My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Wednesday, June 29

Dutch Leonard, RIP

Dutch is dead. He died yesterday morning, probably of natural causes, just another way of saying the machine decided to shut down naturally. How sad. How not sad for him but sad for me. He was 87 and had a good, productive life. “Dutch” Elmore Leonard is the latest of my literary idols to bite the bullet. Already on that Green Ripper list: Dick Francis, John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, and Robert B. Parker. Whom do I now have still writing, still kicking? John Sandford of the Prey series, Lee Child of the Reacher series, Robert Crais of the Elvis Cole series, James Lee Burke of the Dave Robicheaux series, Lawrence Block of the Matt Scudder series, and Jeffrey Deaver of the Lincoln Rhyme series. There’s still Stephen King and Dean Koontz, both of whom I’ve read over the years, but neither is on my favorites list. I think back on all the books Leonard wrote that were turned into movies. There were around two dozen: Mr. Majestyk with Charles Bronson, Hombre with the young Paul Newman, Stick with the young Burt Reynolds, Get Shorty and Be Cool with John Travolta, Out of Sight with George Clooney, Last Stand at Sabre River with Tom Selleck, and then reaching way back for The Tall T with Randolph Scott, Valdez Is Coming with Burt Lancaster, and Joe Kidd with Clint Eastwood. And those are less than half the films developed from Leonard novels. Dutch’s writing is distinctive for his macabre humor, his accuracy of dialects. I don’t think anyone ever captured the flavor and cadences of dialogue better than he did. For anyone not familiar with Elmore Leonard, find all the episodes of Justified with Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, and just listen to that Harlan, Kentucky, twang. Ah, Dutch, I’m really going to miss you.

Sunday, June 26

Now You See Me 2 & Presidential Election

I hadn’t seen the first Now You See Me, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Now You See Me 2. I should have trusted the 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, after sitting through almost two dreadful hours of silly illusions, I can now say that the 34% may have been a tad or two too high. What was I expecting? I think the Ocean’s Eleven franchise made me think this would be a comic romp with the Horsemen (or should that be “horsepeople?”)—Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and the added female Lizzy Caplan—winning the day against the forces of evil—Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and his illegitimate son Walter (Daniel Radcliffe), winning it with clever yet plausible feats of legerdemain. Not even close. It was filled with glitzy illusions, much of the action taking place in the Las Vegas of Asia, Macau, China, and a rain-drenched London. The plot hangs on the Horsemen and their leader Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) stealing a card-sized computer chip that holds the secret of hacking any and all computers in the world. Card-sized so that we can get much sleight of hand involving the ace of spades passing from hand to hand to hand to hand and flying through the air from one to the other. That’s as close to the plot as I can get. Then there’s Woody Harrelson’s evil twin brother, and two of Woody is at least one too many. And two of Now You See Me is at least one too many. As one of the reviewers said, this movie should have done a disappearing trick before it ever got to the theaters.

Once upon a time, I believed that the job made the man (or, in this case, the woman). I believed that the office of President of the United States had enough safeguards that almost anyone could do the job without causing too much harm. When Ronald Reagan was elected, many thought he was too ignorant of national politics to do a good job. But what does an ignorant yet clever man do? He surrounds himself with really intelligent people who point him in proper directions. And that’s what Ronnie did, for eight years. And now we’re faced with an election between two people that make most Americans very unhappy—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton, they feel, is too tricky, too manipulative, too untrustworthy, maybe even too dishonest to be president. And then there’s Trump, who is just too Trumpish to be president. He’s ego-maniacal, he’s mean-spirited, he’s racist, he’s almost totally ignorant of what the office is all about, and he’s downright dangerous. What are we going to do in November? Not voting at all is out of the question. Voting for Donald Trump is equally out of the question. That leaves us with Hillary, whether we like her or not. She at least knows what goes on in Washington. She at least has years of political experience as senator, as Secretary of State, as wife of a former president. She at least would be a better choice than the Great Buffoon.

