The Reverse Chronological Resume Has Had Its Fifteen Minutes

Am I the only one who thinks the reverse chronological resume is long overdue for a … reversal?

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I don’t know whose idea it was to make people read history backwards, but it’s time to dismiss this antiquated format and switch to one that’s more reader friendly—and just makes more sense.  You know … like putting stuff in the order in which it actually happened?

I edit resumes for a living, and I can only imagine hiring managers’ frustration at trying to piece together a career progression that goes from—reading down the page—Executive Vice President of Operations to ultimately … mailroom guy.

Where’s the “logic” in reverse chronological?

Wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense if we could follow this candidate’s exceptional spunk, drive, and indefatigability (good word, that) by watching him go from mailroom schlep to CEO?  Because of reverse chronological, the poor guy goes down the tubes in a matter of just a few years.  From Riches to Rags.  He’s a loser!

If I were a hiring manager, I’d scan the top one-third of the resume to get an overview of the candidate’s personal branding statement, skill set, and maybe even a glimpse into his or her personality.  But next—I would disregard society’s continued acceptance of this awkward practice, defy convention, and … yes! … read the resume from the bottom to the top.  A quick glance at the education, certifications, and licenses, and then continuing up through the candidate’s real-life progression and work history.  And upwards is no way to have to read!

I’ve edited countless resumes in which the candidate was “promoted to this position from  Vice President” and in the position below that one, he is the “Vice President”—and my brain has to hit the brakes and reconcile that he’s … still the Vice President?  No wait, he’s “Associate Director” now … oh, I see … later (in the one I just read) he becomes Vice President, so let me look at those years again …

I don’t read any other type of history backwards—so why would I want to read a resume that way?

 ***

So I suggest that today—any of you hiring managers, career strategists, recruiters, etc. out there hearing my plea … start insisting that job seekers everywhere begin writing in the other direction!

Let’s read resumes the way we would anything else!  It’s time to create the next revolution in job searching … the Not-Reverse or … Forward Chronological resume!

***

But … I guess … if you want to see someone’s most recent experience first, then … forget I brought it up.  

Set a pen to a dream …

Things seen by the inward sight, like those flashing visions which come as we drift into the blankness of sleep, are more vivid and meaningful to us in that form than when we have sought to weld them with reality.  Set a pen to a dream, and the colour drains from it.  The ink with which we write seems diluted with something holding too much of reality, and we find that after all we cannot delineate the incredible memory….  To shape these things on the wheel of art, to seek to bring some faded trophy from that intangible realm of shadow and gossamer, requires equal skill and memory.  For although dreams are in all of us, few hands may grasp their moth-wings without tearing them.

—Robert H. Barlow, The Night Ocean

“I never much liked being corrected.”

“I never much liked being corrected.”

Elizabeth Mappus, 17, junior, Academic Magnet High School, North Charleston, S.C.

 

From: Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students Making Sense of the World, compiled by Larry Smith

What would you say if you had just six words to define your life? That’s the challenge Larry Smith presented to his online community, SMITH Magazine, in 2006, challenging contributors to come up with a half-dozen words of self-reflection. The constraint, it turned out, fueled rather than inhibited creativity.

Inspired by Six Words’ popularity in English classes and art classes alike, Smith recently called for submissions for illustrated Six-Word Memoirs, in which he asked students in grade school to create a piece of artwork that enhanced their memoirs.

The voices in Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated might be young, but they are nonetheless profound. At its core, the Six-Word Memoir offers a simple way for anyone of any age to try to answer the question that defines us all: Who am I?

Blogger’s Note:

This girl is not just great at drawing, but she is also well able to convey a serious message through what some might consider to be nothing more than some primitive Binney & Smith scribbling.

Forget, for just a moment, Elizabeth’s ability to wield the medium of her choice.  It’s the message.

Elizabeth’s talent for so vividly expressing her attitude is amazing. Once we get past the primary message—that Elizabeth has a problem with authority—there’s a much deeper meaning here.  But I don’t get the feeling that this schoolgirl is too much trouble to her parents or other authority figures.  I think the real message here is that she’s too intelligent—too distinctive a personality—to be harnessed by a bland and ordinary world.

She uses art to communicate—through the two colorless, drab, grey, exactly alike dresses worn by the girls on her right—the uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, personalities that belong to these mediocre lemmings who are undoubtedly her classmates.  Note also the space between the colorless words belonging to the girls on our left and the colorful text that represents Elizabeth.  Although she may be standing right next to these unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian peers, she might as well be a hundred miles away, as it’s obvious from this simple illustration that she has nothing in common with them.  And never will.

This is my first public venture into art criticism—and maybe I’m just another talking head.  But … if I’m right (and only Elizabeth Mappus knows), then this is one talented and creative  seventeen-year-old.

“Life punches me in the face.”

“Life punches me in the face.”

Jordan Smith, 12, sixth grade, Harmony School of Innovation, San Antonio, Texas

 

From: Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students Making Sense of the World, compiled by Larry Smith

What would you say if you had just six words to define your life? That’s the challenge Larry Smith presented to his online community, SMITH Magazine, in 2006, challenging contributors to come up with a half-dozen words of self-reflection. The constraint, it turned out, fueled rather than inhibited creativity.

Inspired by Six Words’ popularity in English classes and art classes alike, Smith recently called for submissions for illustrated Six-Word Memoirs, in which he asked students in grade school to create a piece of artwork that enhanced their memoirs.

The voices in Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated might be young, but they are nonetheless profound. At its core, the Six-Word Memoir offers a simple way for anyone of any age to try to answer the question that defines us all: Who am I?

Blogger’s Note:

This is a kid who’s learned early what to expect for the next—interminable—80 years.

I’m Sorry, I Apologize, I Take Full Responsibility, I …

The age of the apology is clearly upon us—and it is not just about being polite.  It has become de rigueur, an almost reflexive response among leaders to a mistake or, worse, a true crisis.  The art of the apology has become a carefully choreographed dance: Say you are sorry, show vulnerability, tell everyone you are “taking responsibility” and then end with, “I hope to put this behind me.”

Andrew Ross Sorkin

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Well Said

… in order to effectively raise your kids, you have to maintain a special relationship with them. They have to be attached to you, to a certain extent, and they have to look to YOU for guidance, reassurance, and love. They have to be oriented towards you and by you, their compasses have to be set according to you. You must be their North Star, their light in the darkness, their trail in the woods. The more the government, the schools, the media, the peanut gallery, and their peers intrude, the more difficult it is to maintain that relationship. These other entities, whether they want to or not, will inevitably dim the light and alter the compass. The autonomous, sovereign unit of the family will be usurped, and your voice will become just another, lost in the chaos and the noise.

—Excerpted from The Matt Walsh Blog

(I thought this was an exceptionally well-written paragraph.  Matt Walsh is my favorite blogger.  If you would like to check him out, go here: The Matt Walsh Blog)

Nickel and Dimed to Death

Penny wise, dollar foolish works both ways.

