In 1964 I took a typing course at my high school, Central High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Go, Eagles.
It was my mom’s idea. I was doing fine with the hunt-and-peck method, I thought, and anyway, I didn’t want to be a secretary when I grew up. I wanted to be a minister or a Rockette or something. But my practical mom said that, regardless of my career choice, being a good typist would come in handy. She was right, as usual, and by the end of the semester I was typing more than a hundred words a minute. My speed was aided by ten years of piano lessons, no doubt.
Of course, I was typing on a manual typewriter. It was important to be accurate because, if you made a mistake, you had to erase it. We didn’t have correction tape or Wite-Out in 1964.
There wasn’t much choice when it came to fonts. Most typewriters had Times Roman or something similar in one of two sizes: pica or elite. With pica you got ten characters per inch; elite gave you twelve.
When I went away to college, most of the girls in my dorm had typewriters, almost all with elite type. Mine had pica, making it the most popular typewriter on my corridor. That’s because writing assignments typically specified the number of pages required, not the number of words. If you were writing a three-page paper using a pica font, you didn’t have to write as many words. A hundred and twenty characters and spaces ate up twelve inches in pica type but only ten inches in elite.
You should know that all characters were the same width, so an M took up the same amount of space as an I. By contrast, most computer fonts today have proportional spacing, so an M is noticeably wider than an I. The font called “Courier,” with fixed spacing, is an exception.
In my typing class, we were taught to place two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. This made sense when all characters and spaces were the same width but became unnecessary with proportional spacing. For some arcane reason, the American Psychological Association stylebook still stipulates two spaces between sentences. Evidently the APA believes it makes text more readable, but someone has actually performed a study on the matter that refutes the APA’s claim. In any case, if you ever happen to come across a document in which periods are followed by two spaces, the writer learned to type on a manual typewriter and is probably well over 40 years of age.
To my way of thinking, the strongest argument for placing just one space after the period at the end of a sentence is this: If you type two spaces, there’s a chance that one of the spaces will end up at a line break and you’ll have a space floating at the beginning of the next line. That would be ugly. You want a nice, even look on your left margin, don’t you?
The most remarkable thing about all this, as I see it, is that somebody actually did a formal study on the matter. It got me thinking about silly research topics, so I googled “ridiculous research” and came up with a few wowzers:
- A study that showed the beneficial effect of electric fans in extreme heat and humidity
- A study that revealed a difference between the sexes in human beings
- A study showing that conservatives like to use nouns more than liberals
- A study concluding that Spiderman doesn’t exist
- A study suggesting that a healthy diet will help you live longer
- A study demonstrating that being homeless is bad for your health
Your research dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen!
The saddest study of all came from the Centers for Disease Control, which warns that “cuddling with kittens can kill you.” Apparently cat-scratch fever is actually a thing. I did a little research of my own, because I happen to love kittens and enjoy cuddling with them. It turns out that 0.007 percent of the U.S. population is infected with cat-scratch fever every year and hardly anybody dies from it. Clearly there’s a researcher at the CDC who harbors an antipathy to cats and just wants to make trouble for them.
Fortunately, according to mentalfloss.com, there’s a countervailing study showing that “owning any pet is good for your heart. Cats in particular lower your stress level—possibly since they don’t require as much effort as dogs—and lower the amount of anxiety in your life. Petting a cat has a positive calming effect.”
Reported today in the Times of Israel (https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog-april-30-2018/)
In a series of tweets, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses the US of creating instability in the Middle East and warns it will “certainly suffer from defeat” if it confronts the Islamic Republic.
Is it just me, or is there irony and even humor in the fact that the Ayatollah has a Twitter account? There’s something about saber-rattling via Twitter—a medium originally designed to inform your friends where you were enjoying happy hour and with whom—that takes some of the sting out of the warning.
What if Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had tweeted “We will bury you!” in 1956 instead of making the threat in person to a group of ambassadors and striking fear in the hearts of parents everywhere? The world may little note nor long remember everything Khrushchev said, but the world is still talking about his scarily banging his shoe on the table at a U. N. meeting in 1960—even though there’s a distinct possibility that the Soviet leader never did such a thing at all.
The Ayatollah’s tweet, by the way, garnered a measly 679 likes.
