-l-s. It comes from the French “vitaille” which actually sounds more like vittles. So why didn’t we just move it across language barrier whole rather than stick in that v-i-c-t- thing? Or how about the word subtle. S-u-b-t-l-e. As far as I can tell, everybody in the country pronounces it suttle. Not sub-tle. Why not just give the slow-learners a break from fifth grade torment and spell it like it sounds? I know we have to keep the “Hooked On Phonics” people in business with enough exceptions about non-phonic stuff to justify their existence, but really.
Or the word snickered? As in, he snickered at the joke. Some authors write it sniggered. At first I wasn’t sure if they were two different things, kind of like the difference between a burst of laughter and a guffaw. Or a chortle and a chuckle. While we’re on the subject, does one “burst out laughing” or “bust out laughing?”
And why, here in the Northwest, is it always “pouring down” rain? Has there ever been an episode of rain pouring up? Or when someone is really inebriated why are they falling-down drunk? I’m guessing anybody that falls is likely to fall down. Unless of course you’re in space. Are we trying to distinguish between drunks that are astronauts or not?
It makes getting over the language barrier tricky. We have a local restaurant whose owners appear to be from Guatemala. They named their restaurant Guanaco. Guanaco are small creatures prized for their fine wool, kind of like midget llamas. I had one as a pet once that I called Fernando. Anyhow. The name most Americans are familiar with that sounds like Guanaco is Guano. The two words look a lot a like from a distance. My sister was up visiting and that was exactly what she thought as we drove by it. Guano, unfortunately, is a natural fertilizer created from deposits of bird excrement.
Oh yeah, bird poop. There’s a good name for a restaurant. Even worse, the poor proprietors of the fine establishment in question opened up a lounge, and true, they thought, to the Guatemalan theme, but trying to come up with a hip Americanism, they named it the G-spot lounge. I kid you not.
Like I said, language can be a regional thing.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Friday, June 10, 2005

#51 Bummed

I was going down the off ramp of the freeway the other day, when I spied a homeless character brandishing a cardboard sign. Seems he was hungry or something. I was feeling generous so I reached in my pocket and pulled out two quarters. Then, I realized, Hey, it’s Saturday. So a dug for another quarter and gave the guy 75 cents. Time and a half for weekends, right?
So it occurred to me. Maybe what this whole bum thing needs is a little old-fashioned unionizing. It worked in the thirties to help elevate an entire class of disadvantaged people. Today’s consumers directly owe their status as consumers to unions. Back in the unregulated days of corporate exploitation folks like us were working six or seven days a week, 12 hours a day, for pitiful wages. We didn’t have to worry about where our kids were cause they were working in the coal mines right beside us. We couldn’t afford a toaster, much less central heating, three computers, and cellphones that sprouted out of our ears.
So, if unionizing helped create the entire consumer/leisure class maybe it could help the bums too.
Now I’m not some heartless fellow who thinks that all homeless are bums. There are many disadvantaged people who get crushed under the wheels of our society that legitimately need a little 9/11 compassion.
But there has always been a vagabond group that has sniffed at the edges of the rotting corpse which is our bloated throwaway society, and managed to live by tearing off an occasional chunk of it on the sly.
They know that depicting themselves as homeless rather than hobo is a fine strategy. Unfortunately, too many of us are catching on, and if the hobo thing is to work as efficiently as it could, some organization is in order.
So first, a couple of basics. Appropriate apparel. Not a good idea to be wearing expensive shoes and clothes. People notice when “homeless” individuals look like they spent 150 bucks on the latest Timberlands and its pretty common knowledge that Carharrts don’t come cheap.
Two: Smoke breaks. Again. It’s a hard sell to a suspicious consumer that you’re “desperate, will take anything, and will work for food” when you have a cigarette dangling from your lips. 3.50 for a pack of cigarettes will also buy you three items off the value menu of any fast food establishment.
Three: Rotate your shifts. If you are in the same place for longer than a week you’ve tapped out your potential market. Try someplace different, change clothes. Shave one day and get some stubble going the next. Variety sells. On that note: Lose the dog and the friend. People don’t like to be generous to more than one thing at a time. Asking them to fork over a buck and a bone is pushing it.
Four: Take a page from basic union thinking. Work your way up to the plum spots. I think it’s more necessary than ever to arrange apprentice, journeyman, and master status and all the privileges each echelon bestows. It’s all about maximizing resources. You don’t want some greenhorn coming in and hogging a great off ramp just cause he got up a little earlier than you. Initiative will kill a good organization.
Finally, every union needs a good name. How about the United Non-Workers of America? UNWA. And when you’re inducted into to it you’ll be UNWA-shed.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

