A Brief Thought: Wordsmithery

I like words.

Aww, a girl and her dictionary.
Aww, how cute. A girl and her dictionary.

Let me rephrase that…I like MOST words.

I’ve come up with a very short list of words that I like and dislike for various reasons.

*Disclaimer: As always, the views I write are just my opinion and should not be taken as the gospel. This post is intended for entertainment purposes…nothing more, nothing less. Void where prohibited. No refunds after 30 days. Play ball.

Words I Can Do Without:

1) Diminutive. Why should a word to describe something small be so large? Suggested alternatives: teeny, tiny, little. See also “petite.”

2) Tort. I took one whole business law class in college. I read a lot of John Grisham. I have no problem with the word itself, per se, but I’d rather see it with “-illa” attached to the end. That sounds good. Suggested alternatives: tortilla. (Nothing so right can possibly be a wrong.)

3) Fabulous. I’m blaming, oh, say, the turn of the millennium for this one. It appeared in so many different television shows at the time that I’ve lost count. It’s somewhat…aloof, perhaps? (This is, of course, assuming that words have personalities.) Suggested alternatives: wonderful, terrific.

Words I Can Live With:

1) Petite. It’s such a perky little word, don’t you think? As a petite person, I approve.

2) Amazing. Although this one does tend to conjure up images of childhood magic shows, it’s a handy adjective to keep in your arsenal.

3) Pleasant. Speaks for itself. Reminds me of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Aww.

Yes, I like words. I guess I even like the ones I don’t.

An Observation: Selling Yards

Each season brings its own set of expectations.

In the fall, at least every other house on your street is required to proudly display the flag of their favorite college football team.

In the early days of winter, you expect to have at least one neighbor that will go completely overboard with Christmas decorations a full two months before December 25.

Yeah, what they said.
Yeah, what they said.

In the springtime, everyone puts their yards on sale. Sometimes, they even sell their garages…or rummage. (Wait a sec…perhaps I’m misinterpreting the nature of the sales.)

From the "Poor Choice of Words" Department...
They’re selling WHAT?!? (From the “Poor Choice of Words” Department…)

Okay, so no one is actually selling their yard…they just put all of their old stuff on display in their yard and hope someone will come take it off their hands.

And we all know that you can mark and label prices all you want, but someone–usually a retiree who wakes up at five a.m. on a Saturday for the express purpose of practicing their haggling skills–will talk you into selling that glass goldfish figurine you bought in 1987 at a 90 percent discount off your asking price of seventy-five cents.

Due to an interesting set of circumstances, I spent roughly one-fourth of my thirtieth year of existence living at my mother’s house. (Relax. I had a “real” job, but I needed a place to live temporarily. No “living-in-my-mother’s-basement” cliches here. She’s never even had a basement anyway.)

As the springtime came, I was preparing to move out of town into my own place again, so we decided to have a yard sale. We dug through closets and piled up old clothes and knick-knacks and advertised an early Saturday morning clearance blowout.

Mom had a few old plastic tarps that we used to set out our merchandise. Whatever we didn’t sell, we would simply fold up into the tarps, drag them off the front lawn, and store them in the garage for another attempt on another day. She didn’t think she had enough tarps, so–unbeknownst to me–she went out and bought a box of large plastic drop cloths…just in case. We used some of our yard sale items to weigh down the corners of the tarps because the wind was blowing just enough to cause problems.

One of our makeshift paperweights was the box of drop cloths.

(Pay attention. That little detail is important to the story later.)

We lived a little bit off the beaten path, but it was a nice, quiet subdivision nonetheless, so we didn’t think attracting potential buyers would be too difficult. Besides, yard sale people in rural Arkansas can sniff out a bargaining opportunity from at least fifty miles away.

As the morning started, traffic was slow, to say the least. A household much closer to the main highway had also chosen that particular morning to sell their wares, diverting some of our expected customers. Still, we did see a few people, but no one was particularly interested in my old paperback of Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous” or the answering machine I used in college.

