Monday, October 31, 2011

Everyday Monster

If you're over the age of thirteen, I just don't see the point of Halloween, other than a little candy indulgence and the long overdue veneration of orange, a most underrated color. Do we really need a day to celebrate monsters and such when our daily lives are filled with all sorts of demons, succubi, Mary Kay reps, and politicians, who wear no discernible costumes and arrive unannounced by any kind of multiple choice trick or treat demands? But I guess if it's good for the economy, it's good for the U.S.A., to speak redundantly in this day and age.

We all have our personal hobgoblins--The Bore, The Mean Weller, The Self-Appointed Sage at Work, etc.--so in the spirit of the day and in an attempt to spread some virtual garlic around my sphere in the hopes of warding him off for a few months (and maybe allowing you to suffer evil torments vicariously and thus freeing you to live an unscary day), today I will discuss one of my everyday monsters, Dr. Julius Schanke, aka The Guy Who Shows Up At The Least Opportune Times. Schanke pronounces his name to rhyme with manque (manque), but everyone I know calls him Doc Schanke, rhyming with crock crank, though I've taken to referring to him simply as TGWSUATLOT. I first had the misfortune of meeting Dr. Schanke (professor emeritus of Ingestibles, Ballistics, Dirigibles, and All Things Nauseous at The Ohio State University, Ashtabula extension campus) back in 1992 at an in-person meeting of the alt.phlegmatics BBS community. He introduced himself as "the suave Brahmin of the slimy, a sort of crypto 'suami', if you will." I wish I hadn't. I can abide heavily bearded men and women with assorted shards of food adorning their countenances, but not--incredibly and in seeming opposition to the three laws of physics I'm familiar with--clean-shaven ones. I'm wagering that soon after his inevitable (?, one never knows) death, halitosis as we know it will be known henceforth as Schanke Syndrome.

In the nearly twenty years since our fateful meeting, six months have not gone by without my running into TGWSUATLOT, or more aptly, his ambushing of me. And, true to his title, these tete a tetes never occur when I'm wiling away a couple hours in a coffeehouse or mulling the slings and arrows while observing a single leaf of grass somewhere, but always when my dander is in the blood red zone and Old Father Time is goosing my ass something savage. For example, a few years ago, I--merely trying to buy a stamp in order to post remittance for an overdue municipal tax bill of $2.32 and dangerously in jeopardy of being late for my drive-thru, voluntary/cosmetic root canal appointment--was stuck in line at the Post Office behind a woman attempting to get passports for her brood of seven children all under the age of four (who were howling, climbing, drooling, and defacing government property) and a man of questionable heritage trying to mail what he swore was a box of nails and demanding to pay with six different money orders he had yet to purchase. In the midst of this maelstrom I suddenly heard, "Ergo, in re of our discussion in re of the use of obfuscating foreign phrases, I regret to inform you ... " Damn!, I shuddered, TGWSUATLOT. Forty-seven minutes later, with nothing to show for it but a wrinkled, self-adhesive Kwanzaa stamp (this was mid-July, btw) in need of licking, I stood in the parking lot dodging wrong-end of the dashboard driving mail scooters and attempting to assuage growing-hostile TGWSUATLOT with scores of "I see your point," "I'll have to get back to you on that," and "Really, I must be going," would-be placating phrases. Luckily my ersatz oral surgeon had an open schedule that afternoon and a shortage of anaesthetic, so I was eventually distracted.

Another time, as I was waiting in line at the confessional for my annual reconciliation appointment, who steps out of the box but TGWSUATLOT. He instantly lit up a nefarious smile, took me rather roughly by the elbow and quietly intoned, "My boy, don't waste your time with that quack," a quick lurch of his shoulder back at the confessional box, "for I've been going in and out all day, changing my voice radically each time and confessing to a panoply of sins, and all the poor man can come up with is, 'Say a baker's dozen Hail Mary's and scare up a nun to hold a door for.' Come with me rather, and I'll shrive your sins the holistic way over some rhubarb tea I brew in my car with the help of my cigarette lighter." I don't know how or why, and the memory is still too raw to detail, but I ended up doing two weeks of penance spraying Ly-Sol in every extant phone booth in Portage County.

Anyway, I'm sure you too have TGWSUATLOT in your life, maybe (hopefully) not as annoyingly monstrous as my TGWSUATLOT, but bothersome nonetheless. Perhaps my public sharing of my travails with my TGWSUATLOT will serve as sufficient vicarious terror for you, liberating you to enjoy your day sans Halloween foolery. Just call me your Halloween scapegoat, thank me when you run into me (God, I hope I'm not somebody's TGWSUATLOT!), go ahead, eat some candy, and get ready for two months of real holiday mania.

And finally, just in case you need a little more diabolical pondering to surfeit your market-imposed craving for something evil today, debate this question with yourself: Who is the greater monster in your life, the One-Upper (the person who can always top your present joy) or the One-Downer (the person who can always bottom your present woe-is-me warm wallowing)? No need to share your conclusions.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No. 3,205,425,579 Seeks No. 4,000,000,001

I've always seen it as a genetic thing, not a matter of choice: I'm a word guy, not a number guy. Nonetheless, I am fascinated by all the talk going around that soon, some say even as early as October 31, the Earth will reach the 7 billion mark in population. Makes me wonder what 7 billion pieces of bacon laid end to end would measure. It also makes me think of myself as a pretty insignificant speck. To make matters worse, the numbers crunching chaps at the BBC are offering a quick way to find out just where you stand in the horde, in case you really do want to feel as if you're just a number. I took the plunge and discovered that I'm number 3,205,425,579 on this planet.

A funny thing happened, though, after finding this out. Somehow I felt empowered. The more I looked at the number, the more I liked it. I like that it's an odd number. I like that it's divisible by three. I like the plethora of fives and love the fact that there are no sixes. I've duly memorized it, played it in Lotto, and will be getting it tattooed on my chest Monday. It's my number and no one can take it away from me.

The more I studied my number and got accustomed to its look and curves and sound, the more I started thinking about the ideal complementary number. After meditation, comtemplation, and some high powered calculus, I've determined that my long-sought soul mate is definitely 4,000,000,001. Trust me, I've done the math, double checked all my work, and even cross-checked it all on my trusty Tandy abacus. 4,000,000,001 is the one for me. So here's my message in a bottle, 4 bill +1. If it washes up on your shore, let me know. Together we'll make 7,205,425,580, which if that isn't the coolest number ever, I know nothing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Exercises In Inauthentic Grammar, Number One: The Co-Dependent Clause

I hear that in education these days there is something called "authentic grammar assessment." Ah, I love educationalese, love any -ese, really. Being a contrarian and a Gemini, naturally, I like to consider the yang to any yin and vice versa or whatever. So, here is the first in a series of exercises in inauthentic grammar.

