Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An idea that didn't quite make the grade

Earlier this month, you could play the “William Tell Overture” – the theme song of “The Lone Ranger” – by driving over a specially grooved road in Lancaster, Calif.

A car company commissioned the work for one of its commercials, but the idea hit a sour note with neighbors. City officials, perhaps fearing that these townspeople would get some silver bullets and take the law into their own hands, agreed to repave the road.

Before I heard about this, I didn’t know that you could, in effect, turn a road into a vinyl record. (Remember when “vinyl record” was a redundancy?)

Maybe this technology could be used at other locations, with appropriate selections, to create the musical equivalent of road signs.

Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” could warn you that a major construction site is just around the bend.

The opening music from “Dragnet” could tip you off to a speed trap.

And if you heard the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” you’d be sure to avoid that next intersection, the one with the 53-car funeral procession.

Hmm. Perhaps I should put this project out to bid.

Or, more likely, to bed.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Calling Dr. Freud (It's a capital case)

A sign on the counter at a local drugstore includes a reference to

“acceptable forms of id.”

Here's how the American Heritage Dictionary defines “id”: “In Freudian theory, the division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs.”

Which makes me wonder: What kinds of “instinctual impulses and demands” would a drugstore consider “acceptable”?

The impulse to wait in line for 10 minutes, behind someone who is buying a week’s worth of groceries at the drugstore – including, invariably, one of those small canned hams?

The impulse to wait five more minutes as the cashier argues with another cashier -- and their supervisor -- about who gets to go on break and when?

The impulse to wait in another line for an additional 10 minutes before being told that the prescription drug you’re looking for is available only at another branch of the store, a branch that is halfway across town?

All of which leads to an irresistible impulse to stock up on Xanax....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

As continents go, it's a mere stripling

In a statement issued last week "to address policyholder concerns," AIG cites its "long tradition of service in Asian markets, which are key to AIG’s future growth.

"Founded in Shanghai in 1919, Asia is home to some of AIG’s oldest and most valued clients."

Friday, September 19, 2008

An observation

Sneeze in front of a dog. Sneeze a few times. Sneeze loudly.

I think the chances are pretty good that the dog will look at you with sympathy and maybe even whimper a little, as if to say, “Yeah, I been there, too, pal.” Maybe the dog will offer to buy you a drink.

Do the same thing in front of a cat. (Which, by no coincidence at all, I did yesterday.) The cat will give you a stern, uncomprehending stare, as if to say, “How dare you distract me from my contemplation of that squirrel outside the window?” And don't waste your breath pointing out that it wasn’t you who coughed up three hairballs within the last week.

This is not to say that I favor dogs over cats; I’ve lived with cats, and I’ve been on very good terms with a number of dogs.

But once in a while, a “Gesundheit” would be nice.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two literary passings


I remember reading "Fletch," and several of its sequels, many years ago.

I enjoyed them, especially the first one, but after a while I think I got a little tired of the character and the books' quirky style, though I always respected Mcdonald's storytelling skills.

I've never read any of his "Flynn" books. Perhaps it's time for me to look them up.

Let's see ... John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Gregory Mcdonald. There's even a Canadian mystery writer named Marianne Macdonald.

Maybe I'd be a more successful mystery writer if I changed my name to Mark Macdonald. (After all, Ross Macdonald was really a guy named Kenneth Millar.)

More than likely, though, I'd be far more successful if I stopped goofing around and got to work....


I never read his novel, "Infinite Jest." But I did like his nonfiction. "A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Never Do Again," an essay describing his trip on a cruise ship, is indeed a classic, and I also enjoyed "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage." Both pieces, which originally appeared in Harper's, were heavily footnoted, but the footnotes were just as enjoyable as the essays themselves.

His style could be idiosyncratic, but it wasn't idiosyncrasy for idiosyncrasy's sake. There was a method to it, and it was the method of a very intelligent thinker who never wasted this reader's time.

I'm sorry that we will not hear more from him.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Let them fall where they may

I’ll be seeing my friendly neighborhood eye specialist in about 10 days – and I’m beginning to suspect it’s not a moment too soon.

The other day, in the grocery store, I glanced at a shelf and for a moment was sure that I was looking at a bag of “Sin Chips.”

On closer examination, this proved to actually be a bag of “Sun Chips.”

But who knows: I might have stumbled across a new idea for a product.

But exactly what sort of product?

I suppose “Sin Chips” could be a food product that is so decadent that, according to the nutritional label, one serving (two chips) provides you with a year’s supply of salt, sugar, cholesterol, non-trans fat and DDT. (That last ingredient being a sop to those of us baby boomers who love to wallow in nostalgia.)

Then again, instead of being a foodstuff, a “Sin Chip” could be a new kind of chip for a new kind of poker game, perhaps a sort of existential poker game, analogous to the chess match in “The Seventh Seal” – something from a movie Ingmar Bergman might have made if he had forsaken the Game of Kings for Spit in the Ocean (or, perhaps in Ingmar’s case, Spit in the Fjord).

This might certainly make for some interesting listening for those of you who love to watch late-night poker on TV:

“I’ll see that gluttony and raise you five sloths…..”

“And as all you viewers know, a full confessional beats a pair of perjurers every time!”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What is this in refer to?

A long time ago, a reporter showed me a news story from the 1800s that described "an awful fire."

The reporter pointed out that in this case, the 19th-century journalist was not saying that the fire was "very bad" or "horrific," but that it was of such a magnitude as to fill one with awe.

Proving once again that language changes.

Some changes are good. Other changes aren't exactly good but somehow become more acceptable over time.

Many years ago, a copy editor I was working with hated the use of "hopefully" to mean "it is to be hoped" -- as in, "Hopefully, he will survive the operation." He hated this so much that he would change it each time, and if "hopefully," in this sense, appeared as a quote, he'd try to paraphrase the quote.

Which seemed a bit much.

A few years ago, by which time I think I had given in on this use of "hopefully," this same copy editor told me he also had surrendered and was allowing this use -- even outside of quotes.

Were I a coffee drinker, this announcement would surely have put me in the Guinness World Records book for Farthest-Reaching Danny Thomas Spit Take.

In the 1980s, as libraries were becoming more computerized, I heard a librarian use "access" as a verb, as in "I cannot access this file." I hated this, and I resisted it for a long time, but I think it eventually occurred to me that a) this use of "access" was becoming more widespread and b) changing "access" to "get access to" within the context of computers seemed to result in awkward sentences. (And "get access to" added extra words.)

So I gave in on that, too.

But there are some nouns that don't seem to serve any useful purpose on verbs, and although I try not to be crotchety about it, I'm still attempting to hold the line on "impact" and "reference."

As a verb, "impact" doesn't really do anything that "affect" doesn't already do, and with the same amount of letters. So why has it become widespread, even among people who are known to be intelligent? Perhaps "impact" sounds more important stronger, with hard consonants, while "affect" seems, well, wussy.

But although I haven't given in on "impact" as a verb, it no longer produces an almost Pavlovian "fingernails-on-the-blackboard" reaction.

But "reference," as a verb, does.

It says nothing that "refers to" doesn't already say, and it's not any shorter.

So why is it so widespread? My best guess: Although it doesn't have the hard consonants of "impact," it makes a sentence -- and it's writer or speaker -- sound more important.

Oh well. At least I haven't heard anyone "allusioning" something.