Hey, collector's item there. Those folks missed out.
Collector’s item here. Those folks missed out. (Photo courtesy of www.wisegeek.com)

During the incredible lull that was our morning, Mom went into the house to take care of something, leaving me to handle all potential negotiations. I was beginning to think we should give up and just start giving our stuff away door-to-door when an older gentleman pulled up to the house and stopped his car. He wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans that were being held up by bright red suspenders–the most interesting (translation: only) suspenders I had seen all day. I figured he was worth some colorful conversation even if he didn’t buy anything.

I figured wrong.

He barely said a word. He poked around our collection of desk lamps and baskets and VHS tapes and looked as though he was ready to head back to the car when he saw something that caught his attention.

“Ma’am?” he asked me.

“Yes, sir!” I said, eager to finally have something off my hands.

“How much you want for that box of plastic right there? Don’t see no tag.”

I saw the box of plastic drop cloths sitting on the edge of one of the tarps.

I don’t remember putting these out here, I thought.

“Oh, those. I…didn’t get to ask Mom about that one. Umm…”

“I’ll give fifty cents for ’em.”

I made a very quick executive decision in the name of starting some kind of selling momentum.

“Sold!” I said, smiling as he dropped the two quarters into my hand.

In retrospect, I think I heard him chuckle as he went to his car.

Meanwhile, Mom was making her way back out to the yard.

“Mom! I sold something!” I told her.

“Oh, good! What’d you get rid of?”

“That box of plastic drop cloths.”

Pause.

“I bought those last night. In case we needed more.”

I looked at the sad little pair of quarters in my hand, then held them up in front of my face and looked at Mom.

We both burst into hysterics.

“You mean to tell me that the only thing we’ve sold all morning was something that wasn’t for sale?!?  I paid at least three times that much for those things!” she said, laughing.

(Oh, yeah. I’m a genius.)

The afternoon improved somewhat; in true “Field Of Dreams” fashion, if you build it, they will come. More people made their way down our road, and although word had not gotten out about our extreme discount on brand new plastic drop cloths, other patrons bought a few more of our items to make the sale worthwhile. One lady left with my old Furby, a move I compare to the old man taking Gizmo the Mogwai away from the Peltzers at the end of the movie “Gremlins.”

Don't feed him after midnight? It's ALWAYS after midnight!
That dude came with more instructions than he was worth. (Don’t feed him after midnight? It’s ALWAYS after midnight!)

I haven’t hosted a yard sale since then. I probably would accidentally sell the yard…

A Dream: Vague Specifics

Dreams can be incredibly strange. Since I don’t have Sigmund Freud around to help me analyze a few of them, I guess I’m on my own.

As a child, I had a recurring dream about a monster that lived in the television set. It only seemed to appear when the set was turned off. I think my brother tried to humor me by agreeing that he had a similar dream…although he could have just been messing with my head, trying to make me believe that everyone had that dream.

poltergeist-tv
We were children of the 80s…not that it might have had anything to do with my recurring nightmares. (Nothing to see here. Moving forward…)

As an adult, I don’t have any specific recurring nightmares, although I usually have central thematic material to work with.

The biggest one?

I’m running terribly late for something and no matter what I do, I never quite make it where I’m supposed to be. Oddly, I’m never late for anything in the “awake” world.

In college, the dream usually jolted me out of my evening slumber during finals week. I would wake up–heart pounding–and check the clock obsessively. They usually ended with me desperately trying to run to an exam I couldn’t find because I had trouble interpreting the finals grid the university sent out about a week before testing.

My stress level had gone through the roof one semester. I was working long hours on a research project. One Sunday afternoon, I drifted off with a pile of books within my reach. (Although this little anecdote isn’t about a dream, it does demonstrate how your mind can play tricks on you.) I woke up and panicked when the clock said it was 2:30. In my mental fog, I thought I had slept straight through that afternoon and the next one, missing my class altogether.

(Oh, it gets better.)

I freaked out even further when I realized that I hadn’t pulled a Rip Van Winkle…but that sleeping until 2:30 a.m. was within the realm of possibility. So why was the sun out at 2:30 a.m.? Yep, only a few parts of my brain had woken up, and not in any kind of sequential order. Once I realized it was 2:30 p.m. on the same afternoon in which I had fallen asleep, I calmed down and kept sifting through the books.

(I got a 4.0 that semester. I think it was worth it.)

