Tuesday, October 30, 2007

'Um. . . The Book' Reviewed

Um...The Book entertained and educated me. Anytime you can do both at the same time (
soixante-neufing, so to speak, your learning) is an accomplishment. Fortunately, this very readable book by Michael Erard does not come off as stuffy in any way. And it doesn't make one self-conscious, as in the nervous equivalent of crossing and uncrossing one's legs or readjusting one's posture in front of a psychoanalyst. (I can report that seeing a shrink is not really like that anyway, not after the first 877 visits.)

When I was a copy editor at a newspaper, I remember an editor telling me, after I corrected someone's spoken solecism, "Don't edit speech." Wise advice.

Um...The Book takes the reader through a pleasurable stroll through several leafy jungles you wouldn't think had connecting paths: pop culture, anthropology, linguistics, epistemology, psychology, history (...and more! as copywriters shout). (As I have noted before, the book's subtitle, "Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean," embraces the serial comma, as does the narrative. Merci, Mr. Erard and editors.)

The book's website invites examples from readers. I dare not submit this one of my own, because it's more dementia than blunder: I once introduced myself at a serious business function, in front of a large crowd, with the prefatory "His Lord and Eminence" before my name. I don't know what came over me. Curiously, I still have the same job, and more curiously, one of the people who had been in that audience, as a competitor, now works with me. No, I've never brought the subject up.

I like the fact that the author takes on Herr Dr. Freud and explains how the term "Freudian slip" has taken on a life all its own never intended.

I learned about spoonerisms, powerless vs. powerful speaking, and tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. (Medical update: I seem to have some sort of TMJ problem, and yesterday the ENT/dentist specialist prescribed an exercise of putting the tip of my tongue onto the roof of my mouth, pausing, repeating,
et cetera, ad infinitum. I can think of better things to do avec ma langue.)

I'm, um, thinking that at the office holiday gala, with my bow tie on and pinkie out, I'll try to impress someone (well, someone with ample cleavage, of course) by breezily dropping terms like
parapraxis (or parapraxes, plural) or Fehlleistung (Fehlleistungen). The German is literally "faulty performance." The hope is I'll be referring conversationally to language or memory, not some other kind of, um, "performance."

Before signing off, two things.

One, I've had a fussy awareness of these things even before I read the book (evidently, that's why my friend from WebPros sent it to me), so today it was amusing to hear a public official say at a forum several times: "flush it out" instead of "flesh it out." (Well, he
was referring to an aqueduct.) (I once knew a colleague who thought "flesh it out" was too meaty and gross an expression, and she wasn't even a vegan!)

Second, a slight disclaimer: as I was reading the book, I contacted the author. He was gracious in replying. In my experience, most authors are very gracious, just as John Updike was admirably kind when I met him in the lobby of Random House in the 1980s.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Camera Obscura

They say, the camera doesn't lie. We know that is patently untrue.

But what if the camera's images see the light of day?

What is exposed?


Those in the images?

The photographer and his keepers?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Parting Shots

About a year ago, I mused on such
grave matters as epitaphs.

How about "last words"?
I just finished reading Joan Acocella's review in The New Yorker (10/8/07) of Julie Kavanagh's "Nureyev: The Life."

Rudolf Nureyev, the flashy ballet star, comes across as tragically solipsistic. He died at the age of 54, in January 1993.

His last words?


A little quiz. He said those words because:

a) In his grandeur, he was reaching for a suitable anatomical metaphor.

b) A movie of the same name was on the hospital TV.

c) He was relating a delirious homo-erotic fantasy.

d) He was planning a ballet about the Melville classic.

Acocella says it was b), but offers the conjecture that it would not be far-fetched if it were d).

What would be your last words? Good question, eh? I've always liked Gertrude Stein's purported last words. She is said to have asked Alice B. Toklas, "What is the answer?" When Toklas did not respond, Stein reportedly said, "In that case, what is the question?" and died.

I think "last words" assume you'll have the chance to utter anything intelligible.

