Language As A Second English
By Heater Case
I’m not sure how long ago it happened, but there was a misfired spark in the primordial soup of contemporary American English. The first instance I can remember was in late 1965 when Stevie Wonder joyfully sang the phrase, “Baby, everything is alright. Uptight! Out of sight!”
Within weeks it seemed like we all woke up in another dimension. Quite possibly the one where Mister Spock has a beard.
Most dictionaries offer the word uptight as ‘being tense, nervous, uneasy, angry, indignant, rigidly conventional’.
Huh? Stevie wasn’t singing about any of that stuff. I checked.
I know English has been an organic snowball rolling down the hill of time, picking up pebbles, twigs and leaves along the way. Otherwise, we’d still be using Thee, Ye, Thy, and Olde on a daily basis. But waking up one morning and a certain term now means the exact opposite than it did the night before?
Some words have disappeared overnight, leaving other words to nervously double lock their doors when they go to bed. One day we said that we ‘were in the hospital’. I guess we were ‘in the hospital’ for an articlectomy because the next day we were telling everybody that we had been ‘in hospital’.
Yeah, okay, I know what happened in this case. Somehow we decided to speak Canadian. I guess this was our olive branch for not switching to the metric system.
Well, have you ever wondered why people seem compelled to answer questions with the word well? See what I did there?
Watch TV. Talk to people. Where did this ‘well’ come from?
Remember when you’d be flying somewhere, and the captain came on the speakers they’d usually stretch out the first word of whatever they were going to say.
“Gooooood afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.”
This was because most of those pilots were former military and used a hands-free voice-activated microphone fastened around their necks. The long drawl of the first word activated the mic.
This isn’t the case with this ‘well’ stuff. It has no intrinsic value and adds nothing to what you’re saying. Mass media has had an impact on our language for decades.
I have some theories, beginning with Ronald Reagan.
Reagan began every answer with a soft and pensive sounding ‘well’. This became the bedrock for any comedians doing impressions of the president back then. Catchphrases and buzz words have marbled our conversations to the point where people no longer talk to each other. They perform to each other.
We delve further. Stay with me here.
The worst liars in the world have an obvious tell. When asked a question, they respond immediately by repeating the question. This is to buy time while formulating the lie. The more times the question is repeated, the more wheels are turning to get out from under the interrogation.
“Did you steal the cookies?”
“Did I steal the cookies? Me? Did I steal the cookies? Why on earth would I steal the cookies? Do I look like someone who would steal the cookies? What could possibly possess me to steal the cookies?”
Have we become the most benign amateur liars in the world? So benign and so amateur that we actually approach giving an honest answer the same way we construct a lie?
Has ‘well’ become the new ‘uh’ and ‘um’? The uh and um are bad habits that are the bane of public speaking, from debate class to broadcasting. They can be unlearned but it takes discipline and tenacity, much like learning how to twiddle your fingers in opposite directions (I’ve done it).
Did this become a reflex in our everyday speech? Go ask somebody a question. See how many people start their answer with a ‘well’. Even scarier, see how many times you do it without even knowing it.
Oh, look at the time. We must bid farewell to Ronald Reagan and stolen cookies.
The next attribution goes to, of all people, Rocky Balboa.
That was the first time I ever heard somebody answering a simple question with a universal affirmative encompassing all known matter and energy. A bit of an overkill if you ask me.
Apparently, the universe thought so, too. It swung the pendulum back in the other direction towards the finite, the specific.
Lo and behold, the two became interchangeable. Sorry, Scottie, we changed the laws of physics.
“Are you going to the party tonight?”
“Absolutely! It’s going to be a blast,”
“Exactly! Well, I’ll see you there.”
But we’re only scratching the surface here, aren’t we?
“That’s exactly right!”
Somewhere in the subatomic realm, somewhere deep inside the word ‘right’, possibly deep inside the letter ‘G’, is the indisputably concise nexus of all things affirmative. It can only be seen with an electron microscopic but if you are conscripted into the Sacred Order Of The Exactly Right it’s game over. Forever. Ad Aeternam. Twenty-four/seven/three sixty-five/eight days a week. You are the rightess person ever.