Last night’s dream, however, takes the cake on “weird.” The central theme remained the same: I’m running late for something and I won’t make it on time no matter how hard I try.

This time, it was a concert.

Oh, and I was trying to find the performance venue on a continent upon which I’ve never set foot. (I figured this one out by my “dream-style” logic reasoning skills.)

Oh, and I was trying to chase down one of the performers who was supposed to stay right by my side for some reason.

I knew I was in a race against the clock. I was on a train but I had no idea how I ended up on the train. All I knew was that it was supposed to take me where I needed to go. It was dark outside, but I could make out the outlines of trees against the moonlight. They were types of trees I’d never seen in person, so that was my “dream-style” reasoning clue that I was in foreign territory.

Now, when you know you’re running terribly late for something, the last thing you need to do is stop for a leisurely lunch. In my “dream-style” mode of thinking, however, I did just that. I found myself in a nice little cafe. My companion hadn’t materialized yet, so I was alone…but then I noticed the celebrity couple seated at the table behind me.

I have no idea why these two were anywhere in the same ZIP and/or area code of my mind, but when you see The Crocodile Hunter and his wife eating lunch six feet away, you get a little curious. (Especially considering one pretty big detail that would negate the possibility of this little outing ever occurring in 2016.) Never mind that I was running late…I had to say hello and gush a little bit about how wonderful their daughter was on “Dancing With The Stars” and whatnot. (I really think they just wanted to be left alone, because they said they wanted to be left alone. I should have known that, even with this being a dream and all.)

It was only then that I realized just how late I was running and that I had to be somewhere…I just didn’t know where. I ended up back on the train again, but it was daylight. Somehow, I ended up off the train shortly thereafter, and I was on foot running through muddy fields and gravel parking lots while trying to keep up with the companion that had finally materialized.

I woke up when I found myself trapped in a small room in a nuclear power plant. I guess my companion made it to the concert. (Way to go.) I’m curious as to how it went. And what we were supposed to be playing. And–oh, yeah–where it actually was.

Why can a dream leave you with such specific details as a slightly tense conversation with a departed wildlife expert but NOT let you know where you were supposed to be going by a certain unspecified time? I mean, I couldn’t really find anything about any of these scenarios in my ten-dollar dream dictionary, so it must be an unsolvable mystery for the ages. The only part of it that makes any sense is “concert,” because I just finished with one last week.

If I ever have that dream again about running late for finals, though, I may have to see if I can get Dr. Freud to materialize.

A Penny For My Thoughts: Dollars Are Worth More

If I had a dollar for every penny I have, I could buy an awful lot of gumballs.

Oh, darn. Looks like this one only takes quarters. (Image found and used from igumballs.com.)
Oh, darn. Looks like this one only takes quarters. (Image from igumballs.com.)

Of course, I could also take the money I would have spent exacerbating my temporomandibular joint issues and sink it into a nice vacation spot on a remote tropical island.

Not quite THAT remote.
Not quite THAT remote.

They say a dollar isn’t worth much these days. It’s true. It’s probably worth a lot more now than it will be in another decade or so, though. Today’s dollars are tomorrow’s cents.

That’s why I think it’s way past time to update the expression “a penny for your thoughts.” (I really should properly phrase this well-known idiom in the form of a question, but I’m not on Jeopardy! yet, so I think I can get away with making it more of a declaration.)

Given historical inflation rates and current trends, I think my thoughts are worth at least a buck…maybe two, but only if they’re good ones.

Yes, I’m proposing a raise in the minimum wage on thoughts. A penny is about as minimum as it gets, folks.

Anyone else out there have any thoughts on the subject?

Wait.

Stop.

Maybe I shouldn’t ask that question. I’m not prepared to pay for those thoughts. Not even at their current rate.

Never mind.

A Celebration: Every Day Is A Holiday

Today is May 1.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to plan my May Day celebration. However, each year I celebrate in a small way by recalling a quote from the movie “Airplane!”. Ted Striker, a passenger piloting a stricken airliner, sends out a distress call to air traffic controller McCrosky…who immediately–and rhetorically–questions his “mayday.” McCrosky (played by Lloyd Bridges) receives an answer from Johnny (played by Stephen Stucker), a person you might not want working an emergency situation.

