Words, the Word, and Wanton Wrongdoing

I was leafing through an expensive exclusive clothing catalogue today, lusting after things I can’t remotely afford and fighting the urge to start feeling sorry for myself.  They tell me that I can choose my feelings as carefully as I choose my words, that I can choose to refuse to feel bad.

I suspect that “they” are not middle-aged women trying desperately to maintain sanity despite raging hormones and hot flashes and insomnia and the fact that everybody and everything in the whole goddamned world is personally and constantly as irritating as hell.

Words came to my rescue.  Two of them:  Vegan Leather

I laughed out loud and decided I didn’t need those $400 earth-friendly yuppie-correct boots.

vegan turkeyIs Vegan Leather made of soybeans, like the Vegan Turkey a friend brought to Thanksgiving dinner? It even had drumsticks, which lay beside the body in weird wrong positions as if the meal were a crime scene (which in fact it was, per the Vegan).  Gravity is kinder to dead turkeys than it is to tofu-loaf shaped to resemble dead turkeys.

Is Vegan Leather really all that earth-friendly, if it’s made of plastic and chemicals rather than soybeans?  And, if you are a strict Vegan, wouldn’t you object to the very use of the word leather?  Calling something that isn’t leather “leather” calls to mind sacrificed animals.

Then again, so does a turkey-shaped soybean loaf.

Words.  We take them too seriously or don’t take them seriously enough.  And “restraint” is just another word — we say whatever we wish and then use other words to say that we didn’t really mean what we said, which was in fact what we actually meant and was also what we actually meant to say.  It’s “dumb like a fox,” as my father says.

Take Don Young, State Representative from Alaska, who just helped Republicans reach out to minorities by calling Hispanics “wetbacks.”  Young wasn’t overheard yucking it up with his cronies over a few drinks.  He wasn’t spied upon in the privacy of his own home.  He wasn’t caught on video speaking at a ritzy fundraising dinner of like-minded old white guys.

Young used the word “wetback” during a formal radio interview.  And he’s a well-seasoned career politician; it was not his first interview.

OK, not so well-seasoned.  Anything but salt and pepper would have ethnic connotations, after all, and even pepper is iffy, being black and from them faraway foreign parts.  Young can probably see Russia from his porch up there in Alaska, but they don’t grow pepper there.

Representative Young is not wet behind the ears.  Why in the world would he choose a word that represents ignorance, prejudice and hatred?

Because he wanted to.  Slack-jawed stupidity aside, he wanted to.  And so he did.

Meanwhile, we have Rush Limbaugh lamenting that same-sex marriage is now inevitable, ” . . . and it’s inevitable because we lost the language on this.”

In other words, words don’t matter until they matter.

Limbaugh claims that the word marriage was snatched from the blessed beds of the righteous and snaked sneakily between the sheets of same-sex couples.  Patent failure to trademark the word lost the language and therefore the fight of the Right.  What’s next? Vegan Marriage™?

Even The Word is not immune.  Catholics in the Philippines have lost the language, like Limbaugh. When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” he was not referring to the crucifixion.  Yet Filipino devotees reenact the bloody physical crucifixion of Christ every year.

Last Friday marked the 27th annual crucifixion of sign painter Ruben Enaje, 52, one of the most popular penitents from San Pedro Cutud village.  It’s a miracle that his sign-painting skills have not been affected by those repeated hand piercings.

Enaje screamed in pain (into the wireless microphone discreetly tucked into his long hair) as men dressed as Roman soldiers hammered 3-inch stainless steel nails through his palms and feet.  His cross was raised and he hung there for several minutes under the searing afternoon sun before the nails were pulled out and he was taken on a stretcher to a first aid station.

Sounds like the bloodmobile:  a BandAid, a cookie, and some orange juice after your donation.

It occurs to me that the earth is the ultimate reality television show.  God is relaxing in a recliner somewhere, swilling a lite beer and eating Cheetos and laughing and trying to decide just who the biggest loser is.

It might be Diogo Morgado, who plays Jesus in The Bible miniseries.

