View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Say What You Mean (Before they change the words)

          [Before I get started, some business needs attention.  First, Thanks to Bonnie, Robert, C.R., and Nine.  Though these people all have personal access to me on a daily basis, they left their comments in print as a permanent part of the post.  These Interlude sections only top the site for two days, and it's hard to judge the effects of a change when it's that brief, but I do appreciate it.  If y'all do that on the main article, which stays up for two weeks, hopefully we'll all see a difference.  Second, a huge and heartfelt welcome to new Follower, Richard Nichols.  Richard is one of the best friends I've never met.  We know each other through our blogging activities, and have had many stimulating conversations over the past year.  Richard is everything I'm not.  First, he is from Northern California.  Anyone familiar with the California culture knows that people from North and South share a disdain for one another that can slide through contentious and right into nasty at the drop of a hat.  My regular readers know me as, not a Rush Limbaugh fanatic, but probably a solid Reagan conservative.  Richard has described himself to me as a "Flaming Lefty," and posted a series of articles about his life as one of those draft dodgers that I would have cheerfully shot 45 years ago (In fairness, I would have done a lot of things 45 years ago that I wouldn't consider now.).  He is a gifted visual artist, which I am not; he is an insightful poet with an eye for social commentary, college educated, wealthy enough to indulge in the travels that grace his blog.  I am none of those things, yet neither of us seem to mind.  His blog is linked in my sidebar, and I most highly recommend a visit.  Mind and spirit will be enriched for the effort.  Now, to today's rant...]

WARNING: This post contains references to homosexuality.  There is nothing graphic, but it acknowledges the existence of the lifestyle.  Proceed at your own risk.

