Friday, July 30, 2010

The Perils of Facebook

No, not the usual warnings about privacy and potential employers finding photos of you table-dancing at your sister’s bachelorette party. Bigger stuff than that.

I logged on the other day, and read this cryptic post from my dear former neighbor Judy: Qejpmbv. And, as Edgar Allan Poe would say, only this and nothing more.

Hmmm, I wondered, what is she trying to say?

Maybe it was a new exotic spice she liked in a recipe she got from Martha Stewart. Or a new fruit just being marketed here, fresh from the Brazilian rain forest. Google searches got me nowhere.

I tried to determine whether it might be a mnemonic device for something like “Queen Elizabeth just pilfered my bronze vase.”

Hey, stranger tools have been made up—what about the one we all used to learn the order of the planets? Remember—“My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.) Yes, I went to school when Pluto was still considered a bona fide planet. I guess now (if they teach this stuff at all) they have to say, “My very excellent mother just served us nachos.” Anyhoo, maybe Judy was trying to tell us all something important, but in a very secret code.

So that took me to trying to solve it as a cipher, you know, where each letter stands for another letter. I am pretty good at solving the daily “Cryptoquip” in our newspaper, and to make it more of a challenge, I do it without using the clue, and I do it in my head. But this had no interesting pattern, no repeated letters, and I was pretty much adrift. Judy’s message was not something I could solve. I was defeated.

I checked back for updates, and only found that at 7:52 p.m. her husband had posted, “What does this mean?”

At 10:29 p.m. I posted a white flag, a confession of gross inadequacy, and a plea for help.

At 10:50 p.m. Judy posted the following message: “This means my cell phone must have been in my pocket and the strange message was sent without my knowledge. It means nothing.”

Sigh. I’d like to believe her, but I’d still say we should look for that bronze vase.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CoTU Speaks!

And now a follow-up…. Last week I posted here about the use of isn’t versus aren’t in a column in our local newspaper. You may recall that my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I disagreed on the correct verb form for that usage. In fact, and in all fairness, he correctly complained after I ran the post, that I had presented only my side of the argument. It’s my blog, after all. He also believes that that is why nearly all the respondents agreed with me. (No, they agree with me because I’m right.) I told him what I always tell him in cases like this: Get your own blog.

But, after enough days of his whimpering and grousing, I relented, and agreed to post his position on the issue. Now you can feel my pain. Welcome to my world—here’s his retort:

Grammar is an imperfect methodology. This issue requires the soundness of an engineering solution.

The parametric nature of the word “more” is the core source of misunderstanding in that it does not carry intrinsic reference to either “anthology” or “contributors”. If the implied word “space” were added to the sentence in question, there would be no reservation regarding the use of “isn’t”. Note that there is no change in syntax:

“Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there isn't more space.”

Since “more” is an ambiguous and fluid descriptor, and the word “space” would be implied, the uncertainty as to its reference must be settled otherwise. It is, in fact, the use of the word “isn’t” that clarifies the meaning. The author is plainly referring to disappointment that there isn’t more to the anthology rather than the fact that there aren’t more contributors. The number of contributors is indeterminate but it is a certainty that 55 were all that were included in the anthology. The use of the word “isn’t” is a consequence of logical necessity for the intended meaning. Q.E.D.

…yada, yada, yada…if you were still reading after his first five words, your head is probably spinning.

Now, I’d love to refute his argument, because I still firmly believe he’s wrong, and that the original sentence was very poorly formed, but because I value my sleep, I’m willing to let this drop. Goodnight, CoTU. I love you anyway.

You know at times, however infrequent, he actually gives the appearance of being borderline normal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Wrote That Rule?

Here’s what I want to know:

Why are the rules set up the way they are?

In the gym where I work out, there’s a sign above the water fountain. It reads


So here’s what I want to know. Is it okay to spit on the floor? Is it perfectly all right to spit on the equipment? What if I should suddenly decide I want to spit on the mirror, the stack of towels, or another member? That’s okay, right, as long as I don’t spit in the fountain…

Why doesn’t the sign just say NO SPITTING?

For that matter, when we watch the old reruns of Barney Miller (which hold up really well, by the way), I have observed that the wall inside their cell (oh yes, if you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a New York city police station sitcom—very well-written) says DO NOT SPIT ON FLOOR.

Again, I am compelled to ask, is it acceptable to spit on the bench, on the wall, or on another perp?

This brings to mind a story a friend of mine told me once about renting an apartment in the late 1960s. Everything was going perfectly well—she liked the apartment, found the rent reasonable, loved the location, etc. The landlord wanted her to sign something saying she would not use illegal drugs in the apartment.