How about a Groucho Marx echo: "Hello. I must be going."

Or: "Whoa!"

Or: "Oooops!"

Or: "See ya later. Thanks and love."

Or: "Laugh. Or else."


p.s. Some say, "Parthian shot" became "parting shot" in English, though that is disputed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who-ha Over Whom, ah...

I hardly ever watch TV (I waste my time doing this crap), but it is refreshing to know an Amerkin network television program can feature
a humorous argument over grammar.

Admittedly, "The Office" came by way of England (actually, I think I saw all those Ricky Gervais shows on DVD).


Between you and I, that is (mwhahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAwhowhohee).

Props to the Words to the Wise blog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Apologia Pro Patria Mea

Why Those Who Love America Are Feeling

by Andrew Greeley, in the Chicago Sun-Times


October 24, 2007

I am ashamed for America. Note carefully that I do not say I am ashamed of America. Despite all its inherent flaws and all its tragic mistakes, the United States stands, however incompletely and with whatever imperfections, for the highest standards of freedom and democracy that the world has yet known.

I am ashamed for America because all the evil done in the nation's name in recent years is turning off the light on the mountaintop.

1. The president urges Congress in effect to accept the Turkish protest against the attribution of Armenian genocide because it might interfere with Turkish logistic cooperation in the ill-starred and foolish Iraq war. That's like silencing all congressional action on the Holocaust because we need Germany on our side. If Turks expect to become part of Europe and the West, they must acknowledge what their ancestors did. They could pass a resolution of their own accusing us of genocide against Native Americans if it would make them happy. How humiliating that the president wants us to ignore what happened to the Armenians so we can be victorious in the "global war on terror" (the current replacement for "weapons of mass destruction''). That's called appeasement, and it was appeasement when President Bill Clinton did the same thing.

2. The government kidnaps, tortures and murders the way the Gestapo did in Nazi Germany. The president blithely dismisses these charges. The United States, he says, does not torture. But that deception is based on a memo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defining torture, which the White House won't let anyone else look at.

3. The government pays large salaries to 148,000 "individual contractors" in Iraq -- more than the total American military there. A third of these are toting guns. They are mercenaries -- often, it would seem, with very quick trigger fingers. Ironically, the most recent victims were two Armenian Christian women. These contractors are a kind of American Foreign Legion, like the notorious French and Spanish foreign legions. They may well be very brave people who do very tough jobs. They also compensate for Mr. Rumsfeld's criminal underestimate of the number of troops required. If, however, the country is going to have a Legion Etranger, it should make sure that it works under tight control. An unrestrained security force quickly becomes a mafia. Humphrey Bogart, where are you when we really need you?

4. At a remarkably frank meeting of middle-range officers (majors and colonels) at Fort Leavenworth, the soldiers debated not whether there should have been a war in Iraq, but who was to blame for losing it. Was it the senior officers or the joint chiefs or the civilian leaders? The war is not even over yet, and already the officers who fought it and will have to fight its continuation have already given up hope. Too bad for them, because the president has made up his mind that we are still going to win the war and the Democratic presidential candidates speak about a 10-year presence in Iraq. Whatever the political leadership is or will be in 2009, no candidate seems capable of saying, "We're getting out now!" And the rest of the world laughs at us because both parties are led by fools.

Anyone who cares about the United States and its legacies has to be brokenhearted at what has been done to our beloved country by the crazy people who are running it -- people who have become so skilled at deception they don't even realize anymore that they are deceiving. Just like the Democrats don't realize they are again stealing defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Andrew Greeley is a priest in good standing of the Archdiocese of Chicago. for 52 years, a columnist for 40 years, a sociologist for 45 years, a novelist for 28 years, distinguished lecturer at the University of Arizona for 28 , research associate at National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago for 46 years.

A tip of the hat to blogger Jan, at Yearning for God, at whose door I stumbled after hitting Next Blog seven or eight or nine times (an admittedly risky and potentially dangerous maneuver) to discover this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Just A Hunch

Under the delicious deluge of autumn rain this morning, I (umbrella-less) hunched my shoulders as I scooted from parking garage to street to sidewalk to building entranceway, a short distance.