“I was the only one in the cast who spent four months in Morocco and didn’t get sick,” Diogo said, when asked if anything surreal or supernatural happened while filming.  God kept him healthy because He’s his Father, sort of, and He wanted to know how the story turned out.

Diogo was wired for sound, too; perhaps the Filipinos have it right — and they didn’t use special effects or stuntmen.  Wonder which version of the show God prefers?  Primitive island brutality, or Hollywood magic?  Who gets voted off the island?

Limbaugh, with any luck.  He made me laugh as loud as Vegan Leather did:  “I maintain to you that we lost the issue when we started allowing the word ‘marriage’ to be bastardized.”  Hmmm.  Doesn’t marriage rule out bastards?  Aren’t male property rights and the establishment of legal heirs behind the whole institution?  Marriage and bastardization shouldn’t be rushed into bed together.

In the same paragraph, he said, “Marriage is not a tradition that a bunch of people concocted to be mean to other people with.”

Methinks Husband might just disagree with this.


I discovered this abbreviation this morning in an article about a British 17-year-old who just sold an “automatic article summarization algorithm” to Yahoo for some thirty million dollars.

When I was 17, I was earning 50 cents an hour as a babysitter, work that included washing dirty dishes that had been stacked in a dirty kitchen for a week and taking care of a dirty fat aging dog that farted and drooled noisily and constantly.  I can still smell that dog.  Her name was Geisha.  She loved me and always tried to stay close, the better to share her charms.

fat bassetWhat’s sad about that (the work, not the dog) is that it didn’t occur to me that I might do better.  It didn’t occur to me that I might, say, create a lucrative algorithm or refuse to clean fetid kitchens. It was simply my lot in life to work for a pittance and wash other people’s moldy dishes while their putrid dog stank up my space and their kids spat gum in my hair. 

What’s sad about that still is that I still sometimes think that way – although I no longer tolerate flatulent basset hounds.  I’ve accepted the fact that basic algebra represents the extent of my mathematical prowess and potential; there is no well-paid algorithm creation in my future.  And I no longer wash other people’s dishes (unless you count Son #1, Son #2, Girlfriend of Son #1, and all their various hangers-on, acquaintances and pets)  (I do not count Husband, since at our house whoever cooks does not have to clean, and he does most of the cooking). 

So there has been some personal progress in 37 years.  Where there is life, there is hope.

Yahoo will use this kid’s work to create a mobile app to help its smart phone clients digest tough chewy servings of complete sentences and whole paragraphs.

Annoyance with being expected to actually read writing composed of complete sentences and whole paragraphs has given rise to the comment tl;dr“too long; didn’t read.”   This is unequivocal social death online.

By cutting text, the new app will solve the problem of wordy writers.  Articles will be cleared of adjectives and adverbs and descriptive clauses, transformed into short single-syllable blurbs that can be easily read while driving, cruising Facebook in heavy traffic, drinking coffee, and applying mascara in the rear-view mirror. 

Not “or,” mind you – I used “and” deliberately. This morning at an intersection the man beside me was shaving and talking on the phone at a red light, with a lit cigarette in his shaving hand.

At least all I was doing was eating a messy breakfast burrito and fumbling for a napkin and trying to adjust the visor in the glare and check my teeth for stuck food in the mirror.

The new Yahoo app will not solve the problem of lazy readers.  It won’t solve problems for lazy readers, either.

If a lazy reader fed the news of Dionne Warwick’s bankruptcy filing into the automatic summarization app, he might get back “Warwick owes $10 million in taxes, has only $10 a month.”  This tragic revelation brings a tear to my eye; Dionne is a cultural icon from my formative years, and deserves better. 

The reader who is not lazy will peruse the whole article and discover that Warwick’s set monthly income is $20,950 (from royalties, retirement funds, and contracts).  Her monthly expenses total $20,940, which includes $5,000 for housekeeping. So, yeah, she has just $10 left over every month. But somehow my heart no longer bleeds for her.

I could do a lot with $5,000 a month for housekeeping. 