Gary Trudeau has done a number on Trump that seems comically to identify all the uncomical Trumpisms.

Thursday, June 16

Rock of Ages & The Lobster

We saw two things a few days ago, with my wife very vocal about her dislike for both. No, “dislike” isn’t strong enough. “Hatred” is more like it. I hated one and was very confused about the other.
First, the mutual hatred. I never thought I’s say anything bad about any Broadway musical. Certainly, I’ve liked some more than others. However, the Arizona Broadway Theatre gave us Rock of Ages, and I wish they’d sent it back like a piece of rancid fish. I had some misgivings about this show selection when I first saw it on the Season 11 lineup. Rock of Ages? Rock? Rock ‘n’ Roll? I’ve detested r-‘n’-r my entire life. I thought when Elvis the Pelvis first showed up in the 50’s that he’d be a very brief flash in the pan. I once told an Elvis fan that the day the music died was the day Elvis first stepped on stage. I thought she was going to kill me. Talk about being wrong. Still, I was always a jazz fan, and jazz and rock were at polar opposites on the musical scale. I did a little research on Rock of Ages and found that it had a very long run on Broadway, from 2009 to 2015. It would have to be pretty good, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? I knew almost immediately during the first number that I wasn’t going to like it. The set was interesting, the interior of the Bourbon Room, a complete bar with stools and booze stage left, the rock band area rear center. Then we heard the company do the opening number, “Noize.” That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show—very loud noise. The voices were all too loud and screechy, the choreography was clunky and unimpressive, the costumes were very close to bare-ass risqué, the story was stupid, the score was mostly a compilation of rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s. I recognized a few of them and was most familiar with “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by the British group Foreigner, a song I liked more than disliked, but then I saw the context in which Stacee Jaxx and Sherrie performed it. She sings “I wanna know what love it, I want you to show me.” So, where did the rock star take her to show her? A stall in the Men’s Room. What a fitting metaphor for the whole show—a toilet that needs flushing. At the intermission after we had our pecan cheesecake dessert, we decided we’d had enough rocking and we rolled out of there. I’ve walked out of only a few movies in my life and now I’ve walked out of my first Broadway musical.
The other thing we saw with some disagreement about our assessments, The Lobster. My wife hated it. I reserved judgment until I’d had time to think about it. The reviews were mostly favorable, talking about it as a dystopian examination of love. “Dystopian” is a word that’s being bandied about more and more often, thanks to such young-adult series as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Back in the old days of science fiction we had the dystopias of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. But those two and the Y-A novels showed us societies that were possible even though negative in the extreme. The Lobster envisions a fantasy future, not even remotely possible. The reviews also describe it as a satiric comedy, but I didn’t hear myself or anyone else in the audience even chuckle, let alone laugh out loud. Black humor was a popular literary device fifty or sixty years ago. But it was funny even though dark. A good example is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. An officer whose last name was Major had a jokester father who filled out his son’s birth certificate as Major Major Major. When he was inducted into the air force in WWII, naturally the paperwork would screw it up and mistakenly give him the rank of major. The man was so terrified of his rank and duties that each morning he’d go to his office and then crawl out the back window to return to his tent for the day. That was absurd and dark, but it was funny. It was the same outlook we saw in the Theatre of the Absurd in the 50’s and 60’s. Playwrights wrote short, absurd plays to mock what they felt was the meaninglessness, the absurdity of life. Eugene Ionesco gave us The Bald Soprano, a play without a soprano, bald or hairy, and nonsensical repetitive dialogue. Other absurdists of the day were Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter. Their plays may have been absurd, but they were funny. Back to The Lobster. The characters are living in a society that insists on everyone living as couples, going through life two-by-two. If you weren’t in a relationship, you were arrested and taken to a hotel/prison where you had 45 days to find a suitable mate. If you went beyond the 45 days, you were taken to the Transformation Room where you were turned into the animal of your choosing. David (Collin Farrell) has just arrived. In his initial interview, he tells the hotel manager (the warden?) that he’d like to be a lobster if he had to be transformed. All male arrivals had for the first day their dominant hand cuffed to their belt behind their back. Since all lone activities in this society of couples were frowned upon, I assumed the locked arm was a reminder that masturbation would not be tolerated. One of the men David meets, the lisping man, was caught masturbating and then punished by having his offending hand thrust into a toaster slot. David checked in with a dog, who was his transformed brother Bob. All the men and women were given identical wardrobes, the men shirts and pants predominantly blue. I almost, almost, chuckled when I saw all the women at a social gathering wearing the same wildly floral dress. The business of finding a suitable partner required that the two people have things in common. The limping man (who tried to visit his mother who had been transformed into a wolf and who was then attacked by the other wolves) faked nosebleeds by slamming his head into tables to demonstrate that he and the nosebleeding woman were compatible. David tried to fake psychosis to match that of a female sociopath. Anything to find a compatible mate before the 45 days run out. Right? To test him, she kicked his brother Bob to death. When David excused himself to go to the bathroom, she followed him and discovered that he was crying. End of that coupling. The scene wasn’t absurdly comic; it was horrific, with her bloody shoe and leg and Bob’s bloody body. Too much in The Lobster was horrific rather than funny. The second story layer involved The Loners, a group of people living in the forest who value singleness instead of togetherness. One might think that the loners were the people the audience would identify with. Wrong. The loners were as unappetizing as the people in the hotel. Two of the loners were caught flirting with each other and had their lips deeply slashed and were then required to kiss before their lip wounds were bandaged. Funny? I don’t think so. David escapes from the hotel and joins the loners where he meets and falls in love with the short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) whose favorite food was roasted rabbit (forest critters who were probably transformed folk from the hotel). What would happen to these two lovers who didn’t fit in either world? No spoiler from me, just my final assessment: The Lobster was interesting but possibly too violent. And it certainly wasn’t a comedy.