The phrase is meant to convey that it makes no sense to watch your pennies with one hand while you’re squandering dollars with the other.  Look at it this way: Are you scrounging pennies off the ground and then forking over ten bucks for lottery tickets?

But this philosophy can work in reverse too.  Too often, businesses, so concerned about collecting every possible penny from the customer, overlook the damage they are causing to their bottom-line dollars.

How?

Some years ago, I found a great Chinese restaurant.  I went there once a month—every month for three years—for take-out.  It was my monthly treat.  The food was top-quality, and the prices were in line with all the other Chinese restaurants for miles around.  My wife didn’t eat Chinese, and so it was all for me.  (I felt just like Macaulay Culkin.)  I would spend roughly $30 during each visit.  And although it was enough food to typically feed a family of four, I liked to have an enormous variety of delectable taste treats—and it also ensured that I would have plenty of leftovers.  And thirty bucks wasn’t chump change in the early ’90s.

file000783834896Despite the fact that, even after three years, the same greeter would seem to not recognize me—and address me in the same robotic way as she did the new customers—I continued to patronize the place because the food was good.  A little recognition and appreciation for my loyal patronage would have been nice, but … what are ya gonna do?  So I overlooked that and continued to procure my wonton soup and moo shu fixes.

During one visit, as I left the restaurant with my cardboard box—my copious cache of aromatic delights teetering—I decided I would like to have a little more mustard.  And this restaurant didn’t give you those awful plastic tubes of yellow-tinted pasty mush; this place mixed Colman’s mustard powder and water and gave it to you in those little cups with lids.  (It’s the little things that matter sometimes.)  So I went back in and asked for one.  The greeter reached under the counter and handed it to me, and as I placed it atop the already precarious stack of other plastic cups, she asked me for five cents.  A nickel.  I had just spent $28.73—as I had done on many previous occasions—and she asked me for a nickel.  I gave it to her and told her I would never be back again.  The perplexed, befuddled surprise in her expression was … I don’t know … what’s the word?  But it was still on her face as I butted open the door and went not gentle into that good night.  In fact, I was pretty dang … I don’t know … what’s the word?

 ***

Let’s extrapolate, shall we?

Thirty dollars per month, times twelve months, times three years.  Ka-ching!  I had spent, over the course of three years, approximately $1,000—in that one restaurant.  And I am just one person.  After that much loyalty, not only had I never been acknowledged as a regular customer, but neither had anyone ever expressed gratitude for my repeat business.  Well how could they, after all?  If, after three years, they were still treating me as though I’d never been there before, why should I have expected anyone to toss an “appreciation egg roll” or  “nice-to-see-you-again crab puff” into the box?  Instead, I was asked for a nickel.

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Let’s extrapolate further …

In the twenty years since I’ve stopped going there (assuming they’ve stayed in business), and all other things being equal, and not adjusting for inflation, they’ve lost $20,000 in revenue—from just one person.

***

What I understood—and they didn’t—was that they didn’t see people walking into the restaurant.  They saw ten- and twenty-dollar bills fluttering in through the door.  And their vision, obscured by all that green paper, made them unable to see that it was people they were supposed to be serving.

So be careful.  Don’t worry about the nickel, and the next $20,000 will take care of itself.

It Was Only a Dream

Note: The following is not a suicide note—so don’t call the police.  I don’t answer the door anyway.

 ***

No one likes to hear about other people’s dreams.  But bear with me …

My dreams of late are extremely indicative of how I feel about life—my life, specifically—but also my inability (unwillingness?) to value life in general.  It’s not an easy thing to admit, but it’s true.  So there it is.

Most people value life above all else.  The survival instinct is very real—God built it into us.

 ***

It seems to me that most people are fearful of death.  They want to put it off for as long as possible—as if they were procrastinating over some really dreadful chore they just don’t ever want to do—a task even worse than whitewashing a fence.  Unfortunately for them, and unlike Tom, they can’t get anyone to do the job for them.  Most people want to live forever.  That’s to be expected—when you consider that most people are unsure about what comes next.

Some believe that when you die it’s over; you simply cease to exist.  You took the ride, and now it’s time to get off—just nothingness from now on.  Others believe you go around and around again.  No one has yet been able to explain how we managed to “evolve” a soul or spirit that keeps hopping on the ride.  Wouldn’t a “god” have to make that possible?  It seems to me that people’s inability to remember a previous life is proof enough that it’s nothing more than a silly, made-up hypothesis (invented by someone who was afraid of what lay beyond the grave).

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

—Don Nix

Where’s the person who can remember that he hauled enough crumbs to the nest—and then worked really hard through his next sixty lives—to finally get promoted to human being?  Give me a break.

***

And then are those who believe that Christ is real, that He asks only for us to believe in Him—and believe that He died so that we could live forever with Him.  Is that any harder to believe than evolution or reincarnation?

***

Anyway, that’s what’s at the root of my non-fear of death.  Not only an absence of fear but anticipation.  I know where I’m going after this silly journey.  And honestly, I can’t wait to get there.  Yes, I embrace the idea of dying—even though I’m only 54.  The only thing I am afraid of is a painful and/or prolonged death.  But who isn’t?

It’s truly amusing to see the horrified expressions of those who react with alarm at the thought that I am not enjoying this ride and would like to just get off now.  You mean you don’t want to live forever—or at least as long as you can because dying is just so … I don’t know … unnatural?  You mean you aren’t afraid of what happens next?

Nope.

 ***

In the past, during some occasional bouts of depression and anxiety, I’ve seen physicians, hoping to find some relief.  But when discussing depression or anxiety, the doctor will predictably ask: “Do you feel like you want to “hurt” yourself?”  (Who says doctors don’t have a sense of humor?)  Yes, I want to hit my shin with a tire iron; I want to plunge a shish kebab skewer through my eyelid.  I would stick bamboo shoots under my fingernails, but the only ones I can find are the canned variety at the grocery store—and they’re soggy, so they don’t hurt—not even a little bit.  Are you so afraid of the word killSuicide?  People who are terrified of the word “died” are the reason our vernacular now includes such euphemisms as: He “passed away”.  Or … We “lost” her.  He “slipped away”.  I want to react just like Annie Wilkes: “Slipped away!?  SLIPPED AWAY!?

So I’ve learned to just keep my honesty locked up—as tightly as the doctors lock up the prescription pad, which is one of the things that would help.  You gotta love the irony; you ask a doctor for relief from depression, and the response is, to paraphrase: I can’t give you anything that works (read schedule III or IV controlled substances) because you could use it to “hurt” yourself.

“Yes, but I’d feel better.”

“Well, that may be true … but you’re not allowed to feel good.”

“Why? Because I might enjoy life again and want to live, after all?”

“No, because you could become addicted.”

***

And who hasn’t thought about suicide?  If you’re honest, you probably have—if only as a philosophical pondering while twiddling your thumbs one day—or maybe even during some difficult times in your life.  You’re not a freak; you’re normal.

