Friday, October 30, 2009

sayonara haiku

My friend-brother-seer-sage-compadre-bro-coffeemate-guru-buddy Warren (a.k.a. Joe) left town yesterday, on a new, more southern (less snowy) boulevard after some 40 years along these salty Syracuse streets.

I am already feeling the presence of his absence here at Freedom of Espresso at Franklin Square, not far from where he lived with his sparkling wife, here as I now tap the laptop keys, listening to Bob Dylan sing "Desolation Row," at the time of day we typically huddled, laughed, cried, cavorted, exchanged, narrated, gossiped, encouraged, wondered, reminisced, hoped, and bonded [note that serial comma, Joe].

tall skinny latte

conversation atmosphere

hot cinnamon truth

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Whether Report

Søren Kierkegaard is known for his work Either/Or. (After clicking on the link at Wikipedia, I discover that Either/Or is nothing like I had expected. [Obviously, I have not read it.] And, hey, the great Danish philosopher wrote Either/Or in Berlin, after a lecture he attended there proved to be "unbearable nonsense." Interestingly, grammatical purists might quibble over the use of the virgule, the so-called slash in the title, because of the type of relationship it tries to show. The original title, in Danish, Enten - Eller, we are told, used a hyphen.) But I digress.

"I get all the news I need on the weather report. I can gather all the news I need on the weather report." -- Paul Simon


"You don't need a weather man / To know which way the wind blows." -- Bob Dylan

So, which is it?

As for me, I find I benefit immeasurably from whethermen and other spiritual meteorologists in my life.

One such seer, known variously as Warren, Joe, or Mirthful Sage, is moving from these parts.

He will be sorely missed, but alas he will still be a personal whetherman.

And we will stay connected.

Deo volente.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Liar, Liar Pants on Spider

While on the phone attempting to make a semi-demi-quasi-para-business call, I heard a loud and frantic shriek from my daughter. It sounded as if she were [notice the subjunctive?] yelling,

"Fire! Fire!"

I hung up. I abbreviated my call, fearing incipient incendiary danger (IID).

Actually, she was yelling something about a spider, an apparently 5-inch wide, human-gobbling spider. So, it was panic over arachnid anarchic hyper-angst (AAHA).

This reminds me of a now-legendary family story.

According to my older brother, while he was at Saint Louis University in the Sixties, his friend apparently once wanted to engage in a conversation about the television show "Outer Limits," which was misheard as "Arnold Loomis," so Arnold Loomis forever became the Patron Saint of Miscommunication.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

meditation upon a leaf

a pale yellow of exquisite blond reduction: light straw dusted by sand; shield-shaped, serrated edges coming to a pointy crest at the top, two inches top to bottom not counting the stem; an inch across, if that; a network of veins mapping roads to nowhere or everywhere or anywhere; rusty freckles of decay ringed like a constellation in dusk drenched in desert tones; the first signs of curling along the outer edges, a natural rigormortis; the single solitary leaf poses for me as I sit in my car; a nude model; I stare at it as it sits in repose on my windshield; I resist the temptation to turn on the wiper; blade; I resist the urge to flick it off; arrested; the tiniest breath-breeze flickers the stubborn leaf, making it waver and waggle; a dry amber flame in daylight; don't leave me; let go; stay; let go; turning over a new leaf; not turning over an old leaf; gone when I return to the car; forgotten, except for a smaller leafy cousin, caught in a crack; waiting; waiting

Friday, October 16, 2009


WTF, I thought, upon encountering this in The Observer (of London, U.K.) dated October 11, 2009:

Sample question
One letter can be moved from the first word to the second word, to make two new words. The letters must not be otherwise arranged. Select the correct letter: SCARF & RAIL; GUILT & POND; BLIND & SAY.

This is for a grammar schools test.


I feel like an ee-jit. A dunce. (Okay, okay. Now I see it. Phew!)

Speaking of the euphemism WTF, it seems to allow the unspeakable, in many polite circles, eh?

Operation ElimComm

I hear that parents who wish to eschew the environmental pile-up (P-U) of diapers embrace elimination communication, or EC.

Elimination communication, which The Laughorist hereby paraphrases as "phew you," relies on parental discernment of various cues and signals of the infant or child to discover that an elimination of bodily waste is imminent, threatening, or -- oops! too late!

I guess it works. I can understand the theory. Maggie, our dog, walks and sniffs in identifiable patterns before peeing or pooping. not that my observation changes location, frequency, or tidiness. (That's two sentences now where I have applied use of my friendly little serial comma.)

Part of me applauds this elimination communication thing. (Environmental stewardship, etc.)

Part of me scoffs at the whiff of Operation ElimComm. (Elitist, naive sentimentality toward all things "natural.")

Then again, to each his own. To each her own.

Sui generis.

