Saturday, March 22

What's this now?

I was doing some tidying up down at The Tranquility Center the other week. I don't like to brag about it, but I enjoy doing some volunteer work now and then and TTC is always looking for someone to answer phones or re-arrange chairs or simply find a way to get the chaos of a community center into some kind of order.

As I was planning what to organize next, a woman near me said, “Hand me that thingamajig.”

I looked around at the dozens of items that could qualify as a thingamajig, but couldn't quite figure out what she wanted. “Which thingamajig was that?” I asked.

She waved a finger in my general direction and said, “Over there. That whatchamacallit.”

It seemed that there were even more whatchamacallits around than there were thingamajigs so I asked again, “Can you be more specific?”

“What are you, a lawyer?” she snorted. “Right there. That gizmo next to the whatsit.”

Again, I was lost so I said, as slowly and as patiently as I could, “What-exactly-do-you want-me-to-hand-you?”

She paused a moment and then said, equally as slowly and just as patiently, “I-want-you-to-hand-me-that-doohickey.”

Sensing the possibility of non-tranquility Pastor Carl, the Center's administrator, came over. “What's going on? Is there a problem.”

“Yes,” I said sharply. “That woman...”.

“She has a name, James, just like you and me,” he instructed.

"Sister Shelly," she said, belligerently.

“Right. Sister Shelly. Well, Pastor Carl, Sister Shelly wants me to hand her a doomakajig or something, and she won't BE SPECIFIC ABOUT IT!”

“We try not to raise our voices at The Tranquility Center, James,” Pastor Carl reminded me.

“Of course.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I would have called it a cleansing breath, except for the fact that I was shaking slightly and I believe my eyes were protruding.

“That's better," said Pastor Carl using his most Tranquility Centered tone. "Now, Sister Shelly, what is it that you wanted James to hand you?”

“As I said before, I need that thingamajig.”

Ha! I thought. What now, Pastor Carl? What now?

Pastor Carl paused a moment then asked,“You mean the double-sided adhesive transfer tape dispenser that accommodates both 1/2 and 3/4 inch media?"

Sister Shelly sent forth a beatific smile and said, "Yes. That's it." Pastor Carl picked it up and handed it to her and she happily set off toward some cardboard boxes.

"You know, that didn't really look like a thingamajig," I said to Pastor Carl. "To me it looked more like a doodad."

"I suppose it could have been a doodad," he said in that annoyingly accepting way that he has.

"Still, I guess you did me a favor, Pastor," I added.

"And what do we say when someone does us a favor, James?" he asked expectantly.

"I don't know. Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo?"

Saturday, March 15

Who has the oldest parent?

I was standing by the water cooler shooting the breeze with some co-workers when I happened to mention that my father would soon be celebrating his ninetieth birthday.

Franklin, from accounting, said "My Mom's going to be eight-seven next month".

Ella, the network tech, mentioned "My Dad will be eighty-nine in the Fall. He's so cute. He still says things like 'shooting the breeze'."

Nelson, my nemisis, pitched in with "My Dad will be ninety-three next week."

It was typical of Nelson to outdo everyone, so this came as no surprise.

"That's nice," I said, shamefully wishing my dad had been born just a couple of years earlier.

"He's sharp as a tack, too," said Nelson. "He actually came in today to meet me for lunch. Hey, Dad!" he hollered.

A tall, elderly man shuffled out of Nelson's office and down the hall. He had wisps of white hair exploding from various segments of his head and his skin consisted of wrinkled wrinkles. He moved slowly with the aid of a wooden cane, but he stood ramrod straight and his eyes were bright. He smiled pleasantly as he shook my hand.

"Jim here was just telling me that his father has a birthday coming up. He's going to be ninety," said Nelson.  "Not quite as good as ninety-three, though, right, Dad?"

"Nope," said Nelson's father, "but ninety is pretty good, too."

"I think so," I said, defensively. "Once you reach ninety your actual age is just a number, really."

"Sure," said Nelson. "The only difference between a ninety year old father and a ninety-three year old father is that one is, let's see..." He mimed doing a calculation in his head."...three years older." He smiled and added, "Three years, Jim. Three years."

"Nelson," I sighed, "how did you get this way?"

"Search me."

"You know what's a funny thing?" said Nelson's father.

"What's that?" I asked.

"I think my father has a birthday coming up too."

"Oh, for crying out loud. Your father is still with us?" I was incredulous.

"Yep. And he's going to be a hundred and ten." He smiled and added, "A hundred and ten, Jim. A hundred and ten."

Tuesday, March 11

There's a new SAT in town

After hearing all the recent talk about the revisions to the Scholastic Aptitude Test I was interested in finding out what my friend The Tutor thought. I invited him to meet at a local coffee shop for breakfast.