Did the hunching help?

Did it make me less wet? Did I think hunching would protect me?

Hunch. A great word. Merriam-Webster declares its origin unknown.

Hunch conjures up combinations of huddle and scrunch and hump, which if performed simultaneously would tie one up in potentially orgasmic-enhancing or orgasmic-squelching knots. (Take your pick.)

The fecklessness-of-hunching metaphor raises this question (or raises nothing at all, if one is rendered impotent by such contortions):

What other hunch illusions do we fall for?

After all, does your flinching matter as the I-beam sliding off the semi slices through your windshield?

That sounds dark and gloomy, but isn't, really.

It is meant to underscore the illusion of power we live by, afraid to surrender to the reality of powerlessness. We do this as individuals and as a culture (and as a government).

Powerlessness is really such a relief.

Alas, easier said than done.

My letting go (or failure to do so) typically leaves a bloody trail of claw marks on the object of desire.

(Pare it down, and you've got a Leonard Cohen song or poem.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Leaf It To Me

The garage again.

I'm walking up the stairs, between the second and third deck. I spot a triad of articulated saffron leaves, on a tiny branch on the landing. Each of the three leaves is nearly oval, lanceolate, almost labial, pointed at the top, jagged points along the sides.

This trinity of ambrosia is there, for the taking. It is meant for me. Or for anyone who cares to see it and embrace it.

I lift it up into my hands, in procession to my car. The perfect coda to a d
ay, a week, a life. The incense for this holy walk is my own breath.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hats Off to Holy Seeing Eyes

On page A12 of The New York Times of October 18, 2007, I spy this headline:

Pope Names 23 New Cardinals, Including 2 From the U.S.

Is is persnickety of me to opine that "new" is unnecessary in that head (or, if memory [always faulty] serves correctly from my newsroom days: hed)?

Would the pope name old cardinals?

Well, as a matter of fact the new cardinals were on the old side, with five over the age of 80.

They will receive their hats (red, right? I'll ask my friend Greg Tobin, author of Conclave and Council) on November 24.

Hats off to holiness, but not to the venial editorial sin of redundancy.

Talk of Holy See! Editors, mend thy sight!

(Back when I was a newspaper copy editor, in the old days, we couldn't even allow "new record" in a story. Go figure.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Re Post Riposte

I also notice the poem works well if read from the bottom up, taking on a whole new flavor and tone.

Bottoms up!

It's Da Bomb


Totally unintended, but I see now that my poem below, on the preceding post, takes the shape of a bomb, or other piece of artillery.

I mean, yeah, words can be weapons, even poetry, but . . .

Herr Dr. Freud, what was I thinking?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Between the Vespers

Walking at dusk, I see rage

Fade below the horizon

Not quite

The draining away of October light

Fact a shadow

Certain caught sky

A lurid velvet bowl

Held by veiny branches

The high screech of bats

Two zigzagging above

Me almost colliding

The post-Ramadan moon

Crescent and clouded

My not flinching

For once

Monday, October 15, 2007

Karma Dharma Harm-arama

I seem to have this inflammation on my upper thigh, something like a spider bite.
What kind of karma dharma harma thing is that?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Spider, man