Monday, June 13

Tony Awards 2016

Last night’s Tony Awards show was once again delightful, and then we can add in “thoughtful.” There was the somber news of the shooting in Orlando as noted by host James Corden and several others as they accepted awards. Frank Langela, who won for best actor in The Father, spent his acceptance time telling us and the world that this nation would not tolerate this senseless act of violence, the killing of fifty people by Omar Mateen, a follower of the radical Islamist group ISIS. Lin-Manuel Miranda won for best score (Hamilton) and best book for a musical (Hamilton). His acceptance was highlighted by a moving recital of a sonnet he had written about what happened in Florida: “When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day . . . Love is love is love is love is love is love, Now fill the world with music, love and pride.” And then there’s the class and glamour of the show itself, the musical performances from the nominated musicals. The entire night—the awards, the audience, the performers—is so classy. The Oscars could certainly learn something about how to get it right. I thought that no one would ever be able to host the show as well as Neil Patrick Harris, but host James Corden came very close.
In his Opening Number “That Could Be Me,” he zips through more than a dozen musicals of the past, trying to explain how he felt about the musical stage when he was a boy. Like lightning: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sound of Music, Music Man, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Cats, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy. Did I miss any? Probably. But he was going so fast that’s entirely possible. And through the evening we got to taste numbers from the nominated musicals—Waitress, School of Rock, Bright Star, Shuffle Along, and, of course, Hamilton. Also the nominees for best revival of a musical—The Color Purple, Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me, and one of the most interesting musicals Broadway has ever seen, Spring Awakening, which has the entire cast of deaf people signing the words as they sing the numbers. Once again, the magic of Broadway captured us. We have our Arizona Broadway Theatre to help fulfill our musical needs, but the real Broadway is the best. The singing, the dancing, the set designs, the costuming—all are unduplicatable. Whoa! Is there such a word as “unduplicatable?” My spell check gives it a yes so I guess it must be a real word. Corden and the writers couldn’t resist taking a jab at our two presumptive candidates for the presidency, suggesting that we might see two new musicals this year, The Book of Moron and A Clinton Line. Now I have to wait another year to see another Tony Awards. Come on, 2017.

