Monthly Archives: May 2022

language

I’ve been reading a book written by an Englishman . No offense ( sorry : offence ) to English authors , but I find their lingo a bit cubersome , often too flowery , and occasionally just plain weird . So , they might generally also say the same about whatever I write . So what ! I don’t care. I wanted to write some thoughts about the English language ; but I don’t mean necessarily English English . Just so you know.

By the way , as an aside , I should say that I always enjoy listening to English speakers from the United Kingdom , so don’t get me wrong. They all seem to have a charming accent that captures the listener’s attention and distracts from their peculiarily weird lingo . It’s easy not to listen to what they say so much as to be focussed on the accent .

My daughter-in law , a Polish woman , studied specifically American English at her university in Poland . Well , it’s not her university , but you know what I mean . By some strange turn of events , I was the first “native speaker” that she met. Ah , so from then on the onus ( note: I think this is my first -ever use of the word onus ! ) was on me to be the spokesperson for American English . Not a good plan , if you ask me .

She focussed on grammar and proper usage in school , I guess , and not as much on simple down-to-earth communication . She asks me questions like : Isn’t that participial phrase that you just used future past -perfect superlative conjunctive subjuctive ? (……. or something like that ; it’s all Greek to me . If I ever knew what past-perfect is , for example (and I think on that once upon a time I probably did) , I’ve long left that bit of undoubtedly essential knowledge far behind me , most likely in some high-school classroom near downtown L.A. I could go back there and try to find it but 1. they wouldn’t let me in , and 2. they’ve emptied the trash cans since then and I’d never find my discarded notes .)

I’ve told daughter-in-law several times over the years that she must have missed that day at school ( studying American language ) where they told you that Americans don’t really care if your grammar is perfect or not . If you can be understood , then that seems to be good enough .

I used this little bit of what I thought is witty conversation on another Polish woman once . She was bragging about her daughter who was at university in England —- Oxford , I think . I’d never met this woman before . Her boyfriend at the time was an old friend of Ada’s and the four of us were eating dinner at a restaurant in Szczecin . I threw out , for some specific reason that I can’t remember right now , the line about Americans not really caring about using perfect grammar . This woman then lashed out at Americans for the next couple of minutes . ” That’s what’s wrong with Americans ,” she began , and proceeded to voice some of her anger at such lakadaisically slovenly lazy and generally irresponsible Yankee attitudes . I want you to know that I stood up for the country . I told her that that hasn’t held us back much in the world ; but she wasn’t listening at that point and so I shut up for the rest of the dinner .

She had missed my point , at any rate , and was stuck in her misconceptions about the purpose of lingo. Oh , don’t get me wrong , I like to know that influential people are using the language properly . I notice when TV news people , for example , screw up syntax ( note: as opposed to sin tax , which could be , maybe , added fees that Las Vegas hotels might charge on the room bill ), or grammar or usage ( not electric power usage , or water usage , which also seem to incur additional fees on a regular basis ) . Politicians , for example , ought to use the language correctly . At least most of the time . I like to imagine that they have some basic education which should be reflected in generally correct use of the language .

I’m not as bad as my Aunt Mary , however , who used to cringe when she heard even a small misuseage of the lingo on TV , etc. She had a more better command of verbal communication proprieties than I have when it came to English ( etc. ) , and she cringed at the notion , I understood , that the country was falling apart , coming apart at the seams ; the clues were clear when so many glaring boo-boos were somehow allowed to slip by on the airwaves and in print to constantly corrupt everyday life . Well , she had a point . She probably would have got along with the daughter’s-at-Oxford woman at the restaurant in Szczecin .

I had a uncle who was a journalist . His wife had been a journalist , too . At some point in time his kids were going around using the expression ” don’t got ” ( eg. ” I don’t got no more candy”. ) It was frustrating my uncle , who said that he finally chewed them out a bit about it . He said that he told them that the right misuse of language was ” ain’t got “. He wanted them to use “ain’t got” instead of ” don’t got “.