“May Day? Why, that’s the Russian New Year! You know, we’ll have a big parade and serve hot hors d’oeuvres…”

Johnny, be good.
Johnny wasn’t the greatest problem-solver, but he would be a natural at presidential politics these days.

I know that there are people out there who do celebrate May Day. However, I was looking at my calendar and I know for certain that I can’t take time for every single designated holiday in existence.

Upon doing a simple internet search–although I’ve likely found some unreliable sources–I’ve determined that every day has at least one holiday attached to it. (In some cases, more than one. That’s just an exact estimate, though.)

For example, tomorrow (May 2) is Baby Day AND Brothers and Sisters Day. (Look it up. They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.) I don’t have a baby, and I doubt very many babies would realize people are celebrating a holiday in their honor, but I do have a brother, so I could celebrate by giving him a quick call. That one really doesn’t take too much time out of my day. However, I didn’t know it existed until about fifteen minutes ago. Now that I know, am I required to plan ahead for next year’s “celebration?”

Eh, I’ll just let the Pinterest virtuosos take care of it.

Moving ahead…May 3. I found three holidays listed for May 3. World Press Freedom Day, National Teachers Day (which is designated for the Tuesday of the first full week of May), and–get this–Lumpy Rug Day.

Lumpy Rug Day. (I’m not making this up.) How do you celebrate that one?!? More importantly…WHY?!?

There. I guess I'm celebrating early.
There. I guess I’m celebrating early.

In the past few years, May the Fourth has gained tremendous popularity among “Star Wars” fans, so I doubt that National Candied Orange Peel Day will get quite as much attention. (May 4 is also host to Bird Day and Renewal Day…whatever that one is.) May 5 is, of course, Cinco de Mayo, which also tends to overshadow such treasured holidays as National Hoagie Day or Oyster Day.

May 6 includes–but is not limited to–International Tuba Day this year, which falls on the first Friday in May. (Actually, I need to remember that one. Tuba players usually don’t receive enough recognition for their work. And it sure is heavy work.)

I could go on for…well, a year. It’s not practical to expect everyone to celebrate all of these holidays, so I suppose you should just pick and choose your favorites. The month of May has plenty of options.

(On that note…Happy early Mother’s Day, Mom! I promise I won’t make that one “optional.” That one’s kind of important.)

A Day In April: Fool Me Once

Ahh, April first.

You’d probably think today would be my Christmas, New Year’s, and Fourth of July rolled into one.

Alas, the best I could come up with today was adding yet another day to a leap year.

It's not a total lie...
Why should February always get the extra day?

I sat down for a few minutes this evening and started thinking about all of the elements that would have to converge to create the perfect prank. I’ve come up with three. Now, I said nothing about it being an April Fools’ Day prank–just a perfect prank.

Here we go…

Element No. 1: The Element of Surprise.

Most people with a healthy sense of self-preservation and a slight touch of paranoia will be on the lookout for pranks occurring on April 1. This heightened level of awareness creates more suspicion. More suspicion leads to more questioning. More questioning leads to more thwarted plans. Even the most methodical prankster can stumble when someone asks a few too many questions. In order to pull off the perfect prank, you must have the element of surprise on your side.

On April 1, people are expecting a prank.

Too predictable.

I contend that the pranksters among us choose a date in which people have become complacent. Think about it. April 1 passes…and nothing happens.

“No one got me this year! Ha!”

April 8, 9, 10…nothing…and you’re starting to believe that you will escape April without falling victim to a prank from a friend.

“Golly, it’s April 11 and no one has tried to play a joke on me this month. I’m really not sure why I was thinking of this in the first place since April Fools’ Day was way back at the beginning of the month. I should probably be thinking of other more pressing matters in my life right now. How obscure of me.”

For the perfect prank, I’d like to suggest April 15.

Why?

Well, why not? It’s still April, so you could (very) technically call it an “April Fools'” joke. And everyone’s paranoia is focused elsewhere on April 15…for a different reason. That, in turn, brings me to…

Element No. 2: The Element of Realism.

