Wednesday, February 27, 2013

eWish fulfillment

The other day I ordered a couple of books from America's favorite online retailer.

I'm happy to say they arrived promptly -- ahead of schedule, in fact -- in separate boxes.

But as I was preparing to recycle one of the boxes, something on the mailing label caught my eye.

Something mildly disturbing.

The label said the package was sent to me by "Amazon Fulfillment Services."

Is it just me, or is there something at least a little creepy about that name? Not the "Amazon" part -- any company that does its job so well can call itself almost anything it wants, as far as I'm concerned -- but, um, "Fulfillment Services"?

Doesn't that phrasing sound like something out of Ray Bradbury? Or Stephen King? Or maybe even Philip K. Dick? (OK, I've never read anything by Dick, but from what I've heard about him, this sounds as if it might well be up his blind alley.)

I'm sure any of these three writers could easily come up with a plot about this, even though two of these writers happen to be dead. A company offers "Fulfillment Services" -- but in exchange for what? Of course, for the movie we'd have to get Christopher Lee, at his most Mephistophelean, to play the proprietor. If he's not available, Max Von Sydow could do this kind of role. (And I suspect he already has, and more times than he'd care to admit.)

Casting these casting ideas aside, I also can't help wondering who, in real life, is actually in charge of "Amazon Fulfillment Services."

Of course there's only one possibility:

Mr. Roarke.

Yes, that Mr. Roarke. From "Fantasy Island." You know, that guy who looks like Ricardo Montalban.

Has to be. After all, the show has been off the air for many, many years, and the money for those immaculate ice cream suits has to come from somewhere, right?

What? You say there's no Mr. Roarke? You say he's really unreal -- a fictional character?

Yeah, right. And I bet you're the kind of person who goes around scaring kids by telling them lies about there being no Santa Claus. About right now, I figure you're gearing up for your annual slanders against the Easter Bunny -- when you're not yanking the wings off flies who've never done you the least bit of harm.

"No Mr. Roarke" -- what a laugh. He's there all right -- greeting all our Amazon orders with his customary urbane charm while what's-his-name, that obnoxious sidekick of his, sits by the computer monitoring the e-mails and occasionally yelling "Ze orders! Ze orders!"

"No Mr. Roarke" indeed. Honestly, the things some people believe....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

'The Old Editor' is well worth listening to

As more and more newspaper copy editors are forced to walk the plank, John E. McIntyre, in "The Old Editor Says," makes it clear that he, for one, is not about to give up the ship -- especially when there are so many verbal barnacles to be dealt with. (And he will defend to the death your right to end a sentence with "with.")

McIntyre, who works at The Baltimore Sun, also has a blog, "You Don't Say," which has long been a mainstay of my blogroll.

You might say that "The Old Editor Says" is McIntyre's magnum opus -- if you can say that about a book that is only 67 pages long. But the description fits, for within these pages he has distilled more than 30 years of editorial experience into a collection of pithy maxims (his own and others'), each followed by a commentary delivered in the endearingly crusty tone that is familiar to anyone who has attended one of his presentations. (Or, as he prefers to call them, "seances.")

"If you can't tell me in one sentence what your story says, you don't know what your story says."

"If you are not possessed of a perpetually filthy mind, you are ill-equipped to edit."

"Edit to live; don't live to edit."

If you're a writer or editor, there's a good chance you'll learn at least a little something from this book.

And as I navigate the often troubled waters of contemporary prose, it heartens me to know that John E. McIntyre, battered but never unbowed, remains standing at the ship's bridge.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dial 'S' for 'Stupid'

When I was starting out in the newspaper business, I sometimes had to edit something called the "fire log."

This was a list of fires and other emergencies that local crews had responded to the previous day.

It would include things like:

11:30 a.m. Garage fire.

2:16 p.m. Meat on stove.

(I believe we had a reporter who wrote that as "meat upon stove." "Ouch!" one of my male colleagues would say in response. This same reporter was also known for writing that someone was pronounced "dead upon arrival.")

The paper stopped running the fire log many conflagrations ago, fortunately for me. For if it had still been around a few weeks ago, it might have contained this entry:

5:13 p.m. Numbskull with a six-pack of soda.

I'm sure there must be an easy, convenient and painless way to remove those plastic rings. It's just that I'm constitutionally incapable of finding it. And this isn't limited to six-packs; if there's a long, inefficient way to do something, I'll come up with it for sure.

I especially remember how my high school geometry teacher's eyes glazed over when it took me maybe 20 steps to prove some theorem that any third-grader could have polished off in three.

A few years ago, faced with another six-pack, I came up with what I was sure was an efficient, if not downright clever, idea: Simply cut the plastic.

Perhaps this would have worked if I weren't such a klutz with tools, but my lack of skill was established for all time in my grammar school art classes, where my clumsiness made me so unpopular that the nuns kept encouraging me to run with scissors.

So I should have known that when I tried to cut the plastic rings with my scissors I would end up piercing the bottles instead and spraying the floor with soda.

But I'm smart enough to learn and to never make the same mistake twice -- after all, why do that when you can make whole new mistakes?

In this more recent case, the mistake was trying to wrestle each bottle from its ring while my cell phone slept in my shirt pocket.

At one point, one of the bottles bumped against this pocket and I heard the unmistakable sound of my phone calling someone -- without my bidding.

I took the phone out and discovered that I'd called 911.

I terminated the call as quickly as I could and prayed to Alexander Graham Bell that that would be the end of it.

But Alex, at right, must have been on another line that day -- maybe on hold with a cable company, if there's any justice in the universe -- and my cell phone rang again.

I answered, and a man's laid-back voice asked me if there was an emergency.

I explained that I had bumped into my phone, and he accepted that and thanked me before hanging up.

Now I concede that my explanation wasn't exactly accurate, but why go into needless detail with the guy when he could be on another line and hearing about a real emergency -- a five-alarm fire, maybe, or a bank robbery, or a murder, or even a presidential assassination attempt, and why indeed go into needless detail when the future of our country, indeed the free world, might well be at stake?

Call me a klutz -- but call me a patriot.

And at least I didn't butt-call the guy.