Friday, August 18, 2017

Pronuns Are Us

At the outset, I'd like to say that I'm a big fan of pronouns. Without them, journalists throughout the English-speaking world would have been forced to write ledes like this: "President Donald Trump, in an act that has Donald Trump's supporters baffled, fired chief strategist Steve Bannon today despite Donald Trump's prior statements that Steve Bannon was a 'good man.'"

The point is, we have a precedent for the proper use of pronouns, and for proper grammar in general. Which brings us once again to the ongoing and slightly priggish debate regarding the appalling condition of our nation's language. Some among us feel that others among us, particularly the Instagram-engaged youth of the country, are linguistically challenged to the point of being incomprehensible.

Yes, that does like a "Leave it to Beaver" episode I saw, what, about 50 years ago, where Ward's carotid artery almost popped because Wally and his friends were using words like "daddy-o" and the always deplorable "cool." Of course June, who was infinitely wise as well as infinitely well-groomed, calmed him down by mentioning, in her casual but persuasive Saturday Evening Post way, that Wally and his friends were just being youthful, and that he ought to lighten up a bit because his pipe had just set his tie on fire.

Nevertheless, it occurs to me that if we do have a cavalier attitude toward language, there might be some who are unclear about what constitutes proper grammar. So, since "Public Service Before Happy Hour" is our motto, I'd like to offer my first, and only, Pronoun Primer:

What, precisely, is a pronoun?
Pronouns are really, really small words like "I," "you," "she," and "it." They're easy to spell and can be great income generators. For instance, suppose I get paid by the word for writing an article like this, yet I'm paid the same for big words like "prolegomenon" as for tiny words like "he." Think about it. That's why I'm a big fan of pronouns.

Please give us an example of the proper use of pronouns.
Glad to. Suppose you are part of a team of police officers about to kick in the door of a suspected drug dealer. First you knock politely, then announce yourselves:

"Police!"
"Police?"
"Yes, it is we."

But that sounds….
Pretentious and dorky? Well, no one ever said proper grammar was pretty. In the sentence "Yes, it is we," the word "we" is a predicate pronoun, meaning ... well, it's a predicate pronoun. In this case the suspected drug dealer would have dissolved into fits of laughter, thereby making him easier to apprehend. So you see, proper grammar can also be a useful crime fighting tool.

Okay, let's say my name is Joe Toastabagel, and the phone rings and the guy on the other end asks for Joe Toastabagel. Would the proper response be, "It is I"?
No, the proper response would be, "I am quite happy with my current internet service provider, thank you." But regarding grammar, yes, the response should be, "It is I." If you want to sound pretentious and dorky.

So, you're saying that language is not and never has been static, and that its conventions come and go because it is the nature of the universe to constantly, inexorably, and blissfully evolve?
You'd have to ask June Cleaver about that.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lemonade Stand CEO Offers Services to President

USA [SIC] -- President Trump had some welcome help today from regional leaders who offered to fill in the  gaps left by CEOs who quit his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative council in disgust over his handling of the Charlottesville violence.

The leaders of Merck, the AFL-CIO, Under Armour, and Intel resigned over the weekend after the President's remarks seemed to excuse neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups from the violent protests. On Tuesday afternoon, the President further claimed that, while the Nazis were armed and chanted "Jews will not replace us," and an innocent woman was killed, there were some "very fine people" involved in the protest.

"I'm ready to step up," said "David Fluke" who refused to give a real name but claims he tendered his resume to the White House. "I am a proven leader with many passionate and very fine followers who could not be more thrilled to offer our blood and soil in service to the President's council."

The White House has received more than 200 inquiries to fill the slots, according to a White House spokesperson, who also refused to give her name. "Among them are resumes from such fine American companies as Staten Island Refuse Removal, Junior's Hogsbreath Barbecue in Cleveland, and Missy's lemonade stand at the corner of Furner and Maple."

When contacted, Missy, 11, said, "I don't know much about Nazis or even business, but I thought the President could use a nice glass of delicious lemonade. Maybe that would make things better."

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Monday, November 7, 2011

60 Greatest Songs of All Time

It's no revelation to say that as the Internet expands the screaming out there gets louder and louder as the need to be heard is drowned out by the screaming of everyone else's need to be heard, and the tricks and postings and whatever it is you do get more outrageous, more gimmicky, more unbelievable, and of course more shameful. And more fun to read.