Donald Trump, at an April 28 rally in Michigan:
All of these [Hispanics} pouring across [the border] are gonna vote Democrat. They do it for a lot of reasons. A lot of times they don’t even know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, but we have to have borders and we need it fast.
Where to start? For one thing, does the president really believe that the first act of undocumented workers once they cross the border is to register to vote—assuming that the possibility is even available to them? Moreover, I would suppose that those fleeing all manner of ills in their countries of origin know exactly what they’re doing and why.
Finally, allow me to remind the president that a pronoun must agree with its antecedent. “We have to have borders and we need it fast”? Mr. President, you need to learn English, and you need it fast.
A tiny capitalization lesson
- Donald Trump, president of the United States
- The president
- Mr. President
- President Donald Trump
Item for your to-do list:
—Buy an electric bike.
They’re not cheap, and you can’t buy an old, beat-up–but–serviceable one at a flea market. You’ll probably have to spend well over $500 for a new e-bike (mine was $700 on Amazon), but an excellent bicycle without the power assist can cost much more. If you’re going to buy a high-dollar bike you might as well get one that will let you sail up hills with ease and panache.
I love my e-bike. It’s my primary transportation, so I use it to run errands, to go to church, to visit friends…. People who aren’t aware it’s an electric bike are awestruck when they see a 70-year-old cyclist take steep hills without breaking a sweat. At least I imagine that’s what they’re gaping at. Maybe it’s my dorky fuschia bike helmet, but I prefer to think it’s my astounding athleticism.
‘Twas not ever thus. When I first got the contraption last fall, I kept falling off. Early in the day, when there weren’t many people about, I’d take it across the street, where there’s a giant parking lot, and I’d practice, and practice, and practice… and fall off. My knees kept hitting the handlebars and knocking me off the bike onto the ground. I tried raising and lowering the seat, but it didn’t seem to matter. After three weeks, my legs were covered with scrapes and bruises, and I wasn’t getting any better.
One November morning I took a harder-than-usual spill. Flummoxed and discouraged, wondering if I was ever going to get the hang of it, I sat on the hard, cold concrete next to the bike for five minutes or so, trying not to weep. A few kindly motorists stopped and asked if I needed help. “Thanks, I’m fine,” I sniffled, but it was a lie. The truth was, I was running out of weather suitable for bike-riding, and I wasn’t any closer to success than when I’d taken my first turn around the lot. Besides, the e-bike had been a gift from a friend concerned about my sedentary, solitary lifestyle. Bad enough that I had a $700 bike I couldn’t use. How could I tell my generous benefactor that his thoughtful contribution to my mental health was battering my body and annihilating my self-esteem?
At last I took a deep breath, stood up, and hauled my 57-pound bike to an upright position for the eighth or ninth time that morning. Right away I noticed that something was different. The controls weren’t where they’d been before I splatted. Instead of the power controller being on the right and the gear-shift knob on the left, their positions were reversed.
In a flash, I understood. The entire front assembly—the wheel, the handlebars, the brake levers—had turned 180 degrees when the bike hit the ground. Suddenly, magically, everything was in the correct position. I’d been riding the bike with the front part turned the wrong way ‘round. No wonder my knees had been hitting the handlebars and knocking me ass-over-teakettle.
I laughed out loud. I might have done a happy dance. Then I hopped on the bike and rode home. I haven’t fallen off since that morning. Problem solved.
Why hadn’t I figured it out earlier? Because I’ve never had a bike that would allow the front wheel and handlebars to be reversed in such a way. On all my old bikes, you could turn the apparatus only so far—maybe 120 degrees—before it would bump into the frame and refuse to turn farther. Besides, the handlebars were always bent or curved inward toward the rider on the older bikes. On my e-bike, the handlebars stick straight out to the sides. There’s nothing that screams “front!”
I’m still far from being an expert rider. I’m leery of busy streets, none of which have bike lanes. I don’t know how to use the gears to best advantage, and if I’m riding up a steep hill and I have to stop for some reason, it’s hard to get going again. I had one such experience on the way to a doctor appointment, and I ended up turning around and going home. But with every excursion I grow more adept. It’s the end of April; I have an entire summer to build my strength and confidence, and to find bargains on stuff like thermal underwear and goggles so that I can ride year-round, as long as the roads aren’t slick or snow-covered.
