Archive for September, 2009:
It seems most of us wish to see proof of the divine, but rarely do we ever find it. Or maybe it’s there all the time and we just don’t see it.
This may be a lofty goal: to find irrefutable evidence of something beyond ourselves. And we all may find it in different places. For example, my friend, Alex, has some Calvin Klein bath towels which he takes as proof of God’s existence, because they just get softer and softer each time he washes them. As someone in the arts, the science of soft fibers is lost on him and the very fact that these towels exist is a tribute to a higher power. (Maybe it’s really a tribute to a mother who bought cheap towels when he was a kid, but whatever.)
You have to take revelations like these with the proverbial grain of salt – or perhaps the whole shaker – because Alex also believes that tomatoes are proof of Satan’s existence. (For some reason ketchup and the occasional spaghetti sauce are acceptable, but maybe this falls under what we all categorize as ‘necessary evil’)
It’s hard to find proof of a higher order to things. This is why religions are so tangled. A little hard and fast evidence would go a long way to setting things straight. But we all have different definitions of what we need to see. Some believe in angels and clouds, some in 72 virgins, while others think no one in their right mind would consider a virgin a reward.
It seems the good old days of drying your hands with a paper towel are over. Yes, there are a few archaic restrooms out there that still have paper hand drying and I like them! Even if I have to flush the toilet for myself. Hey, nothing’s wrong with my legs, I can flush just fine.
But it seems paper towels aren’t good enough for most people now. I understand a lot of it. It really is bad for trees everywhere, especially when you consider that most folks have no respect for the good-hearted, hard-working paper towel. You don’t need five of them to dry your hands. And that’s four extras that will probably go into the landfill because – even though the trash is full of paper wet with nothin’ but water – no one recycles these. This doesn’t even address the people who can’t hit the trashcan from a foot away. I have truly bad aim, but I don’t leave wadded up trash on the floor.
There are nasty rumors, too. Oldies but goodies about catching HIV from needles left in the trash can. (Don’t push the trash down! You could get stuck!) Or maybe it’s just the good old fear of something nasty lurking right under that top paper towel. Diaper, anyone? Whatever the cause, there’s a new surge in hand dryers and hand dryer technology.
The old kind of air dryer had the button and a gentle flow of light heat. They also had that note that told us what to do: “Rub hands under warm air.” Kids everywhere thought they were funny and scratched out the W and ‘air’ to get “Rub hands under arm”. But this wasn’t as funny as the picture of the person tilting the blowhole up to dry a face. To this day I have not been brave enough to try that.
I was young when I married the first time, and so I can blame some of my naiveté on my age. The first time I went to visit my in-laws I noticed an odd odor to their hometown – a smoky smell with just a hint of nail polish remover. I tried to be polite and not say anything, but I didn’t sleep well.
The second time I visited, the town had a slightly different odor – this time more of a sulfur smell. Easter brunch just goes down better with a lingering scent of rotten eggs in the air. This time I did mention it, Did anyone else notice that? (I had to ask, I was afraid I had a brain tumor). I was brushed off with pithiness like ‘I don’t really smell anything’ ‘Oh, you get used to it’ and my favorite: ‘That’s the smell of money!’
Later that evening it was explained to me that the smells came from the local plant. It was one of those towns with one major industry and a full third to half the town worked for the company in some respect. Not that I thought that made the odor any better.
Then I was directed into the kitchen and to the refrigerator where I was offered wine. What I saw was a small magnet asking residents to report any odd smells or smokes to certain toll free numbers. I was asking ‘shouldn’t we call?’ when the wine glass was shoved into my hand and I was smiled at like I was a little nuts. No, we shouldn’t report this, these are regular smells!
There are precious few things in this world that small children do better than adults, but wearing t-shirts is one of them. It’s not that the kids are cute and chubby – they are, but that’s not it. No, there are a ton of adults out there who look great in tee-shirts. It’s about the messages . . .
Little kids are the only ones who get their tee-shirts right. When the shirt says ‘Cutie’ or ‘Angel face’ that’s what you get. Even ‘Holy Terror’ and ‘I’m not in my happy place’ are usually correct assessments.
On the other hand, adults almost always get it wrong.
I realized this one day in LA. I was sitting in my car at the corner of Sunset and Vine and there was a . . . well, I’m not sure. It’s not clear which gender this person started life as. But the clearly fake and over-large breasts stretched the tee-shirt to the point where it was difficult to read the one word across the front. But it was still there, in bold, curly, pink letters: Flirt.