So I walk up the stairs of the downtown, vintage 1970s or '80s parking garage. (What's the Brit or Irish term,
carpark?) Well, this structure is not a park setting; it is muscular and rusted and garnished with girders and nuts and bolts. Fortunately, my employer pays the monthly parking fee. (Unfortunately, I have fallen from the habit of taking the bus at least once or twice a week. Not sure why. Getting up too late?) One can discern how late one is by where one is forced to park (oh! that's the park in carpark. I get it.). In other words, the later you are, the higher the deck you are parking on. If it's a roof day, you're likely checking in past 9 a.m., after your date with the therapist or the OB-GYN or your inability to pry yourself from under the covers. I reach the flight for the fourth floor. I am arrested by the site of a spiderweb above the stair railing, near one of the massive girders holding the structure together. My day is a day of stress and tension and deadlines. I am stepping out for a lunchtime appointment. At the center of the intricate web, illuminated by afternoon sun offset by corner shadows, is the spider himself or herself (who spins the web? males? females? a little help, please, Botanist Colleague). Still. A fleshy color (pinkish-yellow with a darker portion at the center of its body) but partially semitransparent. I count the tiny (a quarter-inch long?) creature's eight legs. Or am I looking at six legs and two antennae? No, I'd say these are eight legs. I pause. I stop. I stare. I spy the spider's eyes: two dots perhaps smaller than the periods in the documents seen minutes before. Is it staring at me, fearful of its very life? This arresting moment is an occasion of grace, I realize. I bow before the spider. I really do. I bow. Then I smile, shrug my shoulders, and walk to my car, lighter, freer, and blessed. It is the benediction moment of my day. A moment of clairvoyance, quite literally. It was all there -- for anyone attentive and awake enough to see it. Like any moment of grace.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Got Your (Pay)back

I lost. You win. Back in the fecund days of spring I bet you that my once-beloved-but-now-bedraggled San Francisco Giants would perform better in baseball in 2007 than your Lost Angles Dodgers.

As I recall, the loser (i.e., Mr. Kokonuts) had to extol the virtues of the better team. Something like that.

That's easy. For starters, you did not have a stumbling, sulking, fumbling, homeric, grandiose, prodigiously talented but woefully waning left fielder named Barry Bonds. That's huge (like Barry's naked head). It has a ripple effect (like steroid-enhanced

You also had better starting pitching, base-running, fielding, base-hitting, bunting, slugging, and relief pitching. (I didn't check with the
Elias Sports Bureau for factual accuracy, but I'm sure I'm close enough.) Better manager? We'll call that a toss-up.

I will not admit you have better uniforms or food at the stadium (since I love the orange and black and loathe Dodger blue and have not been to Dodger Stadium or AT&T Park. Yet).

I readily admit you have more lascivious and sultry babes at the stadium (being so close to Hollywood and all, what with all your would-be starlets and pin-ups, even if no one uses that term anymore). And it would not be hard for your fans to be more passionate and exuberant than our latte-sipping, cellphone-chatting languid loungers. (I say "our," but I am not of that cosmopolitan NoCal ilk.) And your second baseman? Future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent? I cannot deny it. We should've kept him, somehow enticed him to stay (should have given him a few pickups so he could have, um, washed them), even if he and Barry were at each other's throats (literally in 2002).

Congrats, you win.

But not by much.

Both teams stank.

It was the first time in many years our two teams brought up the rear (no San Francisco jokes, please) in the standings.

Go Tribe! (Are we not both happy that the Nueva York
Jankees have lost?)

The Laughorist
A.K.A. Pawlie Kokonuts, Esq.

Uprooted (Not)

So, the endodontist (doesn't that sound like what a proctologist
should be called?) taps on teeth, tickles my ivories, puts cold citrus juice on 'em, has me grind my chompers, et alia et cetera ad nauseam et saecula saeculorum amen (in English, not Latin).

No dice, meaning no excruciating pain.

Ergo (more Latin), he declines to perform the root canal. Not-specific-enough pain.

Is this the first time in the annals of Christendom someone was disappointed at not being the recipient of a root canal?

Of course, at lunchtime, agony revisited. This is a new development. The pain used to occur only after eating, not during.

I could not do nothing.

I dialed (a nice anachronistic phrase) my physician. A visit to him tomorrow.

Pass me the cyanide, please.

Okay, not today.

"Just for today," as Twelve Steppers are wont to intone.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Root of the Matter

Can pain be pictured? I would invoke the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as legions of others, not just Russians.

I would add: Just think of a would-be-serious journalist being forced to cover, say, the adventures of Britney Spears. Pain.
Or ballet dancers performing en pointe avec une cracked toe. Douleur. Or ha
ving to endure my withering repartee because you share the same roof. Schmerz. The list goes on.