By the way, mine is a pedal-assist model. That means the motor won’t kick in unless I pedal. There are three power levels, so I can choose how much work I want to do and how much I want to rely on the motor. It’s up to me how much exercise I get.
If you’re thinking of getting a second car, consider an e-bike instead. It’s kinder to the environment, it’s a practical form of exercise, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Look for one that’s not as heavy as mine. If I had a 25-pound e-bike, I could probably lug it up the stairs into my apartment. Not happening with one that’s over half my body weight.
A tiny grammar lesson
Some grammar-and-style experts advise against ending a sentence with a preposition. Surely you’ve heard the famous comment (mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill), “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
I’m reminded of the joke about the guy who asked his friend, “Where do you want to have lunch at?” The friend replied, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Guy Number One said, “Okay. Where do you want to have lunch at, a**hole?”
The same experts don’t like to begin a paragraph with the word I. In fact, they’d rather you not start too many sentences with I. Well, I agree that a series of sentences starting with I can be tiresome. But if you’re writing about yourself, your experiences, or your opinions, it’s natural to begin sentences with I. Sometimes you can easily rearrange a sentence, inserting an introductory clause or phrase as I did a number of times in this essay. Sometimes you can’t.
I wouldn’t worry about it.
A Yiddish-Laced Conundrum
I am not Jewish and, unlike some of my childhood friends, I never had Yiddish-speaking grandparents, but I am charmed and delighted by the Yiddish language, which was “used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It was originally a German dialect with words from Hebrew and several modern languages and is today spoken mainly in the U.S., Israel, and Russia.” (Wikipedia)
Having come across a short Yiddish glossary, I am offering an admittedly clumsy attempt to integrate Yiddish terms into an English narrative. Please feel free to correct my usage and, even more important, suggest a solution to the problem of Bubbe, Zayde, Shirley, Judith, Norman, and a marriage that promises little happiness and a great deal of unwelcome drama.
Shirley couldn’t stop kvelling. Her Judith was engaged to be married, and the intended groom wasn’t just a mensch, he was an endocrinologist. Shirley wasn’t altogether sure what an endocrinologist did, but it was enough to be able to say, “My son-in-law, the doctor.”
Unfortunately for Shirley, her parents—Judith’s beloved Bubbe and Zayde—were more clear-eyed and less sanguine about the marriage. Young Norman was—in a word—a putz. That much was plain five minutes after meeting him. The first time he spent a weekend with Judith’s family, he sent Judith out to schlep the luggage while he sat on his tuches at the kitchen table and began to nosh. He kvetched at Judith as she busied herself about the kitchen, punctuating his conversation with remarks such as, “Before we go anywhere, you’ve got to change out of that shmatte.” When he’d eaten his fill, he got up and wandered the room, picking up Shirley’s prized tchotchkes one by one and scowling at them with distaste. “Schlock,” he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Bubbe and Zayde to hear him.
Shirley considered herself a baleboste, but she was determined to view Norman as mishpocheh, so she overlooked his shlekht manirn and inquired brightly, “More kasha varnishkes, Norman?”
“A bissel,” he replied, and proceeded to eat the entire contents of a two-quart casserole dish without interrupting his monologue, schmoozing on everything from the smallness of the kitchen to the largeness of Judith’s tush. “My adorable klutz,” he said, patting her bottom. “We’ve got to get you a gym membership, darling,” adding, with insolent chutzpah, “although flab seems to run in the family. A bit of a shande, no?”
“Oy vey,” whispered Bubbe to Zayde. “The man is meshuggeneh. Gornisht helfn.” If Shirley heard her mother, she made no sign of it. “Dessert, Norman?” she inquired politely.
Zayde seemed ready to plotz. Bubbe, recognizing the signs, took her husband by the arm and gave him a gentle shove into the front room. “The man is insufferable,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “Our granddaughter is marrying a shmendrik.”