Glad you agree, because that's what I'm doing here.

I've always liked the lists: The 10 Best Vegetables for Heart Health, the 10 Worst Moments in Elvis's Costume History. Or the 20 Best Excuses for Bailing Out on Your Meeting with the Fiancé and Wedding Planner for a Sox-Yankees Game at Fenway with your Buds. Too close to home? Whatever, lists are the best, and let's face it, the easiest writing to come up with.

Because it all boils down to your own, therefore of course more valid, opinion. List-making is the most narcissistic way of communicating , and the most fun because, hey, who can argue with your opinion?

Everyone, as it turns out.

Everybody and their mother-in-law weighs in on the lists that populate our popular culture, from the Cosmo "10 Things He Likes In Bed but Will Never Tell You" (and why wouldn't he, pray tell? Because they're unsanitary and possibly illegal), to the Best Colleges lists, to the Oscars.

So the other day I was thinking about the 60 Best Songs ever written and recorded. Ever. From classical to opera to pop, reggae, country, folk, instrumental, vocal, etc. Especially etc. This list has been exhaustively researched, meticulously constructed through rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific methodology, and written in the utmost secrecy during my lunch hour.

So of course here it is. Note that I've listed the artists whose recordings of the tune I preferred, not necessarily the writer or the original artist:

1. The Weight -- The Band

2. Try a Little Tenderness -- Otis Redding

3. Friend of the Devil -- Grateful Dead

4. What's Going On -- Marvin Gaye

5. Redemption Song -- Bob Marley

6. Angel From Montgomery -- John Prine

7. Somewhere Over the Rainbow -- Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'o

8. Ooh La La -- Ronnie Lane

9. Unchained Melody -- Righteous Brothers

10. Bohemian Rhapsody -- Queen

11. Young Americans -- David Bowie

12. Woza Friday -- Johnny Clegg and Juluka

13. Thunder Road -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

14. Sweet Emotion -- Aerosmith

15. I'll Take You There -- Staples Singers

16. Bolero -- Maurice Ravel

17. Just Like a Woman -- Bob Dylan

18. You Really Got Me -- The Kinks

19. Just Lose It -- Eminem

20. Free Nelson Mandela -- The Special AKA

21. I Got You (I Feel Good) -- James Brown

22. Incident on 57th Street -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

23. One Way Out -- Allman Brothers Band

24. Rhapsody in Blue -- George Gershwin

25. Wish You Were Here -- Pink Floyd

26. Sympathy for the Devil -- Rolling Stones

27. Me and Bobby McGee -- Janis Joplin

28. You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling -- Righteous Brothers

29. In the Mood -- Glenn Miller Band

30. Jersey Girl -- Tom Waits

31. Ain't Misbehavin' -- Fats Waller

32. Son of a Preacher Man -- Dusty Springfield

33. My Sharona -- The Knack

34. God Only Knows -- The Beach Boys

35. Shout -- The Isley Brothers

36. The Boxer -- Simon and Garfunkel

37. Strange Fruit -- Billie Holiday

38. Blue Bayou -- Linda Ronstadt

39. Crazy -- Patsy Cline

40. London Calling -- The Clash

41. Blitzkrieg Bop -- The Ramones

42. Heartbreak Hotel -- Elvis Presley

43. Lust for Life -- Iggy Pop

44. Fortunate Son -- Creedence Clearwater Revival

45. White Rabbit -- Jefferson Airplane

46. Hey Jude -- The Beatles

47. Thick as a Brick -- Jethro Tull

48. Rocky Mountain Way -- Joe Walsh

49. Mack the Knife -- Bobby Darin

50. Smells Like Teen Spirit -- Nirvana

51. Paradise by the Dashboard Light -- Meat Loaf

52. Sweet Jane -- Lou Reed

53. Faith -- George Michael

54. I Love Rock and Roll -- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

55. Gimme Shelter -- The Rolling Stones

56. Folsom Prison Blues -- Johnny Cash

57. Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) -- The Temptations

58. The Heart of the Matter-- Don Henley

59. Edge of Seventeen -- Stevie Nicks

60. One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) -- Frank Sinatra

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Riding the Buss

"A kiss," that iconic song tells us, "is still a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh." Well, not exactly, as anyone who’s done more sighing than kissing knows. As in most married people. Actually, my wife and I do manage to sneak in kisses here and there, meaning we have a busy household and she's running kids around and I work late and there never seems to be any time except at breakfast while she's making pancakes and I'm emptying the dishwasher, so it’s a peck. Good morning. After we've brushed our teeth.