Although I know it's past four in the morning and you're not in the best mood and I promise this won't be like last time (yes, I looked up the word harangue and I'm sorry if I came off that way but I promise this won't be anything like that) and you know I don't like to meddle--would rather be known as a haranguer than a meddler any old day--and this may not seem to make much sense and I know me making sense isn't a regular enough occurrence, at least the way you see it, and by that I'm not saying that you need some kind of communication bi-focals or something, I only mean we're two different people, right, and sometimes it can be difficult (no, I promised myself I wouldn't use that word, sorry), it can be a challenge, not that you're not up for a challenge and that you don't meet them head on, but, where was I, oh, it can be daunting, how's that, daunting, to not only walk in someone else's shoes but just putting them on, feeling comfortable and all (and anyway I hope and pray and trust that what I am saying, or am about to say, really, I hope that it in no way changes anything between us, beyond, of course, recognizing--both of us, recognizing--that what I say could be something that maybe changes us, for the better of course, not that I'm saying we, you, us, need to change, just entertaining the possibility that, you know, as they say, change is good, I mean not for change's sake, naturally, but you know, if the prospect of change is available and all and seems like maybe it might be kind of a good idea, from your perspective, of course, we're talking what you want, obviously, right, you understand that, right, and really after all is said and done, any change in, well, anything, would be, could be, a pretty small one, relatively speaking meaning of course you would have to assess it and measure it according to your scale of small, medium, or large, two people, you know, two different perspectives and all not that I'm like some auditor or something doubting the accuracy of your, you know, measuring instruments, or anything, I'm just saying, you know, and really all of this, well not all of this, but all of this I'm about to say, is only meant as a suggestion, okay, you understand that, right) and I apologize for rambling on a bit, please note that, that I started this all with an apology, I just want to say ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something To Sneeze At

Some days it all comes together. Yesterday someone used the old phrase, "That's nothing to sneeze at," which got me wondering (which action always causes parentheses to line up like so many cannon fodder unfortunates) about the origin of the phrase, and, naturally, those things in life that warrant being sneezed at. And then today, all day, the cat I begrudgingly share domestic space with has been sneezing like it's finally discovered that it should be allergic to itself. Meanwhile, the hottest stories on the Internet at the moment appear to be Cher's tearful response to son (nee daughter) Chaz's being voted off Dancing With The Stars, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler's shower mishap (Dude might look better after losing some teeth) and Denise Richards admitting she regrets getting breast implants at the age of 19 (one woman's regret is another man's treasure[s]).

Now I proudly thought I had said all there was to say about sneezing in a poem years ago, but pondering that "nothing to sneeze about" phrase, I find that there's more, much more. Think about it, is there anything more uncontrollable, more of-a-mind-of-its-own, more totally involuntary, more inarguably and unequivocally inevitable than a simple sneeze? Hell, in comparison death and taxes are mere nuisances relatively procrasinatable (to coin a word I've meaning to for some time now). I mean, every other bodily function/annoyance (burps, farts, coughs, giggles, nature's calls, indelicate itches, even [outside the group shower scenario] arousals) can be somewhat diverted, delayed, suppressed, hidden, squelched, tempered, muted, etc., but a sneeze knows no brooking. Yes, shit does happen, but usually, hopefully, on one's own terms, but sneezes are wholly immediate; the phrase should be sneeze happens, shouldn't it?

And what an experience a sneeze is. There's the instant, oh God here it comes feeling (and is there any incident in life that is more limbo-inducing than waiting for that sneeze to arrive if it doesn't immediately follow the here-it-comes feeling?), the wind-up (the bracing yourself and the searching frantically for something to sneeze into), the skull-rattling explosion (and, if it isn't true I can't confirm it and don't wanna try, the fact/myth that it's impossible to sneeze with your eyes open or you'll blow them out along with all your phlegm [I just sneezed, btw, looking up phlegm to make sure of it's spelling--Good God, can I be allergic to the dictionary?], which makes me think what if Malcolm McDowell had to sneeze when they were filming that part of A Clockwork Orange where his eyes are kept open--did he get extra pay for risking his eyes like that?),

and the aftermath re-adjustment to real life and the clean-up. All of which is profoundly/artistically (until about the one minute mark when it can get rather gross, just warning you) displayed (thanks to those crafty South Australians) in this video:

But then, with all of its inevitability and uncontrollability, I cannot think of one famous real-life (as opposed to Woody Allen's cocaine-induced sneeze in Annie Hall) sneeze. Ever. Can you? Think of all the live, real-life action that's been caught on tape/film for more than a hundred years. Can you remember any famous/infamous sneeze? Kind of hard to believe, isn't it? I wasn't around at the time, but JFK's inauguration looked pretty cold--is it that hard to imagine "Ask not what your AAAACCCCHHHHHOOOOO country can do ... "? (and while we're on the subject, I know there's a strange fetish out there for everybody, but really, is a sneeze ever sexy? Don't think so. I mean if Marilyn Monroe had sneezed during her "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" sultry rendition, would it still be so devastatingly hot nearly fifty years later? Nah.) Lincoln's Gettysburg Address took place on November 19--wouldn't it be great to discover some crude recording of it where Lincoln, on a probably chilly, here-comes-winter-folks day sneezes right in the middle? Tell me Walter Cronkite, Regis Philbin, or even Sally Jesse Raphael, in all their TV time, never had the sniffles that resulted in an on-air sneeze. I don't believe it. And yet, where's the evidence? Fascinating.

But back to the "sneeze at" phrase. Beyond it's how-in-the-hell-did-that-phrase-come-about nature, doesn't it imply that one can sneeze at will? Now we all know (or least did know in sixth grade) those gross magicians who could burp and fart on demand, but have you ever known anybody who could sneeze on demand (ignoring the existential question of whether anybody would so desire)? It seems that as inevitable as a sneeze is, it is just as impossible to conjure one without some olfactory or tactile stimulus. Could there be anything scarier than someone pointing a gun at you and saying, "I'll give you five seconds to sneeze or I'll blow you away"? Outside of Chaz Bono tapping you on the shoulder asking for this dance, I think not. Sneezes, thus, are the ultimate ineffable currency--you can't get them when you want them or avoid them when you've got them (which might be why they provoke a "God bless you" like nothing else; sneezes are godlike like nothing else [incidentally, it seems people used to believe the soul left the body during sneezes, thus the blessing to safeguard people at such a vulnerable time]).

And so, I did some research. Boiled down, it seems that a few hundred years ago (interestingly, the 17th century, when Reason was all the vogue) people believed that a sneeze was a sound way to clear the mind. So the elites took to all means and manners to induce sneezes in themselves (hello, snuff!; so, in effect, sneezers were the original 1%), and sneezing in public became a sort of social status thing. Which then, overuse being what it is, evolved into conjuring a sneeze only to show boredom or derision. So, you sneezed at something you didn't like or at the least didn't interest you. Thus, something that was important, or at least interesting, was "nothing to be sneezed at." God I love language.