“It could be worse,” said his wife. “He could be a shagetz, like Arthur Mitchell.” Arthur was Judith’s previous fiancé, and the entire family had been united against the match—even though Arthur was something of an endearing shlemiel. But Bubbe wasn’t altogether sure that Judith’s marrying a Lutheran auto mechanic who had truly loved her would indeed be as disastrous as wedding a boorish, narcissistic Jewish doctor who seemed to love nothing more than the sound of his own voice.
Just then, out of the corner of her eye, Bubbe caught sight of Judith, her face blotched and tear-streaked, slipping out of the kitchen toward the staircase. Norman was apparently oblivious to the tsuris, as he was engaged in earnest conversation about the tachlis of purchasing a house—something he evidently believed would be an appropriate wedding gift from Judith’s parents to their only daughter and her groom.
“Oh, dear, Papa,” Bubbe said to her husband. “This can’t go on. You, my love, are a yiddisher kop. Whatever shall we do?”
I’ve been helping my Russian friend, Alexis, with her English-language practice… or, more to the point, I’ve been increasingly aware of how much she enjoys learning new vocabulary and of how little she really knows. She’s a lot of fun, all the more because her English is so hit-or-miss. She was cooking something on one of the stoves when I walked into the kitchen. I asked, and she told me, there were “vegetables” in the pan, which indeed there were… asparagus, specifically, plus liver. When I said “asparagus,” she checked the package and read out loud, slowly and carefully, “Asparagus Speaks.” Great hilarity was enjoyed by Alexis, me, and Penny, who came in just in time to hear about the chatty edible.
After Alexis and I had conversed for about ten minutes, I wrote down the “key words” for our little session: liver, carrots, asparagus, vegetables, corn, peas, beans, and chocolate. Alexis loves chocolate. AND I spoke my first sentence in the Russian language to a Russian person: “Krasivaya bluzka” (“I like your shirt”). I’m guessing that bluzka is etymologically related to “blouse.”
Aside from vegetables and liver, Alexis favors shrimp and a type of fish that makes me wonder if there’s a Black Sea equivalent to West Virginia roadkill. Alexis enhances the flavor and aroma of organ meats and shellfish by thawing them—on the table that most of us sit at to eat normal food—for, I’ve gotta say, a lunar month. I don’t think that the gentle reminder I contemplate delivering—“Alexis, you’re not on The Steppes any more”—would convey both our deep affection for Alexis and our profound aversion to her dietary and culinary quirks. Surely there are entire species of microbes who think it’s the Rapture.
Meanwhile, once or twice a month Penny takes two buses to a specific Walmart that is the only place in a ten-mile radius that carries a particular brand of bacon she favors, and though the aroma of bacon frying is normally quite tantalizing, the combined odors of Walmart’s Select Sacrificial Pork Components and Alexis’s Smelt Putrefaction Surprise, colliding in midair like a couple of supercells over the Alkali Lake Toxic Waste Dump Site, have explosive properties that certainly could be harnessed to aid the U.N. or the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a location far, far away from our octogenarian kitchen, whose exhaust fans are under orders to tactically overheat if Alexis so much as plugs in the can opener….
A Tiny Diction Lesson
Supercell: a thunderstorm characterized by the presence of a mesocyclone: a deep, persistently rotating updraft. For this reason, these storms are sometimes referred to as rotating thunderstorms. Of the four classifications of thunderstorms (supercell, squall line, multi-cell, and single-cell), supercells are the overall least common and have the potential to be the most severe. —Wikipedia
Steppe: a large area of flat unforested grassland in southeastern Europe or Siberia
It was born in 1965 and multiplied at an
alarming rate, displaying its fertility so
unapologetically my ultra-modest mother
always blushed ferociously whenever someone
raised the subject. Someone always did within a
minute, maybe two, of opening the door and
coming in. It isn’t easy to ignore a rapidly
expanding wardrobe as it creeps across the
floor, however stealthy it deceives itself it’s
being, for the rate at which it grew did not
allow it to remain within the stationary limits of
a closet and whatever room it had invaded.
Even the entire second story couldn’t long
contain the clothing-and-accessory collection’s
escalation, which outpaced the conversations
we engaged in with respect to where to house
it, how restrain it, whether to inflame it, whom
to blame, and what, in general, to do about it—
conversations that became, eventually, the
same; and in the end we always had to find a
bigger house and move immediately into it, a
temporary fix that kept a lid on things for ten or
twenty minutes, what with advertising in the
classifieds and on the Internet, and then of
course the shipping, which consisted of the
actual transporting of apparel no one
happened to be wearing—early on, at any rate,
before the desperation phase, when things got
ugly and you had to Super-Glue your shirts and
pants and stuff onto your epidermis. (Note:
Extremely Dangerous. Do Not Attempt.)
