Monthly Archives: September 2012

Why American Idioms Are Discouraging or I Don’t Want to Be an American Idiom.

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Once, long ago and never again, I was once wandering around on youtube instead of working when I came across a video of Chris Martin, Coldplay’s singer, song writer and all around cutie. It was complete happenstance as I spend little to no time seeking out anything remotely connected to Mr. Martin as he is far too young for me to crush on and, therefore, of no interest to me.

As I sorted through hundreds of hours of examples of why Chris Martin is not interesting to me, I came across outtakes from a British show called Extras, starring Ricky Gervais, the actor/comedian and very loud laugher. Chris Martin had appeared on the show and was commenting on the subject of why, although he is a performer, he finds himself lacking as an actor. “Just ’cause you can boil a chicken,” he said adorably. “Doesn’t mean you can skin a rabbit.”

At first, I considered the fact that, although, like Mary Poppins, he is practically perfect in every way, he might also have a bat in his belfry, you know? His light are on but nobody’s home, get it? One taco short of a combination plate?

If you’re American, you are totally clear that I was doubting the sanity of the object of my affection, in jest, of course; he’s a freaking genius! He was obviously utilizing what I would consider a vague idiom, British style, which led me to consider American idioms and how confusing they must be to newcomers.

Imagine you’re a person from another country, a foreigner, if you will. Your country ends in skia or nia and has a proud and long history. Still you decide to leave your mother, who loves you more than anyone else ever will, except for your dog, your dad, who also loves you, but in a more “when’s he getting outta here?” sort of way, your siblings, friends and various relatives whom you see only at Christmas and Throw Paint on Each Other Day.

Leaving home wasn’t a decision taken lightly or on the spur of the moment. In fact, you’ve wanted to go to America ever since you learned about The Home Shopping Network. So you’ve saved your rupees, or whatever it is that your particular country is nearly out of, and you’ve studied English since there apparently is no such thing as an American language.

Finally, on a fateful day forever marked by your mother as the day my child ceased to be grateful for everything I’ve ever done for him/her, you pack your bag and hit the cobblestones outside of your cottage.

How you get here is a tale you can tell your grandkids as I’m not interested in the details, but you do arrive into the heart of a metropolitan area. The noise! The lights! The people! The weird smell…which…although is a bit alarming, doesn’t deter you, although it does nauseate you and you decide to investigate what American’s drink.

You enter Hal’s Get Your Drink and Get Out Store. After some time, you realize the line isn’t moving; it is surging, as customers rush past with buckets of drinks, sucked through plastic pipes.

These Americans,” you say to yourself with an affectionate grin. “Who can tell you about them?”

Finally, you make you way to the counter. “Excuse me, sir,” you say a few dozen times. Fortunately, a terrifying noise just outside the entrance, silences the crowd, sending them scurrying to the window, mumbling words you’ve not heard before but assume, given the tone, are the kind which resulted in a mouth full of soap when you were still wearing short pants, mostly because you were short.

You get your chance. “Excuse me,” you say. “I would like to purchase a refreshing beverage.”

Wha-?” says the guy behind the counter who could be a girl, but you decide it’s best not to ask.

A refreshing beverage?” You repeat, as the customers trickle back to the counter.

Are you pulling my leg?” says the guy here-to-for named Hal.

This puzzles you. “I am not… unless it’s a custom?” You reply.

Look, buddy,” says Hal. “I don’t know what’s eating you, but I don’t got all day.”

You feel sympathy for the poor man who has less than 24 hours to live, perhaps due to some sort of rampant bug infestation, but mostly, you wonder if this is the best place to buy a drink. “I’m sorry for your trouble,” you say. “I’d like a drink.”

OK!” says Hal. “Now we’re getting some place.”

Where?” You ask.

Where?” Hal replies, his face turning an odd mix of red and redder.

Fortunately, a young lady, steps from behind you. “Look, Hal,” she says. “Don’t bite his head off, for crying out loud.” She turns to you. “What’s your poison?” She asks, speaking loudly and slowly; enunciating as your family does with your great-uncle who fell out of a tree on his 50th birthday.

Although you don’t understand the question you decide to try one more time before seeking out your country’s national treasure; McDonalds.“Water, please?”

See?” She says to Hal. “He’s just wet behind the ears.”

No,” you tell her. “I’m dry in my mouth.”

Good for you!” she cries out. “Water, Hal!” she says as she turns to go. “And I better not hear that you charged him an arm and a leg.”

This is a terrifying land, you tell yourself as you pull a bill from your wallet.

That’ll be two dollars!” Hal announces.

Jeez,” says the guy behind you. “They make you pay through the nose for water, don’t they?”