I’m not suggesting our love life has suffered because we’re forced to kiss while breakfast is erupting into flames on the stove behind us. Quite the opposite. It's just at this point in our lives we simply have come to realize that kissing is less important to the harmony of our relationship than, say, taking out the garbage. But when we do get a chance to truly lock lips on the rare occasion that we've found a moment, I have to say it’s a whole lot better than sorting through the recyclables.

No Thanks, We're Married
That's taking into account, again, that we're married. Anyone who has been married or dated for more than 15 minutes knows the downside of relationships. The quantity, and quality, of your smooching exist in inverse proportion to the number of years you've been together. Take a moment to recall, without embarrassing yourself, your wedding night. Or a memorable occasion with the love of your life. I’m guessing that every one of those kisses left you breathless with passion. These days you still become breathless but it’s because, let’s face it, you're middle-aged and out of shape.

That is to say, over the years kissing seems more and more like going to the dentist: it's a scheduled but necessary activity that involves a long wait followed by strange vibrations in your gums, and a rinse. Here, by the way, I am not using "kiss" as a euphemism for anything beyond a meeting of the lips--unless you want to infer and take it to its ultimate conclusion, which, of course, I did while I was thinking about it.

The Thais that bind
Kissing, then, is always done best and best done by the young and hearty. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I read about Ekkachai and Laksana Tiranarat, a young couple from Thailand, who on this past Valentine's Day--of course--defeated 13 couples in a Guinness world record contest for longest kiss. They rode a buss uninterrupted for 46 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds. The previous record was 32 hours, nothing to sneeze at. One would hope.

Well, more power to them. When you’re 20-something and have lips of steel, 46 hours of frivolous and basically incomprehensible behavior is expected. I think you remember. I, on the other hand, though I love my wife, am not about to suggest we enter any kissing contests. I'm simply not the man I used to be, if indeed I ever was the man I used to be.

Besides, there are logistics to think about. Have you recently spent nearly two full days without seeing a bathroom? It’s not something that immediately comes to mind as beneficent, though I suppose if I did my doctor might at least excuse me from prostate exams for the next few years. Suppose you get the hiccups, or a more severe form of gastrointestinal upheaval. Use your imagination. Proximity does not always breed intimacy.

Taxing
And consider the time element. Here are a few other things you can do in 46 hours: Watch an entire season of "Swamp People." Almost finish doing your taxes. Complete an average, American, 46-hour work week (according to the National Sleep Foundation, my patron organization).

I'd do pretty well anything to avoid doing my taxes, but not, as it turns out, competitive kissing. Still, I'm not worried about our relationship. As the song says, "The fundamental things apply, as time goes by." Like taking out the garbage.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Deck the Halls

You’re a man, you haven’t yet bought your wife a Christmas gift, and I know what you’re thinking: “If I wait until after work on the 24th, I’ll get all the good deals.”

Well, no, you won’t. You’ll get all that’s left on the shelves, which will be three non-seasonal candles, lilac-scented would be my guess, a Clapper, and a set of multihued non-stick baking pans that have not met federal safety standards. The clerk will roll her eyes as you run around frantically looking for something, anything for the most important person in your life, and will chortle madly after you finally pick up the Clapper and ask her to wrap it, because she knows, deep in her womanly heart, that sometime after Christmas morning your wife will use it on you in ways that were never intended, and possibly illegal.

Of course, you could have avoided all this because your wife told you five months ago precisely what it was she wanted for Christmas. And she’s continually reminded you about once a week precisely what it was she wanted for Christmas. The problem is, you weren’t listening.

Not that it’s your fault. You’re just a man, after all, and the law stating that men and women will ever effectively communicate has yet to be written. For example, a wife asks a husband what he wants for Christmas. He says, “Oh, I don’t know. Actually, I’ve wanted a snow-blower ever since I ruptured that disk two years ago and have been in intense pain every time I bend over.” What she hears is, “Oh, I don’t know.” So she buys him, say, a new pair of lovely and expensive fleece lined gloves. Which he’ll wear every time he goes out in intense pain to shovel the driveway.