I could do a lot with $5,000 a year for housekeeping.

Isn’t it galling as hell that someone with a monthly income of $20,950 is attempting to declare bankruptcy?   Wouldn’t it take big balls to try and claim that?  Has Dionne been cross-dressing all these years? 

(Not that there is anything wrong with cross-dressing.  It only upsets me when men in drag are more attractive and sexy and well-groomed and better-dressed than I.)

But I am just another lazy disgruntled resentful 99%er who failed to make it big.  The world needs ditch-diggers, too.*   Dionne, for example, needs to employ $5,000 worth of them every month to balance her budget.   I knew long ago I was doomed to be a Geisha sort of girl.  I make more than 50 cents an hour now, but it sure ain’t no $5,000 a month.  I wonder if Warwick is hiring?

But I digress.  Too many words here, too much to read about a yesterday’s-news pop idol.  I need to apply that new app.

Poets are said to be the best writers, since they pare the language down to absolute essentials.  Perhaps the English algorithm boy is a poet at heart.  Me?  I like to wallow in words, as if they were melted chocolate marbled with caramel or, on savory days, a four-cheese fondue.  No fashionable thinness here, no bare bones, and no short sound bites destined to go viral.  I am heedlessly disobeying all the rules of how to write a successful blog. 

And I don’t care!  I’ve spent half a century trying to please everyone.  Defiance is great fun.

*yes, I’m quoting Caddyshack.  This balances out any high-brow allusions that may previously have put you off your feed.  I really do want to please you, despite my brave talk.  Despite writing too many words.

God’s Toenails and Spies

Words are wonderful things. Gods are, too. I’ve always fancied a Grecian sort of formula, where a cantankerous bunch of gods vie with each other for followers and power, up to their necks in petty grievances and revenges and seductions and machinations and magnanimous acts of blessing. I can understand these immortals (they are, after all, just like me and everyone I know), and therefore understand why the world is always and forever in such a hopeless mess.

Driving past a neighborhood church this weekend, I was delighted to see this sign posted out front:


How nice! I thought. In this season of Easter and Passover and springtime renewal, they are reaching out to all religious creeds, honoring all faiths, and including any manner and any number of gods.

Not a chance. Those nice Presbyterians wholly forgot about the holy apostrophe. The Lord their God is a jealous God who does not take His grammar lightly, particularly when improper punctuation impinges on His primal position of power.

Words grab the attention, though. Take this recent headline:

Toenail Clippings to Measure Toxic Exposure in NJclippers

Those may not be God’s words, but you can’t pass over an article like that.

Apparently, a plume of hexavalent chromium has spread under Garfield, NJ, putting 3,600 people at risk. When residents sign up for contamination testing, they will be given a kit that contains stainless steel toenail clippers (cheap ones contain chrome), instructions on how to clip the nails (samples from all 10 toes are needed) and an envelope for the clippings.

Just when I think my day job is bad, something like this comes along to comfort me. It could be worse! I could be working in a lab handling 36,000 toenail clippings – some polished, some chipped, some showing signs of fungal infection, some thick and yellowed, some clean, some dirty, some old and gnarled, some young and fine.

Pope Francis I may be ceremoniously washing the feet of Rome’s poor this week, but I doubt even he could stomach cleaning 36,000 toxic toenails.

Words can’t help it if they’re used stupidly. On Toenail Day, I also came across this title:

Woman at Center of Spy Allegations is Enigma

Well, of course she is an enigma. What spy wouldn’t be?

US officials say a 27-year-old university student from China engaged in intimate relations with a married civilian defense contractor more than twice her age and gleaned classified information on US nuclear weaponry, missile defenses and war plans for her pains.

Sometimes I feel sorry for men. Not often, mind you. But this poor schmuck is truly pitiful. Not for betraying his country or his wife, but for betraying his common sense.

The spy is no enigma. There is no mystery about the nature of her physical attraction to a beige bland balding engineer 32 years her senior who happens to have access to classified information. He probably also has tufts of hair in his ears and trifocals in crooked unfashionable frames and bad teeth and a potbelly and spindly white office-job legs and weird toenails.