My friend was not a druggie, and had no intention of using illegal drugs. But she found it incongruous that this would be a requirement of tenancy, and that there were no such demands being made to guarantee that she would not break other laws, steal, bear false witness, covet her neighbor’s ox, dishonor her parents, or commit murder on the property.

She walked. On principle. I like that.

But I still don’t spit in the fountain.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In Memoriam: Sex and Daniel Schorr, reposted

In memory of the great newsman who passed away Friday, July 23, here's a re-posting of an earlier entry.

Sex and Daniel Schorr

For the final couple of years of its original run, my husband and I were regular viewers of Sex and the City. We got to know the characters, and enjoyed laughing, tsk-ing, and looking askance at their actions, choices and decisions. Until recently, I thought we both viewed these people in much the same way.

The other night we were watching one of their reruns. Carrie Bradshaw was writing her eponymous newspaper column. This is actually the program’s device to enable the central character to lay the groundwork for the plot of the evening’s episode. In this particular case, after musing about the differences between women and men, she wonders (voicing as she types) “Could it be that women are just like men”?

My husband observed, “You know, she’s just like Daniel Schorr. She asks questions, puts them out there, but never actually answers them.” Floored, at first, by his ability to correlate this enormously sexy, petite, blond hottie with that gruff, ponderous, 80-something intellectual, I was rendered temporarily speechless. But after a moment’s consideration, I nodded in agreement. I concurred, saying, “Well, sure, honey. No doubt at this very minute people all over the country are comparing Sarah Jessica Parker to Daniel Schorr. In fact, it’s entirely likely that you have just identified how the character hersexyself was conceived.

Picture a Hollywood conference room. Plenty of fresh fruit, organic juices, and imported, bottled water. Two men in open-necked shirts and Armani slacks are brainstorming new shows. “Let’s do a show about Daniel Schorr,” one writer says to the other. . “Only let’s make him a young woman with a killer body.” “Yeah,” the other one adds, “and she’s got to have a funky wardrobe, and be completely obsessed with men and shoes.” Thus an Emmy-winning series is conceived.

“And we’ll give him friends—buddies that he hangs out with,” Writer One posits. “Pals to have overpriced meals with, go shopping with, and yak on the phone with. They’ll visit one chic restaurant after another. Of course, I guess there’ll have to be gorgeous women, too, if we’re going to get viewers.”

Writer Two adds, “Now they can’t talk about politics or national security, or education. Nothing about the social security system. This will just be about their personal lives. Their jobs, their relationships, their seeming ability to purchase an endless array of designer clothes and accessories with no regard for cost or the moral question of overacquisitiveness. But I guess we should stick with meeting men, dating them, and breaking up with them as the main theme.”

Honestly, I always thought that one of the reasons he enjoyed this particular program was that it is rather titillating at times. It deals with topics not addressed on network television, and there is a fair amount of explicit talk, coupled (and I do mean coupled) with some incredibly suggestive scenes. In other words, I figured it appealed to his horny-slash-sexual side.

Now it turns out that he has been thinking of Carrie as Daniel Schorr, a political observer and commentator for longer than we have been alive. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Daniel Schorr. I enjoy hearing his opinions and analyses on NPR, but neither his name, nor voice, nor image has ever come to mind during “Sex and The City”. What else have I been missing?

If the raspy and hoarse Mr. Schorr was indeed the prototype for Carrie, what about the rest of the cast? Perhaps Charlotte, the perpetually romantic good girl, was patterned after Tom Brokaw. Has there ever been a cleaner-cut, more trusted all-American boy? His highly-respected books about the men and women who fought in World War II have only enhanced his “good guy” image. Miranda may have been based on the avuncular and reflective Mike Wallace. Mm, no… Not cynical and disillusioned enough. More likely it was the late Tim Russert of Meet the Press. He was the master of the skeptical head-shake, frequently combined with a soft chuckle, clearly communicating disbelief in the idealists around him. And surely Samantha, the promiscuous, self-involved gadfly would have to have sprung from the model of Geraldo Rivera. Like Samantha, he makes his own news where there is none, and just can’t wait to be “in your face” about it. Oh yeah, Samantha is definitely the Geraldo of the stiletto-heeled man-junkies.

Yes, my husband has really nailed this one down. He was able to see past the glitter and glamour, the carnal nature of the cast, and the Manolo Blahnik shoes. Getting right to the heart of the show, with an insight and perception so rare in middle-aged men. Yep, he’s a real Barbara Walters.