Saturday, June 11

Lawrence Block & Reed Coleman

I just can't seem to stay away from writing about some of my favorite writers, but here I go again. Lawrence Block is an old favorite of mine. Right now I'm reading a collection of his stories about Matt Scudder, The Night and the Music. I'm also catching up with another of his great characters, Keller, the likable hitman. But it's really the Scudder series I'm most fond of, having read the whole series three times. The third time through, I was reading as fast as I could to watch the characters develop and the writing style improve. In tracking the main characters, I could never quite remember when each of them showed up. Like Elaine, Matt’s hooker friend and occasional lover. And Mick Ballou, Matt’s hooligan Irishman who in the oddest circumstances becomes maybe Matt’s best male friend. Then there’s the young black TJ, whom Matt sort of adopts. He shows up for the first time in A Walk among the Tombstones and becomes a main character in the final six in the series. I wonder what it’s like for an author like Block, to create and keep track of these people, to watch them develop almost beyond his control. How must he feel about them? They have to be much more than words on a page. More like very dear friends who will never desert him. This is such a good series, so very brutal, so very well written, such well-developed characters. Matt and Elaine have a double confession at the end of A Walk among the Tombstones that’s very moving. Matt confesses to her that he loves her and that he hates what she does for a living. She confesses to Matt that she loves him and that she no longer hooks and hasn’t hooked for more than three months. That sounds much too simple for what they actually said to each other. I guess you just had to be there.

Another writer I really like is one I just discovered, and since Block is old like me he can't live forever, I have to keep finding new authors. Coleman is the one with the Moe Prager series I drooled over in one of my blogs. He's also the one who keeps Robert B. Parker alive in the Jesse Stone series. Here are some quotes from Where It Hurts I just had to copy because of their truth and their quotability:

“When I was in school I didn’t realize that most fiction was about death and regret. About things people wished they had or hadn’t said, done or hadn’t done and how, for whatever reasons, saying or not saying, doing or not doing had buried them alive. I was already too familiar with that feeling to want to read much more about it. Lately I was sticking to nonfiction.” (p. 40)

“The air was mean and raw, the sky a patchwork of ugly gray bruises. A thin layer of cold mist covered everything. A mist that seemed not so much to fall as to just be.” (p. 30)

“There is danger in the darkness. Cops knew it. Kids know it, too. We work so hard to convince them it’s silly to be afraid of the dark, but it isn’t silly at all. Fear of the dark is a matter of survival. It’s smart to be wary of the dark. We evolved as prey as much as predator. Prey knows there are eyes that can see you through the darkness. That there are claws and fangs and pointed beaks, bodies built to blanket themselves in blackness. Monsters do come out at night. I’d witnessed it for myself.” (pp. 50-51)

“His shirt was white, the collar open, but stiffly ironed so that it dared not move without permission.” (p. 90)

“Don’t tell me about photos and videos, about how we live on in those things. It’s a lie. Go get out one of your parents’ photo albums, one with their parents and grandparents in it. Look, really look carefully at all the faces of the dead. Sure, you may recognize your great-grandparents, but you might not. Even if you do, what of their relatives, what of their friends? What of the faces unrecognized? That is our future, our shared destiny: all born to be forgotten.” (p. 127)