My friend Joe has a master’s degree in literature . He taught the subject for several years after he retired from another field altogether . Once years ago I couldn’t help but notice that his use of English was all of a sudden bad . Just plain bad . So I asked him about that and he said that he had decided to use the language of the people . Something like that .

My -daughter’s- at -Oxford woman wouldn’t have like Joe’s attitude . Not one bit . That’s what’s wrong with America , after all ! For one thing , as my Uncle would have pointed out , we don’t even make the right mistakes . And I somehow became the expert on the language in my daughter-in-laws eyes merely because I was born in America even though she has an advanced degree in the subject and me , I just kind of hope to get by day to day , having forgotten most of what I may or may not have ever learned in school . Lord , help us !

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onward to Texas

First a short comment about Midland , Texas . As far as I know , former President George the Second Bush has a ranch there . Now , granted , we just drove through on the interstate , but , hey , why would anyone want to live in Midland , Texas ? Well , there is the aroma of oil in the air , of course . Texas tea . Black gold . No offense to Texas , but Midland , Texas is about the ugliest spot that I’ve seen in Texas . No comment here about Texas in general , but we did pass through an hour or so of greenery in west Texas , a pretty area ; again , on the interstate .

We were headed to Fort Worth . As far as I know , I had never been in Fort Worth . Dallas , once , yeah , when I was a kid and too young to remember much of anything there . We went to the stockyards on the day we were there in Fort Worth , Ada and I . We heard that there was a fair , some rodeo stuff , or western -fair stuff happening , and we agreed to go . I thought it would be a rodeo . Hadn’t been to a rodeo since the Prescott rodeo years ago . Why not ! See a rodeo while in Texas . That sounds about right .

But the stockyards ain’t the place for a rodeo . What used to be stockyards has been transformed into swank shops that all seem to sell the same stuff : cowboy hats , boots , western shirts made in China , candy , refrigerator magnets with local themes . There were a few restaurants and some ice cream stands . Now , I’m from California , but real Texas this stockyards phenomenon ain’t . I was looking for a snack that wouldn’t require us to morgage our house , so I asked a couple of parking valets , who seemed like local guys . Where could I get just a taco ? One of them , the older man with the more rugged complexion pointed to an alley . Food trucks just around the corner , he said . Perfect ! And so we went.

There were two food trucks ; both served Mexican food . Our niece , who was the one who told us that everyone in Fort Worth raves about the stockyards , walked up to the window of the first food truck and ordered what they called a huarache . It was more or less a taco on a slab of what looked like Navaho fried bread . Maybe it was just a thick soft tortilla . The thing wasn’t much bigger than a taco , though . I noticed later that it cost her thirteen dollars . A taco at the other truck was two dollars and fifty cents .

I didn’t tell the huarache eater that she could have got a taco or two from the other truck at a reasonable price instead of the outrageous thirteen dollars that she paid for whatever it was she bought . She’s from France , visiting Fort Worth for a few days because a theater in the Cultural District of the city invited her to display one of her paintings for a major exhibit . They wined and dined some of the artists for a few days and Ada and I went to Fort Worth to see the exhibit and to travel back to CA with our niece who would be flying back to Paris from LAX .

The artist niece was the one who suggested we see the stockyards . She loved the experience ; got to see a stagecoach and shop for real Texas gear ( much of it made in China or Vietnam or Bangladesh ) . The place was full of Texans who also were loving the experience . Kids were licking ice cream cones and their parents were wearing their new cowboy hats . Some were staggering out of upscale food joints carrying styrofoam containers of leftover grub. Everyone was wandering along the street or along roofed lines of shops stretched along what used to be livestock pens in days long gone .

The inauthenticity of it all was getting to me . At least I accidently found a free parking area . That was something worthwhile . I savor that little piece of the morning and the rest , well the rest I almost regret ; but that’s just me . I’m from California , after all . At any rate , I feel definitely like been there done that and I won’t need to do that stockyards thing again . The place was full of enthusiastic people though . I should say that .