The twenty-first century gives us the futurespeak we only saw in A Clockwork Orange and Idiocracy. We made it! We live in interesting times and some of that has to do with the sounds we make while we wait for our flying cars.
“Would you like to go steal some cookies with me?”
“Uh, yeah, no.”
“You’re not going to steal cookies with us, are you?”
“Yeah, no, yeah.”
Apparently, both these phrases mean ‘no’.
Yep, we’re definitely in the future only this time we’re all Groot.
The Way The Cookie Crumbles
By Heater Case
I always tell myself that nobody will know when I hit the lottery. The only difference will be traveling first class and all my current expenses will be taken care of forever. I also have a list in my head of four or five handfuls of special friends, families, inspiring acquaintances, and several hospitals that work with children and animals. I will make sure they are all very well cared for. The more chances to be anonymous the better. Having your name on a building might be cool for five minutes, but then everybody will know where the moola is coming from.
A little over a month ago, somebody shared a Facebook post about a little bakery up in New Hampshire somewhere. The post mentioned that it was a longtime husband and wife operation and a local favorite. Without going into details, it also mentioned that the wife was now ill and that the husband had been keeping what they have afloat.
So, a nice little Sunday road trip was underway. No rush. Nice weather. We got there when we got there.
I was expecting a little old shop or maybe a 'shoppe' on a quaint little street in the quaint little part of town. I was surprised to see that it was in a small strip mall in the industrial park side of town.
Despite wearing a mask, I temporarily forgot the year we were living in and I was stopped short by the sign on one of two doors.
ENTRANCE ONLY-PLEASE ONLY TWO PEOPLE INSIDE AT A TIME
Yep. Nice day. Nice drive. But we had not left reality.
I poked my head inside and there was a guy already in there, so I took recon while Rosemary waited for the guy to come out of the far door.
I started looking around and, as Rosemary shortly joined me, we took stock of something unexpected. The half dozen large and fully stocked display cases depicted online as brimming with beautifully decorated cakes and mounds of heavenly pastries were now barely a fifth full. The racks lining the wall behind the counter had nothing at all.
An older man, the one we heard about I presumed, had concluded business with the previous customer. All the while he was talking on the phone cradled between his neck and shoulder. He wasn't in any rush to come over and wait on us, so we just looked into the glass cases and tried to select from the remnants at hand.
A couple of turnovers. A rectangular brick shaped sugar sprinkled bran muffin. A half dozen cookies and a few tarts. That was about all we could select from the mere handfuls of baked goods looking lost upon oceans of empty shelves.
It was when scanning up and down the cases that I noticed a frail elderly woman. She was bundled up and sitting at a small table and chair just beyond the far door. The few times we locked gazes I just gave a little nod and perhaps a little wave of my hand. Sometimes she returned the smile.
Rosemary and I walked over to the cashier section to hopefully signal to the old man, still talking on the phone, that we were ready to tell him what we wanted.
The old man finally acknowledged us and the dance that transpired was a four-way clipped and hurried conversation between Rosemary, myself, and the baker while the baker still never stopped talking to whoever was on the phone. Maybe you can call that a five-way conversation.
At one point a young lady had come from the back room with a tray of cookies that sorrowfully looked like a drop in the bucket in contrast to this ghost town under glass. I was starting to feel like we were more like a bother to this guy who had to divert a portion of his attention away from his phone call.
The old lady by the far door still just looked around with a smile on her face, sometimes direct at me, sometimes directed at nothing in particular.
And that's when it hit me. The posting about his bakery that was being shown around by how many unknown people. The old lady, of course, was his wife. If I was correct, her smile suddenly made sense.
A lifetime together and now the man was slowly losing her to dementia. He kept her in his sight to ensure her safety. The newfound internet fame must be almost more than he could handle, but he was doing what he could to stay on top of it. To keep the shop going. To provide for his wife who now was no longer hustling and bustling at his side, as she had probably done all those many years.