It didn't take long to glean his opinion.

"They are simplifying the words!" he said angrily waving a copy of The New York Times under my nose.  "Instead of real SAT words like deprecatory or membranous, the vocabulary words on the new exam will be easy ones like synthesis and empirical."

"Well, those seem like difficult words too," I said.

"'Empirical my ass!" he hissed. "They might as well ask them the meaning of 'Yo' and 'Dude'. This is as bad as when they took out the word analogies. Remember that?"

"Sure," I said, unsure.

"Dog is to animal as flake is to...?" he test-questioned me.


"That's a guess! You'd get points off for that!" He lowered his voice in disgust. "Until now!" He stabbed at the newspaper with his finger. "But NEWS FLASH! The guessing penalty is being eliminated. Eliminated!"

"I always thought the guessing penalty was a little harsh," I ventured.

"Harsh! Ha! They might as well tell the little beggars to answer every question with choice C!" He shook his head and muttered, "No guessing penalty..."

As someone who usually answered any bewildering question with choice C, I thought it best to change the subject.

"I always had trouble with the essay," I began.

"OPTIONAL!" he cried. "They made the essay optional!"

"Outrageous," I agreed, remembering the feeble score I got on my SAT essay, "Holden Caufield: Why can't he just do what he's told?"

"And even if they do somehow decide to write an essay, they will be," here he quoted from The Times, "'...asked to read a passage...'" He snorted. "They might as well have someone come in and write the essay for them.  What about form? What about function? What about," he lower his voice and spoke these words as a prayer, "critical thinking?"

I shook my head ponderously. "Can't forget the critical thinking, my friend," I said, then switched to my best evangelist voice.  "There lies damnation."

"You can kid all you want, but this is just the first step down the road to the Triumph of the Ignorati."

"Then we better place our order in a hurry. I'm having coffee and a doughnut. What do you want?" 

"Oh, I'll have tea and, let's see, coffee is to tea as doughnut is to..." He pondered a moment. "A croissant I guess. "

"Yo, dude," I said brightly, "there's no penalty for guessing."

Wednesday, March 5

Artisanal Me

The other day I needed some Cantalet so I went down to a new store that had opened in my neighborhood called Ye Olde Artisanal Shoppe. Although it was located on a busy Upper East Side thoroughfare, when I entered I felt that I had been transported into something out of Little House on the Prairie. The walls were lined with rough-hewn wood beams on which hung faded and stained maps depicting the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Cumberland Gap. Large oaken barrels filled with a variety of pickles, olives, and mushrooms stood in front of a butcher-block counter. Behind the counter sat the proprietor and next to him was a hand operated cash register that looked like it came from Macy's circa 1911.

"What do you need?" he asked.

"Just looking for some Cantalet." I said, pronouncing it kan-tall-ETTE.

"For what?" he asked, sharply.

I was slightly flustered as I had not been told there would be a quiz. "Um, you know, kan-tall-ETTE. Cheese? For a ham and cheese sandwich?" I stammered.

"Ham?" His disdain was palpable. "You were going to serve kawn-TALL-eh, a rich and creamy cheese that is surprisingly dense...with HAM?"

"Or maybe roast beef?" I answered, fishing for a clue.

"Bœuf? Kawn-TALL-eh avec bœuf?" He shook his head sadly.

"Sorry, if I offended you. I didn't know you were French." 

"I am from Wisconsin," he said imperiously.

"Oh." I gestured around the Shoppe, "Like Little House on the Prairie."  He looked confused so I thought I'd help him out. "'Good night, John Boy'," I quoted.

Through clenched teeth he growled "That was The Waltons, sir, not Little House on the Prairie."  

"Oh, right," I acknowledged.

"And the prairie was in Minnesota, not Wisconsin."

I was about to mention how tragic it was that geography was no longer taught in the public schools, but before I could he said "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"Oh, sure. I have to get back to my sandwich, anyway. Maybe I could pick up some ham?"

"Certainly, sir. Would you like to 'pick up' Kurobuta or La Quercia?"

I paused a moment and tried to look like I was weighing my options. Then I said, "How about just a pickle?"

"Jerked Habenero, Fennel Cornichon or Soy-Wasabi?"

"Um, some olives?"

"Kalamata? Gaeta? Picholine? Manzanilla? Nicoise? Castelvetrano? Cultivated? Free Range?..." He looked like he could have gone on for the rest of the week.

"Look, I'm going to have to admit something here. I'm not really an expert on artisanal food..."

"Ya think!?" he snarked.

" why don't I write some of this down and come back later when I'm better informed? Do you have any paper?"

"Of course, sir," he said, leaning forward. "Will that be Woodfree Offset or Rag Pulp Bond?"