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magnolia story

I flew back east to a friend’s 70th birthday celebration . He’s a musician and some of his old friends from all around flew in for the party . Karl came from Switzerland , Doug from Arkansas , Dan ( that’s me ) from California .

The four of us found ourselves walking the day after arriving but before the party along a road in a cemetery in the town . It was a beautiful spot . We had to avoid a burial in progress , but that was easy , and we walked along telling jokes and commenting on the scenery . I don’t suppose that the deceased people minded. Had there been a park in the town we might have hung out there instead , but one does what one has to do when the best place to take a walk is the local graveyard .

We spotted a beautiful tree in bloom . The birthday boy said it looked like a magnolia . Doug said back in Arkansas they call it a tulip tree . Indeed , the blossoms looked like tulips . Doug said it’s not a magnolia , that there were magnolia’s back in Arkansas , but this wasn’t one . I pointed out that there are different varieties of magnolias , that I have one in my back yard and my neighbor has a very different variety of magnolia in his front yard . Karl , the Swiss guy , took out his phone , keyed in an app that identifies trees , took a picture of the tree , and said that it was a tulip magnolia .

Tulip magnolia . Problem solved . End of story . You think ? No.

No , Doug said , it’s a tulip tree . Magnolia is something different . Back in Arkansas they call it a tulip tree . His friend he said , a heart surgeon , is also an amateur botanist . His friend the heart surgeon-botanist said it’s a tulip tree .

Karl read the info on his phone one more time : tulip magnolia . Is there a problem here ? I pointed out that it could be a tulip tree and a type of magnolia at the very same time .

Doug went on for ten minutes or more about the tulip tree . Not a magnolia , anyway , he insisted . Magnolia’s are different . There are lots of tulip trees in Arkansas . Ask anyone from Arkansas , he said . Big white flowers . They know a tulip tree when they see one back home in Arkansas. .

Karl kept his steady smile throughout . He widened his eyes a couple of times when he looked at me , but he kept quiet . The birthday boy said it doesn’t matter anyway. Ah , but to Doug it did matter . Magnolias have big white flowers , he said . This was a tulip tree . His friend the heart surgeon and botanist could testify to it .

The tree in the cemetery ? It is what it is . We could talk about it until the sun went down but that wouldn’t change a thing . None of us really cared much what kind of a tree it was . It was a beautiful tree in bloom . Except Doug , I guess . He cared . I wasn’t quite sure what he needed to prove . I believed in Karl’s little internet answer .

Stop ! Stop ! You’re both right .

After Doug flew back to Arkansas I spent the next few days asking my friend the birthday boy and Karl if random trees around the place were magnolias or , possibly , tulip trees . Oh , don’t get me wrong . Doug is a nice guy , a successful radiologist who owns a beautiful home and also a horse ranch in Arkansas . He flew out to attend the birthday party for his old friend . He just got stuck on identification of that blooming tree and couldn’t let it go .

Hey , man, it doesn’t change anything whether or not the tree is a this or a that . At least we didn’t have a fistfight over it , and no one pulled a gun , and no one started a war or committed suicide over it . If something like that had happened , the poor guy being buried might have thought twice about his choice of burial places and the interred folks moldering there might have turned over in their graves .

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the arts

If our niece gets to the opening of her art show in Fort Worth , Texas , then Ada and I will take a road trip and drive over there . The artist niece lives in Paris , has a gallery in Istanbul that promotes her work , and has shows all over the world and now one in Fort Worth .

She’s quite well known in the European art world , I think , and has been written up in French publications , and Danish publications , and ………well, you get the general idea . Oh , and I’m not bragging ; I had absolutely nothing to do with it . We do have some of her paints that she left here a few years ago when she was temporarily working in the Los Angeles area . She wants them back , she told Ada , but they weigh a ton and I have to think that they are completely dried up by now ; but what do I know . We also have an electric heating device of hers too , a hotplate that I guess she used to heat the paints . Maybe she’s forgotten about that .