Speaking of phrases, in Latin or other lingua franca, elimination communication as a term offers rich possibilities:

"All due respect, get used to these concrete underwater hiking boots, pal." (The Sopranos version)

"This casket will cost you $12,999." (Unctuous funeral director version)

"Children, seven minus seven equals zero." (Elementary-school teacher version)

"And with that loss our playoff hopes were dashed like so many broken bulbs on a Times Square marquee." (Sportscaster cliche version)

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Maybe I'm paranoiac, as well as solipsistic, but it's unnerving to check on who is visiting my blog and then see that someone on Road Runner came to the site from "United States."

That's it:

"United States."

It's just creepy, to have the location specified no more than that.

Even when Google visits me, I know it's Mountain View, California.

Kind of spooky.

Am I being spied on?

How could harmless, naked-to-the-world, little ol' me be a threat to anyone?

Then again, I suppose it is equally creepy that I have at least some capacity to see who my readers are.

Carry on.

Laugh. Or.


Sign of the Ties

I've taken up this habit of going out of the house occasionally without tying my shoes.

Sometimes. (Can something really be a habit if you only do it now and then?)

Especially early in the morning when driving my daughter to school. I'm just walking to the car and back.

Or maybe stopping to buy something called a newspaper.

It must look awful.


Is this a sign of some old-age decrepitude, an icon of shabby decay?

Or is it a sign of saucy, youthful insouciance?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SEO Madness

The following is a test. In the event of a real disaster, you would be asked to turn to a designated station on your radio dial and listen for further instructions, if your radio has a dial, or if you have a radio. Thank you.

Wackyjackystees Cafepress Wackyjackytees shop ADHD Age Quod Agis serial comma commandos my country right or wrong lobal warming most imporved speller i leap for Kierkegaard be nice or I shall smite thee Tao Jones Average Joe how now tao wow just your size you need a meeting intelligently designed by evolution G.K. Chesterton I Link Therefore I Am laughorisms to go my cellphone is a vibrator t-shirts wackyjackystees cafepress shop I LEAP FOR KIERKEGAARD wanted serial comma killer wackyjackystees ADHD serial comma you need a meeting laughorisms to go lobal warming intelligently designed by evolution age quod agis most imporved speller be nice or I shall smite thee just your size how now tao wow my cellphone is a vibrator i leap for kierkegaard tao jones average joe lobal warming i link therefore I am my country right or wrong wackyjackystees wanted serial comma killer serial comma commando recovery redressing my adhd laughorisms to go cafepress shop marketplace I leap for Kierkegaard serial comma t-shirts serial comma mugs serial comma stickers serial comma hats serial comma humor serial comma college serial comma messenger bags serial comma thongs I serial comma leap serial comma for serial comma Kierkegaard serial comma wackyjackystees shop original ADHD just your size thong just your size boxers smite serial commas wackyjackytees tao jones average joe laughorisms to go

Thank you, for your patronage.

Arbitrary Obituary Somnolence (AOS)

Late on Sunday nights I used to loll myself to sleep sometimes by reading the wedding announcements in the Times. It was mindless entertainment highlighted by the fact that in many ways it was always about the same people, the same clubs, the same lineage, the same celebrity-mongering, the same square-jawed celebration of power, prestige, and position (3P).

Last night, not having yet gotten to that section, I browsed the obituaries at the end of Section A.

You learn things.

A finely written obit is an art.

It tells a story.

I learned about Marty Forscher and Shelby Singleton.

The paid obits are another story (other stories): more heart-braking (stopping the heart) as well as heart-breaking, less objective, more celebratory.

Still, you learn things.

I saw the name "Chast": two paid obits for Elizabeth Chast, 97, and thought of Roz Chast, one of my favorite cartoonists in The New Yorker.

Sure enough, Roz Chast is listed as one of the survivors.


This is probably a tiresome and old-fogey thing to say, but I don't think you find information like that by browsing the Internet. Granted, you find different information.

But I don't think I would have ever made such obituary discoveries with my laptop on my lap in bed. No, there's something about droopy eyes, paper curling downward or slipping out of your grip, and reading the last dregs of Section A.

A Buried Truth

Headline, The New York Times, Sunday, October 11, 2009:

'Number of Unclaimed Bodies Increases as Families Can't Afford Burials'

To be honest, aren't there two sorts of readers: those who will read an article like that and those who won't?

(Well, maybe there are three kinds of readers: those who do a little bit of both. I skimmed it. Scanned? What's the diff?)


I was clotheslined by an article on clotheslines (that's hard to say; it gives one a syntactical lisp; also, how do you like my use of the same word as a verb and as a noun?).

Using a clothesline saves energy, the kind of energy consumed by dryers and their high-temperature swirling and tumbling.

Using a clothesline to dry your clothes also has the potential to offend neighbors who view the airing of one's formerly dirty laundry as unsightly and unseemly (undies! bras! T-shirts! Y-fronts! seminally stained satin semantics!). There goes the formerly lily-white neighborhood, some say, fearing a splash of rainbowed raiment and a bust of their unbrassiered real-estate booty.

I am old enough to remember our backyard clothesline, one that twirled like an umbrella. It worked fine. Ironic, isn't it? The Fifties, remembered as so prim and white and monolithic and orderly and righteous, were really sloppy and multicolored and raggedy, the era's clothes flapping in the wind or in the hot summer sun for all the world to see -- unlike the decade's private lives and private thoughts.