Lee was at the bar taking the last swallows of his inheritance when they found him. He hadn’t been hiding. In fact, he’d been waiting.
The day before, they had called him from work and suggested he come back in, as they had for the past three days. The voice on his machine said it was time to start working. He didn’t have anything keeping him any more. He’d been appalled as he listened to the message. He’d been appalled by a number of things. Like the fact that he was half upside down, his head half in the toilet as he vomited up what felt like his actual stomach rather than just the contents of it.
He’d hardly heard the phone ring. Another wave of nausea had prevented him from even attempting to pick up the line. And he’d emptied his stomach for the fourth time in less than twenty minutes when the voice came through the air as the old machine recorded it.
After the voice ended, Lee sat back on his heels and shook. Whether it was tremors from the alcohol, the fear, or the callous reminder that he had no one at home now, he didn’t know. But he sat on the cold bathroom tile and vomited repeatedly for another twenty minutes before he even considered taking off his jacket and tie.
There’s definitely an art to beginning a story. Some writers just have the knack for giving us a compelling opening, and sadly others don’t. What’s a real shame is that a lot of the writers who lack the knack are truly great writers – but they won’t get read because the story was picked up and then quickly put back down.
If you are a writer, then there’s a reasonably high chance that you have shared your work with someone else: someone who will read the whole thing, if only because they love you. There’s a bit of a problem here if you are looking to get published. And the problem is this . . . how many opening lines do you remember?
As an avid reader (at about 100 novels a year!) I can’t say I remember more than a small handful. In fact, some of my favorite opening lines are as bad as those quotes that no one ever said. (Darth Vader’s words were “no, I am your father” not “Luke, I am your father” and Dustin Hoffman’s Graduate never says “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”)
In my favorite opening, Humbert Humbert writes “She was Lo, plain Lo, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But to me she was always Lolita.” Yes, that’s a mouthful. And if you check it you’ll see that I’ve bungled the ending. You’ll also see that it’s the second paragraph and not the opening line.
It’s the latest trend. Stories of the undead. They roam the earth, craving blood, fearing sunlight and seducing humans. These characters are usually tortured – either because they need human blood but don’t want to hurt people or because they love a human and, well, the relationship can never be. They suffer and brood, subsisting on animals or plastic packs stolen from blood banks or a Japanese-made blood substitute. None of this is satisfying to our pasty friends. So they turn to another source of fulfillment . . . solving mysteries.
I have been a fan of these stories myself and it took a while to realize that there are really only two job options open for the undead: 1) be unbearably wealthy and laze around all day or 2) solve crime!
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was of the first stripe, but there are far more PIs in the immortal realm than even the dead wealthy with nothing to do. In fact, a good handful of our PIs are busting criminal organizations because they are just so bored being rich and immortal.
I could go on about grammar and such. I don’t always speak correctly, or write correctly. But I do like to think that I know what ‘correctly’ is. And I do wince when I hear someone say “Whenever I was ten, I used to . . .” as though being ten years old was something that happened occasionally.
I do see the irony in “Ten items or less”. Yes, it should be ‘fewer’. ‘Less’ is for things you can’t count, like sand on a beach or bread flour. You measure it, but you don’t count it. The sheer fact that we are supposed to count how many items we have in our cart means we can’t have ‘less’. But that’s taking it a bit far.
That’s what I get for hanging out with a grammarian. Still, there’s a good word that many people misuse. It’s my favorite word to cringe over – Literally.
My Webster’s Handy College Dictionary doesn’t even have ‘literally’ as a listed word. You have to look up ‘literal’ and figure it out for yourself. But it means ‘exactly what the words mean’.
It was a normal sunny day in Los Angeles. The sky was blue and the palm trees were swaying. But I was about to uncover an unpleasant truth about myself. It started like this:
I said, “They’re out-breeding us! They have four to five kids for our one or two. They are operating on a twenty year generation to our thirty year average generation. At that rate, in sixty years they will have triple our population!”
My friend turned to me, mouth open and responded, “You’re a racist!”
He said, “I can’t believe you said that about the Mexicans.”
I was startled, and I stumbled over my words. But finally came out with this. “I’m not a racist. You are. You’re the one who assumed I was talking about Latinos. I wasn’t. I was talking about Stupid People.”