***

It’s not that I have such a terrible life.  Not at all.  I’m thankful for my many blessings.  But somehow, despite all that, I’m not enjoying myself the way I’d hoped I would.  I’m lost in the past.  I am continually recalling the “good old days” from my late teens through my twenties.  Those were “the good times”.  And not just because time has erased most of the pain—but because I really did have more fun back then.  Back then, I thought the really good times lay ahead.  And I suppose for some they do.  I got all mine at the beginning.

***

Anyway, my dreams …

Last night I dreamt that I was walking along a road in upstate New York.  And when I separated some foliage to see what lay beyond, a lake suddenly appeared, and I fell off a cliff that was really high—like two miles high.  And because I was so high up, I knew I had a lot of time to fall; but better than that, I realized there was absolutely no way I was going to survive the hit.  So I relaxed and decided to enjoy the descent.  Like a skydiver I began to just … fly.

A few things made this dream extraordinary:  I didn’t get jolted out of my sleep when I fell; I was certain I was going to die (which gave me satisfaction because I knew that in a minute or so I’d be in God’s presence); and I actually began to enjoy that ride—the one that was going to take me home.

In dreams similar to this one I’m in an airliner that’s plunging to the earth—with a 100% chance that we’re going to get smashed into tiny little hors d’oeuvres for the wildlife, served on aluminum shrapnel; but rather than scream and claw and clutch at the nearest passenger, I begin to pray … and just wait … because, again … I know where I’m going—but above all, I know it’s not going to hurt.

 ***

The ending to both types of dreams is always the same: I survive.

And then, as I wake up, I’m really disappointed … because it was only a dream.

Chilly Pads

1

It was 5° when I woke up this morning.

My cat—whose pads were cold—jumped onto my stomach and nearly burned patches of frostbite into me as she kneaded my formerly toasty body.  She’s strictly a house cat, so I deduced the kitchen linoleum must have been a tad cool—and she obviously needed a warm-up.  I was happy to oblige.

But then she took me hostage—settled against my ribs, put her paw over my paw, and wouldn’t even let me start the coffee—for two hours.  But it was 3 a.m., so I had a little time to kill.

If you’re a feline lover, you know that the cat makes the rules.  If you’re not, it’s probably because you can’t abide the cat making the rules.  I’m not here to pass judgement.

 ***

As you can see, I was finally allowed to get up and come over to the keyboard.

But first, I gave the little cutie a treat for inspiring this blog.

Locavore Schmocavore

People concerned about my general well-being often urge me to “buy local”.  They don’t come to my door, but they offer this advice by posting flyers in the library entryway, on my favorite telephone poles, and even in places I wish I could avoid but must pass in order to get to the frozen pizzas—such as the supermarket Starbucks.

This annoyance du jour was engineered by people interested in advancing the notion that it is somehow better to purchase and consume food in proximity to where it is grown—generally considered to be within 100 miles of wherever you are at the moment.

Unlike so many other touchy-feely ideas concocted by people with nothing important to do, I’m actually amused by this latest in a series of utopian ideals—suggested by a bunch of busybodies who aren’t interested in anything other than controlling your life and making you live the way they want you to live.  This particular … “suggestion” … or whatever … amuses me because it doesn’t raise my taxes or stomp on my liberty; I’m able to just sit back and grin without becoming angry.

***

What difference does it make whether I buy “local”?  I’m all for supporting local businesses and cultivating meaningful relationships with the shopkeeper on the corner, but the whole idea of comparative advantage gets tossed out the window when some uninformed group decides it’s the “right” thing to do.

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Tell me, where, exactly, do you buy your “local” bananas?  You people in Nebraska … where do you buy your “local” razor clams?

Just because something may be grown nearby doesn’t mean it’s any better.  And if the argument is for economically supporting Jake, the local lettuce farmer in California, consider this: You may not buy his lettuce, but someone else will—someone in New York, perhaps—and Jake may even realize a larger profit margin.  So the result is that someone else (much farther away than the ambiguous 100 miles from his farm) has purchased his lettuce anyway.  And so New Yorkers support Jake, and you support someone in Florida when you buy those oranges.  If I lived in Florida, I’d still want to get my strawberries from Oregon, my blueberries from Maine, and maybe even my citrus from California.

file6671336123521  That’s because I prefer to obtain the best product at the best price—that’s basic human nature—and basic economics.  It seems to me that those who promote this “local” ideal have an inadequate understanding of economics, specifically of comparative advantage and opportunity cost.

And how can you NOT buy local?  Do you drive from Nevada to Maryland for your blue claw crabs?  I’m pretty sure you go to your “local” store but buy products from elsewhere.  If you truly shopped “local” your choices would be extremely limited, and you’d get bored pretty quickly.  And then you’d also realize what a bunch of hokum this latest feel-good nonsense is.

Alaskans have salmon, but that would get tedious—boiled salmon, baked salmon, grilled salmon, salmon croquettes … you couldn’t even make salmon ice cream without some “imported” sugar, cream, and rock salt.  Alaskans obviously have to get their wheat from the Midwest, their oranges from California or Florida, and their chocolate from … mmm … chocolate …

So how is an Alaska resident supposed to buy local?  By going to the local Wal-Mart—that’s how.

bg-1-136591 There’s this ridiculous hatred that the confused among us have about big-box stores, but try getting your locally grown limes from your neighbor in Anchorage.  (By the way, this is why Wal-Mart has to be open 24 hours: the cars with the anti-Wal-Mart bumper stickers can all be found in the parking lot in the middle of the night.)

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And consider this: Sometimes eating local can kill you.  Want to support the local crab fishermen?  Okay.

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***

And why does it cost more?  If it’s locally obtained—and didn’t have to take the Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris and then a flight to London to New York to Memphis to Seattle—but simply needed to be thrown into the back of my neighbor’s pick-up for a three-mile drive from the field, why does Jake’s lettuce cost a dime more than the one I get at the supermarket—also three miles away?  Partly because of the various food chains’ volume-purchasing power, but also because of the hype; local dealers of arugula and radicchio know their target audience—and they charge accordingly.  I have no bias against foodies; sometimes, I am one.  But the snooty foodie (who wouldn’t dream of using a smoked curry powder from out of town) is (ostensibly) willing to pay more to support a meaningless ideal.  That’s not so smart.

It doesn’t have to come from around the corner to be healthful, beneficial, or, most of all—desirable.  If someone in Tennessee buys strawberries from Oregon, and someone in Oregon buys … well, whatever we get from Tennessee … both win.

Peaches don’t stop growing at the border; you can get one in South Carolina, but Georgia peaches are considered to be the best.  So people want peaches from Georgia.  And they want Maine blueberries, and Vermont maple syrup.

file3581249560814And here’s further proof that locavorism is nonsense.  Consider the supporters.  A criticism of the locavore movement was defended by Dr. Kathy Rudy, associate professor of women’s studies and ethics at Duke University, in her article “Locavores, Feminism, and the Question of Meat” published in The Journal of American Culture.  Rudy refers to this work as a

“feminist analysis of locally grown (pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range) meat.”