But indulge me.

Picture a molten spike lodged in your lower-left jaw.

Or a kilowatt of humming voltage resonating through your maxillary apparatus.

Try brittle bamb
oo shoots forced under your gums.

They tell me it's a root canal I need. (How prescient your most recent comment is, Wanderlust Scarlett!)

Look. I don't care if it's a root canal or an extract
ion or trepanation, but please just do it, willya!

Thank you.

Tomorrow. 0900 hours.

Be there. Or give me the gas pipe.

At certain moments, even the codeine is feckless. Is this a preparation for the Big Pain? The Ultimate One? If so, we (especially me) are failing wretchedly in this household, except for Brown-Eyed Girl.

BULLETIN: I hereby proclaim The Laughorist blog to be the only blog in the blogospheric universe to cite both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Britney Spears in the same, um, mouthful, so to speak.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Vow Wows

Forgive the absence, and now the exhaustedness, arising from the vows taken by my first and only son with his betrothed.

So, here goes, some rambling reflections 'pon it:

Friday after two trips to the aeroport, I successfully greet and meet and welcome Grandma, my Mom, 90, on a hot October day, also nearing 90, delayed by flight changes and a sweltering runway plane, which she dubs a school bus, then onto the rehearsal dinner, a misnomer because nothing is rehearsed, splendid food for 17 of us, though alas we are mostly segregated by family but people had catching up to do and there was commingling and intermingling, I had the scrumptious chicken and have somehow switched tenses, though it wasn't too tense, except for maybe my eyes staring and jaw dropping at the date of the bride's brother, direct from Miami, and the father of the bride graciously offering to help pay and I accept, not sure if offense would be taken by an acceptance of that or a rejection oh well.

Saturday I refrained from panic or refused to buy into it the sweltering record or near-record heat exchange of texts and calls from Ballet Daughter wishing she were here, likewise the call from Cayman Brac Godmother; the motherly wifely (mine) 140 to 150 cupcake parade into the zoo, a perfect place for this wedding couple, having met at a pet store, and indulging in an ardent love of animalia exotica, a zoo that overlooks the cityscape. An afternoon thunderstorm I tried to nap through, a tying of E.'s knot by me, his silk tie, a paternal snugness, a double-Windsor bond; E. the groom at the zoo at 4 p.m. two hours early, pacing like an expectant father; his lapel flower forgotten, I rush to the zoo and flower him; back home, expectant for Maryland Brother and Wife who arrive in the nick of time, wondering in my soul at the absence of Massachusetts Brother and Clan; wondering further at a funeral and a wedding in the same week (for me and B. and A. at least). And then the vows, a justice of the peace (an omen one hopes); inside, threat of rain, not at gazebo; IrishStepDaughter reads Emily Dickinson clearly and proudly flowergirl too:

It's all I have to bring today --
This, and my heart beside --
This, and my heart, and all the fields --
And all the meadows wide --
Be sure you count -- should I forget
Some one the sum could tell --
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

right after I had read my just-composed barely ink-is-dry haiku:

October dusk light
wedding all here with love's fire
all ways radiant

resisting the temptation to say "this is a haiku, a haiku consists of" and then E. almost saying the vows even before the judge finishes the prompt an eagerness of love and J., his wife, his legal wife now, holding hands, staring seriously and meaningfully into each other's eyes. Followed by the photos and fotos and dancing and eating and former in-laws [including a chat re the serial comma w/ NYC lawyer Catherine; she's unfortunately against it but I may've converted her] and drinking (no liquor for your scribe not a drop not even at the toast...and no dancing for me with the J lo lookalike), Mom (Grandma) in tears because Their Song (for which they took dance lessons, it was sweet and innocent and endearing) was Unforgettable and our lost beloved Richard loved Nat King Cole, he did. If you look around at any wedding sadness you will find, and not just in corners. The breaking of the cake (muffins) results in sloppy messes, licked off the bride's bosom, so I'm told, because I was talking to someone, but, hey, he's My Boy, so it's no surprise.