#50 Some Ass. Required

I recently purchased a new mp3 player for my wife. Her old one had mysteriously fried-out 2 days past its un-extended warranty period and would no longer receive information from our computer. That’s happened before. We figured we needed to get a firmware upgrade. For those of you who, like me, had never heard of a firmware upgrade, it’s simple. You go out online and log on to a gizmo manufacturer’s website and they send an electronic packet of gobblydegoop to whatever it is you’ve got connected to your computer by a USB cable. Basically, that means you can broadband-up a little data sweatshop in Kaybop-akar India and they’ll reprogram your device all the way across the world. Great theory, except this time it didn’t work. I suspected—after three or six hours of time wasting—that the source of the difficulty was not my device, but Windows XP Service Pack 2. Probably the manufacturer of my product and Bill Gates had yet to work out a licensing agreement and so our two devices could no longer communicate. For some reason the prophetic phrase, “What’s the frequency Kenneth?” immediately popped into my mind.
Call me old-fashioned but even though computers aspire to be as ordinary as a home appliance, I don’t remember ever having to go out and by a new toaster because the bread didn’t fit anymore.
So anyhow, that’s just what I do. I go out and buy a new version of the mp3 player and guess what? It’s incompatible as well. Service Pack 2, although I’m sure it’s very good at communicating to the government any terrorist conspiracy inklings I may have lurking in my computer, is pretty sucky when it comes to interacting with my handheld devices.
But here’s the deal. It took me too damn long to figure this out. Why? Because the dang manufacturer didn’t have a fricking instruction manual with the device. The only thing they had even resembling instructions was this two-page international picture booklet that as near as I could figure told me to put in the CD that came with the package and then go from there. “From there” ended up being a defective CD. I finally managed to open up the instruction manual file on the CD and then print out a 36-page document, which didn’t help anyhow. I now know in intricate detail how to upload a song into the music management program and download it onto my player. Unfortunately, I couldn’t install the music management program, and my computer won’t load the drivers necessary to recognize the player. But what really yanks my cord is that I now have 36 pages of wasted paper sitting on my desk. From where came the notion that when you buy a product, you can’t even include a set of instructions—the jump from “some assembly required” to “some printing required before the assembly could even begin?”
I tell you this, if the next time I buy a toaster, I have to get online first to figure out how to program it to make my toast light, medium, or dark it’s gonna make me really, really cranky.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

#49 Computation Conjugation Cogitation

It’s so cool living in a time of great cultural change. Specifically, I mean all the great new words we get to use cause new technology and new fads force us into it. I talked once before about Google. And how fun it is to go about googling things. I’m sure the two guys who invented Google are sitting back pretty happy. Not only did they whip up one of the greatest search engines of all time, but their process became a verb in its own right. They’re probably snickering behind their palm pilots at poor old Bill Gates right now. Nobody ever MS-DOS-ed anything. Or “windowed” their computer.
Or how about the word "font"? Did anyone not in the printing industry even know the meaning of the word font before 1990? Much less use it in everyday conversation, or trot out comparisons thereof to embarrass a major TV journalist?
For a while, we used to boot things up, though I think that’s fallen out of favor now. In this angry new millennium, boot and up are more commonly used to indicate the placement of same in someone else’s derriere. And computers have become so commonplace we treat them like any other household appliance or machine. We fire them up, or more genteelly, turn them on. And the sixties’ meaning of turning someone or something on, as in introducing them to a new experience, has gradually morphed back into its more technically-oriented connotation. In fact, the whole tune-in, turn-on, drop-out, live-back-in-the-forest thing has been replaced by the always-on, hooked-up, plugged-in techno-society. Phones sprout from our ears and we pick our coffee shops based on whether or not they have wireless capability, so we can sip our cappuccinos, fire up our laptops and surf the internet. In my day surfing was something you did at the beach, not the coffee shop, and if I ever fired up my laptop it was because a flaming coal fell out of my pipe.
And speaking of coffee shops. Long gone is the neighborhood tavern as a daytime social meeting place. Today it’s the coffee shop. There are so many coffee shops now, the owners are hard put what to call them. “Coffee House” is one option used. I don’t know. Seems kind of warm on one hand, but a little like a halfway house on the other. “Coffee Bar” is another: I guess trying to conjure up a little of the old tavern’s mellow alcoholic conviviality and less of the hyper-technoid espresso twitchiness you sometimes see. I saw a new one the other day. A coffee Café. Nice try. I guess it was because they were hoping to invoke the nostalgic feeling of the fifties. But I had to laugh. Back then, little restaurants that served coffee were called cafés because—um—café means coffee.
“Hey Hon, let’s go down to the coffee coffee and fire up our laptops.”
“Okay Sweetie, but only if we can morph something...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