Ladies and gentlemen, what happens on April 15? Yup, you got it. The taxman cometh. April 15 is a day just begging for a little lighthearted humor which could easily be set in situations realistic enough to make for a great prank.

Just one note of warning, though. Make sure the friend on the receiving end of the prank is healthy enough to withstand a joke of financial proportions.

And that leads to…

Element No. 3: The Element of Being Fun Without Crossing The Line Into Cruelty.

Honestly, does this one really need to be discussed? Be funny, be creative, but, in the words of Elvis Presley, “Don’t be cruel.”

Of course, now that I’ve put this in writing, I’ve probably rendered the “Element of Surprise” obsolete. So, I suppose it’s back to the drawing board.

Therefore, I bid you a good day, and my wish for all you pranksters out there is that your future pranks are perfectly crafted in good fun.

An Observation: “Generic” Names

I wrote a previous post in which I referred to two childhood chums by using rather generic names: Chris and Johnny.

Later, I had a few thoughts about “generic” names.

You probably know someone named Chris. You probably know someone named Johnny.

Using very common names as “generic” names really isn’t the greatest idea. Sure, they’re “generic,” but, statistically, you will eventually use a name that inadvertently identifies a person (whether they are actually part of the story or not). Even in this era of instant communication and the quest for viral fame, some people just might not like the idea of being the subject of a story.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to try to avoid overly generic common proper names in the future.

Some generic names for products don't translate very well. I was very disappointed in this one.
I suppose this isn’t exactly a “generic” name. My new Eye Pad doesn’t even need a charger.

I’ve decided that once I start thinking about anecdotes, I should go ahead and give each person a less-than-common-yet-very-common “generic” name.

Person.

That’s right. If I’m writing about a childhood friend in an anecdote, they could be renamed “Person” simply because…well, it’s the truth.

But, gee, Meticulously Observant Observer! What if you are talking about more than one “Person”?

I’m glad you asked!

I will refer to each additional “Person” by using an identifying letter. Let’s try it in a witty exchange of dialogue, shall we?

“Say, shouldn’t you be careful out there, Person A? It’s raining cats and dogs,” said Person B as she opened her umbrella.

Person A smiled. “I’ll be fine, Person B, but I’ll be careful. I wouldn’t want to step in a poodle!”

I…hope all of you “persons” out there are cool with this.

An Anecdote: Spring And The “Impossible” Scavenger Hunt

Ahh, spring.

Nothing can release you from the icy grip of Netflix quite like a few warm, sunny days in a row. And while spring can definitely be a volatile season, the warmer days eventually win. (Until it becomes the fiery, sweltering, charbroiled, mosquito-ridden season known as summer, which is another story for another day.)

Very few people are immune to the inherent charm of springtime. When I was in junior high, I remember it being the perfect time for some of our teachers to take us outside to do a little exploring to enhance our regular lessons. (An “Outside Day” in my P.E. class is where I learned that my best time “running” a mile was a record-breaking twelve minutes. Take that, Roger Bannister.)

In the seventh grade, I had to take a science class, just like every other seventh-grader everywhere. Being an early junior high course, naturally, it was a precursor designed to serve as the foundation for the more advanced courses we would eventually take (including the biology class taught by none other than my mother).

I recall one spring day in which we were taken outside and turned loose on a scavenger hunt.

On the surface, the scavenger hunt was fairly typical; split up into groups and find all of the items on your index card, most of which can be found easily in nature. Examples include a dandelion, a stick, or a particular type of rock.

I was always a people-pleasing-competitive-perfectionist type, so I was determined that our group would find everything on the list. My two companions in the group–whom I’ll generically call Chris and Johnny, because they’re nice, generic names and if they bear any resemblance to anyone it’s purely a coincidence, and that’s my disclaimer for all childhood stories unless otherwise noted–ran all over the place with me crossing items off the list and doing a fairly good job of it.

“Johnny! Did you find that feather?”

“Sure did!” Chris responded. “We only have three things left on the list! What’s left?”

“Umm…I’ll just look for the next one,” Johnny said. “Tree bark. That’s next on the list. I think I can handle that!”

“Okay! That leaves two,” said Chris. “I know where to find the sandstone. Sara, I guess the last one is up to you!”

