"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Defining Moment

As deluded as I may be in considering myself a "writer", I've certainly enjoyed the challenge of putting pen to paper (or, in my case, brainwaves to Interocitor) and coming up with brief essays that others may also derive pleasure from. Or, since my grammar should be exemplary in this instance - "'... that from which others derive also may pleasure." Of course, in addition to deciding upon subject matter there's also the creative challenge of being vocabulent. Notice how I devised an adjective at the end of that last sentence to describe a hither-to undocumented state of being -- "fanciful in one's use of verbiage". I'm sure "vocabulent" will be included in a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, or else my next tweet.

All seriousness aside: I do occasionally come across a word I haven't encountered before or whose proper use I've misunderstood. As an example, I recently learned that "oubliette" is the French word for "omelette". Also that "toastmaster" and "sous chef" are not interchangeable. And while the best-known maxim for writers is to "write what you know", I certainly enjoy flexing my mental muscles and looking for discrete opportunities to introduce a word or phrase that, while perhaps less frequently encountered, serves to encapsulate a certain je ne sais quoi (more French, and I'm honestly not sure what it means) where everyday-wordiness simply isn't up to the task. While I realize I run the risk of leaving some of my more pedantic followers behind (because they are, literally, "walking" followers), I get a thrill when sprinkling such bon mots (yet more French! It's like I'm bi-inguinal) into my posts and knowing that at least several of my literally dozen of followers enjoy being stimulated by such intellectual crap.

I recently came across the following list of rarely encountered words, a few of which may be familiar to some of you. But for the benefit of the other somes of yous to whomse they are not yet known, I have included definitions so you won't have to scramble for a dictionary (which I, as well, did not):
  • captious: obsessed with hats
  • bibulous: involved in an activity which requires wearing an apron
  • tricorn: the offspring of a unicorn and a bull
  • tenebrous: a group of slightly less than a dozen people
  • braggadocio: an especially pretentious Starbucks order
  • bruit: the act of manufacturing ale or lager
  • valetudinarian: being exceptional at parking cars
  • cenacle: ten times as frightening as a tentacle
  • hypermnesia: a condition where one frequently forgets how to spell words beginning with the letter "a"
  • estivation: a guess regarding the height of a mountain
  • myrmidon: the leader of a group of undersea nymphs involved in a criminal enterprise
  • regnant: an apartment-dweller who breaks a lease 
  • clerisy: a priest considering conversion to Judaism
  • deracinate: to cool down after running a marathon
  • oneiromancy: kissing one's own reflection in a mirror
  • tatterdemalion: what remains after running over weeds with a lawn mower
  • hypnopompic: the state of being entranced by extravagant spectacle
  • pule: the antonym of "pyush"
  • funambulist: an EMT relating a humorous anecdote
Honestly, I'm not even sure my keyboard came with all the letters necessary to spell some of these. I plan to work on introducing them into my lexicon (when I can afford one -- I'm still tooling around in an aging toyoticon). BTW: wordplay involving an automobile is known as "carpaccio". And if you don't care for puns -- well, please take your beef elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Slip Sliding Away

We got a bit more snow the first Sunday in March. While the forecast called for an inch or two, we ended up with closer to four or five.

Carol was in Boston at her monthly yoga teacher training, and I'd rented a compact car for the weekend so I could run some errands while she was out of town. Our plan was to meet Sunday evening at the rental facility just off the highway, where I'd return the rental and we'd come home together in our car. Carol called me when she was about 20 miles from the exit, and I prepared to meet her as planned. I'd been out earlier that day with no problem, but now -- with more snow and dropping temps -- the driveway had become too slippery for me to make it up the hill. Having gotten stuck in a snow bank in the driveway once already this season (and also the year before), when the rental car started to slip going up I knew better than to give it another try. All I needed to do was cautiously back down the way I'd come and wait for the weather to improve the next day before making another attempt.

The rental car, however, had a different idea and decided that, regardless of how slowly I drove and cautiously I steered, it would slide in a direction of its own choosing and deposit itself snugly against one side of the driveway, picking the spot with 1) the highest amount of snow bank and 2) saplings arranged like a picket fence, all but guaranteeing I couldn't get out on the driver's side. Dammit dammit dammit DAMMIT! I crawled over the console between the seats and worked my way out the passenger side. Please keep in mind this was a compact car and I am far from compact. After extricating myself (picture pulling the first pickle out of a tightly-packed jar) I walked down the driveway to get the snow shovel and start to clear what I could from the stuck side.