On a muggy late-September night the cousins
went around the bend; insanity set in, some
kind of mania, authorities would later say. The
dénouement began when Cousin Dougie
drugged me with a few carafes of cabernet,
and then, while I was sleeping, all the relatives—
admittedly at wits’ end, all of them, with family
visits having gotten virtually impossible and,
when they happened, separated by a decade
at the very least—this band of renegade
relations knocked me out and packed me up
and shipped me, in a state of catalepsis, to a
famous nudist island supervised by lunatics, a
crazy South Pacific paradise of sorts.
Until a cure is found for my obscure disorder
(Insubordinate Apparel Syndrome, known
informally as Wardrobe Fever), I’m allowed to
travel on a visa for a week each winter—
luggage limited to slippers, skivvies, and
pajamas, plus a parka, scarf, and toothbrush.
Here’s a list of gifts I get for Christmas: coffee
and a pair of socks. Although it doesn’t sound
like much, it isn’t—well, except the coffee.
I receive, however, vast amounts of happiness,
enough to last millennia, because, when all is
said and done, the truth is: All you need is love,
caffeine, and underpants (and in a pinch, mere
love will do).
Tiny diction lesson
The entire second story: In British English, story gains an E and becomes storey. The ground floor is called “the ground floor,” the next one up is “the first floor” or “the first storey,” and the next one up after that—which would be the third story in an American building—is “the second storey” in Britain. Got it?
Catalepsis: Catalepsy. A physical condition characterized by a loss of sensation, muscular rigidity, flxity of posture, and often by a loss of contact with surroundings. —thefreedictionary.com
Pictured above is Terence—not that we got friendly enough to exchange names; he just looked like a Terence. He sneaked up on me at about 10 p.m. as I was walking purposefully toward my truck after an evening with Eli and Tracy. The Arizona midsummer temperature hovered in the mid-nineties, making me a bit annoyed that I’d parked more than four hundred feet away. Since Eli and Tracy live in the middle of the desert, I had my Maglite switched on.
Suddenly my world, already quite dark, went darker. Terence’s bulk blocked out the moon and the stars—a total eclipse of everything. The Maglite flickered, but it put out enough light for me to see that Terence wasn’t One of Us.
“I don’t recognize that guy,” I remember thinking, “but I don’t think he’s paying rent here,” and I wondered if it were legal under open-housing statutes to discriminate on the basis of supernumerary appendages. I hoped so. Judge me if you will, but when it comes to near neighbors I draw the line at seven legs per resident with no more than three segments per leg.
The house was closer than the truck, but hotfooting it to the truck seemed the wiser choice—although it was more reflex than choice that got me behind the wheel in 2.43 seconds, give or take. I gulped in a few gallons of air, supplying my brain with enough oxygen for it to calculate that Terence could dispatch the truck as far as New Mexico with a single swipe of a forward leg. When I turned the key, the truck’s engine caught on the first attempt. I pushed the pedal to the floor and didn’t stop until I felt safe.
I passed the “Casa Grande City Limits” sign and thought I’d probably look for a job and buy a house there right after I got done being treated for heat exhaustion and acute arachnophobia. If I learned nothing else that night, I think at last I understood why anyone would ever want to live in Casa Grande.
A Tiny Diction Lesson
Purposefully and purposely are not synonymous.
Purposely means “on purpose,” “intentionally”: “She purposely tripped her classmate as he walked toward the chalkboard.”
Purposefully means “in a way that shows confidence or determination”: “Bashful as she was, she managed to stride purposefully across the stage.”
A while back, I listened to Michael Neill explaining “our personal guidance system” on his HayHouseRadio.com program, Supercoach: It’s the guidance system that tells us we want pizza for lunch today and we’ll want salad for lunch tomorrow.