          By the time you've been around for six decades, you have garnered enough experience to see trends in action.  One that has caught my ear, and driven me to distraction is the trend of Word Mutation.  I first noticed this in the early 1970s, as it was practiced by attorney-turned-sportscaster Howard Cosell.  Howard was the first big personality to make his mark on Monday Night Football, and also was a tireless promoter of Mohamed Ali's career.
          For those too young to have had the pleasure, Howard was a stentorian courtroom orator who brought his melodramatic delivery to the halftime highlights.  He had a tendency to wax poetic about shut-down defenses, and the word he beat to death was "awesome."  Particularly "awesome" were the weekly performances of Dick Butkus, "Mean" Joe Green, and Curly Culp, to name a few.
          When I was a child, awesome meant, well, awesome.  It was a useful word describing a level of excellence midway between fabulous and superb, and when you heard it, you knew you were about to hear about something awesome.  Nowadays, stemming directly from this overuse in the '70s (which Howard didn't, couldn't have done alone; he had a lot of help), awesome is pretty much synonymous with barely adequate.  You can even hear it used as a joke to describe pathetic ineptitude.
          I call this Word Inflation, and awesome is a great example of how television can influence the way we use language.  But television runs a poor second to the instant social media that pervades every aspect of life here in the 2000s.  The single worst offender that I have yet to see is the word friendFriend used to mean someone that you loved like a close sibling, not because you had to, but because it was such an enjoyable and fulfilling thing to do.  I know that when I say, "I am your friend," what I mean is that I will step in front of a bullet for you; I have twelve close friends, eleven of whom are my spouse or blood relatives.  But what everyone else seems to mean by friend is that they've clicked you on Facebook.  The number of "friends" a person has is a body count, a row of trophies that simply must be larger than yours.  When someone says they have over 200 close friends, it's a pretty safe bet that they're including the kid who bagged their groceries at the store, and the teenage girl who sold them a ticket when they went to the movies.  The word has lost all the rich connotations of its history through our own misuse, and when somebody tells you, "I am your friend," it's probably worth your while to find out just what they mean by that.
          I define Word Mutation to be when the meaning of a word is deliberately changed before our eyes to mean something that was never intended.  Before I get started on the prime example, gay, I'm going to make a statement of disclaimer.  I'm not going to mince any words; all I ask is that you read the whole statement before you kick me in the crotch:  As a straight man, I find pretty much everything that male homosexuals do to and with each other to be thoroughly repulsive.  One of the things that I find more repulsive is telling someone else that they are not entitled to the basic rights that I enjoy because they don't live like I do.  Hopefully, everyone is clear on that.  Feel free to ask if you aren't.
          Gay, like awesome, was at one time a useful little word that described a condition of happiness somewhere between giddy and atwitter. Now it describes a male homosexual, and there is no gray area where it can be used in any other connotation. This is an example of a word that was shanghaied by a vocal minority, and hammered into a completely new form right under our noses. I can certainly appreciate that no one enjoys being called a "fag" or a "queer." There is no way to spin those to make them sound pleasant, and a non-pejorative word was certainly needed, but come on, fellas. The word for a female homosexual, "lesbian," has stood unchanged since before I was born, and no one mistakes it for anything else; I had my mouth washed out with soap at the age of six for repeating it, and it was another ten years before I found out why. Did you have no imagination, or did you seize that word on purpose as a show of empowerment? By the way, the word still turns up in its original meaning in old songs and movies from my youth and before, and I have to confess that it still reduces me to stitches when one of those wavy-haired dandies from a '50s drama says, "Frank certainly seems gay today." But really...
          A word in the process of being changed as I write this is collectible.  Where "gay" was changed because there was a social need, collectible is being changed because there is a need by greedy bastards to separate you from your money.  Collectible has always been an adjective, as, "Those state quarters are collectible."  In a process that has been visible for more than a decade, it is well on its way to becoming a noun, as, "Those state quarters are collectibles."  Pick up almost any magazine and open it at random.  You won't have to turn too many pages before you see an advertisement for some worthless piece of garbage that you wouldn't bend over to pick up if you saw it lying in the street, and the biggest word in the ad is COLLECTIBLE!  This is an almost subliminal attack on your sense of values, an attempt to make you think that this thing (usually a small figurine) that you wouldn't put a dime in a gumball machine to get somehow has intrinsic value.  The reason this has been able to get traction among consumers is that, in a sense, what they are saying is true; anything can be collected.  But let me tell you something.  You can spray lacquer on every dump your Golden Retriever takes, and arrange them on the shelf in chronological order.  That is certainly a collection, but it doesn't mean that it has any monetary value, nor indeed that anyone will ever want to see it...
          Consumer culture is basically a war between the untrained and relatively unsophisticated consumer who is trying to stretch an increasingly inadequate paycheck to meet his needs, and the highly trained and aggressive advertising sharks of Madison Avenue, whose mission in life is to take everything this consumer has.  One technique they have mastered is really rather simple: They bludgeon us mercilessly with a word or term until we believe that what they are describing is desirable.  There is no greater example of this than the SUV.  Our local NPR station has a motto that goes, "If you don't have an opinion, someone else will have one for you," and the sales of SUVs are a perfect illustration of this principle in action.
          Early in the 1970's, gas shortages and high prices killed the great American muscle car and ushered in an era of fuel efficient (for the time!) compacts that were long on utility, but short on character.  About a decade later, Detroit and Tokyo realized that they could make much more money if they could sell everyone a delivery van.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were pumped into the advertising machine, and out came ad after ad after ad extolling the virtues of the Sport Utility Vehicle, briefly shortened to Sport Ute, and finally the abbreviation we all know so well today.  They pounded and pounded and pounded away until they somehow convinced a nation that had been in love with the Mustang and the Camaro that these nine-ton urban assault vehicles were attractive performance cars.  We, too lazy or preoccupied to be bothered to think about what they were saying, swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker.
          So today, in the late summer of 2011, we see 60%+ of America's soccer moms driving around in armored personnel carriers that they in no way need, that cost twice as much as a sensible car of similar value to buy, to insure, to fuel, to maintain, all money that comes directly out of her family's budget.  But, hey, the car company that sold it to her is happy, and if she is too, then who's hurt?  By the way, I suspect this phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining why Kim Kardashian and those drooling idiots on Jersey Shore are celebrities...
          I'll leave you with this story of how social media is changing the basic infrastructure of emotion itself:  About six months ago, I was watching a YouTube video of a kid who ate the shiveck on a skateboard.  He wasn't injured, but he was badly embarrassed, and I must confess that I found it hilarious.  As did all his friends who were present on the video, but as the pack of insensitive teenagers burst into spontaneous laughter, one kid, instead of laughing, shouted, "L-O-L!"
          Now, folks, I don't begin to possess the predictive skills to guess how it could get any stupider, but I'm reasonably sure that it will.  To those substantially younger than myself I say, it's your language.  Defend it if it means anything to you.  To those of my own generation, I realize that it's social suicide to stand in front of this tidal wave of fatuousness.  I suggest that you need a defense mechanism, and as a starting point, here is mine:  I constantly remind myself that I am a tourist here; I came here with nothing, and I will be leaving with nothing.  Once you can master that attitude, it frees you up to enjoy the cabaret, and occasionally point and laugh, which is sort of what I'm doing here...
          Now get out there and live life like you mean it!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tips from the Ring

