Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Economy of Memory

On my walk the other evening I passed by the Economy Store in my small town. It’s a place where people donate their old clothes and kid’s toys, books and pretty much whatever they don’t want anymore. The store employees go through it all, throwing out the stuff that’s dirty or torn or broken; all the things people should have had the good sense not to “donate” in the first place. What is still usable or wearable they sell for a small price. Walking past I remembered back to when I was a kid, like 10 years old, and the thrift store was on Main Street. I didn’t go in a lot but every now and then I would walk in and look around. I’m sure I spent quite a bit of my allowance there but for some reason my memory is only holding onto two purchases.

The first was a drinking glass with a vertical design of the American flag. I paid a dime for it and can remember being quite taken with the design and colors, but as I think about it now, I’m not sure why. I’ve never been overtly patriotic. I’m grateful for where I was born and the things that are possible living here, but I don’t fly a flag at my home, I don’t wear t-shirts with a flag on it. It’s an important symbol, I’ve just never been “Rah! Rah! Rah! USA! USA! USA!” For some reason this glass caught my eye. I bought it and believe I drank out of it nearly every day for the rest of the summer (hopefully I washed it occasionally, but I was a dumb kid so . . .) I think I eventually broke the glass but I got my 10 cents worth.

The second purchase I remember was a paperback book, “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. Jim Bouton was a major league baseball pitcher so I figured it was about baseball, which it ostensibly was. It was also about the players’ off-field activities: excessive drinking, rampant drug use, and chasing women. I read a little of the book when I got it home, but as a ten year old most of it went over my head. Bored, I set it aside and forgot about it. A few days later my brother who is ten years older than me, handed me “Ball Four” and said “Cool book.” I asked when he had read it and he told me he had started it the night before and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it. With his endorsement I tried to restart it but it still flew way over my head.

I haven’t been in the thrift store since I was a kid but I’m glad it still exists. They help a lot of people and work very hard to do it, not to mention providing me with two lasting memories.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Truth about Number 2

On my walk last evening I passed a group of teenagers (Is “group” the right term? Or is it “gaggle” or “pride” or “passel”, maybe its “annoyance”? Yeah, that’s it). I passed an annoyance of teenagers and one was breathlessly telling a story that was obviously utter bullshit.

“The car was going 100 miles an hour and suddenly he opens the door and jumps out, I shit you not.”

The line that got my attention was “I shit you not.” Where exactly did we come up with this phrase as English speakers? We use the word “shit” in many different ways as brilliantly chronicled by George Carlin on his FM/AM album in 1972. 

But why do we say things like “Are you shitting me?” as a way of questioning someone’s truthfulness? If you think about it logically, “shitting” someone sounds like you’re giving them an enema. Now, you can pay $9.99 a month on a plethora of websites and watch all of those videos you want and none of it explains why we use it in the context we do.

Back to “I shit you not.” This version is the most interesting because it sounds so Shakespearean:

King Henry: Dost thou shittest me?
Exeter: I shit thee not my liege.

Romeo: By the light of a Janus moon I believe you shitteth me
Juliet: No my love, I swear on the beating of my full heart I shit thee not.

So basically we have a phrase, “I shit you not”, that sounds like a denial of an old English fecal extracting colon cleanse that we as modern English speakers are using to mean “I am not lying to you or exaggerating the circumstances”.

How about some alternatives:

“I am not trying to de-turd you.”
“I’m not going anywhere near your ass with a rubber tube.”
“My veracity can be proven by your lack of anal leakage.”

Uh, yeah, I guess we’d better stick with “I shit you not” no matter where we came up with it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Christmas in July

A friend gave me these two books recently that she found at a relative’s yard sale. To say I was happy is an understatement along the lines of saying most politicians are a little corrupt. I have collected Peanuts memorabilia since I was 6 or 7 years old. I wish I still had all the things I had as a kid but much of it was thrown out or broken or misplaced over the years and many moves. The one thing I still have is my collection of several dozen of these paperback books. They were published by Fawcett and were reprints of daily and Sunday strips that had already been collected in larger, more expensive books. This was a budget alternative to have all the Peanuts strips in your possession. They collected all the daily strips from 1952-1988 when publishing was stopped.

One of my fondest childhood memories is after church on Sunday afternoon, my mom and sister and I going to the Bookland on Edgar Street in York to look around. My first stop was the humor section to look for a new Peanuts collection. If all they had were old ones I was palpably disappointed. If there was a new one I didn’t have it was like Christmas morning. If we hadn’t been there in a while and there were 2 new books, I became Homer Simpson drooling over a box of donuts.

The rest of my Sunday afternoon would be spent on the floor reading through the cartoon strips contained in the books. They didn’t take long to go through so I would re-read them several times until my favorites were memorized.

Back to the books my friend gave me. I took them home figuring I already had them in my collection. I certainly don’t have all the volumes that were published but I have several dozen. What were the odds she had found one or two I didn’t have? So I took them over to the book shelf that holds my treasured Peanuts books. One by one I went through my titles. When I was done I had 2 brand new books to read. I didn’t have either one in my collection. It was Christmas morning on a July afternoon and my cat wanted to know why I was so excited about something that clearly had nothing to do with her.

People ask me why I like Peanuts and there are several reasons. First and foremost they make me laugh. I know not everyone thinks they’re funny but they consistently give me at least a chuckle. Being a writer myself I am in awe of Charles Schulz’s use of language and loving words I was always excited to learn a new one. I still remember learning the word perspicacity from Linus when talking about his teacher.

Everyone can relate to Snoopy and his cool demeanor. His ability to morph into anything from a World War I flying ace to a vulture sitting in a tree would make any kid jealous. It works on adults too who have boring jobs and need to pretend to make it through the day. But one of the big reasons I love the Peanuts is I can relate to Charlie Brown. I’m wishy-washy just like him, loved sports but wasn’t that good at them like Charlie and as a kid nothing ever seemed to go right for me. Now that I’m older and my hairline has receded and my bald spot grows exponentially larger every day I’m starting to resemble Charlie Brown as well.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to lie on the couch and read my books.