Posts Tagged ‘humor’

The Perils of Verbal Restraint

February 9, 2011

blue soapbox  “Think before you speak”—could there be a clearer path to a wholesome life?

But clinical tests now show that verbal restraint can lead to significant health problems.  Indeed, unspoken zingers and lost chances to tell someone where to go were recently identified as primary causes of word deposits in the body.  Researchers believe these fatty deposits are directly correlated with Impacted Vowel Syndrome, a condition that in severe cases may also involve consonants.

I myself suffered from IVS, and had numerous doctors dismiss my symptoms as psychosomatic, before an astute diagnostician properly identified my condition.  Thankfully, I was able to reintroduce the pointed barb into my verbal repertoire before it was too late.

If only I’d been aware of my condition years ago!  Your book is about equality, yet it’s written in jargon for the elite, I would have said to a smug sociology professor.  And, to an attractive acquaintance:  Are you consciously trying to ruin your lovely features with that horrible hairstyle?

One time I was parked on College Avenue in Berkeley, just south of Ashby.  Evan and Reuben had run into Gordo’s Taqueria on our way to some lesson or other, and I was waiting in the car where I could keep an eye on them.

An officer of the law appeared.  “Ma’am, you’re in a bus zone,” he pointed out helpfully.

Yes, and do you notice that buses never, EVER pull over into their designated spots in this infuriating town?  That they leave their butts out in traffic and tie cars up for blocks behind?   Tell you what.  Just as soon as you cite bus drivers for NOT using this spot, you can cite me for using it!

Unaware of the therapeutic powers of such a response, I opted for “So sorry, officer.  But I haven’t left my car.”

“Doesn’t matter, Ma’am.  You’re parked illegally.”  Out came the citation pad.

“But—I have to keep an eye on my kids,” I whined, instead of If you were actually out there fighting crime, I wouldn’t have to obsess about keeping my children within eyesight. In retrospect, I swear I could feel the word deposits forming on my liver.

“Ma’am, you should’ve parked legally and accompanied them.”

“But I’m in my car!  And I’d move if a bus came,” I added halfheartedly.

He peered at me skeptically, then kept scribbling.

You’re right, I probably wouldn’t—because those traffic barricades force you to travel two miles out of your way to go around the block!  Head up Ashby, and next thing you know, you’re in Orinda!  I’m saving gas here!  I’m saving the planet!  Isn’t that considered correct behavior in Berkeley?

I held my tongue, and was sick for weeks afterward.  Since the ticket was nearly $400, I naturally attributed my symptoms to hemorrhage.

These days I’m better.  I even recently came clean with a cousin who always thought I shared her appreciation of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” (it’s abominable).

With my IVS in remission, life is much more manageable.  For me, at least.  I can’t speak for those around me.

Published in the Piedmont Post, February 9, 2011

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Wince-Worthy Wordage

May 19, 2010

blue soapbox  Each year, 4.2 million people in this country are diagnosed with word allergies.  Or maybe it’s eight hundred people.  In either case, at an estimated annual cost of $1.6 billion in lost productivity, or maybe $67.50, this little-understood condition calls for increased awareness.

Known as WA, word allergies mostly afflict writers and musical people.  But they’re not at all uncommon in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

To determine whether you might be suffering from WA, look for these signs:

  • You are in a convenience store considering which chewing gum to purchase.  You notice the word “sugarless” on one of the packages, and ask yourself, why are they saying it has less sugar, when they mean it has none at all?  Or do they?  Does it, or does it not, have some sugar in it? You find yourself unable to make a decision about any chewing gum.  You leave the store empty-handed and cancel your next dental procedure, which has been touted as “painless.”
  • You’ve dressed for a special event, shooting for elegant.  When you arrive, a well-meaning acquaintance exclaims, “You look cute!”  You muster a smile and a thank-you, but have now been triggered into full-blown Petite Woman Insignificance Complex.  Grrr, cute is for baby ducks, you scowl to yourself, grabbing a rich hors d’oevre and wishing you’d worn higher heels.
  • Your college kid is complaining of “senioritis.”  You are sorely tempted to demand an explanation of his freshmanitis, sophomoritis and junioritis.  Instead, you tell him that “senioritis” means “inflammation of the senior” and that he might consider a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  He tells you he’s done with courses of all kinds, thank you very much.  You now know that your child (a) may have inherited your propensity to WA, and (b) has not applied to graduate school.
  • You want to punctuate correctly, but find yourself unable to accept the current convention of indiscriminate hyphen removal.  You cannot wrap your mind around words like “autoimmune” which look, let’s face it, wrong.  Just in the last few months, you’ve received a request from your bank: “Please resign,” and a baffling note from a cousin: “I just resent your invitation.”
  • At the checkout counter, you’re asked, “Debit or credit?”  Debit means you owe something, and credit means you get something.  Duhhh, why would anyone choose debit? “Credit,” you manage, with a minimum of condescension.
  • You are reading a newspaper article about relationship fidelity that employs the colloquialism “cheating.”  Cheating—yuck, you say to yourself, about the word, not the phenomenon.  Is this what we’ve come to?  We think of love as a quantity, a system that can be gamed? If you find yourself less interested in the heartbreaking topic than in the usage question, you may very well have WA.

Researchers believe WA arises out of a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental toxins and common crankiness.  There is no cure, and treatments are few; patients must simply learn to manage their symptoms, one day at a time.

Ask your doctor.

Published in The Piedmont Post, May 19, 2010

Must Love Springsteen

April 28, 2010

blue soapbox  In memory of Florence Stern, 1916-2010

I’ve never been a dog person.  No soft spot for slobbery panting beasts over here.  No sense of humor about being barked at, sniffed at, or jumped by an animal nearly my size.  And as for those teeny tiny dogs—well, I guess I fail to grasp the appeal of a yapping bedroom slipper.

So how do I come to be over-the-moon about one particular 16-pound poodle named Darjeeling, Darji for short?

Darji came into our lives when Florence, the elderly mother of my BFF Ellen, could no longer take care of him.  Darji seemed cute enough, was well-trained and good-natured, and wouldn’t shed.  Maybe this would be fun.

That was two years ago, and even I am shocked by the extent to which I’ve crossed over.

How, for example, did I wind up with a book entitled Dress Your Dog:  Nifty Knits for Classy Canines, plus the necessary yarn and knitting needles for the sweater on page 47?

How have I turned into the type of nutcase who watches her darling five-year-old nephew walk alongside the dog, and squeals “Isn’t he just adorable?”—about the dog?

I’ve even been known to “read” a bedtime story to Darji:  Once upon a time, YOU’RE CUTE!  And they lived happily ever after.

And yet, I can’t imagine answering a want-ad that stipulates, as the movie title goes, “Must Love Dogs.”

Isn’t it odd that we don’t distinguish between wild enthusiasm for one specific member of a category, and a general affinity for it?   If you’re a writer, you’re thought of as a “book lover,” though you may not like the vast majority of books.  If you’re a classical music fan, it’s assumed you enjoy going to the symphony regardless of what’s being performed.

The French have the right idea, using the word gourmet for food connoisseur and a different word, gourmand, for indiscriminate or excessive eater.  That distinction would come in handy in areas besides food.

Take Bruce Springsteen, for instance.  I’ve never been a fan, and in truth, I don’t get the whole Boss thing.  But when “The Fuse” comes on at the very end of one of my favorite films, The 25th Hour—what could be more perfect?  Likewise, I absolutely love the song “Athena” even though I don’t particularly like The Who.

Too bad “rock’n’roll gourmet” sounds so pretentious, and “dog gourmet” sounds so… confusing.

I guess I assumed that if I ever got a dog and went nuts over it, I’d automatically become open-hearted toward all dogs.  The truth is, I still don’t respond to a lot of them.  I still resent the smack of their wagging tails.

But Darji…

Imagine this: the camera pans across a Western ghost town and zooms in on Darji in a cowboy hat, a red bandanna around his neck, a gun holster around his waist, as the narrator intones, They say he’s the cutest dog alive…

Published in the Piedmont Post, April 28, 2010