          Before I get to that, I want to thank those who took the time to comment on the Story of my Wife.  Unfortunately, this was done face-to-face by the locals who see me at work, or around the neighborhood.  There isn't any real reason for me to invest time in this blog if we're going to have these discussions across a hose rack.  This is strictly in the nature of "Do me a favor."  I'm begging you, if you see something here you'd like to talk about, click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the post, and do it there.  I do this in large part to exchange ideas with people I otherwise have no access to, and to a great extent, it works.  Witness my lively interchanges with everyone from the Nerds to Bob the small dog, and know that these contacts benefit you, as you can contact them and strike up your own conversations; the sites I find interesting tend to appear in the sidebar under "Collected on my Travels."  Just click on them and enjoy.  So please, I ask again, talk to me here!  During the two weeks that Love and Fate on the Government's Payroll was up, my counter showed hits from people from Baltimore to Bremerhaven who didn't bother to say anything, and I have to wonder whether they would have if there had already been a dozen or so comments on the post when they first saw it.  Would that have sparked more interest on their part?  Who can say, but I'd like to find out.  Click and post, please.

          All right, we out here on the Ring of Fire (yeah, that Ring) got a good laugh out of the cabaret that went down following the east-of-the-Rockies earthquakes that happened last Tuesday.  Don't get huffy, it's fair.  People in the Hurricane Belt laugh themselves silly at us sliding around the freeways in the annual drizzlefest we call "winter," and the folks in Tornado Alley must snicker fit to bust when they see us boarding up our windows to fend off one of our killer breezestorms.  Out here on the Left Coast, we know fires, and we know earthquakes.  Fires are never funny, but a small earthquake sprung on someone unaccustomed can be better than an hour with Seinfeld.

          Okay, now that we've enjoyed our laugh, I want to offer my fellow citizens in the rest of the country a few pointers to help you get through the next one relatively intact.  First, there are basically two kinds of earthquakes.  The first begins with a sudden lurch, a violent wrench that can throw you off your feet if it's strong enough.  Sometimes you even hear it, a sharp "crack!" or "bang!" followed by SHAKE-SHAKE-SHAKE-shake-shake-shake -- shake -- shake -- shake, becoming slower and weaker as the energy is dissipated.  In these, the brunt of the energy is released in the first second.  If you feel the "bang!" and you look around and everything is generally okay, you're safe.  It's going to get weaker, and weaker, and all you need to do is enjoy the ride.  If this pattern is reversed, however, if you gradually become aware that there is movement in the room, like the ceiling fan begins to sway, or you feel like you are standing beside an unbalanced washer during the spin cycle, and then you start hearing rattle-rattle-rattle-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE, that's when you need to dive under the nearest table and try to protect your head by shoving it up your bunghole, 'cause it's going to be bad!  When you hear that crescendo of shaking start up the scale, no one alive can predict where it's going to level off, and the theoretical limit is about 9.5, which is plenty enough to topple skyscrapers, change coastlines, or open a new Grand Canyon.