And so, cuddle your cats, sniff some pepper, or pull a nosehair out--there's plenty to sneeze at in this day and age, and it seems to me about time we start full-scale sneeze assaults on those things, if only to revivify that great phrase and give some much needed value to those things in life (there are still some, I truly believe) which are not to be sneezed at. Beyond the present plights of Cher, Steven Tyler, and Denise Richards (in Denise's case, her regret only; do your best, boys, to squelch all sneezes in the presence [real or imagined] of those implants),

may I suggest a rather spontaneous, off-the-top-of-my-head-and-by-no-means-exhaustive list of some things that should be sneezed at with full gusto:
  • political debates for at least the next 12 months
  • any member of the media talking about the media
  • talk of the revamping of the Boston Red Sox
  • Tony Romo
  • anything about hipsters
  • anything involving the phrase "Steve Jobs would have..."
  • anything negative about bacon
  • LeBron James on anything except the joys of a manicure
  • Mitch McConnell
  • anything using the word "buzz" that doesn't involve astronauts or apiaries

Monday, October 24, 2011

Records Are Made To Be Broken

Anybody else remember when records were just records, not the retro-chic-sounding hipster jargon of today--vinyl? I like the look of that y in vinyl (and basically any word with a v in it, even though for the past few months I've had trouble with the v key on my keyboard and have to press it like it I'm trying to win a stuffed animal at a carnival, otherwise my haves become haes nots), but really, the word vinyl immediately conjures horrid images of 70s jumpsuits. Albums, man.

But I'm not here to wax nostalgic about wax and fold-out sleeves and such. I'm here to break them. Or at least tell you how I used to (as with most things connected with albums, it's a "used to" story) break them. Not that I was pathological about it or anything, but by my count within eight years I deliberately broke three albums, basically for provocation purposes. Like most discoveries that turn out to be useful and very fun, my first broken record was a spontaneous, un-meditated thing. It was a small gathering of friends around the end of high school, a gathering that included a guy named Mike who was enamored of Led Zeppelin, especially their second album (I know the mere mention of that album makes the more cognizant reader immediately start air-guitaring and mouth-guitaring the gargantuan riff from [more accurately, riff that is] "Whole Lotta Love." Mike was an interesting fellow. During our high school years he was passionate about exactly four pieces of music: "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band, "Lola" by the Kinks (kinda until he finally realized--after a good year or two--the song was about a guy being picked up by a transvestite), and the entire Led Zeppelin catalog (diverse and wonderful as it is, isn't really the entirety of Zeppelin just one piece of music? I mean you don't hear Zeppelin fans arguing over which is the best album like Stones/Beatles/etc. fans. For Zeppelin fans it's all Zeppelin and it's all kick-ass)--any other music was just filler for Mike until one of those four popped up on the radio. Anyway, I had a very beat up, used copy of II (at the risk of being called a heretic and milquetoast, let me confess that as much as I love Zeppelin--really love it when I hear a particular song [just about any]--I've never been one to sit and listen to one of their entire albums straight through much). Eventually during this gathering, something wicked this way came into my soul and I told a couple friends, "Watch this." I took the album, went over to Mike and said, "Should I put this on?" The personification of ecstasy--that was Mike. "Or should I do this," I smiled and took the piece of scratched up vinyl out of the sleeve and right in front of his eyes started bending the thing in, as if (well, not as if, truly) trying to fold the thing in half. "What the--" was all Mike was able to manage before I managed to complete the folding. Shards of scratched up vinyl containing the holy engraved codes of "Whole Lotta Love" and all the others snapped and exploded all over the room. Roars of laughter from the peanut gallery as Mike's ecstasy instantly transformed to disbelief, grief, and anger (I think our friendship never recovered from that moment). God did that feel great.

My next record-breaking performance came four years later (something about being a senior, I guess), and I may have already told this story here before (if so, find it and see how accurately I re-tell the story). The house I lived in in college was a chaotic collection of individuals. One was Mark, a rather nice but rather rabid Beatles fan (and this was the mid-80s by which time the Beatles were already rather nostalgic; to be a rabid fan then was, in my mind, a bit passe). Anyway, Mark was sitting there reading the latest Rolling Stone when he exploded indignantly with these exact words, "How can anyone have the audacity to name an album Let It Be?" (Rolling Stone was reviewing the Replacements' epic Let It Be album, my favorite album at the time, and one that has never left my all-time top ten since.) "Maybe because," I assholily retorted, "It's a much better album than the Beatles' one of the same name." I received a look thousands of martyrs must have received just as the stakes were being ignited. Should have been the end of it, I know, but college is the time for excess, no? Later that night, much later, I took my pretty vintage (red Apple label) copy of the Beatles' Let It Be--sleeve, dustjacket, album all--and hurled it several times against the holy wall in my room on which I had been writing graffiti for months. Satisfied only when I could feel that the vinyl disc had been reduced to dozens of pieces, I then proceeded to go upstairs and shove the whole thing under Mark's door. Have I ever been crueler in my life? Forgive me, I hope not, but after all, this was only rock'n'roll and as much as I've always loved the Beatles, they're not above having their pedestal rocked and rolled over a bit (which reminds me of the time I somehow wound up manning a beer stand at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert; there was no orderly line and we were selling cans which had to be opened and poured into cups [most inefficient]; so of course right before the show we were overrun with I-just-wanna-be-swilling-beer-and-screaming-"Refugee"-man-not-standing-in-this-clump-of-the-same-you-call-a-line-waiting-for-you-to-open-pour-and-gimme-my-beer-man folks; just as I was on the verge of another nervous breakdown the first chords of the night started up [possibly "Refugee"] and the pushingshovingyelling got worse; one dude screamed in my face, "Come on, man, the concert's starting"; folks, let me tell you, when Sheer Genius comes accompanied by a Guardian Angel, you've reached a perfection in life you never knew existed: without thinking, duh, I screamed back [probably told this story once or twice before, too; oh well, I'm old, I contain repetitions] at the would-be hooligan, "Relax man, Tom Petty isn't god!"; dead-on accuracy notwithstanding, in most parallel universes such a comment at such a time to such an individual would have gotten me [justifiably if you recruited your jury near the beer coolers at any Open Pantry location] killed rather instantly, but as I said, my Guardian Angel was riding shotgun with Genius that night, and the guy just shrugged his shoulders like "ah, satori to you too" and said, "Yeah, you're right"). Anyway, the next day Mark was not too delighted at the Apple scruffs I had left under his door, but eventually I loaned him my Replacements album, he kind of liked it (and, more important, taking the higher road, returned it unscathed) and we got along fine.