There is a semantic delight to all this, one that The Laughorist is always wordie wordiliciously keen to share with his or her readers:

wind energy drying devices.

That's the term some local legislators are using to legislate in favor of clotheslines.

Yes, indeed. A clothesline is a wind-energy drying device [hyphen added by Mr. Redactor].

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Manatea, anyone?

Browsing through the free USA Today at the hotel, I spotted "mentee" in a headline and outwardly and inwardly frowned.

The story was about mentors and, um, mentees.


Merriam-Webster cites "mentee" dating to 1965 at least.

I'm so old-fashioned.

Mentoree, anyone?

Probably not. No sponsors.

Or sponsees.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Things matter.

Small things can matter a lot.

Staying at a hotel (courteously unnamed here) this weekend, I noticed the push-button console for the elevator in the lobby was askew, slightly off-kilter. In a bathroom off the lobby, a faucet was installed not-quite-parallel to the line of the sink (its top rim). An amber light attached to a hair dryer flickered in the dark of night. The television set in our room had a mysterious wire with what looked like a computer chip dangling from its front, more obviously than a dangling participle.

None of these matters proved fatal, not even severely anxiety-producing.

But they were unsettling to the careful (or even almost-careless) observer.

And the same applies to language.

A few mistakes here and there, a few verbal tics, and the reader gets nervous, distrustful.

As an editor, I frequently tell clients that readers start to distrust your data if you make some seemingly trivial blunders. The readers start to think, "They got that wrong; what else is wrong?"

An example: I received an impassioned plea for church stewardship pledges with "alter" [initial cap] instead of "altar" at the heart of the request. The writer's sacrifice of accuracy was like Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. Not quite, you rightly say. After all, there's an infinite gap between sacrifice and near-sacrifice. (And didn't Mark Twain say the difference between the right word and the wrong word is like the difference between "lightning" and "lightning bug"?)

Of course, many don't care about such minutiae.

But, to paraphrase Grace Slick's refrain in the 1960's, "Go ask Isaac."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Nettlesome Meddlesome

Hoping to be one of the "gentlemen of brave mettle," and at the same time gainfully employed, last week I ventured to take a battery of exams at a recruiter's place, spurred on by a personal revenue stream reduced to a trickle, a creeklet almost as bereft of water as this blog has been absent of words recently. (I just love the luxury of meandering words scheming to stream into syntactical straitjackets, don't I? Yes, I do.) A battery of exams. Let me say tests test me like an assault, an affront to my front; a disappearance of appearances. They undress me. They always have had that effect on me. So, just the thought of taking a test ups the anxiety quotient. ("Ups"; now that's a curious verb to describe performance anxiety.) When I discovered, at home, the night before the test date, that the testing software would not work on a Macintosh (the only computers we have at home), I felt both relieved and justified. The next day, while filling out enough paperwork to duplicate the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I nearly returned the cheap ballpoint pen to the attractive receptionist and almost walked out. My surrender to dignity consisted of my refusal to fill out certain sheets of paper, e.g., detailed instructions to call so-and-so to rat on me, I mean, serve as a reference. (It turned out not to matter, boys and girls.) Isn't there a poem somewhere that begins, "Terrance, this is stupid stuff"? Remember that great story by Alan Sillitoe, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner" and its terrific cinematic portrayal by Tom Courtenay? I mention this for its uber-humanity, its staunch and angry defense of individual personhood, which must apply here somehow, or else I wouldn't mention it, would I? First test was Microsoft Excel. After about two questions, I skipped out of it. (The receptionist-headmistress had granted me permission to do that a few moments earlier.) Then the Microsoft Word test. The software was a little quirky; it took me a while to get it; then I did okay. Then the reason I came: a so-called copywriter test. It wasn't bad. It was kind of fun. Stuff like "cite" vs. "site" vs. "sight" and "affect" vs. "effect" (which was wrong in the health and safety video presentation that soon followed). I have to admit I goofed on a "copywriter" question involving "meddle" as a verb. It was nettlesome. I lost my (heavy) mettle. And as I clicked, I knew I clicked wrong. I knew it. Know that feeling? (Why do we do that? It's like saying the precisely wrong thing in a social situation just as your brain is forewarning you.) Then a grammar test. I got results saying I was in the 90th percentile for the copywriter and grammar tests (if I recall, the test affirmed the serial comma), though I was peeved at myself for not getting 100% in each case; mostly a matter of overthinking and trying to outfox the test and its invisible taskmasters. It's always been my problem. Then during a keyboarding test, the whole network froze. I only needed to type two more characters, too.

In the subsequent interview, the pleasant young lady sheepishly declared I was overqualified and offered to share my paperwork (the OED, remember?) with "our professional side," as she nodded to another side of the building. I sheepishly smiled a woolly frown.

The "professional side"? This, after two hours?

And then you wonder why I've been depressed?

Chalk it up to overqualified, overfoxed, hyperanalytical experience.

What would Kierkegaard do?

He'd cry, but those Danes are just so stoic.