But the poor man convinced himself otherwise. A hot little almond-eyed chicklet told him he was God-like in the office, and then in bed. She Spake The Word, and he became a believer. He was ready to post those state secrets in big block letters on a churchyard signboard – with proper punctuation, even. Can’t you see him standing taller and walking with confidence, perhaps for the first time in decades? A May spring in his September step? Feeling all suave and vertile?

Words can be fun. Vertile is one my step-daughter inadvertantly invented years ago, a cross between virile and fertile. It’s been in the family lexicon ever since – we use it in public, even. Sometimes we forget to explain.

As an Army reserve officer and defense contractor, the vertile engineer received regular routine security training on the dangers of sexual entrapment as a means to gather intelligence.

The engineer’s penis did not attend to this training. The penis is not designed as a tool for reflective thought. Mother Nature does not use it that way. Men shouldn’t use it that way, either. The penis hears, “You so hot oh yes you give me more now oh you so good yes and just what were the design specs of that surveillance satellite? oh you big guy yes do it to me more oh yes you so good,” and misses the subtle subtext.

“Subtext? What subtext?” I hear my wonderful male friends wondering, grateful that the discussion has turned from toenails and tufts of ear hair to visceral sex.

Which reminds me – words can be dangerous. I attempted to reply to a comment on my last post from work today. The work internet server came back with a big flashing denial, saying “FORBIDDEN: Objectional Content: TITS: Access Not Allowed.” There may have been a siren, too; fortunately, I had the sound turned off.  Some IT security person in the district office is going to have fun with that one.

Even if you didn’t read my objectionable TITS post, you should read my college friend Eileen Elizabeth’s wonderful response to it.  I bitch and moan about technology, but it’s great fun to reconnect with folks I should never have lost in the first place.

Especially when they leave great comments on my website.  Makes it look like people are actually visiting me here.  Makes it look like I actually have friends.

Words can be bad — it occurs to me that I won’t be able to check this post from work tomorrow, either.  What kind of woman mouths the word “penis” right here in front of God and everybody?  Mother raised me better.  Perhaps I should have the soles of my feet tested for some sort of soul contamination.  I was born in New Jersey, after all.  Lived there about three months.  How long does hexavalent chromium need to wreak moral havoc?

Turtles, Tits, Boredom, Butter, and Other Reasons for Divorce

I am ridiculously pleased to report that the word “tit” originally meant “a small animal or object.”   This is a vindicating validating victory for A-cup women everywhere!

No, I was not cruising tits (of any size) on the internet.  If you check up on me and such searches show up from this IP address, Husband and Sons are to blame.

You know the truism about sons trending toward women like their mothers?  Not so.  The bras I find in this house that don’t belong to me are double Ds (Older Son’s girlfriend spends a great deal of time here.  I figure, since she will one day be choosing my nursing home, that I’d best be nice to her.  And no, neither she nor Sons know about this blog.  They wouldn’t be interested, anyway; they’re sick to death of the posts I tape around the house for them).

tufted titI was researching the Tufted Titmouse.  Three Kamikaze tits have, in the last two days, smashed into my sliding glass doors on a Divine Wind (and now you know what Kamikaze means).  Now, my sliding glass doors not sparkling clean – they clearly are not a shining flight path to freedom.  Holy martyrdom it must have been.

I heard each tragic crunching THUNK, since I’ve spent my spring break nursing a sinus infection, hunkered down with an afghan in my favorite chair.  The first bird left a splotch of grey pinfeathers stuck to the glass.

I’m near tears over these stupid birds.  They’d been frolicking in the fountain, which Husband insists upon starting up way too early every year.  One day, I will look out there at the cascades of ice and the frozen struggling pump and decide to divorce him.  “Yes, your Honor, my grounds are a fountain on my grounds.”

An old friend of mine divorced her husband over a turtle.  She made him turn the car around one day and drive 20 miles back to check on a big turtle they’d passed.  It was trying to cross the highway; her husband had refused to stop.  Returning, they found the turtle in the median, as she knew they would.  Her husband pulled to the side of the road, stomped over, and threw it out of the ballpark.   He got back in the car, saying that he hoped she was satisfied.