          The more astute among you will have detected my tongue firmly in my cheek, but the fact is that if you feel the ground start moving beneath you, if you aren't accustomed to the sensation (and often even if you are), you're going to freak.  You may experience a panic freeze, but eventually you are going to start moving, and your life may depend upon moving in the right way, so I'm going to give you three simple things to do that are easy to remember, and should protect you from the immediate effects.
          #1: Get away from any large sheets of glass; mirrors, windows, interior dividers will all be torqued by the rolling forces being released, and they don't have to be twisted very far before they explode into shrapnel as effective as any hand grenade.  Put something between you and them if possible, but at the very least, get away from them.
          #2: If your survival instinct tells you that this is going to be a hard shaker (and trust me, if you don't have a body of experience to draw on, you're going to think it's the end of the world), get under a solidly built table, desk, or counter.  The main thing that happens inside buildings during an earthquake is that things fall, and you will want something sturdy between you and these impromptu missiles.
          #3: For the same reason, never, never, never try to run outside.  A substantial quake will shake nonstructural pieces, i. e., decorations, window frames and ledges, glass, and sometimes chunks of building materials, loose from the building.  These will head for the ground at a high rate of speed, and if you meet one at the door, you're going to lose!  Here in earthquake country, we have a saying: Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings kill people.  Protect yourself from the immediate effects of things falling during the shaking, and you'll be around to deal with the aftermath at your leisure.
          I hope you Easterners find something useful here, or at least comforting, that will help you when the ground moves again.  And know that it will.  Once a source of ground movement has exposed itself, it doesn't just go away.  It may not move again for decades, but it's there.  If any of this information saves a life, we can only hope it was the right one!

          All right, coming up Sunday morning, a look at how first the media, and then social networking, has changed our language, as I tackle the subject of word mutation.  See you all then, I hope, and remember, please, please, put your comments on the page!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Love and Fate on the Government's Payroll