Shaking now, you unfold your money, hoping the cash will satisfy the man behind the counter and that he isn’t in the market for body parts. Hal takes your money, hands you a bottle of water and a receipt. You turn to go, relieved.

Wait a minute” says the guy behind you who intends to pay with secretions from his nose. “I smell a rat.”

Good god, you think as you try to hurry out the door, but the fellow grabs your arm. “Keep your pants on,” he tells you. “Whadda ya tryin’ to pull?” he yells at Hal.

You try to wrestle away as you’d prefer not to be pulled, particularly if there’s any notion of trouser removal.

Okay, okay,” says Hal. “Don’t jump down my throat.” He holds out a few bills, but you see your chance, break free and flee the store and, while you’re at it, the country.

Whadda ya, some kind of a nut?” Someone cries after you, as you race away, longing for your mother who was right about foreign countries, (and everything else, just for the record,) which you will tell her when you arrive safely home with everything you were born with still attached.

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Aside

My dogs think they are a pack and of course they are if your definition is more than one dog. There are two of them and when danger rears its ugly head, (i.e. canines tethered to humans, squirrels, wind,) they spring into action, shoulder-to shoulder, growling in a vicious manner, terrifying, well…nobody.

The fact that, between them, they couldn’t come up with 50 pounds of dog doesn’t diminish their resolve one iota. Nor are they deterred by the inconsequential fact that one of them (Rain) is afraid of the dark as the other mistakes this phobia for steely resolve to rid the world of evil and is thereby inspired to work as her sidekick.

Each and every day, they patrols their turf with only 20 or so down hours. They regard themselves, misguidedly, as darlingly ferocious security guards and don’t seem to understand scoffing, even when it is aimed directly at them from everyone from the pizza delivery kid to a pair of collies who trot by on their daily walk and are decidedly above such nonsense.

Grace, our 12-year-old Lhasa Apso has been officially diagnosed by our vet as “just a happy little dog.” She strikes an imposing figure despite the inability of her teeth to make a plan and stick to it. Although her gums sprout teeth, as do most warm-blooded entities, hers resemble a horse race where they begin side-by-side behind the gate and then inexplicably take off in random directions once the bell has rung. She is not aware of this as she doesn’t understand mirrors.

Grace is the senior dog of the pack, the woofer to Rain’s sub-woofer. A petite 12 pounds, out five year-old, Rain, the aforementioned precipitation phobic pack member, is also afraid of everything else, including and inexplicably, the command to sit. Unexpected occurrences are especially rattling to her, things like food hitting her dish and humming, but she makes up for her skittishness with off the charts cuteness, which is particularly not useful when fending off danger. Still, we keep her because we lost the receipt.

Aside from their membership in the same club, they have very little in common. Grace in fact, took some time to even accept so much as a sniff from the 4 pound, 4-month-old Rain when she was first plopped down Grace’s home domain. She felt so strongly that we brought home a bit of hell that would soon fester and envelope us all, that she hid under the dresser for a year, smugly waiting to witness the end of the world as we know it. After a year had passed and the worst disaster to befall our household, dog-wise, was Rain’s enjoyment of squeaky toys, which Grace had expressly prohibited, our senior dog ventured out and grudgingly let Rain live.

Despite membership in the same club, our dogs have little in common. Grace yells at us when we’ve been out of the house for more than an hour or so. Rain weeps inconsolably, as if we routinely disappear for years at a time with no explanation other than, don’t pee in the house, a command she wilfully chooses to ignore, hoping we will feel compelled to return home to clean.

Grace is under the impression that she lives in a hybrid Republic: one breathing organism, one vote, while Rain lives in a Benevolent Theocracy where humans are divine and capable of bestowing any blessing from treats to…more treats.

Of course there are similarities. Both think of themselves as master negotiators. Grace knows the words, “get out,” mean, cross the threshold of the kitchen and sit down outside of said perimeter. In her twelve years, she has never completed the journey on the strength one command. Every few inches, she negotiates the proposition by lying down in what I like to call, still in the kitchen, necessitating a repeat of the command, at least once, if not three or four times in order to cover the two foot journey.

Rain, however, is the master of negotiation. She would have earned a doctorate if the trait was taught in obedience class. As a puppy she learned if she found a diabolically dangerous item on the floor, I would rush over and offer a small treat while saying, “drop it,” the idea being she would learn the words, “drop it” and eventually respond to the command without the treat component.

Instead Rain began scouring the house, returning with what she obviously considered bargaining material (cellophane, guitar picks and, once, a business card which, I swear, bore the words: The Secret of Power Negotiating!) She presents these items as if offering a diamond necklace wrapped around eternal youth in exchange for a foot rub, which would take to long to explain. I only have to do this 50 or so times a day, so I, with my superior intelligence, win.