A feminist analysis?  Of meat?  (I must have forgotten that feminism, meat, and eating cabbage from the communal garden located behind the library parking lot are inextricably linked.)  And as we all know, you cannot obtain pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range meat from far away.  So unless you live near a ranch in Texas … oh, well … you’ll just have to settle for biscotti or tofu.

 “Feminist formulations of the relationships between humans, nature, gender, and culture … shed a great deal of light on the value of the local farm.”

That’s just what I would have said.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bag to pack.  I’m going to France to procure a few ounces of truffles for my next quail-egg omelet.

Rural Funerals

… it has a pleasing, though melancholy effect, to hear, of a still evening, in some lonely country scene, the mournful melody of a funeral dirge swelling from a distance, and to see the train slowly moving along the landscape …

***

When the deceased had been unhappy in their loves, emblems of a … gloomy character were used, such as the yew and cypress; and if flowers were strewn they were of the most melancholy colors.  Thus, in poems by Thomas Stanley, Esq. (published in 1651) is the following stanza:

                         Yet strew

               Upon my dismall grave

               Such offerings as you have,

                             Forsaken cypresse and sad yewe;

For kinder flowers can take no birth

Or growth from such unhappy earth.

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 ***

There is a dismal process going on in the grave, ere dust can return to its kindred dust, which the imagination shrinks from contemplating; and we seek still to think of the form we have loved, with those refined associations which it awakened when blooming before us in youth and beauty.

 ***

Aye, go to the grave of buried love, and meditate!

file0001875043591There settle the account with thy conscience for every past benefit unrequited—every past endearment unregarded, of that departed being, who can never—never—never return to be soothed by thy contrition!

If thou art a child, and hast ever added a sorrow to the soul, or a furrow to the silvered brow of an affectionate parent—if thou art a husband, and hast ever caused the fond bosom that ventured its whole happiness in thy arms, to doubt one moment of thy kindness or thy truth … if thou art a lover, and hast ever given one unmerited pang to that true heart which now lies cold and still beneath thy feet;—then be sure that every unkind look, every ungracious word, every ungentle action, will come thronging back upon thy memory, and knocking dolefully at thy soul—then be sure that thou wilt lie down sorrowing and repentant upon the grave, and utter the unheard groan, and pour the unavailing tear, more deep, more bitter, because unheard and unavailing.

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Then weave thy chaplet of flowers, and strew the beauties of nature about the grave; console thy broken spirit, if thou canst, with these tender, yet futile tributes of regret; but take warning by the bitterness of this thy contrite affliction over the dead, and henceforth be more faithful and affectionate in the discharge of thy duties to the living.

—Washington Irving  (1783-1859)

Excerpts from Rural Funerals, published in the Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (published 1819 – 1820)  (A reflection on grief, and an observation of rural English customs during the early 19th century.)

The Legend of H-Man

The wind howled through the window frames and rattled the panes in Jimmy’s bedroom.  Nights such as this were perfect for sharing tales of terror.  And my cousins, Robbie and Jimmy, enjoyed telling them as much as I enjoyed hearing them.

***

file9251257702071  This was just one of numerous weekend visits I’d had with them throughout my childhood and adolescence.  My mom and I often made the drive upstate from our home on Long Island so she could visit her sister—my Aunt Eileen.  And I spent that time hanging out with Robbie and Jimmy.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATonight, as we warmed up after some postprandial wandering through the late-autumn woods, Robbie recalled a bit of local folklore and related a tale I would never forget.  Jimmy lit some candles and turned out the light.

“Once there was a guy who lived up on Little Mountain,” Robbie began.  “He lived in a cabin with his wife and son.  Every day, he would go out and hunt while his wife stayed home and cooked and cleaned.  One day, while he was out hunting, injuns attacked his family.”

“You had Indians around here?” I asked naïvely.  Both agreed that Indians had once been prolific throughout the Catskill Mountains—especially in their hometown.  “Especially here in West Shokan,” Jimmy said.  Although I’d never given any thought to the etymology, upon hearing the word spoken aloud again—Shokan—it suddenly dawned on me that there was a decided similarity between it and the many towns and villages on Long Island with place names of unmistakable American Indian origin—names such as Nissequogue, Shinnecock Hills, and Montauk.  And I felt like a dope for displaying my ignorance—for momentarily thinking Indians lived only “out West”.  And, duh … I also now recalled the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving with the Indians in New England.

Robbie went on to explain how about a dozen of the bloodthirsty savages broke into the cabin one day to steal a bunch of stuff.  But, dissatisfied with the few things they’d plundered, they became angry and set fire to the cabin.

“What did they ever do to the Indians?” I asked.

“Nothin’,” Jimmy said.  “They were just those kind of injuns,” he explained in his characteristically colorless speech.

Robbie proceeded with his narrative.  “The man came home in time to see smoke coming from his cabin and the injuns running off into the woods.  He ran inside to save his family, but when he got in there he found his wife and son murdered.  Blood was everywhere, and his wife’s scalp was stuck in the wall with a tomahawk.”

Now he really had my attention.

“The cabin was a huge heap of flames now, and the doorway was blocked by the fire.  His only chance now was to escape through the window.”

“But it was stuck,” Jimmy interrupted.

“Yeah,” Robbie continued, “and so he had to crash through it.”

“Why didn’t he use a chair to smash it?”  I asked.  But I could see by his expression that my logic had confused—and irritated—him.  “Sorry … go ’head.”

Robbie then explained how the wooden grilles holding the six square panes together created a fiery, blazing grid.  “See?” he asked, pointing to the window behind him.  (Apparently, this homesteading family had purchased their windows at Home Depot.)  “He jumped through the window, and as he did, the flaming wood burned an H into his chest!”

“Yeah,” Jimmy chimed in.

“Wasn’t he wearing a shirt?” I asked.

Not prepared for a pop quiz, both agreed he must not have been.  “Otherwise, he wouldn’a been burned,” Jimmy said, employing his own logic now.

I accepted this and nodded in agreement.

But now I was about to learn the really scary part.  It seems the death of his wife and son—and the trauma of having discovered them himself—had driven him insane.  From that moment on, his sole purpose in life—and endless quest—had become revenge.  And not just against the Indians who’d wronged him and destroyed his happiness—but against everyone!

“And he’s still around,” Jimmy whispered, looking toward the window.

“He’s still around?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah.”

I had to get my bearings.  “Wait a minute … didn’t this happen … like, a hundred years ago?”

“Nuh uh,” Jimmy expounded.

Then Robbie added, “And people sometimes still spot him running through the woods.”  (A local Sasquatch.)

“And he hunts down anyone who refuses to believe in him,” Jimmy warned.

“Or curses him,” Robbie added.

Now, up to this point, the story had seemed to be sorta, kinda within the realm of possibility … but now this?  Irreverence against this crazy mountain man was his justification to just go around killing innocent people?  I’d begun to doubt the legend’s authenticity about halfway through, but now …

***

I was only twelve at the time—and perhaps, owing to a youthful ingenuousness, I could easily be led to believe a somewhat credible, somewhat plausible story—especially when told convincingly.  At night.  By candlelight.  And Robbie and Jimmy were extremely convincing in their presentation of this sordid tale.  (And, yes … I wanted to believe it.)