Within a few minutes it was apparent I wasn't going to make any rapid headway, so I called Carol to abort the rendezvous and told her to just come directly to the house. Thirty minutes later she pulled up at the top of the driveway, honking the horn to let me know she'd arrived. Rather than walking up the icy incline I pulled out my phone and called her -- going straight to her voicemail since she was calling me at the same time. I redialed, again reaching her voicemail. So, I trudged up the driveway to brief her on the battle plan. I told her to wait until I'd gotten back to the car and then carefully roll past, turn around, and come up behind the rental car to see if we could manage to push it free using her front bumper. I started to walk/slide back down the driveway and after a few steps Carol honked her horn. I turned around and saw her skidding down the drive directly toward me, brakes ineffective in slowing her approach. I now made a frantic dash down the driveway, diving behind the back of the rental just as she schussed past me in her SUV. I began to unleash a stream of profanity in her direction, expletives flying without a break as she turned the car around and cautiously began to drive back in my direction. I walked the last few steps to meet her as she approached; she lowered the passenger side window to explain herself and I made it clear I didn't care WHAT her effing excuse was and Jay-Effing-See what the EFF was she doing -- spewing forth shameful invective that would have made Joe Pesci blush. Carol told me later that she put up her hands to shield herself from my rant partly in defense but mostly because she didn't want me to see how hard she was laughing at my loss of composure.

More digging and pushing and twenty minutes later we got the rental car out into the middle of the driveway and I was able to carefully roll back to a level position near the house. We walked inside together and as I stepped out of my snow- and sweat-soaked clothing I offered Carol a sincere apology for my temper tantrum, which she graciously accepted. We had the driveway plowed the next morning and after the sun was out for a bit, the ice underneath melted and we were both able to drive up and out and get the rental car returned without further incident.

However, Carol now has a new threat to hold over my head when I do something that displeases her: "Next time I won't honk." It's surprisingly effective.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Turd Wheel

My college roommate Jim was always in pursuit of one girl or another, usually another. I, on the other hand, had a steady girlfriend up until the time when I no longer did. When whomever he was seeing at the time would pay a visit to our apartment, I gladly played the role of convivial comrade, making small talk and telling jokes, fetching beers, and wishing Jim + lady a pleasant evening as they headed out for whatever party and/or dive bar was their plan for the evening.

On two occasions, I was asked to step in to make the fourth in a foursome. The first time was when a girl Jim was seeing at another university in a neighboring city asked him to come to a Sadie Hawkins dance. He received her call and accepted the date, then fell silent on the phone for a few moments before saying, "Ask him yourself," and tossing the handset in my direction. I got on the line and was asked if I'd be willing to be her roommate's blind date for the same event. I said sure, why not -- didn't even ask what the roommate looked like and wasn't prompted about her "great personality". We drove to their campus the following Saturday afternoon, found their dorm, and were told they'd cleared one of the restrooms on their floor so we could change into our semi-formal attire. Other than being in tow with my mother during my toddler days, this was the first time I'd been in a women's bathroom. We came out dressed in our slacks, shirts and ties -- holding our jackets in one hand and small brown paper sacks in the other. "How do you girls get your lunches into these little bags?" we chuckled, effectively ending our chances of getting laid that evening. The girls said they'd rented a limo and were taking us out to dinner before the dance. This seemed pretty classy right up until six other couples crammed into the vehicle with us. It was like riding in the way-back in your parents' station wagon when you were a kid, along with your brothers, sisters and most of your cousins. When we were seated at the restaurant my date with the great personality told me to order anything I wanted. I told the waiter I'd have the chateaubriand... then winked at my lady friend and said I was just kidding and the chicken fingers would suit me, putting any lingering doubts regarding my sexual opportunities that evening to rest. The dance was OK -- my date and I didn't have that much in common, but I do recall getting along very well with another girl there as part of our octet of couples. After we returned from the dance I ended up in the dorm lobby having an intense conversation with that girl, and right at the moment I was ready to make my move she jumped up from the couch and said, "Good night!" and that was that. I sat around for another few hours while Jim luxuriated in his girlfriend's embrace in some empty room, he having convinced her I was the one who'd come up with the "lunch bag" wisecrack. He was not wrong about that.

