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Monday, March 28, 2016

J Is For Jalopy


For most of my life, we had two cars in the driveway: The Good Car and Dad's Work Car. Neither one was ever a new car. My dad used his vast network of friends and family, former teammates and Army buddies, work and neighborhood relationships, as well as hometown politics to tap into a huge supply of used automobiles. Now and then, I would be roused from my Standard Oblivion of library books, Barbies, and schoolwork to hear Dad mention to Mom after work that he was in need of/getting/bringing home a car. Next thing I knew, there in the driveway or parked in front of the house would be the latest car. I rarely got excited or interested. After all, what difference in my life did it really make?

Only one of Dad's work cars ever became interesting to me, and it soon captured the the interest of many of our neighbors as well. We had never had a car like it before, and trust me; after it, we never had another one like it again.

Dad had already seen the car, a stubby little  Rambler American (like the one pictured above) in the possession of some guy he knew named Eddie. Eddie was an aged Car Guy, and he already had our old 1952 Chevy sitting in his huge back field, silently rusting into Oblivion. Dad had pointed out some big rust spots on the Rambler's hood and fenders, among other things, and Eddie said he'd take care of them. I think Dad and he agreed on a price of maybe two hundred bucks.

When the Rambler came home, we couldn't help but smile. It was such a funny-looking car, so boxy and small. And Eddie had simply placed sheet metal over the rust spots, screwed it down with dozens of screws, and painted the patches with some blue paint that was as close a colour match as he could find. It was like a FrankenCar. But it was only Dad's Work Car, and it didn't have to be pretty to sit at US Steel or at the curb on E. 38th Street.

Pretty soon, however, the Rambler started having problems. Or, at least, Dad started having problems with the Rambler. On some mornings, it was difficult to start. He'd go out, try and try, but it would not turn over. He'd come in, fling down his stuff, and swear. My mother would say, "Let me try, honey." She'd go out, clad in housecoat and slippers, and it would start right up for her. Once in a while, a neighbor would be out getting the newspaper or letting his dog out, and offer up some pithy remark. Let's just say that those were not the Best Days.

Finally, the Rambler became too temperamental, and Dad began taking The Good Car to work. We were stuck at home with the Rambler, which had begun refusing to start even for my mother. Dad probably began working his Network at this point, but that didn't help me one evening when I needed supplies for a school project and Dad was on a 3-11 shift. Walking was out of the question: it would be dark by the time I got everything and started back. Mom would have to coax the Rambler into service.

With high hopes Susan and I piled into the car, and Mom ordered us to cross our fingers. My younger sister and I were bouncing on the seat, urging the Rambler to life. And it worked! The car sputtered and caught, and we drove on to Kmart, about two miles away. On our way, Mom explained the seriousness of our situation. "Okay, now, girls. Here's what we have to do. I'm afraid that if I park the car, I may not get it started again. So, what I have to do is this: I'll drive as slow as possible once we get there. When I drive past the entrance, you open the door and jump out. Hurry up and get what you need because I have to keep driving around and around the parking lot, waiting for you. When you're done, come out and stand right where I dropped you off. I'll drive as slow as I can, open the door, and you run alongside and jump back in. Got it?"

We Got It.

One of the things that comes to my Memory immediately about this Incident is not that it was stupid or inconvenient or even dangerous. It was all of those things, of course. It was. It absolutely was. But the thing that comes to my mind immediately is that Susan and my Mom and I all laughed and laughed and laughed together like maniacs the entire time. We were having so much fun. We were having the best time.

And Susan and I flew through that store. We were a team, and we knew our mother, the other part of our team, was out there, putt-putting around the entire stupid parking lot in that stupid stupid car, which might give out at any time, so we had better hurry up. I remember looking out through the enormous store windows as I stood in the checkout line and watching my mother in that ridiculous blue car drive past. And we waved.

We grabbed our bag and ran out to the edge of the parking lot, waiting for her to drive by. She slowed down, threw the passenger door open, and almost stopped the car. Susan and I flung ourselves into the front seat. Mom hit the gas, and we struggled to shut the door. We were laughing so hard that we couldn't even speak. We made it home, and Mom parked the Rambler in front of the house as if it had never left. Knowing her, I'm sure that as soon as she turned off that car, she tried to turn it over again, but I can't really remember.

No, we never had another car like the Rambler. The rest of the cars were much more reliable and much less adventurous. Times with my mother and my sisters, however, continued to be pretty much the same. Thank goodness.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

I Is For Idiom

Although I am several years out of the English Classroom, I have to admit that there are still many, many times that I have been saddened, frustrated, and Outright Irritated by the abuse of The Language. Most often, it is in print (especially egregious are the ever-lowering standards of my once-proud Cleveland Plain Dealer). But many times, while I am out and about in Society, I cannot help but overhear Terribly Substandard Usages of The Language. Lately, I am noticing more and more people who flog and flay simple, common Idioms.

Idioms, you remember, are common expressions that have a figurative or symbolic meaning. These expressions are ages-old and have been part of The Language for quite some time. For example, if you say, "I had no idea that Vern Sandwaddle kicked the bucket last year!", everyone pretty much knows you aren't talking about Vern's athletic prowess. Rather, it's high time you sent the Widow Sandwaddle your condolences.

Here are a few Idioms that I wish Everyday Speakers/Writers would use correctly:

1. Toe The Line NOT "Tow The Line." This idiom has to do with soldiers, probably, lining up precisely in formation. Imagine all the times that schoolchildren or athletes have to stand precisely at a certain mark. Makes more sense than having to haul a rope, which does not call for precision at all.