***

But I wasn’t prepared yet to admit that I believed it; I had my pride, after all.  “I don’t believe this happened,” I boldly announced.

“You’d better,” Robbie warned, “or he’ll come after you.”  Jimmy nodded in agreement, urgency in his expression.

I studied each one’s demeanor.  They’d lied to me plenty of times in the past, so I’d had a lot of practice recognizing their deception.  None of the telltale signs were there, but still, I was hesitant to make a commitment, so I pressed them.  Again I brought out my best weapon—logic.

“How does he know who’s cursing him?”

“He just does,” Robbie replied.  (The Santa Claus dictum.)

“Ya never know when he’s in the woods listenin’ to ya,” Jimmy added for emphasis.

I considered this for a moment and thought, yeah … someone hiding in the undergrowth where we traipsed almost every day would easily be able to overhear our conversations.

46961 “But he can’t hear what you’re saying in the house,” I reasoned.  They considered this for a moment, and just when it seemed they had no answer, Jimmy suggested, “He can if the window’s open.”

“What does he look like?” I asked.

“He wears ripped clothes,” Jimmy said.

“And he runs around barefoot,” Robbie added.  “He’s really skinny, and he’s got a beard that comes down to his chest.”

This was unbelievable.  A murderous, clairvoyant Robinson Crusoe was on the loose somewhere out there?  How many times, I wondered, had we passed right by this maniacal mountain man during our countless afternoon treks into the woods—or worse—along the black, moonless roads at night?  How many times—during our innocent stone-skipping expeditions along the streams—had I narrowly escaped a gruesome death at the hands of this madman—simply because I had been discussing my seventh-grade teacher instead of my non-belief in him?

4332480496_ed584d0f32_o

file000869849024But then it occurred to me … I wasn’t in any danger.  I couldn’t have been a nonbeliever … and I couldn’t have cursed him … if I’d never even heard of him until just now.  This satisfied me as a valid rationale for why he’d never killed me.  And Robbie and Jimmy did believe in him, so that explained why he’d never killed them either.

I thought about my mom and Aunt Eileen—settled comfortably on the couch downstairs, blissfully watching Lawrence Welk—completely oblivious to the fact that H-Man could have, on so many occasions, crashed through the window and inflicted his vengeful brand of justice upon them—had they known of his existence, but not believed.  They were safe in their ignorance.  But now I had been inducted into the small community of locals who knew of the man—the legend—the consequences.

***

It was winter break, and I was looking forward to a full week upstate—a full week away from school.  Of course, I hadn’t forgotten about the tale Robbie and Jimmy had related during my previous visit—and as the days passed, I continued to test their conviction regarding H-Man by making light of the story.  They continually warned me not to speak ill of the man, but I had to put this to rest.  I had to know—once and for all—if they were serious.  I even went so far one day, while hiking behind Little Mountain, as to dare H-Man to come out of the woods and get me.  “Here I am, mountain man!” I yelled.  “Come ’n’ get me!”

file9211297245321 “Cut it out!” Robbie scolded, stopping to scan the surrounding woods.  He glared at me, and Jimmy made a show of listening intently.  I apologized, and they dropped it. They really mean it, I thought.

***

And so they set the wheels in motion to teach me that insolent behavior against H-Man would not go unpunished.  The next night, the three of us were hanging out in Jimmy’s bedroom making jelly-jar candles.  It was about 8:30.

Suddenly, Jimmy said, “Shhhh!  Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” I asked.

“A noise outside.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said.

“Well I heard something.”

“I thought I heard something, too,” Robbie said, concern in his expression as he looked up from his candle making.  “Sounded like branches breaking.”

I turned off the light so we could get a good look outside.  We knelt down and huddled around the window, peering through the frost-laminated panes.

“See anything?” I asked.

“No,” Jimmy replied.

“Me neither,” Robbie said, “but let’s go outside and take a look around.  There shouldn’t be anybody messin’ around in our yard this time o’ night.”  His statement amused me—as if there were a reasonable time to be messing around in their yard.

“Wait,” I said.  “Let’s open the window and listen first.”  Jimmy cracked the window and a gust of sharp, icy air rushed in, the powdery snowflakes from the sill stinging our faces.  It was like sticking your head into the supermarket freezer.  The fragrance of dirty metal screen mingled with the clean snowy air and smoked-ham aroma coming from the neighborhood chimneys.

We couldn’t see or hear anything, so we decided to go out and take a look around.  We were fearless, indomitable adventurers now, intent on keeping the homestead safe from intruders and marauders.  The subject of H-Man hadn’t come up since the day before, and the thought that it might be him didn’t even occur to me; this was a generic adventure of the type we’d embarked upon many times before.

Robbie grabbed a flashlight.  We put on our coats and boots and bumped downstairs.  Our moms, little perceiving—much less appreciating—our heroism, gave us a passing glance as we headed out into the perilous unknown.

We trudged through the knee-deep snow around to the side of the house and toward the trees just outside Jimmy’s bedroom window.  The squeaky crunch beneath our feet was loud in the stillness.  Robbie shone the light, sweeping it methodically across the yard.

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The pale moonlight cast an ethereal glow everywhere and gently illuminated the muted blue-white landscape. The tall, silhouetted firs and pines cast an overshadowing gloom upon the serene landscape.  Nevertheless, the wood smoke and frigid air invigorated me, and I suddenly wished we were out camping.

We took a few steps closer to the spot directly beneath Jimmy’s window.  Despite the tranquility, a momentary spell of anxiety—induced by the uncertainty of what we might discover—convulsed my upper body and arm muscles.  I was grateful that, to my cousins, it appeared to be merely a chill from the intense cold.

But at times like this, I imagined any number of scary woodland creatures darting at me from within the shadows—taking hold of me—and shredding me to pieces with their disgusting yellow fangs.  (Maybe I really was the “city slicker” my cousins teasingly—and often mockingly—accused me of being.)  But I never allowed this latent fear to deter me from the adventures that moments like this afforded.  In fact, I welcomed the disquieting effect that arose whenever the three of us confronted unknown “danger”.

A bit apprehensive and shivering (now from the cold), I stood as still as I could—seeking the source of Jimmy’s noise.  I listened intently, hands in my pockets, shoulders hunched.  The cold turned our exhalations into vanishing vapors.

“See anything?” Jimmy whispered, hunched over and breathing into his cupped hands.

No one spoke.  Robbie continued to scan the area with the flashlight.  He led us toward the tool shed.  Suddenly, he stopped, and aiming the light down, revealed—to our astonishment—four pine sticks, each about a foot long—laid out on the snow in the form of an … E.

 

Ε for Eric!

 

There were footprints—made by bare feet!—in the otherwise-unbroken snow leading from the scene over to the road.

Robbie’s jaw dropped and his expression turned tragic.  Wide-eyed, he looked at me. “He knows about you,” he said, solemn, resigned terror in his quavering voice.  “H-Man knows about you, and he’s after you.”