The second time was during the next semester. Jim was now seeing a different girl, someone from his home town whom he was trying to convince to come for a weekend visit. She agreed to do so only if she could bring a friend with her. Again I was asked if I'd be willing to serve as an escort over the weekend and again I agreed to. The girls showed up and we chatted and drank and were actually getting along very well -- I kept the crass comments in check and got the sense things were setting up nicely for a very pleasant evening. Our plan was to take the ladies out for dinner so when it was time to go we offered them use of the bathroom to freshen up. Once they were finished, Jim stepped in to wash up and then it was my turn, after which we'd be ready to head out. I stepped in, closed the door, sat on the toilet and... well, there's no sense in being coy about it -- I pooped. A lot. Occasionally offering what is known on Law & Order as an "excited utterance." I finished, flushed, cleaned up, and came out all smiles, exclaiming, "Let's go!" Our apartment was on the second floor of a converted house, and the ladies stepped out first to walk down the covered stairway to the sidewalk. As I started through the door Jim pulled me back and said, quietly, "We could hear you in there." Upon reflection, that may solve the mystery behind why my date's budding ardor toward me had evaporated by the time we'd all stepped outside. I presumed I'd be sitting in the rear seat of Jim's VW Beetle with my new lady friend, but Jim's girl said she and her friend would sit together in the back and Jim and I could sit up front. I don't recall anything about dinner or the rest of the weekend other than I slept on the couch, by myself.

The only other blind date I ever went on was detailed here, so you can see I was three-for-three in that department. There was one other time when a co-worker asked me if I'd come along with his fiancé and a friend of hers who was going to be joining them that evening after work, but I begged off by saying, "I'm pooped." Little did he know the depth of embarrassment I'd just saved everyone from.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Close Shave

The Alhambra is one of the world's great wonders -- a stunning series of structures in Grenada, Spain that have stood for over a thousand years, with a rich and complex history and, in more recent times, serving as home to a breathtaking collection of priceless Muslim and Spanish artifacts. I can attest to this since I've visited the Alhambra.

Well, that last statement may be factual but isn't accurate -- while I have been to the Alhambra, my recollection of that visit and the remainder of a week in Spain are rather flaccid. My junior high school Spanish Club joined forces with our high school counterparts and a group of forty of us made the trip one summer. I'd had only a year of Spanish and despite good grades my vocabulary was limited largely to words for "soup", "ham" and "cheese"; describing the temperature, and naming various members of my immediate and extended family. I could haltingly offer to bring my abuela a bowl of sopa if it were mucho frio outside. But if I managed to get separated from my classmates in the midst of a street market in downtown Madrid and didn't know the way back to my hotel, it didn't do me much good to ask, "¿Cómo está usted?"

I've forgotten most of that visit, at least the parts with cultural significance, because I understood so little of what was being said by tour guides, natives, and even most of my travel mates who were both more proficient in the language as well as being older, sophisticated high-schoolers who wouldn't deign to speak with any of the middle-graders. Those of us with only one year of Spanish under our belts spent our time bullying one another and seeing how many profanities we could learn to say en español. What I do remember, quite clearly, was the flight home.

We flew in and out of Madrid on TAP, the Portuguese airline. On the day we came home, we boarded the plane, pulled away from the gate and then... sat on the tarmac for over an hour in cramped quarters with all of the electricity turned off. As a result, there was no air conditioning and the temperature inside the plane quickly approached 100 degrees. About ten minutes past the point where death was certain, the plane shuddered back to life and fresher air began to flow through the cabin as we taxied into position for take-off.

After reaching our cruising altitude, the stewardesses (this was a long time ago and they were still called "stewardesses" then) began the beverage service. A starchly-uniformed woman asked our row what we wanted to drink: aisle seat, "[something]" -- middle seat, "[something]" -- me in the window seat, "I'll have a Coke, please." A few moments later she handed chilled refreshments to my two seat mates and... went on to start serving the next row.

"Excuse me!" I called out. "I asked for a Coke!" She didn't acknowledge me. Another attendant passed through the aisle and I fruitlessly tried to get her attention. I sat there, parched and defeated. I had no idea how to get someone to bring me anything to drink and finally decided to visit the bathroom for a cup of water from the tiny sink. I also decided to cement my status as an international traveler by shaving on the plane.