It’s not that she’s not listening, it’s just that she thinks she knows what he really wants. And that’s because she is a woman and therefore communicates by innuendo, and expects the same from her husband. It’s a basic and primal difference between us. Men speak in a direct and lucid manner. Women, on the other hand, use what I call the “Bermuda Triangle Method of Communication,” where hints and abstract intimations appear all over the radar screen, only to suddenly vanish without proper identification.

Which is why you are now looking at that Clapper thinking, “But, if only she’d told me what she’d wanted…” But, again, she did. More accurately, she implied it, and expected you to read between the lines. Nevertheless, since you’ve got a few more days left to shop, and since the wrong gift is a very, very bad thing, here is my annual Guide to

What She Wants for Christmas:

What she said: “Any little thing would be fine.”
Translation: “Any little thing like that cute tennis bracelet I pointed out in Zales last July.”

What she said: “You have good taste, just pick out something.”
Translation: “You have no taste, just call my sister.”

What she said: “I’ve got everything I want in you.”
Translation: “But you’re not a two-week, expenses paid vacation in Maui without the kids.”

What she said: “Surprise me.”
Translation: “Surprise me by imagining what you think I’d like, then getting the opposite.”

What she said: “Something for the house, I guess.”
Translation: “If I see a Clapper, sex will be just another three-letter word, as in ‘not.’ ”

So go to it, and Happy Holidays to all.
Translation: And no Chia Pets, either.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hard Knocks

Men constantly ask the question “What do women want?” We ask this not because we think it’s possible to actually know—I mean, we already have a vague and somewhat unsettling idea of what women want, and apparently it has something to do with sensitivity and meaningful relationships. No, men ask the question because we want to curry favor with women by asking it; the mere act of asking implies that we’re sensitive and might be meaningful types. Beyond that, most men believe that women are, by and large, mysterious beyond comprehension, and that the question “What do women want?” can only truly be answered by God and Gloria Aldrich. Not necessarily in that order.

On the other hand, men have always been transparent. It’s easy to know what men want, and that is a world-class erection. If you’ve ever had any doubt, witness the rise, if you will, of the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and the like. Since their inception, annual sales of the drugs have reached $3 billion; men are snapping them up faster than teenage girls are tweeting about Justin Bieber sightings. What’s up? Well, there you have it.

About 98 percent of men’s thoughts during an average waking day focuses on two important questions: “How was the sex the last time I had it?” and “When can I have sex again?” The remaining two percent focuses on the quotidian concerns of living -- food, shelter, family, and big honking boats. Consequently, men regularly think about their external vascular organs. Impotence afflicts an estimated 30 million men -- it’s hard to say exactly how many, since embarrassment precludes many men from going to their doctors, which can lead to psychological blocks that exacerbate the condition, thereby leading to further embarrassment and dysfunction, etc. It’s enough to say that a man without the ability to have an erection thinks of himself as a job without the paycheck.

Viagra, then, lifts the spirits as well as the appropriate body parts. It involves no pumps, no injections, no fuss. Just pop the pill about an hour before you plan not to be seen in public, and you’ll draw a full house in no time. And, there’s a new improved product, a wafer that dissolves instantly and clears you for takeoff within seconds. This of course is something you do not want to keep in your coat pocket next to the Certs. Grabbing the wrong wafer at, say, a sales meeting where you’re delivering that new marketing campaign -- standing up, no podium -- is probably not the sort of advertising you’d have had in mind.

Unfortunately the Viagra phenomenon has recorded some unfortunate side-affects, one of which is watching TV with your eleven-year-old son when the commercial comes on. The first time the announcer warned against the dangers of four-hour erection, my son looked up and said, and I swear this is true, "Dad, has that ever happened to you?"

"Uhm, well," I said, cleverly, "fours hours? Four minutes, maybe. And what do you know about these things?"

Viva Viagra anyone?