2. Cut And Dried NOT "Cut And Dry." I will never stop harping about this, and I mention it constantly. It really hurts me physically to see and hear this. I mean it. Why would anyone misuse this? It makes no sense to say, "The case was cut and dry." Every single time I hear it, I want to follow the person and, if not explain it to him/her, make the missing "D" sound. Can you imagine me following someone at the grocery store harping, "Duh, duh, duh! It's DRIED. DRIED. DRIED!"

3. Tide Me Over NOT "Tie Me Over." I not only saw this recently, but I heard it as well. Two ladies in Walgreens were discussing whether to buy two bags of spice-flavoured jellybeans or just one. "I think just the one," said Capris And Windbreaker. "It's enough to Tie Me Over till Sunday when Iris comes." I hope Iris comes armed not only with more spiced jellybeans, but this URL, explaining the origins of TIDE Me Over.

4. Tough Row To Hoe NOT "Tough Road To Hoe." Get ready to hear this one over and over again, not only with regard to The Politics, but also to Basketball, the Neverending Season. I heard it this morning. Why anyone gets this one wrong escapes me, but with so many oddities in dialect and substandard slang, I guess it is to be expected. The metaphor of farming and hoeing a row for planting is pretty self-explanatory here. An argument could be made that hoeing a road is tough as well, but..oh, shut up. (Why would anyone hoe a road?)

Sigh.  That's it.  Now I'm spent.  It is your turn, and do let's stick to Idioms.  (It is the Letter I Post, after all.)  If we wander off into other Language Atrocities, we'll ruin upcoming Posts; I just know it.


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Sunday, March 13, 2016

In Which I Either Lose Perspective Or Highlight It. Either Way, Here's This Instead Of An Alphabet Post (Which Will Resume Later).


Sweating out whether or not George Hill, a game-time decision, will be playing on my fantasy basketball team Sunday night:

Nance: George Hill is really screwing up my lineup.
Rick: You're winning this week. It doesn't matter.
Nance: I want a decisive victory. George Hill needs to put on his big boy pants and get out there.
Rick: The other team has only one player going.
Nance: And I may or may not have George Hill.

(several hours later, after checking Rotoworld, a fantasy sports news site)

Nance: (dismissively, with snark) That's right, George Hill, you'd better be playing! (reading news item) George Hill, sore right toe, will play Sunday. What a load of bullshit! Do you know how many American workers are on the job right now with bigger problems than a sore right toe? How many go to work sick with the flu or worse? George Hill, women go to work six weeks or less after having an entire human being come out of their bodies! And many of them go on to pump their breasts at work every few hours for months afterwards. And you want to sit on the bench and collect your millions for a goddamn sore toe? Hell yes you'd better get off that bench and play tonight!
Rick: (carefully looks up from his pasta) I'm glad he heard you.
Nance: So is he.

End scene.

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Sunday, March 06, 2016

H Is For...

Way past due for this post--The Letter H--I know. I'm in such a terrible funk. Were it possible to put me in a coma or some sort of State of Suspended Animation until we had sustained temperatures of at least 60...that would be good. Think of how skinny I'd get! Ah, but that's another Issue altogether.

My Letter I Post! Remind me.

But I digress. Here is my

List Of Random H Things I Shall Be Nattering About

1. Hello!?
2. Harmonica
3. Hydrox Cookies
4. Hassock

1. From time to time people become habituated to their Lives and lose the ability to truly see exactly What's Going On With Themselves. We all do it, and it's Helpful if an outsider gives them a Wake-Up Call. Allow me to provide this valuable Service. HELLO!? Can you check your Calendar, please? We are Officially Into March, and next week we will be entering Daylight Saving Time. This is Lent, and Easter occurs this month. It is well past time to TAKE DOWN ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. No, really, we are Not Interested in a single one of your excuses. None will pass muster. All of them Must Go, and At Once. (Yes, I am referring to both the excuses and the decorations.)

2. At the risk of offending anyone, I would not be one bit upset if suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, all Harmonicas disappeared from the universe. Whether it be one by one or together in a mass exodus is immaterial to me, as long as it happens in short order. Harmonicas should have gone the way of the musket rifle and the hoopskirt. Why are they still here? And if the answer is Country Music, I might ask the same question about it as well.

3. It may come as a shock to Cooky Aficionados everywhere, but Hydrox chocolate sandwich cookies were the originals, and Nabisco's Oreos came a full four years later. Hydrox were crispier and crunchier, and they were way less sweet than Oreos. They were the preferred snack of Tuffy, the obese cocker spaniel on E. 38th Street where I grew up, whose owners fed him at least six a day from a metal can next to their sofa. Actually, I ate them from that can as well when I went over there, and so did T.W. and Marge, Tuffy's owners. We were all fat, due in no small part to Hydrox.

4. Every so often, I hear a word that rings a little Linguistic Alert for me, and last week it was Hassock. Growing up, I detested this word and preferred that my parents (especially my father) use the term Footstool or even Ottoman. No one--and I mean NO ONE--among my friends used Hassock. But my father stubbornly used that term to denote any piece of small furniture used as a Footrest. He loved them, actually, and used to bring them home with startling regularity. He especially loved the little, round, padded-top things with a big flat button in the middle of them. He only stopped bringing them home when my brother made him a new footstool in Woodshop class. That may have actually ended the use of Hassock, come to think of it, and ushered in The Footstool Era.

I eagerly await your additions to my H words, or your own H words in Comments. Be the Sunshine Of My Life since NEO refuses to.

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