#48 Passion Stones

I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons the other day. What started it was a TV ad playing for the Passion. You know, Mel Gibson’s controversial portrayal of the Passion. I confess, when I first heard about it so long ago, and knowing of Mel Gibson primarily for his steamier roles on the big screen, I thought it was the everyday meaning of the word passion and assumed it was another bosom-heaver featuring him and the Hollywood starlet du jour. Okay, mea culpa, I was wrong. I’m not always the brightest bulb in the tulip shed.
The Passion, as all of you knew before me, is what Catholics and others call the last days of Christ. And, broadly, the whole story surrounding it. It’s sometimes reenacted in what they call a Passion Play roundabout Easter. I was raised a backwoods Southern Baptist, so forgive me that we always referred to the time after the last supper as “the time after the last supper.”
But you shouldn’t be that cross with me because even the dictionary defines passion as either intense torment or intense love. Most of us use the intense love definition, so when couples on Jenny Jones complain about the passion going out of their marriage you don’t think it’s because they enjoy torture.
Anyhow, we were talking about it because the TV ad was touting a new release of the Passion. At first I thought, good, maybe it’s dubbed in English. I hate like hell reading subtitles. I go to the talkies to have people talk. I can read at home. But no, the new version being released was one without all the gore. It seemed kind of funny. I mean, I remember Mel saying last year that the gore was essential to the artistic and religious vision of the whole thing, so that people could really understand the suffering Christ went through and that he, Mel, wasn’t going to compromise because he wasn’t in the whole enterprise to make money anyhow. Seems odd that he’s re-releasing it in a toned-down form, at Easter. Seems to be sopping the last little bit of gravy off the plate as it were. Just a thought.
My son asked me various questions about the movie that he wasn’t clear on, like who was the guy with the basin washing his hands. I answered them to his satisfaction.
“Sounds like you know the story pretty well,” he said. “When did you see the movie?”
“I didn’t,” I said.
“How do you know so much about it?” He asked.
I replied slowly. “ read the book.”
“I saw it on DVD” he said. Then, because he knew I didn’t like him spending money on things without my knowing he said quickly: “It’s okay, it was burned copy.”
Yikes. Nothing like a religious play to really hammer home morality. And bad enough that I’m going get struck down for my occasional religious indiscretion. Now a lighting bolt’s gonna hit my computer too. I wonder if someone sells a heavenly surge protector.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Monday, June 06, 2005