Tuesday, June 7

Me Before You

The 1970 film adaptation of Erich Segal’s Love Story, with Ali McGraw dying in Ryan O’Neil’s arms, jerked more tears from viewers than today’s Me Before You, although this adaptation of Jo Jo Moyes’ best-selling novel gave it a gallant effort. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, admiring English countryside and watching how the truly wealthy live, even those who are total quadriplegics. Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), son of Steven and Clamilla Traynor (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer)), lives with his parents in a castle outside of London, a castle expansive enough to house the entire British army, and I mean BIG, with high walls and battlements and huge, carefully manicured grounds. All it lacked was a moat. Will is a handsome nobleman (noble in looks and abilities but not a member of English nobility) who suffered a spinal injury when he was struck by a motorcyclist on a busy London avenue. Two painful and depressing years later, Will is, despite his parents’ objections, ready to call it quits. He had been a bon vivant, skilled in whatever sport he attempted, engaged to a beautiful blond goddess. He had the world pretty much by the gonads until this injury came along to step on his life. Now, all he wants to do is die. He’s told his parents he’d give them six months to convince him to live. His mother then hires a young woman to serve as his caregiver, really hoping she might be the right medicine for her son, someone to make him change his mind. Okay, that’s the plot setup and the rest is pretty much obvious. If it weren’t for Emilia Clarke, who plays Louisa Clark, the caregiver, this movie wouldn’t have much going for it. But there she is, short and perky, with a face that can twist into a thousand expressions and a wardrobe of which John Daly would be proud. For those who don’t know John Daly, he’s a flamboyant professional golfer who dresses in eye-aching color combinations.
The viewer can’t help but fall in love with Lou, just as Will does. With a bottomless reserve of money from the Traynors, Lou takes Will on a bucket list of activities to show him that life really is worth living. Unlike Love Story, this film looks at a controversial subject, assisted suicide. Is his paralysis enough to justify killing himself? Or might he, like Jeffrey Deaver's protagonist Lincoln Rhyme (from novels like The Bone Collector, The Coffin Dancer, etc.), find a way to a full, productive, happy life? Or is his pain bad enough that the quality of his life is no longer acceptable? It was a nice little romance with a few too many obvious images, like that lightning flash just as they kiss for the first time, or that maple leaf floating to earth near the end of the film. Like I said, it was a pleasant way to spend two hours, but without Emilia Clarke it would have been two wasted hours.

Monday, June 6

Baseball Then and Now

Today’s subject will be baseball. Baseball has always been a part of my life, not as much as for those true die-hard fans who attend almost every home game played by their favorite team. But I knew the game from the time I could throw a ball or swing a bat. I grew up in a small South Dakota town where sandlot games were the norm and the major leagues were only on the radio. We didn’t have high school baseball back then, so I and others played on a junior-junior American Legion team, advancing to the higher level, the junior legion team, sometime around age fourteen. We had a coach, Bill Nogle, but I don’t remember a single lesson he ever gave us about how to play the game. All I knew was that when a ball was hit at you, you either caught it or you tracked it down and threw it somewhere. I never learned how to slide properly so I used the head-first method. I think what discouraged me from the feet-first slide was the time I tried it and took off a good portion of flesh on the outside of my left hip. It was either poor technique or a really hard, stony infield. I mostly played an outfield position, but sometimes I was at first base and sometimes I pitched. No one ever told me how to pitch. All I knew was you got on the mound and then threw it as hard as you could, hoping the catcher could catch it or you didn’t cold cock the batter. I tried to vary the flight of the pitch by changing the arm angle, all the way from straight overhead to a submarine, none of which was very effective. One of my teammates tried to show me how to throw a curve but I could never grasp it. As for batting, you had a bat and you tried to hit the ball. There were no signals from the third-base coach; there was no mental duel with the pitcher. You had three swings to hit it somewhere. What more did you need to know? Playing in the outfield, none of us had any idea what hitting the cut-off man was all about. Just throw it as hard as you could in the general direction of the catcher. Kids today watch games and listen to the announcers and learn all kinds of things about how to play the game. I have several vivid memories of my baseball days. I remember a game our town team was playing (I played with them very briefly after I got out of high school). The pitcher threw me a strike and I hit it out to the left-center field fence for a double. I remember joyously telling my father after the game how the ball had looked like a pumpkin, and anyone could hit the snot out of a pumpkin. I found in a box of memorabilia from my youth a baseball that I’d kept, listing the players in ink on the baseball, recording the score and length. We had lost 3-2 to a nearby town in ten innings. Now, why would I have felt it necessary to preserve that result? I remember an afternoon in Minneapolis going to a Minneapolis Millers game with my father. And guess who was playing center field that day. Willie Mays in his first season in baseball. I grew up hating the cocky Yankees and loving the Minnesota Twins, with Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. I think that of all the major sports, baseball has had the fewest changes in the last hundred years. Football now has these huge behemoths who play. And basketball now has these muscular giants who sometimes hit their heads on the rim on the way to a slam-dunk. I guess tennis and hockey haven’t changed much, but baseball least of all. Changes most obvious: sunflower seeds instead of chewing tobacco, ground-length pants instead of knee-highs, batting gloves for both hands, defensive infield shifts depending on who’s pitching and who’s hitting, and the challenge rule for a variety of close calls. Everything else is essentially the same as when Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner were around the game. What elements of the game could be improved? Disallow the extended stalling conferences at the mound when a manager wants to give the bullpen time to warm up; do away with the four pitches that constitute an intentional walk and simply wave the batter to first; somehow stop players from spitting every five seconds (Tv closeups are rather disgusting); disallow hitters from adjusting their batting gloves after every pitch; make everyone in attendance pay attention to the play on the field instead of what’s on their cell phones (And just how would that be accomplished?); instruct infielders and outfielders to catch fly balls with both hands instead of one; and finally, get rid of the balls-and-strikes umpires who can never make consistent calls (A computer can do it much better). I think that may be enough about baseball. Maybe forever.