Within a few years I called upon all of this experience to create a truly "teachable" moment in my class of thirty high school boys. We were reading the great Anne Bradstreet's poem about how her house burns down and she ends up thanking God for the lesson that indeed, all earthly possessions are "vanity." So how does one make such a Puritan woman's poesy come alive to thirty late 1980s high school boys who probably couldn't give a rat's ass? Call on the Glimmer Twins, naturally. I brought in my first pressing copy (before the Law made them alter it) of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls album, with its iconic cover of famous girls and Stones as girls. I spieled to the class about how this was the first new Stones album I had ever bought, the collectible (if not for how my cheap needle had worn it out over years of steady play) nature of the album, how despite owning hundreds of albums, this one was still one of my favorites, both in a musical and sentimental sense, blah blah blah. I then attacked the thing mercilessly, cracking up the vinyl into dozens of pieces in my by now familiar way, mangling the cover, etc, and then tactlessly chucking it all into the big round classroom-standard metal trash can. "Vanity!" I harangued the boys (some who were duly impressed, some actually frightened, some, as usual, who couldn't give a rat's ass), "all of it!" I then invited, not mandatorily assigned, them to bring in some symbolically similar item of their own the next day and ritually destroy it in front of class to experience the same thrill of "de-possession." The next day, there were few takers (or, more accurately, sacrificers). But I'll never forget quiet Carl coming up with a pretty valuable baseball card, explaining to the class how he had a big collection and this card was one of his prized ones, dismissing my calls to think twice about what he was about to do and the howls from his classmates not to do such a stupid thing, and triumphantly shredding that card into tiny pieces, tossing them in the trash can, and returning to his seat. Carl, I don't know whatever became of you, and I hope that card wasn't the equivalent of a down payment on a new car these days, but always know you melted this teacher's heart that day.

The feeling of deja vu is overwhelming--forgive me if I said this all before (thus, I, um, guess, coming off sounding like a broken record). But think about it--Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin--for many the holy trinity of rock (I'm saving the Dylan album breaking for my senility, naturally). Destroyed, all of them. Happily, and maybe instructively (and, yes, cruelly) so. Maybe it's in the blood. Every Christmas I look forward to hearing my mother tell the story about how her grandmother sat on her mother's long-sought-after, treasured 78 rpm copy of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." I think my grandmother's look at her mother-in-law's face was probably akin to the one I received from Mike when Zeppelin II bit the dust.

Ah, nostalgia. What's the fun of breaking a CD or an iPod? Or, God forbid, a Cloud? No, maybe my record of breaking three records will never be broken.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm Keeno On Geno

Beware, I'm prepared this year. Like no other off-election year in history, I'm ready for 2011. With nothing at stake besides some local elections and boring issues, one might question my fervor. But that is the point. The even year elections are the exciting ones; it takes nothing to get riled up for them, as long as you're still breathing. But these off-year ones usually pass by with nothing but an extended yawn. But this year--maybe it's the Occupy atmosphere, or the seemingly already-underway nastiness of a Presidential campaign--I've decided to revel in my right to vote and prep myself for the ballot-punching process like never before. I'm keeping a sharp ear out for the radio commercials (while again being so thankful I don't own a TV); the ads I end up hating the most, I am sure to vote against (State Issue 2, it's neck and neck). I'm also keeping a detailed spreadsheet charting the contents of my mailbox and the things left in/on/around my side door (if you're a front door candidate, I don't even recognize you)--not that I read any of the little placards, but I'm counting, and voting in indirect proportion to the number I receive. Let's just say there's a certain Cleveland Heights City Council wannabe who's about two leaflets away from not only never receiving any kind of a vote from me, but if I see any of his kinfolk on Halloween, I'm not giving them any Smarties.

Admittedly, as much democratic dedication as these above-mentioned strategies demonstrate, they are a bit passive. I realized this the other day as I drove to work--through about six different towns--and saw all the various campaign signs on people's lawns. Gee, I wondered, how much democratic zeal would it take for me to do something so active? To actually take the time and effort to walk outside on one of these cold, rainy days and stick something in my front yard? And even if I did eat something strange that gave me such gumption, what the hell, I live on a side-street whose cut-through rate is pretty insubstantial. So again, the standard existentialist-democratic question reared its effete, ugly little head--what difference does it make? Then it hit me. I blog, dammit, I've got a virtual front yard that stretches across the globe. I can make a difference.

For nearly forty years I've watched politics with a fan's dedication. And long ago I came to the conclusion that the coolest, most useful role one can play in politics is not voter, not candidate, not poll worker, not aide-de-camp, but endorser. Nothing spells importance and true American egotism more than, Listen to me, folks, I'm going to throw open that measly curtain they hang on voting machines and tell you all just how I'm going to vote, because I think that much of myself to think that I can persuade you to vote the same way I am. And so, for the last few days, I've been a man on a mission--searching far and wide for a candidate worthy of spitoutyourgum's inaugural endorsement.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Geno Trunzo. Geno is running for city council in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, a suburb east of Cleveland. He gets my vote, if I had one in Mayfield Heights, and I hope he'll get yours, if you have one in Mayfield Heights.

I do not know Geno personally. As far as I know I do not know him impersonally either. I don't know why he is running for office or what his views are. I know one person who lives in Mayfield Heights. As far as I can tell, I have no readers who live in Mayfield Heights. So why, you're all scratching your heads, why would I gift, with my precious and much-sought-after inaugural and sole endorsement, someone I don't know or know of, in a race where I have little or no pull?

Because I love the man's name.

Look, as I said, I drive through six different communities to get to work every day. In a year of nothing but local elections, do you realize how many different signs with different colors and slogans and names I encounter? Hundreds. And I can't name a single one of them for you right now because they're all a blur. All expect for Geno Trunzo. Geno: Clarity In The Blur. What a name. Say it. Just go ahead and say it. And if you can do so with a full, Pabst-influenced good old Cleveland accent, you'll really get the effect--Geno Trunzo. A doubly trochaic masterpiece. How can you not admire, nay, trust, a name like that? It rhymes! It's got a great vowel to consonant ratio. It's got that down-to-Earth, man-of-the-people "Trun" followed by that zippy, charismatic "zo" flourish--meat, potatoes, and chocolate mousse! Tell me this country wouldn't be better off if along with (or in place of!) all the John's Andrew's, and Franklin's, we had a few more Geno's living at 1600 Penn. Ave. Although I don't live there, I feel my life will be better every day just simply driving through Mayfield Heights and knowing that a man named Geno Trunzo is sitting on city council there.

You might not like my politics, my music, or my sports teams, but if you're a regular reader of this blog (yes, all five of you), you must trust my love of words. Well, I'm telling you, as far as candidate names go, it gets no better than Geno Trunzo. And I don't care if you don't live in Mayfield Heights either. If you get lost in the morass of bland and nefarious-sounding names on your local ballot, remember the name Geno Trunzo and write him in. If he doesn't make it in Mayfield Heights, maybe he'll make it where spitoutyourgum has some real pull, like, for instance, Wasilla, Alaska (seven hits in the last 30 days!).