She wasn’t.  She made him search the field and find that turtle, in case it had landed on its back.   He did so, holding it up from afar for her to see.  She claims it was just a rock – they were in New England, after all, where rocks are the first field crop every year.  And so she left him.

Another friend divorced her first husband over boredom.  You’ve got to admire that sort of straightforward honesty – most of us would scrounge up a betrayal of some sort to use as a convenient conventional excuse.  But she told her attorney – and her ex – that she simply couldn’t stand having him mushroomed on her couch for the rest of her life.

Then there’s the friend whose husband liked his meat well done, leathery and gray, “just like his mama used to make.”   My friend is a rare woman.  She filed papers after a fancy anniversary celebration meal.  The waiter had politely suggested that her husband consider another entrée, since the chef did filet well and refused to prepare it well done.

I myself recently considered divorcing over a stick of butter.

No, this did not involve marital relations – at least of the physical sort.  I was making cookies for a funeral reception, and had of course chosen complicated ones – a German lebkuchen glazed in chocolate, with flowers on top crafted of nuts and dried fruit.  I left the baking until the night before, and then procrastinated even longer when a friend (unmarried) stopped by that evening for a glass of wine and a chat.

I know that Husband will divorce me one day over my procrastination.  I continue to procrastinate despite this.  I really don’t believe that I’m passive-aggressively wishing he would.  Really, I don’t.

So Friend and I were sipping a nice Zinfandel and laughing.  I decided to get the butter out of the refrigerator to warm up while we were talking – proudly taking the first step in a baking project that was bound to take until midnight.

There was no butter.  I’d bought all sorts of esoteric ingredients for the damned cookies (dark molasses, exotic spices, blanched almonds and that candied fruit you have to drive all over town for if it’s not Christmastime).  But I hadn’t bought butter.

We use our garage like a pantry; during our tenure, no car has ever darkened its door.  Husband does our shopping (I know; I’m a spoiled woman), and often stashes extra supplies out there, particularly in the winter.  So I asked, in all innocence, if he had any butter tucked away.

He did not.  Further, he took this as a personal insult, since he provisions us and was already annoyed about my mismanagement of this cookie project.  I assured him that it wasn’t a problem, and that I’d go out to fetch butter later.  Husband insisted upon going out right then himself, in a huff.

When he got back, my friend and I were still sitting at the table.  Husband threw a pound of butter on the counter.  And then another.  And then another.  Seven pounds, in all.  I only needed a stick.  Friend finished her wine and said brightly, “Well!  You have baking to do – I’ll see you soon!” and retreated to her lovely peaceful husbandless home.

The cookies were wonderful, and the funeral was a fine one.; Husband did decide to attend with me.  Funerals have a way of melting away what doesn’t matter and clarifying perspective – superfluous solids sink to the bottom, leaving the gleaming ghee. We went to the service not speaking and left paired as happily as bread and butter.

Besides, Husband takes care of dead titmice.  And he scrapes splotches of dried dead feathers off the window.  He likes his steak rare, he is kind to turtles, and he says his cup runneth over with just an A.  It’d be foolish to divorce him.


So I went to the OED to verify the “tit” definition I cited above.  I failed to find solid proof, although a small horse was mentioned.  Find Mike Bergin’s delightful discourse on tits and mice at http://10000birds.com — I had all I could do not to plagiarize it. I imagine he has more experience with tits than I, so I’ll take his word for it.  Really, I don’t care.  I’m sticking with my titillating story.

And, as it turns out, the birds killing themselves in my yard are Cedar Waxwings.  But I don’t care.  Cedar Waxwings don’t have the prurient draw of Tufted Tits.  And I’ve already written about earwax.

News That’s Not

The first day of spring – a new season marking another revolution around the sun and another resolution to lose the annual weight I pack on over the winter.