Sunday brunch here at Purple House with Bro J. and Wife B. from Maryland here despite the quick preparations and tensions a fine food time and later Mom off on a plane all smoothly.



And I gotta work Monday, a holiday for some but not for me.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007


British researchers claim the
Incas fattened up their sacrificial maidens before the, um, event. Is our modern-day epidemic of obesity some version of this "obeastity"? If so, what are we fattening up our kids for? And what volcano will take them? Alternatively, is anorexia simply a swing of the pendulum the other way? ("I am s-o-o-o-o not worthy of your ritual slaughter; like, totally, pass the yogurt.")

Just wondering.

Also, the article said the kids were brought on a long pilgrimage in the time leading up to the sacrificial episode.

This is likely the origin of the ancient curse visited upon parents who make their kids endure long trips, namely:

"Are we there yet?"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Epidural Tensionitis

Google the term "
thin-skinned," and you'll see an array of references to wrinkles, skin care, spa treatments, etc. That sort of stuff. (Well, I correct myself: you'll see more of that if you search "thinness of skin.")

Thin: now, there's a word larded with layers of meanings.

Face it (a face with wrinkles called "laugh lines," or "laughorist lineage," in my case): today I had a bad case of what I'll term epidura
l tensionitis.

The tensile strength of my outer psychic layers (id est, skin) was sensitive to the slightest touch. In this case, one micromanaging workplace e-mail, laden with perceived power, threat, and insult, sent to me tipped the scaly scales of my spiritual skin today.

Ever have those days?

Monday, October 01, 2007

What We Talk About When We Talk About Hiatus

(Fans of the short-story meister
Raymond Carver will recognize a spoof of one of his signature stories in the title of this post.)

Here's a random, desultory report of what I did on my blogatory sabbatical (thank you for your patience):

1. I completed a short story (last night), which was my main purpose for taking leave. It's nearly 3,000 words and is titled "The Willie Mays Chronicles." I suppose I'm satisfied with it, but it's hard to tell. The urge to tinker with it is strong. A September 30 deadline for submission (sub-dom?) to Glimmer Train Stories forced at least temporary closure. I was enormously pleased to get a very encouraging review from GT, an accomplished author-friend. (I can't publish the story here yet, because of contest rules.)

2. I continued to read a whole book about "um" and "ah" and other verbal pause fillers. Can you, um, believe it? Er, yes. It's called Um: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean by Michael Erard. (Thank you, Dr. Erard, for the serial comma in the book's title and consistently in the text.)

3. Spent most of this past Saturday cleaning out years' worth of Stuff on the front porch. Threw toys, tapes, and pillows in the trash; recycled cardboard boxes. Said something like this to our neighbor Joe (who appears in my poem "Mowing the Last Lawn," posted a year ago): "Clearing junk out for my son's wedding next week . . . at the zoo." Joe: "As good a place as any." Something like that. We both laughed.

4. Learned Sunday, at church, through a call from my wife, that those would be the last words Joe and I would ever exchange. He was killed Saturday night by a drunk driver.

5. Later on Sunday, I spied a small white spider sliding downward on invisible thread. It landed on the white wood of the back of a chair in the kitchen. I cupped the spider in a tissue and tossed it outside on the back porch, the porch's green paint already worn away to bare wood (distressed wood is the trendy term) after last summer's paint job. The winters are long and harsh in these parts. There was a time I'd have casually crushed the spider, given how fearful of spiders my little one is. Not this day. No, enough death for one day.

6. I was relieved to have the San Francisco Giants get this dreadful season over and done with. (Bye, bye, Barry.) However, as my friend Steve watched his Mets cascade to calamitous collapse at my house, I was spared the burden of any tension and free from the bonds of hope or expectation.

7. I administered the ministrations of "Doctor Sleep" to an insomniac beloved daughter, invoking the sound of rain on the roof as an incantation.