Go Geno!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Siri With Some Fringe On The Top

It's a cruel irony that as one's hipness (I'm too square to even attempt to use the word hipster) quotient diminishes, the pain in his or her hips increases. A prime example of how far away from the zeitgeist I seem to be: For several days recently I kept running across references to Siri. Thinking that Siri was some new reality TV star or that afternoon's hot new chanteuse, naturally I paid her little mind. Only by accident (well, maybe not that accidental--I figured if Siri was getting all this media attention, there had to be shots of her in a bikini somewhere) did I discover that Siri is the voice-recognition/activation software app on the new iPhone. Silly me. I've since seen this headline: Is Siri Racist? We've lost our minds.

Now as someone who still misses the thrill of dialing 0 on an old rotary dial phone, I am obviously not the person to comment on Siri's efficacy, pros/cons, or feelings about racial "others." But it seems to me that unless you are paralyzed or have had your arms amputated (and don't have the foot dexterity of Daniel Day-Lewis), a voice-activated phone is as superfluous as a poetry reading at the Republican National Headquarters. Punch in the damn numbers or person's name yourself. But I know, geeks, phones are much more than just phones these days. They're personal assistants (don't get me started). But I, still clinging to my Model-T cell phone, thought 99% of the cachet of owning one of those so-called smart phones was impressing people with how deftly you worked that swooping finger thing to access all your cool stuff. I guess I'm just a Charles Ingalls trying to merge his horse-drawn Conestoga onto this Information Super Highway I've heard so much about.

But look, this colorblind technoramus won't be colored impressed until Siri starts working some real magic, not the broken-down circus feats of dialing someone's number or reminding me of someone else's birthday that are presently wowing all the faddists. Do me a favor, Siri, don't call me or activate me until you can do most of the following: When I say, "scratch that itch," get the job done, especially in those hard to reach places. When I say, "beer me," fetch me a perfectly tapped pint of Guinness. When I say, "warm the seat," warm that toilet seat by means other than somebody else's arse. When I say, "bacon," produce. When I say, "play me the world's greatest song," my iPod (the one I don't own yet) better start playing one of about the five hundred songs that qualify. That's the kind of voice-recognition/activation software acumen I'm interested in.

While I'm thinking about all of this (which is a sad thought in and of itself), the Siri capability that I most treasure is a voice-activated voice. When I'm caught in some totally mundane, sanity-oppressing "conversation" with some total bore, I want to be able to whisper to Siri, "do it," and immediately have the application co-opt my voice and utter the dozens of "uh huhs" and "definitelys" and "ooohhh, interestings" that are necessary to continue the conversation unrudely while my brain and soul and total consciousness are free to roam the astral planes. Then, Apple, and only then, will I believe you all really do think differently and really are doing something significant for mankind. Until then, I'm on mute.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let Me Get This Out Of The Way

I'm an organic kind of guy. A feel guy. An "it's not the destination, it's the journey" (which I'm guessing Columbus was the original, or better have been, his destination being half a world away from what he thought it would be) guy. An inchoate (in an initial or early stage; pronounced in-KO-it) guy. A true believer in the "how do I know what I think until I see what I write" kind of guy. And so, after more than two years of writing this blog (with the experiment detour mistake of spending a month writing nothing but posts about pogo sticking well behind me), I've finally envisioned, sculpted, and varnished its mission. And so, with no further ado (i.e. parentheses), I unveil spitoutyourgum's Mission Statement, an ethos, an attempt to define the culture of this blog, a symbolic lighting of the torch which, if not always so in the past, I vow will serve as the guiding lighthouse for this blog from this post onward. Cuddle up and be edified.

Spitoutyourgum blog treasues the individual and the infirm (in fact, we proudly salute all "in-" peoples: the innocuous, the incredulous, the ingrates, the inert, the inept, the indeterminate, the Inuit, the intelligentsia, and hell, even the in flagrante delicto [if you folks are reading this, my, what talent!]). We believe in universal respect and aim to practice it when doing so doesn't conflict with what we value, namely, expediency. We celebrate diversity, basically writing about whatever comes into our divergent little minds. We exult in the Royal We whenever we speak of ourselves (another tip of the hat to the individual's right to be diverse). We not only talk the talk of thinking outside the box, we walk the walk--we are 100% box-free. Well, 99%. We have one box on site, situated exactly in the middle of our offices, so that we are always literally "outside the box." We do love plastic bins, though, and reams and reams of scrap paper. Obviously we are environmentally sensitive. Okay, full disclosure--we're allergic to the cat that shares a lease on our offices. What we bring to the table is ourselves. Well, if we had a table. As it stands now, we have a desk and a love seat that functions more like a table (and really, isn't a table just an uptown word for junk drawer?). Anyway, we are committed to bringing our committed (committable?) selves to this metaphoric table, i.e. literal love seat, every day. Well, we try to write every couple of days. We go beyond valuing our customers; in general we slobber over them. But since we're not selling anything here but simply offering mindless diversion for free, screw you, you get whatever we give you. As always, puppies and children under 12 eat for free. We offend no one with a funny bone, and defend anyone with ready cash. We embrace wholly the concept of the early bird gets the worm, but we prefer bagels with cream cheese, Malley's chocolate, and spaghetti. Our religion is words. Especially holy ones like canard. Bunkum is our sole tenet. In bacon, truck drivers, the boundless melancholia of Cleveland, and insouciance we trust. We love music but not to the arcane lengths of many a blogger; and we've grown sick of Big Brother publishing companies stomping on the fun of proselytizing about favorite songs. We shruggingly hug our Ludditism. Coffee is our drug, peanuts our fuel, indoor plumbing our crutch, tobacco our vice president. Readers our delight. 

And for you ADD, Cliff's Notes-preferring, pull quote sound byte folks, our mission in seventeen words: All the free malarkey we and you can fit into our/your busy every other (hopefully) day.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How Come I Never Get Invited To The Cool Funerals?

Yes, I've been to an Irish wake or two in my time, and it is usually true that the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake is one less drunk, but on the whole I've got to say that my years of attending wakes/funerals have been kind of a drag (yes, I know, somebody has died and these occasions aren't supposed to be jovial, rip-snorting, ass-kicking events, but still). Not that I spend my days and nights pouting about such things, but a recent news story really drove home the point that I have got to start seeking out better wakes/funerals. It seems that out in California (this can't be a made up story because California is too trite; anyone with such an imagination would have set this bogus story somewhere, anywhere else) at a funeral service for a person who indulged (while still alive) in medical marijuana-laced brownies, somebody passed around a tray of brownies. Yes, the brownies were pot brownies, in a kind of tribute to the recently deceased. The interesting part is that no one told the three senior citizens--who ate the brownies and wound up in the hospital--that the brownies were "special." All's fine with the old folks, so not to worry.