So the next time you tune in to “Sex and The City”, think of it as a political round-table, with no need to offer equal time for opposing views. Try to look past the long legs, the plunging necklines, and the push-up bras. You just have to be able to fantasize.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our First Ever Poll-- Please Weigh In

Well, my inner Grammar Cop is alive and well, and is here to conduct a little poll.

Last week (just before we went to the lake) our newspaper ran a review of a new book of poetry. Yes, I read that section of the paper, and I read the poetry reviews. Sue me—I’m a throwback.

Anyhoo, our illustrious Book Editor wrote this piece, and I’m a fan of her work, so it hit me like a ton of bricks when her opening sentence read as follows:

Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there isn't more.

Excuse me, but isn’t that ‘isn’t’ supposed to be ‘aren’t’? I mean, he’s “sorry there isn’t more contributors?”

I’m thinking that the antecedent (the party of the first part) is contributors, and that the verb should agree with the plural subject. Agree? --or disagree?

I saved the section, even took it to the lake with me, in one of my many parcels of reading material. You saw the luggage—deal with it. I kept thinking that if I let a few days go by and looked at it with a fresh outlook, I might realize that I was wrong, she was right, and I could go back to sleeping at nights, instead of debating this weighty matter in my head. (Yes. There is indeed a giant L tattooed on my forehead. Loooooooooserrrrrrrrrrrr.)

Instead, I revisited the column often. I’d be sitting on the screened-in porch, overlooking the scenic Lake of the Ozarks, sipping something icy and reading something from my accumulated stash of goodies. I’d be deep into a column by Maureen Dowd or David Brooks, and pretending that I did not notice the A&E section lurking alongside.

I’d purposely turn it over and re-read something I had little interest in, and play like I had completely forgotten the offending passage.

Then, like a stealth bomber out of nowhere, I’d snatch it up, reread the opening, and cringe all over again. It still rankled. No, it still rankles.

So at last, unable to justify this life-altering conflict of subject-verb disagreement, I decided to share this problem with my life’s mate, my legal and marital partner, my love, my sweetheart, and the one person in the world upon whom I can always rely to say ‘black’ whenever I say ‘white’: my husband.

You may remember him as the Center of the Universe (CoTU). There’s a reason for this, but why digress now? I handed him the newspaper, and asked him to read the first sentence. He didn’t flinch. I said, “Nothing? You don’t see a problem with that?”

“Nope,” he replied. He’s only terse when he’s holding out on me.

“Read it aloud,” I commanded. (I rarely command—in this relationship, he’s more the commander, and I the commandee. Of course, he will disagree with this, in which case, see the paragraph above.)

“No, what’s the question?” he asked, a bit casuistically, I thought.

Thus began a lengthy, spirited and protracted discussion about subjects and verbs and bears, oh my. We could not come to a consensual decision, and thus I decided to conduct a poll. This will be the first ever conducted on Funny Is the New Young, and I hope you will weigh in.  (And unlike your doctor's office, I will let you take your shoes off first.)

Please leave a comment telling me whether you think the sentence should be

“Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there isn't more.”


“Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there aren’t more.”

In fact, to make it simple, if you like, you can just vote “isn’t” or “aren’t”, although longer comments are indeed welcome, and I would love to see us explore this in depth. Yep, that’s just how empty my life is. But seriously folks, if the preponderance of votes agrees with me, I will joyously do a little “I told you so” combined with my famous “in your face” dance. And, to be fair, if most votes agree with CoTU, I will just keep it tactfully to myself. I have enough trouble.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't We Ever Stay Home?

About a week ago I was trying to adjust to being home after three weeks in Sacramento, preparing for and welcoming my new grandson, Sam. As always, when I come home from visiting one of the kids, I’m a little sad and sometimes teary, missing them. My husband—you remember the Center of the Universe—caught me in such a moment, and tried to fix the problem, as men so often do. (Remember the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” phenomenon?) He gave me a big hug, and said, “Hey, you had a great visit with them, and now it’s time for just you and me alone for a while.” I looked up at him and said, “How do you know that’s not what’s bothering me?” Fortunately, we both laughed.

So the big lug and I were about to get into our car to head off for a few relaxing days at the Lake of the Ozarks. You may have noticed that we’ve been on a marathon of trips to Boston, Boston, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Sacramento since the end of March, and REALLY needed some simple ‘down time’. We went off to use the lovely and comfy condo of our friends who were in Florida at the time. I hope to God they don’t find out. No—just kidding—they gave us the keys, and encouraged us to take advantage of it, so who are we to disappoint such generous friends? And ‘the Lake’, as we St. Louisans like to call it, is only a couple of hours’ drive away, so it makes for a pleasant trip.