Unfortunately, the Viagra phenomenon confirms the worst fears of some women, which is that men aren’t wholly interested in sensitivity and cuddling. Herein lies a sexual bridge only occasionally crossed. When men think of sex, they focus on the physical act itself. When women think of sex, they think of the whole , from flowers to fondue (at least in the ‘70s) to tender afterglow. Men can isolate and compartmentalize aspects of the sexual experience, and, let’s face it, most of them involve an erection. I mean, cuddling is fine and all, but when a top is wound up, it’s got to spin.

If nothing else, the staggering number of men buying Viagra et al. gives us some insight into the amount of sexual activity that occurs on a daily basis in these United States. Not that any of it is happening to me -- I’ve got kids, enough said there -- but I’m not jealous. Rather, I’m heartened to know that if my mind ever makes a promise that my body can’t fill, there’s a pill.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Man 101

Now that Valentine's Day is on the horizon and you've been searching the Internet for that perfect gift for her, Dr. Love-Monster's Edible Strawberry Body Lotion, it's important to remind ourselves why attraction between the sexes is possible in the first place. It's because men are completely predictable and understandable, and women are not.

I say that, of course, as a man, but with all the respect due to our distaff partners in humanity. The fact is, men would be nowhere without women. Well, maybe out bowling, but still, in the large scheme of things, nowhere. Okay, maybe sitting out on a quiet lake in a high-powered boat with our feet up on the cooler as our fishing line glides through the water and a sleek, award-winning bass nips at a hand-tied lure, but other than that, nowhere.

The irony, however, is that even though men are about as difficult to figure out as a fire plug, women just don't seem to understand us. Ask any woman on the street if she understands men and she'll shake her head, maybe mumble something about "mother warned me," or whatever.

Men, on the other hand, when asked if they understand women, will often come up with the cleverly insightful, "What's to understand?"

So, as a public service, I have assembled the six most important questions women have asked about men from the beginning of time. My hope is that they will contribute to a fuller understanding between the sexes, and that, in the end, I will have written the 750 words necessary to get paid for this column. Thank you.

Why is it easier for a woman to say, "I love you" than for a man to say it?
Men find it difficult to say, well, things like that, because men are genetically programmed to display, rather than talk about, their affection. For instance, when your husband gave you that 500-channel satellite dish last Valentine's Day, he was demonstrating his deep and abiding love. For TV. And, of course, for you. Because he knows you'll grow to love TV as much as he does.

Men tend to "do," while women tend to "feel." Women who've learned to interpret the actions of their men know that the little things they do every day say, "I love you." The affectionate pat, the way he tells you that the swelling in your ankles seems to have gone down--it's true love, through and through.

Can men ever be truly monogamous?
Of course, but only if there are no other women around.

What's the attraction of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
Near naked models are actually strong, independent artists who are thumbing their nose at the establishment by eschewing the strictures of a patriarchal society that forces them to exist within the confines of repressive male-imaging, and men who buy these magazines are merely joining powerful women in the celebration of their release from the shackles of male-dominated culture. That would be my guess.

Why will men never ask for directions when lost?
A man tends to be a "macro" manager of his life, rather than a "micro" manager. This means that, in the large scheme of things, he is not lost as long as he is somewhere on the planet Earth. Even if a man is driving aimlessly through a rough neighborhood with the needle on empty while his terror-stricken family fingers their rosaries, he feels he is in control of the situation because, you guessed it, it's his car.

What would possess a man to wear the same underwear four days in a row?
Basically, men are territorial. Those little hairs he leaves in the sink after he shaves, the sweatshirt standing in the corner, and underwear with the consistency of potato chips are not signs of poor personal hygiene but rather warning signals to potential intruders that there's a man in the house. Besides, four days, maybe five, is tops.

Why are men are so concerned with...you know...
Size? Glad you asked. This question strikes at the very root of evolution. Men are no more than dumb, male mammals who compete for mating privileges with females. The strongest male gets the prize, and is called the "alpha" male. And for guys who didn't belong to a fraternity, having a lot of money helps.

Has anyone ever heard a woman say, "I want a small, weasel guy with the personality of a filing cabinet"? No, women are attracted to tall, broad-shouldered men, because bigness is a sign of strength and virility. Bigness in other areas is also a sign of virility, or a very clever plastic surgeon.

But the truth is, most men are not worried about size. They're just worried that you're worried about it.

Of course, I wouldn't know anything about that.

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