          In the spring of 1975 I was 27 years old. I had grown up pretty much alone, shunned by family, peers, and just about everyone else. I had been out of the Navy for longer than I had been in; they had done everything they could think of to make me feel unwanted, then feigned astonishment when I didn't opt to reenlist. I had had a couple of girlfriends, but none of that had worked out. They wanted to "finish" me, like something they had bought at a hobby shop, or saw me as an open wallet, or someone to make the guy they were really interested in jealous. At 27, I had given up on life. My attitude was, "That was it, huh?" I accumulated three cats, a closet full of wargames, most of which were played solitaire, and looked forward to life of building model airplanes. Of course, to live, one needs money.
           As a radioman, the Navy had taught me to type and file, and I decided to use those skills, plus a five-point veteran's preference, to apply for a Civil Service job. I took the test, and went home to wait.
           "Home" was a rotting studio apartment that had been built on top of a garage sometime during the Wilson administration. I will say it had a certain flair about it. It also cost $90.00 a month. I got $88.00 every two weeks on unemployment, and had to buy food in there somewhere, but luckily, just about the time my savings were running out, I was called ("mailed" actually) to take the Civil Service test. So, it was onto my second-hand bicycle and down to the Federal building to prove that I could count and knew the alphabet. A week or so later, I was summoned to the Civil Service Commission office to be sent out for interviews. On the fifth one, I went to the Naval Air Station at North Island, and was offered a GS-2 on the spot. A GS-2, for the uninitiated, is one level above whale poop on the bottom of the ocean. Other places had offered more, but they wanted to interview more people, and see if they liked somebody else better. I opted for the bird in the hand.
          So the following Monday, I went to work at Maintenance Support Package Branch as a Locator Clerk, keeping tabs on 110,000 small aircraft spare parts in a warehouse the size of a soccer pitch. In the office were three women. One was old and married, one was young and married, and one was about my age and single. Now remember, I had sworn off women as bad business, and she was everything I didn't want in a woman, anyway. She was chubby, and dark, and quiet, and subdued where my dream woman was an athletic blonde nymphomaniac with a smart mouth and a sassy attitude, but there we were.
          Bonnie, her name was, and she was a GS-5, supervisor of the typists. It didn't take me long to see that she was also the office whipping boy. I had lived my life in solitude, spent ten years as a karate student in various schools, the last two as an assistant instructor. I had been to Vietnam, I had defeated three thugs who had tried to take my wallet, I was death on a city bus. I began to offer her moral support. Every time they drove her down, I reminded her that she was unique, and beautiful, and a valuable human being. I fortified her with Taoist meditations, and the stronger she got, the more the other people in the office worked harder to make her feel worse. Finally, at the end of one especially difficult day, I gave her my number and told her to call me if she wanted to talk. She called that night, and asked if she could come see me.
          She came, we talked, we went for a walk, we were up all night. I was amazed to realize how cute she was, like I was seeing her for the first time. She was easy to talk to, though she had (and still has) a penchant for the melodramatic, and fun to spend time with. I invited her to an upcoming KISS concert. She accepted.
          You need to understand that her record rack was filled with Mitch Miller, the Ray Coniff Singers, Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra. She probably thought KISS was a nice little band from Oshkosh. Rush opened for them, and tore the house down before KISS came on and threw it out the door. Her face was priceless, like a child raised in a convent seeing her first carnival. I was smitten. This was no blonde nympho surfer chick. No, instead, this was someone who made me look forward to each new day. I began to look for new things to do with my new best friend.
          I took her out to our local desert, took her hiking up a mountain, on which she came within a ten foot slide of falling to certain death. I got my grandma's Plymouth Duster stuck in the sand. She sat on a rock with an unfathomable expression while I worked like a field hand to get the car out.   I couldn't do it, and exhausted, trekked five miles to the Ranger station to ask them to bring a Jeep and pull us out. She didn't have much to say, and the whole time, I had visions of her looking at me as the guy that almost killed her. I figured this was it. It had been a fun month, and now it was over.
          I had to take her home before I could go back to my place. She lived in Chula Vista, about twenty miles from my North Park bachelor pad. I was too exhausted to drive after walking, and shovelling, and walking some more, so she drove to her place while I literally passed out in the passenger seat. When she woke me up, we were parked at her apartment. Imagine my surprise when she declared that I couldn't drive any farther that night, and invited me to stay the night. I slept on the couch and there was no hanky-panky, but any woman as mad as I thought she was would have handed me the car keys and walked away without another word.
          We had met at the end of March. By July, we were living together. We married on her birthday, Christmas Eve, in front of the tree in her mother's living room. By the next March, she was pregnant with our twins.
          It's been a hell of a ride since then, good times and bad, like the saying goes, sickness and health, richer and poorer, and all that jazz, yet through it all, she's been right there in my corner, watching my back rain or shine, right or wrong, taking my side no matter what, no matter who; it's us against the world, except when we're enjoying it, which is more and more these days. Without this woman, I would be a hermit in the middle of the city, if I was alive at all, and probably not caring whether I died in my sleep tonight. With her, life has been the wonderful adventure it is in works of fiction. We've never been able to travel, or have the nicest things, but together, life comes to us. Schopenhauer was most definitely right. This Prussian philosopher said, "The more you have within, the less you need from without ." Truer words were never spoken. Sometimes it has seemed that hell itself has opened its gates in our living room, but we have never wavered in our love and support for each other, and we remain to date undefeated.

          As much as I saved her, she has saved me. We were 27 and 29 that long lifetime ago, and thinking that we might start a family; now we are 62 and 64, and have three kids and seven grandchildren. Father Time has given us a sound hiding, and yet we are still fresh in spirit, as interested in the world as a couple of six-year olds, and look forward to the start of each new day. There's no point to this post, and no reason that anyone else should be interested, but I have this soapbox, and I just want to shout from the highest rooftop that I LOVE THIS WOMAN! Bonnie, this is for you, and if I had to start over with nothing but our broken down pickup truck and a bag of dirty laundry, I could face it without a blink with you by my side. Thank you, my love, for more than you'll ever know...