All I know is that I owe her $100 . Several years ago Ada and I were staying with this niece and her mother in Paris . Being the occasionally somewhat clumsy oaf that I am , I got up to use the toilet during the night and I knocked over a small bottle of perfume . It was precariously ( in my opinion ) sitting on a wobbly shelf directly under the window , and I went to open the window a bit for a little air . That was just enough to knock the thing onto the floor and shatter it .

The next morning the international financial negotiations began in spite of my suggestion that I fully intended to go out and buy a replacement . It was expensive perfume , of course , to the tune of $80 for the tiny bottle . Maybe that’s how much perfumes cost ; how would I know ! I was ready to replace it ; fair is fair . I will always wonder , nevertheless , just how full the bottle was when it broke , or how empty , but that kind of tenaciously nagging thought is what I’m good at .

Years ago a student of mine gave me a Christmas present that came from a store called Pick-n-Save where the prices didn’t go much over a dollar or two . His father was a heart surgeon and they lived in a fancy mansion in a weathy area . His previous teachers told me that his father always gifted his son’s teachers with $50 at Christmas . It didn’t bother me not to get the money , and I always appreciated any gift , no matter how small , from students. I am still using a few of the coffee cups that seemed to be the usual idea for a gift for me . The thing that nags me still , however , is the knowledge that this kid was brilliant and certainly smart enough to surreptitiously abscond with the $50 and to substitute the Pick-n-Save gift for it . I’ll always wonder about that.

That kid planned to become a surgeon , too . He outlined his entire future plans for me one day . ” Why a surgeon ?” I asked . ” Because that’s where the money is ,” he said . The scary thing for me was that he would undoubtedly achieve his goals , step by step , and be in it for the money . On the other hand , regarding the Pick-n-Save object , maybe his daddy simply took a dislike to me as his son’s teacher and that was that . I’ll never know for sure , and that’s what nags me. Maybe I’ll meet this kid in the afterlife and then I’ll ask him about it and then I’ll know .

In the morning the international negotiations began with Ada acting as my representative and advocate in the matter of the splattered fragrance . After some intensive discussion among the parties a deal was struck. It should be noted that I was not one of the parties involved in the parleying . The perfume would not be replaced but Dan would pay the damaged party $100 upon her next visit to Los Angeles . It seemed an odd deal to me , but what do I know about perfume or international finance ? Nothing.

I don’t mind going to Texas . I think we’ll take three days to get there . I’d like to check out Lordsburg, New Mexico , for a place to stop for one night . I’ve never been there , as far as I remember . I’d also like to see Truth or Consequences , New Mexico. Never been there either. I planned to take Ada there a couple of years ago . There are natural hot springs there ; in fact , I think it used to be called Hot Springs, New Mexico before the town won a contest and took on the name of the popular TV show at the time called Truth or Consequences . Unfortunatley , the pandemic interfered with our trip and we never made it there . My brother-in-law warned me that there is a deadly heat wave in Texas. My sister reminded me of wildfires we might have to deal with on the way . Another sister poo pooed a trip to Texas altogether , based mostly on her objections to recent laws and political activities in Texas these days . She told me that the least I could do would be to avoid Governor Abbott . I’m pretty sure that I can do that .

The first time that I visited London , I saw where the Lone Star Republic’s embassy was located back when Texas was no longer part of Mexico but not yet part of the USA . I drove through Texas several years ago. Much of it is vacant dry land . I reflected on the fact that people fought and died for that land way back when but it’s still vacant dry land and there’s lots of it .

We’ll head northeast along highway 20 , as far as I remember from looking at the map , toward Fort Worth . There’s an art show there somewhere and we plan to see it and then take the artist with us back to California . No offense to Texans , but I’m not even there yet but I know I’ll be happy to git out of Texas as soon as we can git .

I’m going to give the artist 100 bucks , too , and not really because I’m such a backer of the arts .