Michael Neill often uses wonderful, improbable metaphors that completely nail the concept he’s illustrating. On another Supercoach radio program he addressed a caller’s fears about a career change. He asked us—the audience and the caller—to imagine a child drawing a fox and then starting to cry because the fox is hungry.
One way to calm the child, Michael pointed out, would be to suggest that she draw a couple of hens for the fox to eat. I actually prefer this solution to the alternative: Helping the child understand that the fox isn’t real… nor, by implication, did the caller’s job-related fears represent a genuine threat. The caller had essentially, Michael is saying, made up a story about the dangers of changing careers—dangers existing only in her thoughts—and had reacted with heart-stopping fear to the phalanx of imagined catastrophic outcomes.
This metaphor I understand, even though I favor the hens-as-supper scenario. But I could not possibly trust a personal guidance system that would lead me to pizza one day and salad the next. This PGS is supposed to be intuitive rather than logical. Michael Neill often reminds us that our inner wisdom is more reliable than our thinking. But no actual person in the actual world who intuitively selects pizza on Monday is going to intuitively opt for salad on Tuesday unless pizza has suddenly become unavailable in the western hemisphere.
If a woman—I’ll call her Maxine—who owns a scuba-diving shop goes out to lunch regularly, and equidistant from her shop are a pizza place and a salad bar, and she likes pizza, she’s never going to “prefer” salad. Maxine never says to herself, “Yeah, that pepperoni with its seductive sheen of animal fat on top of cheese bubbling in its own oils, throat-paralysis-inducing jalapeños, and the greasy onions that cause water buffalo to flee from my approach—that was magnificent; but today I’m in the mood for watercress.” Maxine chooses salad on Tuesday only because of guilt or logic, not intuition. Guilt says, “You pigged out on pepperoni yesterday, darling. You can redeem yourself only by choking down some locally grown dark-green leafy vegetables today, with a smattering of almonds and a soupcon of lemon juice.” Logic says much the same thing but without the snark.
What can we infer from this about our PGS? Does it operate on intuition or by logic? If we tune in to it, will it lead us to our bliss except for now and then to the obligatory kale and hummus?
My PGS leads me unfailingly to yogurt and granola; guilt garnishes it with a few fresh strawberries. I even make the yogurt and granola myself, but by the time I’m finished with them they contain roughly the same nutritional value as rocket fuel.
When I remove my batch of yogurt from the yogurt-maker, it’s pure as the driven snow and tastes terrible, like skim milk laced with vinegar. I empty the jars of pure yogurt into a mixing bowl and add a quarter of a cup of stevia; the yogurt is marginally tastier and still virtuous. Then the fun begins. One package of instant vanilla pudding mix plus a half-cup of Cool Whip later, most of the nutrients have been canceled out by sugar, dextrose (sugar), high-fructose corn syrup (really bad-for-you sugar), disodium phosphate (Na₂HPO₄), tetrasodium pyrophosphate (Na₄P₂O₇), mono– and diglycerides (E471), polysorbate 60 (polyoxyethylene  sorbitan monostearate), and titanium dioxide (CI 77891).
I don’t mind saying, the resultant “yogurt” product tastes great, but if you don’t like it, you can probably use it to unclog your drains or clean your oven.
About high-fructose corn syrup
In a Huffington Post article titled “Why You Should Never Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup,” author Mark Hyman claims that “purging it from your diet is the single best thing you can do for your health!” Because the way HFCS is made “allows the fructose to mainline directly into your liver,” it turns out that “high fructose corn syrup is the real driver of the current epidemic of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia, and of course, Type 2 diabetes.” Add in the “dangerous chemicals and contaminants” used in making HFCS, and you’ve got a real toxic stew in your system. Mark Hyman doesn’t come right out and say that ingesting high-fructose corn syrup is worse than smoking cigarettes, but I have a feeling that if you lit a cigarette right after a hearty meal of HFCS with a side dish of tetrasodium pyrophosphate, you’d burst into flames or simply melt in place, like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy doused her with water.
With my having this knowledge, you’d think my personal guidance system would steer me far, far away from the lethal “yogurt” concoction I cheerfully produce on a regular basis. Logically, if there’s “yogurt” in my refrigerator, my body should be in Zanzibar. Michael Neill underestimates the mind’s capacity for self-deception. After a week of such meals, if I’m troubled by guilt buildup, it doesn’t propel me to the salad bar. A sprig of parsley is usually enough to quell any regrets.