I imagine the phone never stopped ringing. Orders for cakes and pies to be picked up. Loaves of fresh bread and muffins galore. I don't know how he could keep up with the demand. Maybe staying busy kept him going.
Somehow he got our requests from the cases and into a box. When he rang up the total, it was far less than I expected it to be. I didn’t know what a couple of turnovers, a rectangular brick shaped sugar sprinkled bran muffin, a half dozen cookies, and a few tarts were going for these days. There were no prices in the showcases, but it all came to barely a third of what I had ready in my hand to fork over.
For a moment I wanted to tell him to keep the change but I immediately felt like that he either would be insulted or it would be one more step for him to process in this harried exchange. I just wanted to let him tend to his phone orders.
There were several commercial coffee carafes at the far end of the shop. They were all bone dry, probably since the one first time they were filled before the shop opened. That’s okay, we’d catch a drive-thru after we got back in the car.
We went for the far door, the designated exit. I gave the old lady a smile, a nod, and a tip of my hat. I don't know how much that registered with her but I wanted to be, for the record, a gentleman.
When we got outside we saw that a line had formed, a good eight or nine people. Good timing. I guess we just missed the 'GETTING OUT OF CHURCH AND PICKING UP SOMETHING FOR SUNDAY DINNER’ crowd.
Well, I hope they were picking up orders already made earlier that day, or else their Sunday dinner dessert would be slim pickings. I think they were actually miffed at us for taking as long as we did. Well, we would have been in and out of there in less than five minutes without the extending circumstances.
I just wanted to get out of there and process everything.
I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t want to give out the name and location of this bakery. I don’t think a hundred, maybe a thousand, well-meaning people popping in to buy stuff would actually help right now. I don’t want to add to this man’s already overloaded job.
I’m hoping somebody reading this knows the place I’m talking about. I’m hoping that somebody can contribute, other than charitable patronage, something up a few notches up on the giving scale. Maybe somebody can answer the phone for him. Maybe there’s a retired (or out of work!) baker that can pick up a lot of the slack.
Or maybe somebody up there has the kind of ‘out of the box thinking’ that can easily flip the switch on this situation and help him make it, for the time being, a place for only preordered pickups.
And, last but not least, there are those secret millionaires who are waiting for me to join the ranks. I’m sure millionaires, secret or other, can find these folks from what little description I’ve given.
Buying everything he’s ever going to make from now on cuts the rest of the world out of helping and, even worse, eating wonderful cookies and cakes. How about footing the bill for the aforementioned phone answerer and extra baking help, along with the overhead and home expenses. Give this man and his bride of many years time to breathe. Time to rest. Time to be alone together and together alone until he feels like coming back.
The Great Scape
by Heater Case
There comes a time when a man and a woman love each other so very, very much that they hug each other in a special way and that’s where you came from.
Okay, I think we’ve all had that talk by now, although sometimes I’m not so sure.
Men and women both go through terrifying chemical transformations at the cruel age of preteendom. For every action, there is a reaction. For every yin there is a yang. For every boomer, there is a rang.
There also comes a time when hair starts to grow on the man’s back. Okay, it may NEVER happen, but I’ve yet to see that.
The term ‘manscaping’ has been volleyed around for the last decade, from Park Avenue penthouses to spartan walk-up flats where one basks in the post lovemaking glow while looking out upon the Champ-Elysees.
Allow me to introduce the concept of The Punnett Square:
A1) Hairy Guy who is adored by their lover (and others) for said hairiness.
A2) Hairy Guy who doesn’t give a rat’s and is perceived as gross by prospective suitors.
B1) Guy who gets his back hair removed and enjoys the contingent hubba hubba wink wink.
B2) Guy who gets his back hair removed and still couldn’t get laid if he was on a desert island with ten thousand blindfolded sex maniacs.
Here’s what I know. My back hair got thicker after I had a girlfriend shave the first crop of fuzz and it’s been a vicious cycle ever since. I know there's a culture of women who go nuts over human gorillas. I also know it makes me twice as hot in the summer. Plus my heart skips a beat when random hairs suddenly change position beneath my shirt and I’m not sure if it’s a hair or a tarantula planted by a double agent.