CoTU is looking at the driver’s door on our dark blue Forester, and says, “Why does our car get so many more dings and dents than anybody else’s?”

I said, “It doesn’t. You just look at it more carefully than you look at other cars. It’s like you never see yourself the way other people see you. Most of us are more critical of ourselves than others would be of us. We worry about all our little flaws too much.”

“I don’t have character flaws,” he deadpanned. Or maybe he was serious. It’s hard to know sometimes.

Here’s what we prepared to take with us. Then there's what the car looked like when we took off for the Lake. We were only going for 4-5 days. I think we could have spent three months in Europe with the same amount of luggage. Of course, I’ll never know because we will never go to Europe, but I’m just saying… We packed simply, but between taking enough stuff to read for days on end, and enough projects to do some writing on, plus some food so we don’t have to leave the condo and eat out three meals a day, it adds up.

CoTU ready to load it all up.  Trunk jam-packed!  Two coolers and bag o'food.

Putting this stuff in the car is no big deal, but then when we get to the Lake, and it’s 100 degrees out, and the humidity is 98%, and we have to climb up a flight and a half of stairs to get to this little paradise, we realize that we should have packed lighter. Oh well, lessons learned. Maybe next time we’ll share the same tube of toothpaste.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In a World Gone Mad...

Is it just me, or has the world truly gone mad?

No, it’s not about the oil spill in the Gulf. Wait, did I just call a 20 million gallon a day gusher a spill? Yikes, I did, and it’s still not even about that.

It’s not the lunatic fringe elements of the world trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons, nerve gas, or other weapons of mass destruction.

It’s not the massive and horrific issue of human trafficking, selling women and children into a sexual slavery that is pretty much incomprehensible. Although it should be.

It’s not the rampant use of handguns in this country used to murder an estimated 13,000 people every year.

It’s not about the 100,000 people who die EVERY YEAR in hospitals due to medical ERRORS.

It’s not about the fact that more people will show up to protest cruelty to a dog than cruelty to a woman or child.

It’s not about the fact that I’ve carried this on much too long, and I should have gotten to the point long ago. Sue me.

It’s about this. This packet of “Non-dairy Coffee Creamer”. Exhibit A, your honor.

I’m lactarded. I’ve said it before, but it’s nothing to dwell on, and it’s not as if I’m complaining about some horrible disease. Big whoop—I can’t drink milk or milk products any more. So I miss cheese and I miss ice cream (big time) and I even miss milk itself, but hey, as Patsy Cline once said, (or at least Jessica Lange said it in a movie (“Sweet Dreams”) playing Patsy Cline) “People in hell want ice water, but that don’t mean they get it.” So I suck it up and deal with it.

One of the consequences of said lactardation is that I can’t have cream in my coffee. I use Coffee-Mate at home, but on the road, it’s not usually available.

So one recent morning, en route home from my son’s wedding, in a hotel breakfast buffet, I picked up the little packet of powdered stuff that I normally stay an arm’s length away from. I don’t know what possessed me to take it, but I guess the devil made me do it.

My husband, the Center of the Universe, noticed me flicking it with my index finger, preparing to rip it open. “Desperate?” he asked.

“Must be,” I muttered, and I began to rip the little envelope apart.

Whoops—just in time I caught sight of the bold face words at the bottom of the back of the packet. I thought, “Hmm. Perhaps I picked up the wrong thing.” I flipped it over in my hand, and revisited the front of the packet. No, that’s what I was going for.  It does actually say "non-dairy."

Now do you see my problem? The world has truly gone mad. It’s non-dairy, but it contains milk. Okay, what the what???

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about the conflicts between modern television in Afghanistan and the religious traditions and laws of that nation.  (Yes, I'm still on Grandma-in-residence duty, but I was on a grocery run!)

So here's the thing... When the reporter was describing the danger that the head of the media conglomerate faces, for emphasis he related that the man "is met at the airport by three SUVs with men with AK-47s riding shotgun."

What's wrong with that?  Well, if you're carrying AK-47s, it seems to me that the seat you're occupying can no longer be termed 'shotgun'.  It should be upgraded about nine levels to 'AK-47', right?

I mean, isn't there some rule of thumb about the highest firepower getting naming and claiming rights?  There's got to be a reason that it was never called 'little tiny Derringer', for heaven's sake. 

My kids used to grab their jackets on the way out of the house, calling "Shotgun!"  I never minded it, because it seemed so random.  I hope I never live to see the day that kids run for the car yelling, "AK-47!"