His proclamation sent an unpleasant jolt through me, and my leg muscles began to sag.  And now, my disbelief in H-Man was also beginning to collapse under this new—and palpable—development.

In an instant I considered all that had happened during the past few days—and the week before.  I grasped for a logical, reasonable explanation.  But I was scared and confused;  I couldn’t think straight.

“Thi … this is his warning!” Jimmy stuttered.  Jimmy never stuttered.

This couldn’t be a setup, I reasoned.  I’d been with Robbie and Jimmy all day and night.  They hadn’t been out of my sight.  How …  who could have made barefoot prints in the freshly fallen snow?

“I know you guys did this,” I chuckled unconvincingly as I turned back toward the house.  I just wanted to get back upstairs.  Both adamantly denied having had anything to do with it, and we went in to bed.

***

We spent the next day sledding, along with about a dozen of the neighborhood kids, on an obliging neighbor’s steep, expansive front lawn.  My cousins were considerate enough to avoid any mention of the previous evening’s incident.  And of course, I didn’t bring it up.  We stopped playing long enough to wolf down a dinner of canned ham, instant mashed potatoes, frozen corn, and Pillsbury biscuits before heading back over to the hill.

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It was well past dark when we stopped for the day.  Exhausted and cold, we trudged into the house and wrenched off our boots in front of the fireplace.  My cousins went upstairs while I stayed behind to toast my toes for a few minutes before bed.

When I eventually dragged myself upstairs and into Jimmy’s room, my cousins were standing by the window, which, they swore had not been left open when we’d gone out that morning.  But it was open now.  And the terror and shock in their eyes could have been a reflection of my own.

Beneath the sill, scribbled in crayon, was the letter E.

***

I was terror-stricken.  Not only was I now convinced of H-Man’s existence, but I was faced with the realization that I wasn’t even safe in my cousins’ house!  He’d gotten in!

I gasped, but no words came out.  I turned and raced down the stairs.  I huddled in a chair in the living room and started to hyperventilate.  I sat, hugging my knees, wondering if this could really be happening to me; I couldn’t sort out my emotions.  I got dizzy from hyperventilating.

And that was the precise moment Robbie and Jimmy thumped and crashed down the stairs in a fit of laughter.  They came into the living room, clutching their stomachs—and I realized I’d played right into their hands.  I’d been the complete fool.

And I despised—and admired—them for it.

JOHN77_edited-1

 

Soundoholics and Silenceophobes

One of the more dramatic changes to the American culture I’ve witnessed over the past few decades is the proliferation of noise.  And I don’t mean there are more trucks, buses, planes, and trains.

***

You can’t pick up a pizza, sit in a waiting room while the mechanic installs a thingamajig, or get your hair cut in peace and quiet anymore.  Everywhere you go, there’s music blaring.  Or a TV (or four) that have apparently been manufactured to broadcast only that universally loved “entertainment”—sports.

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And the problem is twofold; this odious din has not only become more widespread, but it’s also frequently—and unnecessarily—too loud. (Quiet talkers are doomed in this society.)  Of course, this phenomenon is not considered unusual or outlandish by Generation Whatever Letter We’re Up To Now.  (Z-squared?)  They grew up in the culture.  This practice—and its acceptance—is ingrained in anyone born after 1990, and today we (that’s all of us) are either part of—or doing our best to avoid—a population of soundoholics and silenceophobes.

***

interesting_book

Pity the hapless book reader—for we are strangers in our own country … outcasts … creatures in a zoo.  So often, while I’ve sat waiting for my car—reading a book rather than gluing my eyes to the doofus in the helmet—I could sense the curiosity from those around me. What’s that he’s holding?  Why is he staring at that instead of the monitor?  Why isn’t he making any noise?

They must be wondering what, after all, could be more exciting, while some guy balances your tires, than listening—simultaneously—to a bunch of discordant raving lunatics screaming:

TV 1: “He shoots!  He scores!”

TV 2: “Oh, man!  Nahasapeemapetilon kicked it right into the goalie’s face!”

TV 3: “ … was the top scorer when he played at UCL—Whoa!  The ref’s not gonna like that!

TV 4: “Is he gonna make it!?  I don’t thiiink soooo!”

file0002037881722     

Oh, please.

I’d never realized that by reading my book, I was missing out on the opportunity to admire a true role model and hero run across grass.  A role model because he’d been arrested for felony assault only twice—and a hero because he’d been arrested for felony assault more than once.

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***

Visit a Barnes & Noble and try to concentrate on the book you’re perusing while the satellite radio soothes your soul.  More than once I’ve left the store empty-handed because I couldn’t focus.  Billy Joel once said that music should never be used as wallpaper.  I guess I’m the only one who heard him.  Our library tried the music-in-a-bookstore experiment awhile back, and I’m glad they had a suggestion box—because I didn’t waste any time using it.  I remained polite but firm:

This is a library—not a Barnes & Noble—not a Starbucks.  Please get rid of the music.

And to their credit, they did—within the week.  Of course, I’d like to believe I’m the only one who voiced that opinion … because that would be a validation of my awesome power.  But it’s likely that at least one other patron disapproved of the distraction.  And it’s the first time I ever encountered a suggestion box that was more than just a decoration.

Now, if they would just do something about the screaming brats whose frequencies often approach 12,000 Hz—and almost the same decibel level.  Who decided it was a great idea to create library/day care centers?  Supervised by adults—who were raised by lousy parents—who converse at levels more appropriate for tire shops.

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Not everyone is guilty, of course; you have to give credit to the parents who appreciate that a library should be quiet and join in a chorus of “Shhhh”s that turns the children’s corner into a snake den.  They receive my I Really Mean It This Time Award.  My Lieutenant Dan Award is reserved for the ones who scream at their children to be quiet: “Get down! Shut up!”

     file0001900059289          file0002024901196

I know what you’re thinking.  No, I was never a child.

***

My wife and I went to a small, nondescript restaurant for breakfast before setting out on some sightseeing.  We were the only patrons, so other than some murmuring between ourselves about what to order, there was no conversation.  But a lone speaker mounted on the wall ten feet from our table (from any table) blared a radio station at a level that made the flatware dance.  I chuckled at the thought of the waitress coming back with our mugs of coffee and wondering if she’d missed out on the Rapture.

***

I used to be able to concentrate while out in public.  I could do my grocery shopping without a list because I could remember what I needed.  Now I’m bombarded by a cacophony of sounds—professionally produced snippets featuring really happy people—usually perky moms whose big smiles practically ooze from the overhead speakers—who blather constant invitations to visit aisle X to take advantage of blah, blah, blah.  The moment these interruptions—paid or otherwise—begin to seep from the ceiling, I tune them out so thoroughly, I can’t even tell you—immediately afterward—what they’d been yammering about.  Because I’m too insulted to listen.  And I’m also too distracted and grumpy then to remember half of the things I went in for.