#47 It’s a Ga-Ga-Gas

Is it just me or are did gas prices nudge up a bit early this year? What gives? Used to be it was at least late May or early June before the corporate gougers started sticking it to us. Man, it started in January this year. Did they think we wouldn’t notice if they started early? Or is this just their way of softening us up first? Kind of like a cat does when it’s caught a little birdie. Bats it around a few times and makes it think it’s almost free, and then with one ferocious bite chomps off its head. Or maybe this is the oil-igopoly’s way of kissing us first?
On a number of levels high gas prices can’t be helping the economy much. You kind of wonder what things would be like if the guy in the White House had a lot of friends in the SUV business instead of the oil business. The car industry is doing a retake on the seventies. In fact, I saw one of those new tiny cartoon cars that Detroit is currently putting out in desperation the other day. This one was called the Déjà Vu. Definitely harking back to the 70s oil crises on that one. ‘Sept back then we could blame the evil oil cartel, OPEC. American’s could rest comfortable knowing that if we really wanted to, we could end the oil price gouging in a second by marching into Islamaville and taking over those black gold gushers. Hmm.
Champions of unfettered oil exploration now say that when we open up the Alaska wildlife reserve to drilling, all our problems will be solved and oil will once again flow like honey. Problem is, even conservative estimates say that all the oil in the reserve only amounts to about a three-month supply at current usage rates. Four, if we all parked our giant SUVs.
What’s worse is that no one can give a convincing reason why gas prices have suddenly started to climb so precipitously. And the funny thing is, when you hear the talk shows talking about not adding taxes because it might kill the economy, they’re completely ignoring the one thing that could bring the anemic recovery were having to a screeching halt. Higher fuel prices.
Higher fuel prices are a hidden tax on everything. Everything we get comes to us by truck, train, boat or plane. All of which run on fuel. All of us go to work each day using fuel. And if fuel takes a bigger bite out our budget, then we won’t be buying that new electronic gizmo, which now also costs more anyhow because electronic gizmos take money to ship, too. Our great new internet economy, that thrives because shipping items from Ama-dot central is so cheap, will wither on the electronic vine of commerce like a desiccated grape.
A recent poll asked people what they were spending their tax refunds on. A lot of them said bills. I don’t know about you but I’ve already spent my tax reduction four times over on one bill in particular: My fuel bill. Hey honey, we saved two hundred dollars on taxes this year...Oh, and we spent $1000 more on gas. Gee, I sure hope someone isn't getting really, really rich off this. You’d think that destroying a whole economy just so a few people could pocket an extra couple billion wouldn’t be very compassionate.
America Ya Gotta Love It.

Friday, June 03, 2005

#46 A Horse is a Horse

Even though I sometimes complain about change, I don’t deplore all technological advances. Far from it, the greatest achievement of the industrial age, and the single strongest reason for our health and longevity, is one of my favorite breakthroughs; the modern sewage system. That first unsung sewage engineer was nothing to sniff at. He took the squalor and pestilence that can only come from chamber pots dumped in the gutter and made possible the squalor and pestilence you can only get when the sewers back up in great cities like New York and Washington DC today.
I’m reminded of a discussion I had once with a little old lady environmentalist at a meeting of a committee we were both on. Now I hate air pollution as much as anyone does. If we’re going to be bangin about in internal combustion horseless carriages we ought to at least be able to figure out a way to keep them from belching noxious poison all over the gull-durn place. But I also recognize that cars have their strengths. Among them the fact that you don’t have to go out to their cold barn every morning at six o’clock to feed them. Anyhow, it was during a snowfall, and people had a hard time getting to the meeting on time because they had to chain up and traffic was bad, etc. The lady, incidentally, had made all her money selling real estate back East, increasing its population density, then had moved out here to get away from the crowds. Anyhow, at the meeting she proclaimed self-righteously: “Back when we had horses instead of cars a little snowfall wouldn’t have upset things as much.”
“No,” I said, “Then again, it’s sure nice not having piles of fly-invested horse dung at every corner.” She just humpffed.
But really, it’s nice not having one of my feet splooching in the occasional apple the street sweeper guy missed. I grant that riding a horse in the snow is not terribly different from riding one in the sun, unless of course, the horse in the course of riding the course happens to trip on a rock so coarse that it breaks the ankle of the horse. But, let’s face it, a horse draggin’ a wagon is just as bad when it comes to slipping, sliding, and skidding into oncoming traffic. The biggest difference between a head-on crash then as opposed to now is that back then there were more dead horses involved.
Point is we tend to take for granted some of the progress that got us where we are now. Peeing in the street may be fine for the occasional drunk today, but at one time is was the norm for Mr. high-hatted dandy to undo his trouser buttons and let fly. Look in any old picture from the turn of the last century. There’re no automobiles all right. But the streets are still smoggy from the coal burning in everyone’s hovels—the richest man in the world didn’t have central heating back then—and you see these mysterious guys with giant brooms. Their job was to sweep the gutters clean of all the excrement, horse and human. At least now the only horse manure we have to put up with is when the powers that be try to explain why gas prices are so high.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

