Saturday, March 30, 2013

Isaac Newton Was a Bully

Yesterday, as so often happens when I'm looking up something on the Internet, I stumbled across something wholly unrelated and infinitely more interesting, causing me to completely forget what I was originally looking for. It was a list Sir Isaac Newton made of "sins" he committed in 1662, when he was young and full of beans, and had yet to discover gravity or invent the pet door.

I won't list them all, but here are some of the juiciest:
Making pies on Sunday night
Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him
Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
Wishing death and hoping it to some
Striking many
Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese
Punching my sister
Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
Peevishness with my mother
Falling out with the servants
Beating Arthur Storer
Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter
Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne
Twisting a cord on Sunday morning
Vsing Wilfords towel to spare my own
Lying about a louse
Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot

I grant you that most of the above transgressions seem pretty tame by today's standards. For instance, who among us has not lied about a louse or denied our chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot? And, let's face it, Dorothy Rose is a jade, and everyone knows it.

However, a number of items on the list are seriously disturbing. They paint the extremely unflattering portrait of an obnoxious jerk who punched his sister, beat one guy, stuck a pin in another, wished and hoped death to some, struck many, and threatened to burn his parents' house down with them in it.

In short, Sir Isaac Newton was a bully with a streak of cruelty to rival that of the Marquis de Sade. And if any further proof were needed of that fact, I remind you that this is also the man who invented calculus.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Déjà Poo

I have already told you about Dickens—our beautiful, good-natured, long-haired tabby. Neither of us had ever had a long-haired cat before Dickens, and we have come to find out that the trouble with long hair on cats—aside from the fact that you constantly have to brush it—is that things tend to stick to it. Things that, shall we say, belong in the litter box. Consequently, those things occasionally get dropped elsewhere.

For instance, on the hall rug.

We have a beautiful Navajo rug in our hallway—a souvenir from a trip to Sedona. It covers a multitude of cat puke stains and really "ties the room together." The trouble is that the rug is dark, and the hall is dark, and—well, you get the picture.

Yesterday morning, I got up and, as usual, walked into the kitchen to get my cup of coffee, outside to get the morning papers, into the living room to drop off Loretta's "Times" on the couch and my "Star" on my recliner, then headed back towards the bedroom.

It was at that point that I turned on the light.

Loretta heard me swear (see last week's post) and called out from the bedroom, asking what was wrong. I didn't answer her right away. I was too busy looking at the trail I had made. It was like one of those dotted-line trails Billy leaves in The Family Circus, when his mother tells him to do something and he wanders all over the neighborhood before he does it.

The worst part is, this has happened before. Same rug, same Billy poo trail. You'd think I would have learned my lesson.

I already know not to go barefoot. Anyone who lives with cats should know that. In the twenty-four years Loretta and I have had cats, we have stepped on everything from hair balls to toy mice to real mice. I should also know not to venture too far in a dark house without turning on a light.

Lesson learned.

Until the next time it happens.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Art of Profanity

"Good authors, too, who once knew better words,
Now only use four-letter words,
Writing prose.
Anything goes."
—Cole Porter (1934)

When I was a little kid, my parents did not want me to hear the My Fair Lady original cast album because Rex Harrison said "damn" on it. Now children are constantly exposed to words that, as Harrison also said on that album, "would make a sailor blush." Television is bad, movies are worse, most popular music comes with a "WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE" label, and don't even get me started on the Internet. Can you imagine what Cole Porter might have to say about today's language? (Probably something like, "This s--- is f---ing ridiculous.")

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against profanity per se. Like Mark Twain, I believe that, "Under certain circumstances...profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer." However, there is a time and place for it. (Twain himself claimed to reserve it solely for "discussing house rent and taxes.")

Unfortunately, people now days use it indiscriminately, all of the time.

At this point, I would like to say a word to whatever witty person came up with the name "I F---ing Love Science" for the popular Facebook page, which, in turn, has inspired countless other "I [or We] F---ing Love [Whatever]" pages. Yes, we all know that science is a wonderful thing, but is it really necessary to swear about it? I suppose you think you're being ironic.

That's not irony.

Irony is when, in the 1998 Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, the mysterious cowboy-narrator (Sam Elliott) says to The Dude (Jeff Bridges), "Do you have to use so many cuss words?" and The Dude replies, "What the f--- you talking about?" That's irony.

I f---ing love irony.

The Big Lebowski is an excellent example of the artistic use of profanity. It can be a powerful medium. The problem is that the more it is used, the less power it has.

And at the rate it is being used today, it will soon have no power left at all.

In 1939, when Rhett Butler said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," both Scarlet O'Hara and the audience were shocked. At the time, no gentleman would ever think of saying "damn" to a lady. However, a few decades later, everybody (including Rex Harrison) was saying "damn" to everybody. If Gone With the Wind were made in the 1980's, imagine the stream of profanity Rhett would have to let loose on Scarlet to shock an audience. And now—what could Rhett Butler possibly say to shock us now?

We've heard it all.