And of course, between these maddening interruptions, we must have mutant music—some too loud, thumping contrivance with vocalists even more annoying than that guy from Rush. And whassup with this passive acceptance of rap?  As if it had any merit whatsoever.  It’s a plague masquerading as entertainment that makes me embarrassed to be an American.  It’s the PC “music” genre; people are too afraid to shout down this idiocy that passes for music.  Or perhaps it’s because we can’t be heard.

I know, I know … I sound like my grandfather.  But before you label me as an old fogey who longs for the days of elevator music and Lawrence Welk, let me say, I can handle loud, thumping music.  In fact, I embrace it—if it’s worthy.  I crank it to 11 when I put on my old Rumours and Born to Run 78s.

Anyone out there ever heard of Mike Oldfield?

Mike+Oldfield61     Stevo-Tubular-Bells-B

Or Gram Parsons?

GramParsonsDreamy     Gram Parsons: His life came to an early end at the Joshua Tree Inn

***

But it’s not just music and televisions and the incessant advertising.  Even people—who are supposed to be listening to the wallpaper—add to the din because they never stop talking.  I am not amused when I must ask a stranger to repeat his question, only to realize—as he continues walking past me—that my existence never even showed up on his radar.  He was communicating with blue phone phairies.  I don’t mind if you want to use a hands-free device, but once in a while … just shut up.  Would it kill ya to wait until you got to the car?  You had to prattle on about last night’s game while picking over the grapes?  Next to him is the woman transmitting an extremely crucial communiqué: “I’m picking over the grapes.  What’re you doin’?”

People are loud too.  The uncouth (read white trash) among us (who should be required to remain in their homes until the rest of us are safely back in ours) shout across the length of six booths at a craft fair or farmers’ market rather than walking over to someone to converse in a respectable, civilized manner.

I daresay I wouldn’t want to be living in a severely restrictive and stuffy society (and have to suffer through an August day in a celluloid collar and starched shirt), but the Victorian and Edwardian eras had their virtues.

     beachwear_1905     home-sweet-home

And it would be nice to go out in public without having to continually put my hands over my ears.

file0001346788047

I Can Remember …

Of all the people, events, or circumstances that have ever made an impression upon or affected my life, I find it fascinating to realize—and fully comprehend, and ruminate on—the fact that my most vivid recollections concern incidents that—at the time—gave absolutely no indication of their memorability—or indeed, of any significance whatsoever.  Each day was just that—another day.

 

But now, when I pause in whatever I’m doing to entertain certain memories, I realize that is the way of human nature; our memories are intangible photographs taken (usually) without our knowledge—or consent—by the subconscious mind.  And ultimately, they end up filed away in the photo albums of our synaptic archives.

***

Sometimes, those things we hope to remember forever—a particularly good time with friends, a stunning autumnal landscape, the euphoria of falling in love—are lost to us despite our best efforts.  And yet, ironically, it’s the seemingly trivial moment that somehow becomes indelibly imprinted upon the mind—and then resolves to stay with us forever.

 

And like a fine wine forgotten, that waits quietly fermenting in the cellar collecting decades of dust, our subconscious thoughts lie racked in the mind’s cellar, fermenting into fond memories, ultimately uncorking themselves—without invitation—when we least expect it.

Lexicusicalism or Lexicolorism

It’s time for a conference of lexicographers to convene at a long teakwood table to construct a new form of writing notation—one that is more specific—that conveys more emotion than our current system.

It should be a combination of the words we now use—but with a simple addition—symbols that assist in conveying the passion, the sentiment, or the abject fear we want the reader to grasp.  A combination of the written word and an equivalent to musical notation would be ideal.  “Lexicusical” language—lexicusicalism.

The musician, reading sheet music, knows when a certain passage should be very soft (pianissimo), soft (piano), or loud (forte)—played with a slow tempo (adagio) or a fast one (allegro).  An author writing a cops-and-robbers novel may want the reader to intuit that the policeman and the criminal he’s pursuing both begin to run faster.  Rather than writing, The jewel thief began to run faster; the detective kept pace—notation would accomplish this.  Accelerando is musical notation indicating: to gradually quicken tempo.  So a counterpart to musical notation could be employed—perhaps a tilde incorporated into the text: Their ˜ feet scuffed and scratched ˜ through the dark city streets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Economy of words is a technique authors use to keep the reader moving along with the action.  The reader’s respiration should increase—his muscles should tense—as the pursuer and pursued quicken the chase.  Awkward phrases of explanation serve only to make the reader stumble.  And, as it’s considered a major literary triumph to cause a reader to suffer a heart attack, the writing must be perfectly executed.

A well-designed system of notation could be helpful in many situations—most especially, I think, with adjectives.

Lexicusicalism would allow a writer to convey a certain character’s revulsion without having to explain that: The earl guffawed in a manner that caused his listener to lurch backward, fearing that the golf ball-sized glob of phlegm that was surely forthcoming would no doubt stain his cravat.

This passage could be written thus: The earl coughed animalThe viscount departed posthaste.

***

It’s all related to pitch—like listening to an uptalker (the person who ends every sentence with a question mark?)  Thank you all for coming today?  I’ve completed the report that Bob Forapples asked me to compile?  Many of you already know this, and the company’s stock is at twenty-five cents per share?  (The only thing worse is when this person manages to sprinkle in a bunch of likes, ums, and ya knows.)  And I’m pretty sure, um, we all find it, like, extremely annoying, ya know, when the, um, seventeen-year-old behind the counter is, like, um, twirling her gum and, ya know, talking on the phone at the same time?  ’Cuz that’s, ya know, how when you’re, like, at Cold Stone Creamery, you end up with, um, meatloaf on your, um, vanilla ice cream?

***

I don’t have a solution to the meatloaf on your ice cream (other than a good smack upside the head—and that includes the parents), but I do have more suggestions for lexicusical language:

Perplexity or puzzlement are often expressed with a scrunching of the eyes—or a scratching of the head.  The detective rounded the corner.  The streets were empty; his quarry had vanished.  (This is typically where the detective’s eyes would scrunch up, and the author would write: His eyebrows arched as he tried to work it out.  Where had the thief gone?)  But a symbol, following the period at the end of the sentence could indicate the detective’s bewilderment: … his quarry had vanished. §  No further explanation required.

Anger—Yes, we have the exclamation point, but true rage requires something more powerful … potent … forceful!  One of these! ‡

Rather than writing: “Oh, maaaaan” to draw out the word, a slur such as those used to tie notes in music together could suffice.  Or enclosing the word like this: “∫Weeeee∫  doggies, Jethro!” would indicate an ascending pitch.

There are many others: facetiousness; sarcasm; loneliness; laziness.

***

Or … how about “Lexicolorism”.

The aforementioned objective could be accomplished with the use of colored text.  In the olden days, when refined women in feathered hats sat at “those new typewriting contraptions”, this would have been impractical, 

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but today we have computers with “millions” of colors—and, for those who still occasionally need to make use of quill and papyrus, there are pens that write with pink ink.

So here’s what it would look like:

Rage: He picked up the gun, pointed it at the, um, other guy’s face and screamed, You betrayed me!