Getting your back shaved usually means a messy and time-consuming affair that involves somebody else and that somebody else would probably rather be doing something else.
Someday I think I'll get my back lasered. I was told that it takes several visits as human hair has some kind of four-week cycle.
That leaves the infamous waxing.
As much as I wouldn’t trust a guy who says, “Have I ever lied to you” I’m telling you the truth here.
It feels like getting punched in the nose. If you live on a planet where your nose is on your back. Correction: If you live on a planet where you have fifty noses on your back and you know each one is going to get punched in succession.
Years ago, I bravely entered a salon in a local chain called Elizabeth Grady and I was assigned to Marianne. Marianne was a tad older than the other ladies, but it was obvious that she applied her extensive beauty care knowledge to herself as well.
I had a very strange relationship with Marianne. She would rip dried wax, hair, dead skin (and what felt like ribs and lungs) off my back with unblinking perseverance.
Then I would ALWAYS opt for the Luxury Back Treatment, which was an hour of caring steam, lotions and potions, ending with what seemed like an endless back rub. I would mentally calculate her tip during that last phase, “$40… $50… $60…”
For the last twenty years, I've maintained a pied a terre in New York City. Despite the romantic term, it's basically a walk-in closet that comes with keys and a lease. The closest thing to an alfresco repast is a grilled cheese sandwich and a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.
It was in NYC where I met Marcela.
Marcela is a passionate and cheerful Angel of Mercy. There’s no luxury back treatment, but she also does pedicures! More about men getting pedicures at some other time.
Marcela confided that many of her clients were members of the adult film industry. I didn’t even want to know what it feels like to get punched in the nose ‘down there’.
I asked Marcela that if it ever came up with the front desk ladies to go ahead and tell them that I was one of the adult film actors.
Okay, I’ve never lied to you but, via Marcela, I may have lied to the ladies at the front desk.
Alice Through The Chess Clock
by Heater Case
The British Invasion (the one in the 1960s) was just what rebellious boomers needed to escape the grasp of the suburban mindset. Anything English was cool,
except maybe the Rockers. We already had motorcycle gangs.
There were the Mods but they soon strayed from their OpArt Emma Peel/Lulu fashion statements and went through Grandma’s closet. Edwardian suits, paisley, and contrast color shirts were must-haves. All of this was being devoured by the millions of young Americans in limbo between Haight-Ashbury and Levittown.
American media then created a teenage crush on Russian Culture. Doctor Zhivago, The Russians Are Coming, Illya Kuryakin, Pavel Chekov, Rudolf Nureyev, and anything else Russian was as fashionable as Carnaby Street.
Tiger Beat nation even embraced the arguably humorless and button-down world of chess, primarily through Bobby Fisher’s highly publicized jousts with Russian chessmasters.
Just like Cossack shirts, peasant dresses, and anything Russian found in Army-Navy stores, most of my comrades… err… classmates ran out to get chess sets and we quickly tried to wrap our brains around this cool and calculating lifeform that ate checkers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We found out some of our friends were ringers who had grown up with the game. Some of us never got past making galloping noises with the Knight. Most of us retained the basic rules but only dusted off those neurons during blizzards, airport strandings, and, now, pandemics.
I wonder if Caissa’s Battlefield will once again become a popular fad in this land of PlayStations and GameBoys. The Queen’s Gambit, an engaging postcard from the edge of the chessboard, could just do the trick.
Beth Harmon (brought to life by the fantastic Anya Tayor-Joy) is the quirkiest femme fatale since Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in the BBC’s Killing Eve. As we follow Beth, a character as unorthodox, sympathetic, and complex as they come, we get thrown into the deep end of the game.
American life at that time was not as fun as it’s often portrayed. Beth’s enormous emotional baggage is in a perpetual tug of war with the main passion in her life.
The Queen’s Gambit can either inspire a whole new generation of enthusiasts or make them hide in the comfort zone of a good game of Battleship.