Unfortunately, my list of "best of" funerals/wakes pales heavily in comparison. About the best I can muster is the wake I attended for a guy who was always on the phone. As a tribute, his family put his beloved phone in the open casket next to his corpse (this was a few years ago, before voice mail; it was a battery operated cordless phone complete with an attached answering machine). Maybe it was the grief that distracted the well-meaning loved ones, but nobody thought to turn the thing off. So there, right in the middle of the wake, as several of us were mingling and saying nice things, the phone rings/bleats. Before anyone could figure out what was going on and how to stop it, the caller's voice boomed out of the answering machine: Newt Gingrich, Robo-calling, urging the dead man to vote for a certain Republican Congressman in the upcoming election. Needless to say, those of us liberals in attendance walked out in a huff.

Then there was the funeral of a friend of a friend I got roped into attending after losing a bet. Maudlin beyond belief. The presiding minister kept mispronouncing the deceased's name, some four-year-old in attendance was screaming for his Elmo throughout most of the service, and at the end when it came time to play the deceased's favorite song--Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (I love Bob, but really, talk about trite)--the person manning the boombox got mixed up and wouldn't you know it, out blared Bob's "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35"--the one that goes, "Everybody must get stoned ..." (which, come to think of it, would have been appropriate for that California funeral).

I won't go into the details of the funeral I attended for an avid roller skater. Or the one for the woman who died of a lip balm overdose. Suffice it to say, if you hear of a probably-cool funeral taking place, give me a buzz. I'll bring the Kleenex and the Doritos.

Friday, October 14, 2011

You Don't Expect To Be Bright And Bon Vivant ...

I don't know. I've been sick all week, and just today when I started feeling better it's rainy and gray and the wind's blowing like it knows for the first time that winter's on the way. On the radio are competing news stories of folks lining up at 4 a.m. to buy a new phone and further reports from Occupy Wall Street. And more than a year away, I'm already weary of the coming political circus we know as a Presidential election. It seems fitting,somehow, that yesterday, a day after Columbus Day, Paul Simon turned seventy (did you know his middle name is Frederic?). Turns out he wrote the quintessential song for today more than thirty-five years ago, more than half his life ago. Appropriately, I guess, you have to put up with a little (going a long way) Dick Cavett to enjoy this American Tune.

The folks at have some great photos of the whole Occupy thing. This one is Pulitzer-winning scary (look at that left hand, that right finger).

This one is pure haiku.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Make Me Nervous: Happy Birthday, Dad

My father would have been 85 today. Beyond the initial smile his memory conjures for me, my next thought--obviously, selfishly-- is, man, I'm getting old. One thing he liked to say (well, probably not liked, more like, couldn't help but) was, "Stop that! You're making me nervous," usually when I was doing something mindlessly repetitive like shaking my leg under a table. Not nervous like, oh no, I can't possibly speak in front of five hundred people, but nervous like You're Getting On My Nerves Here. I guess I'm sorry for provoking this outburst enough that I remember it so keenly, but how was a young kid to know, in his naturally solipsistic way, that one's inane actions could so irk someone else? In a way, though, I'm grateful. Operating under the assumption that nothing exists without the words that name it, without the memory of my father's momentarily fraying nerves I might have gone through life unaware of all the myriad things that can truly bug the hell out of me. Such ignorance would have made for a decidedly less colorful, more apathetic life. Naturally, armed with this genetic memory, I soon found myself echoing my father. But I always honored him whenever some student of mine was doing something stupid like constantly tapping an empty water bottle on her desk: "Hey Sara(h), as my father used to say, 'You're making me nervous. Cut it out.'" Ah, the tree-hugging fallen apple.

So, as a paean to dad and the wonderful phenomenon of genetic transmission, I offer this bit of poetic whimsy. May it also serve as fair warning if you should ever enter my sphere of existence.

You're Making Me Nervous Here, You With...

Your faintest threats of bagpipes,
Your stubborn cotton wads blocking my path to much-needed aspirin,
Your ravenous clawing through your crypt-like purse looking for three pennies with which to make exact change; I've got plenty of change right here in the register but hardly enough serenity for this transaction,
Your scraggly, starter's-kit moustache,
Your jukebox punching up of Journey,
Your insistence, anywhere but on the first tee, whenever your ball is playable, if not desirably so, on pulling one more out of your pocket and declaring, so dismissively of rules and etiquette, "I'm gonna hit another one,"
Your mildly tapping of my shoulder for emphasis when we've known each other for all of two minutes,
Your failure to flush,
Your neglect of your turn signal,
Your private cellphone conversations conducted so publicly loud,
Your cats,
Your own over-active nerves.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

MOE's, OOers, and the Po: The Percentages Of Occupation

This morning I'm occupying my porch. Why? Because it's a beautiful morning, one where autumn seems to be yielding the floor a bit to old man summer's dotage. It's truly a "99%" porch--an open-air slab of concrete with a couple of mismatched second-hand chairs and a beat up yellow plastic table. Even the constantly scampering chipmunks find it a bit cramped. But all in all it's a nice relaxer. I'm also occupying what passes for pajamas in my world--in this case wholly opposing plaid patterns on top and bottom. And, once Mr. Coffee stops gurgling, I'll be hard at work de-occupying a cup or two of java. Later I have to go in and occupy my occupation for 16 out of 24 1/2 hours so I can continue to occupy the place where I'm an occupant. Otherwise, I'm occupied writing this. 

Since my doctor has sworn me off pie charts, and I lack the necessary poetic chops to write a 2011 update of Walt Whitman's great opus, "I Hear America Singing," it's a precarious thin line I'm attempting to tread here--between mathematical bells and whistles and poetic artistry--all in the service of trying to make sense of this whole "Occupy Wall Street," "Occupy Cleveland" (it's about time somebody does), and "Occupy Whatever." Now I'm all for exercising one's Constitutional rights, and railing against Greed, though a bit nebulous, seems like a pretty healthy, right-minded thing to do. My problem with it all is this 99% thing. The protesters are saying they are the other 99% of the population, in opposition to the 1% who are Greedheads and control everything? I'm not buying it. Outside of loving ice cream and kinda had it up to here with Nancy Grace, there is nothing that can claim the support of 99% of the population. We're talking 297 million, I-contain-multitudes Americans, give or take a few million.

Give or take, that's one of the big questions (I guess, quite literally, Give or Take is what this is all about, isn't it?). In every so-called scientific poll/survey/study, there's always that ambiguous give or take thing--margin of error (and isn't it always +/- 2.5%-5%? How come scientists--supposedly anal, precise folks--are allowed to get away with this Margin of Error thing, but no one else is? Why not gamblers? Try pulling this one at a Blackjack table: "Well you see, Mr. Dealer, 22 is within the realm of the margin of error, so I didn't actually lose. Gimme my chips back, please." Or, "I took the Browns and the seven-and-a-half points, Mr. Bookie. They lost 23-14 [yes, the Browns are capable of scoring 14 points {give or take 2.5-5} in one game], which is within the margin of error. Can I have my money back in crisp tens, sir?"). So right away we've got to knock that 99% down a tad to account for the Margin of Error (MOE). And trust me, there are a few MOE's walking around out there--the truly marginalized. The guy walking down the street with earbuds singing along, way out of key and pitch, to some song, usually exhorting someone to "get your booty on the dance floor." The woman obsessed with finding the nearby Holiday Inn where, in the Elmhurst Room, the American Idol paper doll figures convention is taking place. Anyone presently in line at Graceland who won't be buying the premium tour ticket. These people and so many more are the MOE's of American Life who certainly can't be accounted for in some simplistic 99% vs. 1% demographic matrix.