Either my PGS is on the fritz or Michael Neill—like the Wicked Witch of the West—is all wet.
Paean to Dairy Queen
I am not a complicated person. I have spent my entire adult life missing my mom. My moral code is simple and easy to remember: Rescue cats and be kind to buspersons.
I am physically small and for that reason I avoid crowds. I gravitate toward small, tidy rooms, ideologies, and boon companions. For aesthetic and ethical reasons, I patronize small, independent establishments. When I travel, I seek out small, slightly shabby inns and retro mom-and-pop roadside motels (TV! Air Conditioning! Swimming pool!). If there’s a $5-per-night price difference between the Belle Vue Court and the Lonesome Cowpoke Motor Lodge, I’ll choose whichever is closer to the Dairy Queen.
Once or twice a week, I walk four blocks to the Dairy Queen and order, if I am flush, a medium chocolate malt. What kind of philistine walks on Fourth Avenue in Tucson past the Epic Café? The kind of philistine who weeps for joy in the presence of cow’s milk combined with obscene amounts of chocolate and sugar. Can the Epic Café supply this joy for $2.45? At any price?
Will the wait staff at the Chichi Pub blink uncomplainingly when I ask for extra chocolate—enough to turn the beverage dark brown, such that it might almost be mistaken for high-test Hershey’s Syrup or discarded motor oil? Will the food preparers at Hipster Hangout comply when I describe the desired consistency of my malt, which is as follows: Liquid. I don’t want to have to use my straw as a spear.
At DQ, the personnel don’t argue, they don’t charge extra, and they don’t seek revenge by spitting into the Product. You know this is so because the personnel never leave your sight until the malt is in your hands, which is an ephemeral event, to say the least, since it’s never been verified that the malt and my hands make actual contact.
In Mindfulness Training, students spend forty-five minutes contemplating, discussing, and eventually ingesting three raisins. I can be mindful about raisins, and about most of the immunity-enhancing vegetables. I’m so mindful about beets it takes at least forty-five minutes for the image of a beet to work its way through my nervous system to my mental viewing screen. It’s like watching an overloaded computer displaying graphics one pixel at a time.
However long it takes to wrap my mind around beetness, the outcome never changes: I run screaming from the room. I’m constitutionally incapable of sharing breathing space with any representative of the donkey-dung family, I don’t care if it cures cancer or if nuclear weapons bounce off its electromagnetic field, which only proves what I’ve long suspected: Even atomic particles possess good food sense. Why don’t we turn all the beets over to the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense? I, for one, would sleep easier in my bed.
With the ice-cream family it’s an entirely different story. There’s no “mind” to be “ful.” The mind has left the building. The only occupants of the planet, during a genuine ice-cream encounter, are the milk-sugar-chocolate concoction and my digestive tract, which, in some kind of quantum arrangement, instantaneously unite without moving through time or space. It does no good for my mind to warn, once again, of the pain and suffering to come. My mind is seven blocks away, wandering among the Hohokam Irrigation System exhibits in the Arizona Historical Society Museum and counting the minutes until full consciousness might be safely attempted.
And DQ isn’t even ice cream. It’s semifrozen cow-stomach lining whipped into submission and rewarded with sugar for its compliance. The Artificial Flavors are derived from cave detritus and scavenged from packrat middens. DQ’s unique flavor secret is an additive scraped off of the petrified excrement of prehistoric bats.
According to the booklet DQ Nutrition Facts, however, Dairy Queen “soft serve” is “a delicious reduced fat ice cream” containing “Milkfat and Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Whey, Mono and Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Guar Gum, Polysorbate 80, Carrageenan and Vitamin A Palmitate.”
(“Polysorbate 80” is artificial-food-product–speak for “the stuff that rattlesnakes use to paralyze their prey.”)
In my book, Dairy Queen has earned a lifetime exemption from reproach for all but the most heinous practices. After my lifetime, I don’t care what they do. Currently, if DQ discriminates in hiring practices or does business with child-labor-exploiting, toxic-waste-spewing, malaria-proliferating third-world factories built entirely from carcinogenic materials—if these factories specify on purchase orders, “All substances used in the construction, maintenance, repair, and operation of this factory must ooze brain-eating mucus”—I would probably have to limit my DQ outings to two a month, so just don’t tell me.