A condescending chuckle aimed at an equally obtuse know-it-all at a dinner party: “I really don’t think you understand anything about how the occurrence of efflorescence or the formation of filamentous bioglobules in microchannels can affect the specific-flow configurations of meatloafor ice cream, for that matter.

A dry, raspy throat: “These pretzels are making me thirsty.

Nasally voice: “What’llitbe, hon?

Nervous voice: “Honest, boss, I tawt da sacka jewels would be safe inda Mariana Trench.

A ditzy blonde with a squeaky voice: “I caaaan’t staaaan da way day treet me hea!  I quit!

***

I caaaaan’t undastand why no wun haz evva thawta this.

The Great Macaroni and Cheese Caper

This is not a movie review.

Or a book review.

Or a music/CD review.

 

No … this is a side-of-the-box cooking instructions review.

 

But not because it’s such exciting material (although it certainly is thought provoking).  No, this treatise addresses the absurdity of some simple cooking directions.

 

Trust me … this is for the good of the planet and all its inhabitants.

 

In case you haven’t made a box of the classic, traditional, good ol’, original Kraft macaroni and cheese lately, allow me to pontificate regarding what may be the most ridiculous cooking instructions (preparation deprecation, I calls it) I’ve ever seen in my 37 years of specializing in gourmet meals.

 

So what’s the big deal?  Why have I brought you here today?

Read and learn, Glasshoppah.

 

To make the cheese sauce, you’re instructed to add to the cooked macaroni and powdered cheese mix 4 tablespoons of butter (nobody says the m-word around here) and ¼ cup of 2% milk.

 

One-quarter of 1 cup of 2% milk and … a half-stick of butter.  A half-stick of butter contains 408 calories.  A quarter-cup of 2% milk contains 31 calories; a quarter-cup of whole milk contains 37.  The entire box of macaroni and cheese—as prepared according to the instructions—contains 1,200 calories (including the 31 milk calories).  The entire box—as prepared using whole milk—contains 1,206.

 2%?  What were they thinking?

Would the food police break down my door if I used … perish the thought … half and half?!

(The thoughts expressed by the writer of this blog and its subsidiary companies are the property of this blog and its sole subsidiaries, and are not intended in any way to disparage the Kraft Foods kitchen staff or its subsidiary companies.)

(Oh, wait … yes, they are.)

The Past Never Returns, and the Future Never Arrives

Visualize a straight horizontal line; it doesn’t matter how long it is in your mind because it is infinite in both directions for my purposes.  Now place a dot anywhere on that line; that is the Present.  Everything to the left is the Past, and everything to the right is the Future.  (Please, no hate mail from southpaws.  Everyone knows that time moves from right to left.)

 

Time Enough for Everyone

You and I are on that dot.  We’re always on that dot.  Take a look behind you; that’s the past.  We can’t reach back and grab it; it’s gone—forever—it won’t ever come back.  Now turn around and face the future.  Can you see it?  I didn’t think so.  That’s because it’s not there.  And it’s never going to arrive.  As time “races past us”, we remain firmly planted on the Dot of the Present.  The future, therefore, is really just a concept.  It really doesn’t exist at all.  (Unless it exists as a concept.)


This Is Your Life

Now visualize a strip of recording tape … no reels … just one straight strip … reaching backward and forward through space … racing past the recording head of your life.  Since we can’t go back in time, there’s no rewind button on this recorder.  Perhaps for our own good, we don’t know how far this strip of recording tape extends toward the time of our death.  We say we’d like to know, but would we really?  Anyway, there’s no fast forward either.

 

And that’s it.  Just something to think about …

Neologism in the Wee Hours

I was delighted to discover this morning that a word I wanted to use in an e-mail to a fellow blogger was not in any dictionary.

Not in any dictionary?

Correct.

Delighted?

Yes.

My exultation was a result of the happy realization that a word I suspected I had just coined moments earlier was, in fact, exactly that—just coined … by me!

What gives you the right, you ask.  I’ll tell you what: It works.  It’s a good word.  A useful word.  In fact, come to think of it, my new word is mot juste—exactly the right word for my intended meaning.  But understand, it’s not the word itself that’s key—it’s the audience for whom it is intended.  It’s a word that distinguishes a writer of uninspired, unremarkable content from a focused and creative author.  And considering the plethora of new words arriving at our doorsteps each day, who says I’m not qualified?  Or entitled?

***

The word to which I gave birth in the wee hours of the morn—instantaneously making me a neologist—is recrafting.  But before you go around using it without my permission, and then having it go viral without so much as a royalty check arriving in my mailbox, let me explain how it should be used.  I used it when I suggested to my blogger friend that he change some copy.

It’s pretty basic: Rewriting is something anyone can do—change a word here or there, but … recrafting is something the skilled writer does.  The skilled writer goes the extra mile: He replaces entire phrases, makes sure all of the punctuation is correct, reviews and revises the syntax, and above all—checks for grammatical perfection.

Writing to Uncle Joe probably isn’t all that crucial to your happiness or well-being—unless it concerns a forthcoming inheritance.  But a skilled writer—an artiste as it were—doesn’t just rewrite; he reworks his medium—hence, recraft.  And because I consider this blogger to be an above-average writer, I felt that my new word would be appropriate for his level of expertise—and an acknowledgement of his skill.

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As my vocation requires me to read and edit continually changing, up-to-date information—much of it business-related content—six days per week, I am daily made aware of our ever-changing vocabulary.  Notice I didn’t write ever-expanding.  That’s because I believe, although it may seem our vocabulary must be bulging at the seams by now, the American language (i.e., a counterpart to the English language used everywhere else) is more like the waves at the shore: Some new words come in—frothing with excitement and enthusiasm, racing toward us with an intensity that is difficult to stand against—and can even throw us off balance for a time—but many are swept away forever with the undertow of apathy, illiteracy, and obsolescence.

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My acceptance of—or disdain for—recent additions to the American lexicon depends primarily upon my personal feelings about how language should be treated.  As a copy editor, my tendency is to maintain a strict discipline not unlike a British army officer commanding his troops: “Steady, lads, steady … watch those apostrophes.  Don’t use ’em until you’ve a legitimate place to put ’em … Fire!  No, corporal!   After the s!  It’s a plural possessive!  Are ya daft!?”

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But I also accept the fact that language must—and will—evolve.  I used to be repulsed by that notion, but as I gave it some thought—and as I got too worn out to resist any longer—I realized that if it were not so, we’d all still be perambulating about the marketplace and confabulating with oure neighbors: “Fie! I say!  The kumquats art foul as they were harvested ere ripening!”

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“Hark!  Fain wouldst I peregrinate hence to the adjoining borough for fresher foodstuffs.”

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But … times change—and now we are told to chillax while on staycation.

(That my software inserted red lines under those two words is evidence that something is amiss.)  But I’ll just go ahead and add them to my spelling checker—which, in a way, seems like admitting defeat.  (I’ll do it when no one’s looking.)

And I must remember, as the description of this category states, sometimes language evolves—whether I accede to adaptation or forbear assimilation.