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visit from Ivan

My friend Ivan stayed with us for a few days . He left a couple of days ago on his way to Albuquerque to visit with his mother-in-law . Ivan’s wife is in Melbourne , Australia working for some university for a couple more years . She just signed a new contract .

Ivan’s middle name is Frank . His parents named him Ivan Frank , his mother explained , so that if the Russians took over he’d be Ivan , but if the Brits or the Americans took over he’d be Frank . He was born soon after WWII . Always good to be prepared , I suppose . Oh , he’s from Denmark . Please don’t ever ask him if he’s finished . He’ll say , ” No , I’m Danish “.

I visited his mother a couple of times long ago . She lived in a little town in Denmark called Humleboek . There’s a wonderful art museum there named Louisiana . I don’t know how it got a name like Louisiana . Sounds rather American to me . There’s not much else in Humleboek as far as I could tell , except a small shop a the train depot that sells pastries. Ivan’s mother offered to buy me “a Danish” the first time I arrived on the train from Copenhagen . I chose one and it was good , bur she had a strange look on her face . When I asked her if there was something wrong she told me that the pastry that I was enjoying was ” not Danish “. Oh well ! What do I know !

I visited the Louisiana Museum once ,long ago , with Ivan’s former wife. She had re-married . Ivan’s mother said that she liked the new husband ; he’s a nice man , she said , ” but he’s not my Ivan ” . That’s what she said . There were some paintings on display by Edward Hopper . The ex-wife was surprised to find out that at the time I had never heard of Edward Hopper . ” He’s an American ,” she said . Ah , she wasn’t aware that she was only scratching the surface of my overall ignorance . I’m an American so I should know Edward Hopper . If only ! She was kind of puzzled , well very puzzled at the mystery of my cluelessness , but I guess she got over it .

Ivan was , among other things , a ship’s carpenter until the shipping industry decided to more or less fold up it’s tent . I think a lot of shipbuilding went over to Japan . I know that Ada’s home city in Poland was a shipbuilding powerhouse until about the same time . The huge shipyard is still there but now it is mostly quiet . There is some ship repair going on but no ship building , as far as I know . The entire waterfront was extensively bombed during World War II and it was beginning to rebuild and flourish when it shut down instead . That’s another story .

I met Ivan in the early 1970s in an English bar in Santa Monica called the King’s Head Inn . I think the place is still there . He was working in a travelling circus out of Martinex , California , setting up the circus tents and selling snacks . The circus had set up on the beach near the pier , as far as I can remember . Ivan has different memories ; says it was down in some beach city further south . I think I’m right and he thinks he’s right ; but he doesn’t care if he’s right or not . ” You can be right , ” he says with exquisite magnanimity . I don’t have to be right either ; I just suspect that in this particular case I am . Ah , it doesn’t matter if it was Santa Monica or someplace further south anyhow . Doesn’t change a thing .

What he says he liked about me right off was when he asked for directions to drive somewhere and I handed him a map . He saw that as a significant life’s lesson —- the old ‘teach a man to fish’ thing , kind of , I think . ” I knew you were teaching me that I’d have to make it on my own ” , he said . I think I was just handing him a map ; but , to each his own . When he mentioned this map incident to me decades later , I didn’t argue with him about it . I don’t always have to be right .

Ivan travels a lot nowadays . When I mentioned a few years ago that I had a house in Prescott , Arizona that I wanted to sell , he immediately volunteered to meet me there so he could inspect the place and give me his advice . He did ; we both drove separately and met there because he was moving somewhere east after that and I was headed back home . Maybe I need to give him another map , though . A day after he headed out toward Albuquerque this time he called me from Camp Verde , Arizona . That’s not on the way to Albuquerque . ” I took a detour ,” he told me. Why not !

One of these days he’ll fly off to Australia . I’d think about handing him a map but I don’t have any maps of Australia . Anyway , he long ago got the lesson about making it on his own . Ivan is his own person ; that’s for sure . And we’re not finished yet as friends .

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