No, all right, criminy already. I’d put DQ on my “do not ever go there” list, but I wouldn’t be very happy about it and I’d want to know if there was Communist involvement. See? This is why I prefer all things small and tidy. At the mom-and-pop diner, recipes and employment practices aren’t protected like nuclear secrets. You don’t have to be an investigative journalist or CIA operative or John Grisham to get the inside story of what’s really behind the unlikely success of Linda’s Lavender Emporium & Massage. You just ask Linda. You say, “Yo, Linda, what’s in this tea?” and if she says, “Peppermint, filtered water, and methamphetamine,” you can be sure all the ingredients are locally sourced and inspected hourly by Linda herself. If there are rodents on Linda’s premises, they’re bilingual local rodents who probably know where you live.
Linda, oddly enough, takes most of her meals at Dairy Queen. Is there a better recommendation than that?
 The word motel appeared in 1925. Related terms are motor inn, motor court, motor lodge, tourist lodge, cottage court, auto camp, tourist home, tourist cabins, auto cabins, cabin camp, cabin court, and auto court. –Wikipedia, “Motel”
Do you need an editor? A proofreader?
You tell me.
- Do you spell sleight of hand correctly?
- Do you properly use an en dash rather than a hyphen in phrases such as “pre–World War II”?
- Do you know when to set off an explanatory phrase with commas (as in “Claude Monet, the celebrated French Impressionist, was born in 1840”) and when not to (as in “Celebrated French Impressionist Claude Monet was born in 1840”)?
- Do you know whether to insert quotation marks before or after semicolons?
- Do you know what’s wrong with the sentence “I only had chicken for dinner”?
- Do you know the difference between a podium and a lectern?
- Are you aware that if you have two sisters and one of them is named Susie you can refer to her as your “sister Susie” and no comma is needed, but if you have only one sister she’s your “sister, Susie”?
Do you even care?
Hardly anybody does, but there are self-confessed nerds in this world who care far too much. They lurk like trolls under bridges, waiting for a misplaced modifier or a sentence fragment to clump along so they can leap out of the gloom and exclaim, “Gotcha!” They are a miserable lot because they can hardly listen to a commercial without cringing, what with spokespersons’ announcing a sale on “select merchandise only” and “a savings of 50 percent.”
These nerds are called “proofreaders,” and their focus is on spelling, punctuation, typographical errors, and other mechanical problems with a manuscript. A good editor can do all that and more. His or her higher calling is to improve the style, tone, flow, and vocabulary of the piece. Editors also look for “fake facts” and inconsistent diction. They assess whether the work is appropriate for its intended audience, and they edit accordingly.
Even editors need editors. Serious writers put a lot of work into their manuscripts, and when they finish them, they don’t like people messing with them. They become wedded to every word, and an editor’s intrusion feels like betrayal. I speak from experience. I get cross with my spellchecker when it suggests a change, even when it’s right and I’m wrong—which is rare, but it happens.
A lot of writing goes on in this world, and most of it probably does well enough. Who really cares, or even notices, if someone mistakenly uses a hyphen instead of an en dash? I’d venture to say that en dash and em dash aren’t in the general public’s vocabulary. And that’s fine. They’re tools of the proofreader’s and editor’s trade. In fact, some editor probably made them up so that she’d have a reason to say, “You need an editor!”
So who does need an editor? You do, if you’re writing something…
- that’s going to be widely read
- that represents your company or organization
- that you hope to have published
- that for whatever reason needs to be perfect.
Your memoir, your annual report, your article on packrat middens, your speech to the alumni association—these are endeavors worth paying an editor to correct and polish.
P.S. One thing an editor probably can’t help you with is pronunciation, so if you’re giving a speech, read it to someone else first. Taking that step would have saved my good friend Tom McDonald from a lot of embarrassment. It was his job to introduce an emeritus professor to a large gathering of faculty and students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Tom was a smart guy—top of his class—but he pronounced emeritus as if it rhymed with hepatitis. I had to be the one to tell him. I still blush when I think of it.