In what should be example to the world, they have learned to tolerate their differences, and they are legion, for the sake of the pack, which, as discussed, are few. We choose not to challenge them on the status of their unit as it keeps them busy and they have so few other hobbies if you discount licking themselves.

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t appreciate all that my dogs do to enhance my life, for instance, not a single mail carrier has entered our home to wreak havoc while the canine cops have been on patrol. Nor has an unfriendly dog snuck up on us as we unwittingly watched television, read or attempted to carry on conversations as we are saved, (and seriously annoyed) by their constant and loud vigilance.

Plus, they’re cute. There I’ve said it. In fact, as you may have guessed, this column was primarily written to cause dog envy. It’s a proven fact that every writer originally begins the occupation only to gain mass appreciation of their pets and/or children. Eventually, I will wax poetic about my son, but for today, all I ask is a unified “aww” in appreciation for my dog friends and their adorable antics.

Thank you and you’re welcome.

  Why my dogs are not terrifying.

Why Trees Hate Me.

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I have a confession to make. Due to my predilection for printed media, I, and my ilk, are responsible for the annihilation of countless trees.

I’m not a lumberjack, (although that would be OK according to Monty Python) mostly because no one with even a passing familiarity with me would let me loose with a large electric, gnawing, potential weapon, not if they liked me.

Rather than dwell on the subject of my war wounds however, let’s return to the forest; it’s boundaries teaming with life and energy, the musical whistle of the wind as it sets leaves dancing, the dappled sunlight and sparkling rain; I’ve probably destroyed at least a medium-sized state full, all because I like paper.

Newspapers, magazines, notebooks, calendars, shopping lists, Christmas cards, trees, trees and more trees. And I love trees. Some of my best friends are trees, which makes sharing a movie impossible, but still, I don’t hold that against them. Every relationship has it’s problems.

I, with acknowledged hypocrisy, resent when large trucks equipped with cherry pickers and burly men, rumble into my neighborhood to destroy a little bit of shade. Every spring, I shake my fist at those who lop off huge boughs of trees which were most likely planted before the burly men were burly sparks in their father’s eyes.

If the trimming were accomplished with some finesse, I suppose I could rationally credit the clipping with my ability to receive electricity. But these bough bullies seem to “trim” trees like children cut their own hair, with an eye toward transforming the majestic giants into a laughing stock even to the lowly shrubs.

Somewhere inside my rational self, and I do have one, I know the tree professionals are most likely perfectly fine people who are providing a needed service dictated to them by city officials who seem to have more interest in keeping Elgin from going dark than maintaining a leafy covered lane. Still, what’s a little power loss among friends? It’s not as if they go out of their way to fling themselves over the wires attached to our homes, except when they do. But these are rogue trees! Must all of them suffer?

Anyway, what were we talking about? Paper. I love it.

Reading newspapers online will never satisfy me like unfolding the paper every morning and wresting it into submission while sipping a steaming beverage. Just FYI, it’s best to put the tea safely on a level and sturdy surface before turning to page three to find out which politician is going to jail this week, learn from my experience.

Not only do I read newspapers, but I purchase and read books with absolutely no electrical gadgetry involved unless you count Amazon.com, which I don’t for the sake of my point here.

And where would popular music be without paper? If you answered; easier to purchase and listen to, and added, what has paper got to do with music anyway, I’d have an answer: Buzz off, kid. Nobody likes a smart alleck. Plus your answer is, if not wrong, misguided.

Picture Elvis Presley singing the old favorite, This Mail is Undeliverable and Has Been Returned

rather than the iconic, Return to Sender. Doesn’t pack the same punch, does it? Or the Marvelettes or the Beatles singing, Please Mr. Server rather than Please Mr Postman. Music may never have recovered.

Probably the most tree-centric of my ghastly crimes comes as a result of my love of magazines. l adore the slick, scented pages of fashion magazines, especially when the seasons change and it takes a small pickup truck to deliver the holy grail of advertising and low self-esteem. I subscribe to at least a dozen magazines with various subject matter a month which contributes to my prowess at Trivial Pursuit as well as my postal carriers back problems.

Once I’ve left the used periodicals at my allergist’s office, (you’re welcome readers of last year’s Ragwood Weekly) I buy more print media. Wouldn’t you think I’d be receiving dividends from the publishers especially with the state of the medium? In fact, even when my writing appears within the pages, they seem reluctant to return more than a small percentage of what I’ve invested.

The struggle I live with has yet to drive me from the written page which may bring many of you to the obvious question; why aren’t there more magazines? No, I’m just deflecting. The question would be, why am I writing for an on-line publication for which I have a plausible and concise explanation, which I will share after I get through my current stack of reading material.