So please choose your words carefully, reserving the choicest four-letter ones for special occasions. Otherwise, what will you say when—as I did recently—you come home exhausted from a long day at work, only to find that one of the cats has vomited all over the hall carpet, and the carpet is light beige and the vomit is that deep shade of reddish brown that will never come out, due to the indelible dye they put in cat food for god knows what reason, since cats are color blind anyway?

Remember—a curse is a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


The dozen-or-so regular readers of my blog will know that I generally steer clear of politics. (When you only have a dozen-or-so readers, you can't afford to alienate half of them.) However, if you stumbled across this post by accident and are expecting to read my opinion of what everyone else on the Internet is talking about this month—well, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

This is not a political rant.

It's a linguistic rant.

In case you're from another planet, "the sequester" is a package of across-the-board spending cuts set by Congress to automatically go into effect this year should they not agree on a budget. I don't know why they chose the word "sequester." According to Merriam-Webster, the most widely accepted definition of that word is "to set apart," as in "sequester a jury." If you ask me, they could have found a much better name for their budgetary booby trap—say, for instance, "the budgetary booby trap."

However, that is not what has me "on my soapbox," as my Aunt Vonna used to say.

This week a winter storm dropped up to two feet of snow on parts of the Midwest and East Coast. Reporters have dubbed the storm "Snowquester."


Apparently it is now perfectly acceptable to take any two random events that have nothing whatsoever to do with each other and combine them to make a new word that means absolutely nothing. Also in the news this week: the death of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez. Why not call the storm "Snowgo Chavez?"

I blame Watergate.

In case you're from that same planet that hasn't heard about the sequester, "Watergate" was a political scandal that took place during the Nixon administration. It was called "Watergate" because "Watergate" is the name of the building where it happened. This makes sense.

However, every single scandal that has happened since Watergate has been referred to by the press as some sort of "gate"—e.g., Irangate, Monicagate, Troopergate, etceteragate—as if the word "gate" were a synonym for "scandal." This is ridiculous.

If the Watergate scandal had taken place at some other location—say the Howard Johnson Inn—would reporters have referred to the Anthony Weiner scandal as "Weinerjohnson?"

Now before all of you descriptive linguisticians (you know who you are) start lecturing me, let me assure you that I know perfectly well that language is a living thing and, as such, must constantly evolve.

But why must it always get dumber?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Julius and Greyjoy

A couple of days ago, I was in the back yard picking up fruit under the citrus trees, when I had the misfortune to step in cat poop. I uttered an expletive that was vulgar, yet accurately descriptive of what I had stepped in.

Our cats had nothing to do with it; Dickens and Zorra are strictly house cats. However, two neighbor cats have been regular (very regular, judging by what I stepped in) visitors to our back yard for the past few months. They are clearly from the same litter, though one is orange and one is gray. They aren't strays, because they both have collars. They won't let us get close enough to see if they have name tags, so we have provisionally named them "Julius" and "Greyjoy."

Ordinarily, I would not be tolerant of strange cats using our back yard as a toilet. Our neighbor to the north certainly isn't. Once, I watched Julius jump over the wall into his yard and immediately heard our neighbor bellow, "GET OUT!!!"

All I could think was, I hope the neighbors don't think these cats belong to us.

Because let's face it, it's pretty rude to allow your cats to go around digging up the neighbors' flower beds and scaring the birds away from their bird feeders. It's also dangerous for the cats. (One woman I know lost two cats in less than a year by allowing them to prowl the neighborhood. After she told me about the disappearance of the second, I told her I didn't want to hear about any more of her cats until she stopped feeding them to the coyotes.)

However, there is a reason I forgive my neighbors for allowing Julius and Greyjoy to terrorize the neighborhood.

Eight years ago, my parents and my Aunt Sheila flew out for a visit. During their visit, we spent a lot of time on our back yard patio. Cleo, our sweet old calico, was always with us. She was sixteen years old at the time; she couldn't get over the wall surrounding our yard if she wanted to, and she didn't want to. She just wanted to be where we were.

One day, towards the end of my family's visit, we were all out on the patio enjoying the sun. My mother noticed that Cleo was staring at something under the bird feeder.

"What's she looking at?" my mother asked.

"Birds," I said.

"Are you sure it isn't a squirrel? I hate squirrels."

"I didn't know you hated squirrels, Mom."

"Nasty rodents. They carry disease, you know."

We did have a squirrel who was a regular visitor to our yard. He liked to sun himself on one of the rocks under the bird feeder. I took another look.

It wasn't a squirrel. It wasn't birds, either. What had caught Cleo's interest was rats.

Lots of rats.

I had seen them foraging under the bird feeder and assumed they were birds. My eyes are not as good as they used to be. Fortunately, my mother's, father's, and aunt's eyes were even worse than mine.

If my mother felt so strongly about squirrels, I wondered how she would feel if she knew that there were about a dozen rats frolicking within twenty feet of her.

"Just birds, Mom. Isn't it about time we went inside?"

After my parents and aunt left, I bought a trap and took care of our little infestation. Since then, we see the occasional rat or two every year, but never as many as we had that year.

Since Julius and Greyjoy showed up, we haven't seen any.

Which is why I don't mind them visiting our yard from time to time.

I just need to be careful where I step.