And what about the OOers? The Otherwise Occupied? In a more orderly world they might passionately side with either the 99% or the 1%, but as of right now, they're otherwise occupied. I mean it's obvious I'm not an Einstein with numbers, but out of 300 million Americans, there has got to be several thousand people currently suffering a raging toothache. You ever had a raging toothache? Let me tell you, it occupies you 100%, no MOE. What about brides-to-be? In the months--let alone weeks and days--leading up to her wedding, you think a bride-to-be can possibly be occupied with anything other than wedding plans? What about all the Jehovah's Witnesses faithfully going door-to-door as we speak, and all the homeowners politely opening their doors to them? You're going to say these people aren't otherwise occupied? The hungover? The folks waiting in line at a discount drug mart? Parents trying to placate an unhappy kid at Chuck E. Cheese? Pundits excoriating the 99% protesters? OOers, all of them.

And of course there's the Po, who are always with us, kind of. The Pre-occupied. The woman I run into now and then who's obsessed with "Shirley and Laverne," to the point where I can't even get a word in to inform her it's Laverne and Shirley. The folks busy making bladder control issue TV commercials. The folks in need of bladder control products. Any and all adolescent boys (aged 12-40, +/- 2-5years). Owners/renters/renting-to-own-ers of metal detectors. Zombies. Curling enthusiasts. Lana Del Rey fans. Bloggers. Civil War re-enactors. You can't count people in on the new Occupy X movement if they're already preoccupied, can you? Multi-task, fine, but it goes against the laws of physics, I believe, to multi-occupy.

And so, doing the math, rather quickly and with that comfortable margin of error crutch propped nicely in my right armpit, the sum of the MOE's, OOers, and Po comes out to roughly 150 million Americans (proper-birth-certificate possessing ones only, naturally). Which makes for one half-assed America. Which, if you have any sense of history, is about par for the course, status quo--which, for the 99% of those who are non-golfers and non-Latin scholars, is same as it ever was.

Back to the porch. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


One woman's accusation is another man's flattery. Yes, I stood accused yesterday. And make no mistake about it, the disdainful tone of voice, the arms akimbo, the fists clenched squarely on the hips, even the eyebrow action all spelled nothing but a-c-c-u-s-a-t-i-o-n when she said, "You've read the dictionary, haven't you?" "Well," I mumbled in true humility (the humility of one not caught in nefariousness--that would be humiliation--but one who feels flattered but knows he's not perfect, that he could feel flattereder), "I skipped around a bit."

This all stemmed from being disappointed that a so-called baseball dictionary didn't include the wonderful word "donnybrook" (a free-for-all or brawl). There was doubt written all over her from the get go about the currency/legitimacy/existence of the word, so when I resorted to hauling out a "standard" dictionary to prove my point, I was greeted with "hunh"--not the genuinely intrigued, well-now-I-just-learned-something-I-hadn't-hitherto-known-before hunhs, but a more exasperated, fine-I'll-let-you-have-this-one-but-that-doesn't-mean-you're-still-not-quite-the-pill-in-my-book hunh. Which all led to me erupting a few minutes later with, "You want a really good word? A word most people have never heard of, let alone use?" (Of course these questions were rhetorical, as if anyone would answer them in the negative, so I didn't wait for her to reply). "'Hoyden'--a high-spirited, boisterous, or saucy woman." "What the--" was her rather, well, hoydenish (and only then did I realize the appropriateness of gifting this, yes, rather boisterous woman with such a splendid word) retort. The look she gave me screamed you're a huckster (which, incidentally is right across the page from hoyden in my dictionary), but her look changed soon enough when I whipped out the dictionary again and showed her "hoyden" in all its obscure but legitimate glory. That's when the downright accusation/flattery took place. Guilty/accepted.

Case in point (or maybe just a self-serving diversion to make this long post even longer): The other day I felt the urge to look up the word "torpor." Yes I already knew the word means "a state of inactivity or insensibility; lethargy, apathy," but the stickler in me (a close acquaintance who goes by the name of Leonard) wanted to be sure (okay, I'm borderline nuts, as if anyone could pronounce it any other way) of the word's correct pronunciation (let me make this clear right now, although those r's made me a tad skittish and I wanted to be sure, I am NOT one of those pronunciation commandos who go around pedantically correcting people's mispronunciations of words ["the word is pronounced zo-ology, not zoo-ology, unless, of course, you live in a zoo!" he said rather nabobily], although I still get a kick, years later, out of the for-all-intents-and-purposes-quite-learned person who in public once pronounced the exquisite word "gibberish" as gib-ber-ish rather than jib-ber-ish [though maybe that was the person's point--gibberish to the nth degree is not just jib-ber-ish but downright gib-ber-ish]; and oh, why not, we're already quagmired in parentheses, how about the fuss over the pronunciation of the word "forte" [something in which one excels]: for years everybody went with for-tay, but lately more people are going--a bit peevishly, in my view--with the one syllable fort; technically the word comes from the French and should be pronounced fort, but the Italian musical term forte [for-tay] meaning "in a loud, forceful manner" [Pierre corrected forte my mispronunciation of the word forte], has kind of been mixed up in it all and most people seem to say for-tay, as in "correct pronunciation of obscure words is one of my many fortes"; most arbiters of these kinds of things [we all have crosses to bear] accept this Italian usurpation of the French [commendable choosing of sides there!] and acknowledge the legitimacy of for-tay along with fort [which all makes sense to these ears; somehow one's strong points sound much cooler when they're for-tays rather than mere forts, which if we had a day or two might be kind of ironic; although wouldn't for-tay sound cooler, if maybe not as manly, for the word that--unimaginative military types--means "a fortified place"? "Whatcha building with all those couch cushions there, Billy?" "It's my super neato for-tay, sir!"; although in strict military terms, I guess the word might be a bit effete [rhymes with defeat, so there]: "No one will be able to penetrate our well-fortified for-tay, will they Maurice [pick either Morris or Mor-eece, whichever makes the joke funny/ier]?"). (And of course, I think it's clear that my mere picking up the dictionary and making the effort to look up "torpor" simply to confirm its correct pronunciation [let alone all the divergent thoughts such action provoked and the subsequent ramifications of the act, of which this post is the {hopefully} ultimate], prove that at the time I most definitely was not in any way in a state of torpor.)