Now, I was all of 14 years old at this time and only needed to shave about once every other week. But I thought if I had the opportunity to mention to some comely young lass in the terminal after landing, "I just flew in from Madrid; took a shave on the flight", while firmly stroking my stubble-free jawline, she would find me irresistible and I'd finally be able to do something with the relentless erection that preceded me nearly everywhere I went in those days. I emerged from the bathroom with a slightly quenched thirst and a highly irritated face flecked with dripping red streaks.

As I walked back to my seat I noticed a receptacle holding comment cards, with text in Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and one more language I was fairly certain was Klingon. I picked up a card and once back in my seat provided an evaluation of the airline's services. I chose not to mention the narrow seats or tarmac sauna and instead focused on this concern: "I asked two times for a Coke and didn't get it." The card requested my name and flight number. Not realizing they were optional, I felt compelled to provide the information but, in an attempt to maintain anonymity, spelled my name backwards: NHOJ GNINNARB (to this day I still sometimes introduce myself in one-and-done situations as "Nuh-HODGE Guh-NINN-arb" and tell people, "It's Persian."). No sooner had I completed the survey and folded it in thirds than another flight attendant appeared (where was all this attention when I was thirsty?), who smiled and asked me in English if she could take the card. I handed it over, figuring it would go into the box I'd seen next to the display at the back of the plane.

Five minutes later, my beverage-skipping nemesis was marching up the aisle, waiving my comment card and repeatedly asking, "Are you this person? Are you this person?" Apparently they'd checked against the flight manifest, and after failing to find anyone named "Gninnarb" had decided to shake down the entire planeful of passengers. As she approached my row, I meekly raised my hand and ratted myself out. "Why did you write this? Where are your parents?" she asked. I said I was on a school trip. "Where is your teacher?" I pointed toward the front of the plane where Mrs. Miller was sitting. The attendant stormed off, returning a minute later with my teacher in tow. "John, what did you do?" Mrs. Miller plaintively asked me. "You have really upset this woman!" I briefly explained my version of events. She ruefully shook her head and ordered me to apologize for my actions to the stewardess, who had been standing behind her this whole time. I looked at the woman and mumbled, "I'm sorry." She engaged Mrs. Miller in a brief conversation, I think in Portuguese, and then they went their separate ways. As the stewardess walked away I heard her mutter, in English, "Fifteen years I've been at this job and the first complaint I get is from some... kid!"

Half an hour after this fiasco it was time for the meal service. One crew passed out the food and another followed with the beverage cart. I was handed a sandwich, apparently made from gristly goat meat, which I left untouched. Then came the drink and of course the same stewardess was asking for beverage preferences. She worked her way to my row, queried my seat mates, and then looked at me with a lovely smile and asked what would I like to drink? I quickly said, "Nothing, thank you." She smiled for another second or two and then, ratcheting her grin into a rictus of condescension and hatred, screamed at me -- "ARE YOU SURE??" I meekly nodded yes and turned my gaze out the window, briefly wishing the plane would crash so this ordeal would come to an end.

We landed a few hours later and rode a charter bus from the airport to our school parking lot, where our families were waiting to pick us up. I walked around the front of the car and tossed my suitcase into the backseat, diving in behind it, still smarting from the beverage humiliation. My mother turned around to look at me and asked, "Are you feeling OK? It looks like all the blood has drained from your face!" My dad eyed me in the rearview mirror, adding, "... and apparently dripped down his neck."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Second Chances

Call me Ishmael. Do not text for it costs me extra.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. So insists the Chief Justice of the state of Alabama.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But your mother takes things to a whole new level.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. spellcheck useless.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. But enough about me – how was your day?

I am an invisible man. Please “like” me on Facebook.

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. He lived in Ferguson, Missouri.

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. I’m no scientist, but this seems to disprove your claims of “climate change”.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. Didn’t you read my online dating profile before sending me a wink?

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. I'll be back with tomorrow's forecast after this commercial break.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. This “Do Not Call” list is worthless.

Mother died today. The guilt-tripping ends.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. Still, it was better than any eighty-four days he’d ever spent at the office.

It was a pleasure to burn. That’s the last John Grisham novel I'll ever buy.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. He said I shouldn't overthink things.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. Other than of course denying I’d ever known the Rosenbergs.

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure in the windowpane; Surrounded by despair and gloom Trapped in my doctor’s waiting room.

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Ah, there’s the Starbucks!

All this happened, more or less. Says Brian Williams.