Thursday, June 2

Trump, Sports Stats, & Reality TV

Wiley’s done it again. Jabbing at Donald Trump, that is. His point here is in the gullibility of those who support Trump in the polls. And that gullibility, if he’s elected, will get them eaten by the smiling bears (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, to name only the most obvious). Every time a newsperson asks him HOW he’ll get done what he says he’ll get done, he simply shrugs and says, “Believe it. It’ll get done. I’m a financial wizard and I’ll use my expertise to fix all the problems that Obama and his cronies have stuck us with in the last eight years.” There it is again, fluffy words with absolutely no substance. Come on, November, you just can’t get here soon enough.

A word or two about the current love affair sports people have with statistics. I see it most often in golf and baseball, but all sports can be tracked with endless, mind-numbing data. The most obvious meaningless stat in golf is the fairways hit. It doesn’t take into account how far off the fairway a drive might be. A drive two inches into the short rough counts the same as one hit a country mile left or right. And all that conversation about strokes gained putting, total number of feet of putts made, velocity of swings and speed of ball off the clubface, percentage of sand saves and up-and-down saves, and on and on. As for baseball, the color commentators can tell us how many of each kind of pitch has been thrown, the various speeds of those pitches, the batting average of opposing batters from both sides of the plate, and on and on and on. Here’s a stat that may shock you as much as it shocks me. Pitcher Zack Greinke signed a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $200 million over five years. That comes out to $40 million a year. The average number of innings he will throw in a season is around 200. That comes out to about $200,000 per inning. He will probably throw about twelve pitches per inning. That comes out to just under $17,000 per pitch. Per pitch! Astounding. Now, whenever I tune into a D-Backs game and he’s pitching, I can’t focus on anything but that ridiculously huge number of dollars he’s getting every time he delivers one to the plate.

For lack of anything else on the tube last night, we watched American Ninja Warrior. I’m not much of a fan of reality shows, but this one won me over. I think I’m muscle sore from all my empathetic moves as I tried to help the competitors through the obstacle course. It was interesting enough that we’ll probably watch the whole series. Two other reality shows we’ll probably watch: So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent. We’re a little disappointed that SYTYCD is now called The Next Generation, meaning that we’ll be seeing only contestants from eight to thirteen. Yes, they can dance surprisingly well, but not as well as the seniors we watched and fell in love with in the first twelve seasons. Ah, well, we’ll see how it goes. And we can now welcome Simon Cowell back to the tube, this time with America’s Got Talent, on which he's replacing Howard Stern. It’s a curious show in that some of the performances are so very good and some so very bad. One of the good ones had thirteen-year-old Laura Bretan singing a Puccini aria, "Nessun Dorma," and singing it so well that Mel B hit the gold button to send the girl straight to the live show. But then there was the bad. We watched a man stick a pair of scissors up his right nostril, all the way up, and then he licked the blades when he pulled it out. Yuck! Then he brought out a stainless steel hook that he inserted in that same nostril, all the way up, and then he fastened the hook to a line above and hung suspended, all his weight hanging on that hook. I have to ask myself, how in the world did he discover this disgusting talent and why would anyone want to watch him do it? Apparently the judges were enough interested that they voted him through to the next round. I think I’ll skip his next turn. What can he possibly do that would be different from what he’s already done? Maybe shove a chain saw into that cavernous sinus cavity and cut his head in half? Just think of the number of hits that would get on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 1