But back to my original point about the joys of dictionary reading. In the few seconds it took me to find torpor in the dictionary, I chuckled thinking about what a great word torporific would be: "Geez that meeting was torporific." "Imagine that! I looked up the word operatic in my thesaurus and the only word there was torporific." "'Ostentatiously torporific' said the critic about my dance interpretation of Mein Kampf." But the joke was on me, because right there in the holy dictionary, after the pronunciation and definition was this: torporific adj. Great minds think alike notwithstanding, this discovery made me curious about ific. At first glance, and one usually doesn't get beyond that, I assumed it was a very positive suffix thing. As in terrific or splendific. I can't be the only one who kind of in some way equates ific with chocolate, right? But then I thought about horrific. If there's such a word as horrific, why not torporific? And then, deeper--wouldn't terrific, ironically, come from terror? Kind of like awful coming from full of awe? Such lexical miscegenation of good and bad--are the Tea Partiers aware of such evil?! I had to get to the bottom of this ific thing (of course if my years of Latin class had been more studious I would have, um, already been at the bottom). No Luddite I, for convenience's sake I took to the World Wide Web (and what happens if, as any devoted Coast To Coast A.M. With George Noory follower knows is imminent, full disclosure of extra terrestrial life becomes reality and we learn that aliens from other worlds/galaxies/universes/dimensions are tapped into life on this Earth and even tapped into our Internet? Might there indeed be a Steve Jobsless future of a Universe Wide Web? Would we have to change all our url's from the ubiquitous, don't-even-mention-it-anymore WWW to UWW?). At (http://www.) I learned that that nifty ific tag comes from the Latin fic, "a combining form meaning 'making,' 'producing,' 'causing.'" Fics sense to me. Something that's torporific causes torpor, horrific causes horror. Duh. But the best part, no really, was that in the list of examples, included with honorific, pacific (never thought of that one, did you?) and prolific, was this word--frigorific. Oh, the mind reels and careens. Frigorific (definitely frig-or-if-ic, not fridge-or-if-ic). "That friggin' frigorific meeting was so torporific I feel like hurling myself in the friggin' Pacific." Alas, such action just might be a tad frigorific, because that word (heretofore unknown to and unheard of by me, but ecstatically welcomed like a little lost lamb) means "causing or producing cold." Come wallop me, winter. I'm fortified (or fortayified) like never before: "It's not the snow, it's that frigorific wind." Fortified for the coming political storm, too: "Look, I met the guy. I could never vote for someone with such a frigorific handshake." Fortified for anything, now that I've got this word in my arsenal. "It'll be a frigorific day in Hell when I disown my dictionary." Unfortunately, the word is supposedly now "obsolete." Well, I say, come on 99%, unoccupy frigorific Wall Street and let us all occupy the word frigorific and make it unobsolete.

I love the ific idea. Causing, producing, making. Seems to me there's a motivational fortune to be made with the "From Iffy to Ific: Transform Your Life Now!" slogan.

But anyway, enough's enough. Or is it? Yes I have read and continue to read the dictionary. Got a problem with that? In fact, I'll go so far as to say I vociferously advocate the dictionary as your next Book Club book. The choice is yours. You can either spend ten hours of your life wading through the latest "middle-aged hoyden has donnybrook with frigorific husband, quits her day job to follow her bliss and exploit her forte of crafting natural, environmental-friendly donuts, flirts too terrifically with the decidedly unfrigorific truck driver (OMG!) who delivers her dough, sinks into the abyss of torpor, and is eventually re-awakened to the joys of her unmanque life via Pilates and Rhoda reruns" tome and then spend another two hours discussing all the empathetic epiphanies the book inspired with a dozen of your closest buddies, or you can spend a mere three hours rummaging through and across and up and down and back and forth some ratty under-utilized dictionary, experience epiphanies out the wazoo, truly turn your life from iffy to ific, and have a riotous two hours sharing your discoveries with those same friends. I dare you.

And btw: another great word, drivel (kind of rhymes with civil).  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The calendar says it's October 4th, 10-4, which means only one thing here at spitoutyourgum: our (kinda) annual salute to the world's truck drivers. They supply us with what we need and like, haul away what we're through with, amaze us with their maneuverability skills, and daze us with fantasies of life on the road. Or whatever. But getting to know a few drivers over the years, I've come to respect them and appreciate the fact that they're great characters. So, in celebration of these men and women, I humbly offer a poem I wrote nearly twenty years ago (don't think the red light factoid is still fact), before I really knew any drivers. A bit of splenetic piece of poesy this, an imaginary kiss-off, an all-purpose empathetic paean to the you-broke-my-heart blues--a message so hefty I felt only a qualified, and quality, truck driver could be trusted to deliver it. Thank you, drivers.

Driving You Away

I need a big
18-wheeled truck
To haul away
The memory of you.

The truck driver
(I see him as a cussing type,
Impressively fat with a mustache
That'll cut your nose
When you kiss him),
I'd give this guy,
Who I'm gonna call Hector,
I'd give Hector enough quarters
To get through all the tolls
To get to where I'm sending him.
You see, I'm willing to pay the price.

I'll start him heading south on 71
Out of this panic-quick Cleveland town
'Til the sign for 70 west Indianapolis
--which humdrum he's gonna bypass--
But he's going right through East St. Louis
West to St. Louis where he's gonna drive around some.
I like a big rig on city streets,
Makes you jittery
Making wide right turns,
Cutting commuters off
With that Arch in sight always
--whatever goes up, baby
comes metallic down the other side--
Then a run red light
And it's dirty river south
Down 55 through Memphis and Jackson and deeper.
And he will be instructed
Not to acknowledge any scenery
--not that Hector is wont to do such a thing--
But he will not stray from his mission:
He's driving you away,
And after this ride,
You will not come back.

Down into Louisiana he's gonna
Catch that desperately long Pontchartrain bridge
And when he gets to that halfway point
Where he can't see land ahead of him
Or behind him,
He's gonna stop that rig, shut it down,
Irregardless of traffic
And courtesy
And he's gonna shout from his cab perch,
“Not yet, baby! You ain't being abandoned
In this nowhere, yet. We got traveling to do.”
Then he starts up again.

And when he hits land he heads fast right
West on 10 way west
Past the sun through wide Texas
Where he can smell wasted Juarez, west.
And he will not jacknife.
And when some newly jerked kid
Pulls his arm down
From a mother-driven Aerostar
Just outside of Phoenix
Hector's gonna oblige and blow his horn loud
And that mother's gonna jump in her seatbelt
And slap that kid well to remind him
And Hector's gonna roll on west
1,947 miles times 18 wheels from New Orleans to L.A.
But he's not gonna push you off
The continent, baby, no.
He's heading 5 north now,
Largely for symbolic reasons:
It gets cold up north.
But in the desert of Sacramento
He's gonna start to circle 'round
--heading east on 80.

Don't even think about it.
We're just toying with you, Hector and me.
'Cause somewhere out on 80,
Out in the dead west,
There's one red light
--the only red light left on 80, baby.
And that's
where the memory
of you
gets out.