The harsh rigors of winter are brutal here in suburbia. I need second helpings and lots of Cabernet for the strength to scrape the ice off my car in the morning. That treacherous frigid struggle from the door of the house to the door of the car and back again demands extra calories – those of a big breakfast burrito with sour cream and cheese rather than a plain egg-white omelet with dry toast. The long dark nights cry out for the Vitamin A in platter of sweet potato fries, with a good hearty beer or two to ward off the chill.

It’s survival of the fittest, for which I’m willing to sacrifice fitness.

A sinus infection sent me to the doctor this morning, where I sat pondering the absurd plight of the overweight middle-aged American woman in a world full of hunger. This was after the nurse weighed me, fully clothed and without even having had the chance to pee away a few ounces first.

“There are starving children in Africa,” Mother warned, admonishing me to eat my succotash. I sat at the dinner table watching those thick mealy lima beans get cold, picturing a nice little parcel ready to ship to some grateful Kenyan.

I sat today on the examining table waiting for that discreet knock on the door, head pounding, feeling like crap and looking worse. In came a tall dark and handsome young physician’s assistant, the sort of fellow who’d have piqued my interest 30 years ago. These are the moments that make me feel old and fat and faceless and futile.

To complete my humiliation, he informed me that my left ear was packed with wax, and proceeded to dig it out. It’s hard to exude scintillating feminine charm when your sinuses are pounding and someone who smells really good is leaning close to dig yucky stuff out of your ear.

A dig in Egypt, detailed in the March issue of the journal Antiquity, “promises to shed light on how the commoners of ancient Egyptian society lived.” The new study suggests that, while Egyptian pharaohs built majestic temples filled with sparkling treasures, the lower classes performed backbreaking work on meager diets. An analysis of more than 150 skeletons from a 3300-year-old cemetery reveals fractures, wear and tear from heavy lifting, and rampant malnutrition amongst the city’s commoners.

This is news? Someone is getting public recognition and a fat professional salary for announcing something I learned in fifth grade? I’ve obviously made some very bad vocational choices.

Digging up a bunch of contemporary commoners would unearth the same sad statistics. Not much has changed in 3300 years.

Although diets have. Take the 19-year-old woman in NYC who eats 15 sticks of deodorant a month, for instance. That’s 360 deodorant sticks during the two years she admits to doing this. What will her skeleton reveal to future archeologists?

A more interesting question is why on earth she would reveal herself on television, snacking on antiperspirant?  While I may discuss belly fat and earwax and peeing, we commoners all deal with those common denominators. I keep my real peculiarities to myself.

So now I have a few new weight-loss motivations! Peculiar ones, granted, but I’ll take motivation wherever I can find it.

First, there’s Perpetual World Guilt. Hungry people are starving to death now and have done so for eons, and I’m whining because my jeans are too tight. Hungry people are malnourished, and I’m over-nourished. Hungry people don’t have a fork to pick up, and I can’t put mine down. Woe is me – I really shouldn’t make tiramisu for dessert (again). Guilt and shame have always been powerful forces in my life (you already guessed that I was raised Catholic); I’ll invite those old friends to the dinner table, one place they haven’t yet poisoned.

Second, there’s the thought of that girl chewing on Secret in public. Morbid fascination led me to a series of articles about weird food addictions, including a woman who chews and swallows globs of cat hair and another who spends $200/month on dog treats she crunches down herself. This sort of thing makes me feel incredibly sane and well-balanced. It also makes me feel a bit sick, which is always a good appetite suppressant.

Third, if desperate, I can visualize what at last count was 14,000 dead pigs floating lazily down sunny Shanghai rivers. The Chinese government refuses to comment and is ignoring the problem of these pigs, hoping it will go away.

It’s exactly how my sons handle problems and probing questions from me—blank looks and shrugs and feigned incomprehension, despite the pervasive smell of waterlogged pork and circling buzzards.

It occurs to me that that’s how I handle problems, too. My extra 15 pounds, for instance. If I ignore them, they aren’t really there, despite the tight jeans.

Just how many calories do you suppose are in dog treats? How hungry am I?