“No problem!” I said. “Let’s look…umm…”

Oops.

“Hey…guys? I need a little…umm…a lot of help with this one.”

In our haste, we’d ignored Rule No. 1 of “Doing Assignments.”

Rule No. 1? What is that, you say?

Simple.

Read everything before you do anything.

We had spent quite a bit of time finding the items on our list IN ORDER, but one item at the bottom had an asterisk beside it–a BONUS item–that I finally noticed towards the end of class. The bonus item threatened to squash my pursuit of perfectionism.

A four-leaf clover.

The luck of the Arkansas-ish.
The luck of the Arkansas-ish.

“What? No way. I never find those things,” said Johnny. “I’m sticking to tree bark.”

“But…wouldn’t it be cool if we could find everything on the list?” I asked.

“We don’t have to find that one, though,” said Chris. “It’s a bonus item.”

“Yeah, but if the other groups find one and we don’t, that’s just…NOT COOL!” I said.

“I know what we can do,” said Johnny.

He reached down into a three-leaf clover patch and picked the biggest one from the ground. Then, he split one of the leaves right down the middle.

“There. Four-leaf clover.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “That’s the oldest trick in the book. You try to pass that off as an actual four-leaf clover and some leprechaun is gonna hide under your bed and try to smother you in your sleep.”

“What, you mean like the little guy on the cereal box? He’s not scary,” Johnny replied.

“But, if you try to do that, isn’t it bad luck? Think about it. If a four-leaf clover is good luck, trying to fake one has to be bad luck, right?”

“Y’all, stop!” Chris exclaimed, trying to bring us back to earth. “We don’t even need it. We do need the other stuff on the list. Let’s get those first and then try to find a four-leaf clover. Okay?”

“Fine,” I reluctantly agreed.

Did we actually find a four-leaf clover that day? No.

Did we find all of the other items on the list? Yes.

I’ve probably found dozens upon dozens of four-leaf clovers SINCE that day. Sometimes I just look down and see them without even trying. People even bring them to me nowadays. It’s like someone is giggling at my thirteen-year-old self.

But, when I reminisce about that “impossible” scavenger hunt, I laugh a little and take in a nice, deep breath of spring air and think about how lucky I am to be outside enjoying something other than frost underneath my feet.

Ahh, spring.

An Observation: Age And Relativity

I am 421 months old today!

I don't look a day over 415.
I know, I know…I don’t look a day over 415.

Okay, so my real birthday was a month ago. Counting your age in years as you grow older just makes more sense than the increments you used in your youngest years.

When I was eight and a half years old, I asked my mom an important question.

“When do you stop counting the halves in your age?”

“When you’re 35,” she responded.

(I still haven’t figured out if she was serious or not, but it doesn’t matter now.)

All of the units of measurement of age are quite relative. Milestones change for different times in your life, and with good reason. When you’re a baby, a month is a long time. If you’re a month old, then half of your life has been the average lifespan of your typical mosquito.

Ah, mosquitoes. The bane of any Southerner’s existence in the summertime. It serves as little comfort that they don’t live very long in proportion to our lives, because they repopulate very, very quickly…so that we can scratch our legs for months.

Proportionally speaking, a week’s worth of living could make a mosquito eligible for AARP.

I think the “old-timer” mosquitoes sit around in rocking chairs on the front porch of an arm or a leg and reminisce about the good old days…a week ago.

They discuss something worth remembering, like their best meal.

“Remember that time Mr. Jones was asleep? Talk about an all-you-can-eat buffet! That’s livin’! He didn’t swat at me or nothin’! He just kept on snorin’!”

Then, they might start remembering “old” friends.

“Yeah, Joey. Good guy. Told him to stay away from that light. But, he was a stubborn kid. Just a couple of days past the pupa stage. No convincing that kid to listen to his week-elders, though.”

“And what about ol’ Pete? Man, he was only thirty minutes away from retirement when that flyswatter got him.”

As young children, our ages are measured by the minute, day, month, and then years. Beyond that, we begin to obscure it even further by referring to decades.

“Well, I think she’s in her forties.”

Whatever you choose to use for age identification purposes, just remember this…at least you’re not a mosquito.

Age gracefully, my friends.