Linguistic Oddities

I guess it goes with the territory, old age, that is, the territory being those sleepless hours in the middle of the night. I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and lie there thinking strange thoughts, and thinking them with greater clarity than when I’m awake during the day. It’s like the light of day blinds me to any thoughts deeper than a kiddy pool. I get ideas for short stories in the middle of the night, ideas for blog entries, and often ideas about linguistic oddities. I know, I know, most people don’t know or care about linguistic oddities. But I’m an old English teacher who just can’t stop teaching, even if it’s only myself being taught. Last night, I thought about all the words that end in –age, a suffix that often turns a word into a noun, like the adjective “short” into “shortage.” And the more I thought, the more words popped up: yardage, marriage, windage, plumage, savage, package, luggage, garbage. And then a few less common words, like homage, garage, persiflage, corsage, décolletage (yeah, yeah, I just had to get a boob or two in here somewhere). That led me to the idea that most of these words derive from French, some of which (like the last five I mentioned) have that distinctive “räzh” sound. From there I thought of the way we either keep the original pronunciation or we anglicize it. For example, look what we’ve done to “garage.” Most people still say “gu-RäZH” but some say “gu-Räj.” And some, mostly from one of the Southern states, say “gräj” one syllable sort of like “grudge.” One day we’ll all say “graj” and we will have lost the flavor of its derivation. Look at “homage.” The word is in that middle state between its original pronunciation and its anglicized brother. Some pronounce it as “oh-MäZH” while others say “HOM-ij.” Most of us have kept the originals for camouflage, corsage, mirage, persiflage, and (here’s another boob) décolletage. I'm guessing that most of these -age words were originally pronounced like "garage." Can't you just hear how lovely "plumage" sounds when you pronounce it "plu-MäZH"? Same thing with "gar-BäZH" except not so lovely. And "lu-GäZH" would make that old suitcase of your sound so elegant. Now look at "massage" and "message," almost the same spellings yet entirely different pronunciations. Do you suppose “massage” will one day become “MASS-ij”? Yeah, and the exodus will probably begin in Mississippi. Do you want to hear what is the longest word ending in –age? No? Well, tough. It’s “stockbrokerage.”

Another linguistic consideration that popped up in the night: the problem we seem to have with pronouns for the two sexes, especially now that we’re moving toward sexual equality, transgendering and same sex "mar-i-äHZ." Look at this typical current sentence: “Nearly everyone now has his/her own agenda when it comes to the ballot box.” How awkward. How can we get around it? Well, we can consider that “everyone,” “anyone,” “no one,” “everybody,” “anybody” are plurals instead of singulars. All the time now I see in the news examples like “Nearly everyone now has their own agendas.” But that has its own awkwardness because the verb is still singular. It would have to be "Nearly everyone have their own agendas." Oh, yuck! Or we can continue using “his/her.” Or we can invent new pronouns for the unified sexes: “hesh” in the nominative case (when it's used as the subject), “herim” in the objective case (when it's used as a direct object or an object of a preposition), and “heris” in the possessive case. “Hesh should check heris package before entering one of the transgender bathrooms. Otherwise, someone might mistake herim for the wrong sex.”

I wonder what I’ll ponder at 3:00 a.m. tonight?

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