#45 Soccer? I hardly Know Her

Recently, a high school administration tried to prevent its own women’s soccer team from using the playing field surrounded by the tax-payer constructed track it no longer lets the public use. The infield of any track area, as I sure most of you know, is a football field. And for those who believe that the angels themselves play football just to pleasantly while away eternity, the football-soccer-track combo really only means one thing: Football. Eternity, by the way, although it’s not defined as such biblically, is the time it takes to get from the final 2 minute warning to the end of the game.
Anyhow, the high school powers that be, having invested huge amounts of money in the new football-soccer-track field, said the soccer team couldn’t use the field. They were saving it for the football team on Friday night. That’s when all the “paying” fans come out, don’t you know. The administration maintained that football was the chief fundraiser for the school. Furthermore, it brought income in, rather than simply “used” money like the soccer team—that would be the money the soccer team “used” on their uniforms, which they earned in carwashes and candy sales because there were no general funds available.
And, the late night Tuesday and Thursday soccer games aren’t as well attended as Friday night games. Could it be something about having to get up early and work the next morning? Oh no, that’s not it, football is more exciting. And football is good for the kids. It teaches team discipline. And let’s not forget the traumatic arthritis all these young bucks get later in life, as a result of the injuries they sustained during their formative years. And how that team discipline comes in handy when they’re pushing a broom at a warehouse cause the team doctor didn’t pay close enough attention to that concussion on homecoming night. Lord knows, football is a good thing all right. Cause all the old football dads love coming to the game and watching junior try to fill the cleats of their glory days. And they’ll fork over good money to do it, too. As long as you ignore that Southern Comfort in their thermos and the slightly erratic way they drive home. So you better get your sissy soccer back to the unlit, potholed, ankle-shearing practice field, this here astroturf’s for our young stallions.
It’s really no surprise. In my day, the fight was over a multi-use field for baseball and football. Since both of those sports were equal in the eyes of fans the administration finally did the right thing. They built separate fields. With separate bleachers and separate ticket booths. The school didn’t have enough money for new books, but dad-blame-it, they was gonna have two brand spankin new fields. Cause they made money. This is like a business boy. Survival of the fittest. Of course they didn’t actually figure the construction costs and maintenance costs of said stadiums into to the bottom line. Just the costs of uniforms and coaches and helmets and whatnot. Us non-football game attending taxpayers forked over the rest.
Seems like primitive times, doesn’t it? I’m glad Seattle finally put that controversy to rest. I mean, why have two fields, with each one sitting idle half the year when you could have one multi-use facility that services both—like the Kingdome? And gosh, it’ll be here till Kingdome come. Oh. Right.
America, Ya Gotta Love It.*
*Please note: Any resemblance to any high school living or dead is purely coincidence. Results may vary.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

#44 Not Tracking

My dear bride is a runner. And she’s pretty serious about it. That means she likes to train in a variety of running environments to increase her overall speed and endurance. With runners, speed and endurance is pretty much it. They don’t really have to work on their slice or their hook, figure out the best wedge to use in a bunker, or which wood to use on a short dogleg. Then again, they wouldn’t be caught dead driving a little electric cart to go 100 yards.
Anyhow, one of the many workouts my wife and her friends used to enjoy was going to the local track and doing speed laps. Interval training I think they call it. Well, lately that’s not possible. Seems the high school upgraded its track and has decided the public is no longer welcome, so chain link fences have been erected at great public cost to prevent said public from entering said grounds, which, need I point out, were also constructed at great public cost.
Now I could understand the school district taking this stance if in fact the track in question had been subject to vandalism. Not so. The high school is not even close to any of the places teenage ne’er-do-wells like to hang out. In fact, it is so far from any place considered cool that students, upon hearing the last bell, universally desert that entire side of town. And really, the chances are pretty remote that any disgruntled juvenile delinquent could find much to vandalize on a quarter mile oval. Surprisingly, graffiti just doesn’t seem to hold up on rubberized pseudo-cinders. And I think it’s highly unlikely that a disgruntled angst-filled adolescent would go to the trouble of digging a pit or something for the varsity track star to stumble in come race day. My experience with disgruntled angst-filled adolescents is they’re pretty dang lazy.
So the only possible vandalism the school district has to worry about is the occasional Pekinese dropping or Shitzu poo that the old folks who used to walk around the same track failed to pick up. The same pet-walking old folks, one should note, that continue to pay property taxes which support the construction of both school and track, and support the education of youngsters 50 years their junior. The funny thing is, the neighborhood the high school is in has aged quite a bit. And off-hours use of the track in question far exceeded the on-hours use by the students for whom it was built.
Maybe I’m way off base here, but publicly-funded facilities ought to be able to be used by the public. I mean, what would they say if they dared to charge an exorbitant admission fee to a publicly-subsidized place like Safeco Field or something? Oh, wait a minute. Sorry. It’s not called Public Taxpayer Field. What was I thinking?
America, Ya Gotta Love It.