Mispronounced, Revisited

As I have mentioned before in these blog posts, there are words that I have mispronounced for so many years that the mispronunciation now sounds correct to my ears. One of these is the word piscine—which is not, as made famous in one movie, generally pronounced “Pissing”, but “PIE Seen”.  However, when I first read the word, I accidentally placed the accent on the second syllable: “Pie SEEN”. To this day, that is how I read the word.  It rarely comes up in conversation, so I don’t generally have to worry about mispronouncing it in public.  But then, anything would be better than pronouncing the word as “pissing”.

But another word, topiary, is a pronunciation Waterloo for me.  Again, since I first read the word rather than heard it in conversation, I mispronounced it, reading it as “Tow PIE Uh Ree”.  When I heard the word pronounced correctly for the first time, TOW Pee Airy”, though, I thought to myself, “Well, that just sounds stupid.”  And I have embarrassingly mispronounced it, and been corrected, in conversation a few times.  Still, reading the word topiary, I hold on to my personal pronunciation.  It just sounds right to me.

Another stumbling block for me is the word plebian.  Perhaps due to my childhood lessons in sounding out unfamiliar words, it appeared to me that this word should be pronounced “PLEE Bee An”, not “PLIH Bee An”.  Fortunately, it is one word which I can usually speak correctly, even if in my own head I hear it differently.

But there are words which I intentionally mispronounce, such as the name of the planet Uranus.  In the English language, there is simply no good pronunciation for this the name of this poor, benighted planet. It either comes out sounding like “Your Anus” or “Urine Us”, both equally awful.  So I pronounce it “You RAN Us”.  It is quite wrong—and much more pleasing to the ear.  Correctness be damned.  And while I’m on the subject of words for outer space, I have found no fewer than five different pronunciations listed on-line for the name Betelgeuse.  So, once again, despite the popular movie pronunciation, Beetle Juice, I absolutely refuse to pronounce the word that way!  It’s atrocious.  Instead, I lean toward the pronunciation, “Beh Tell Jezh.”  Far more pleasing.

Other words can rattle me simply because of growing up using local pronunciations, such as the ignorant Hoosier tendency to call the popular breakfast food an “Aig” rather than an “Ehg.” It took me years to train myself out of that slip of the tongue. Coupon will always catch me out, though.  It will forever be to me a “KEW Pon”, not a “KOO Pon.”

But the mispronunciations of some words are so common that the correct pronunciation sounds strange to most ears; witness, the word which, as I sat in Mrs. Dryer’s third grade classroom, set me up for this lifetime of persnickety pronunciation habits: mischievous.  MISS Cheh Vus, not Miss CHEE Vi Us!  The word is so commonly mispronounced that I have been called out on a few occasions when using the correct pronunciation, and (in great irritation, I might add), debated the question with my would-be tutors.  Which begs the question: If a mispronunciation is that common, is it, in fact, simply a separate way of saying the word?  Language, after all, is fluid; it ebbs and flows and changes.  New words are added; others fall out of use.  The word gif did not exist throughout most of my lifetime, and, despite the intentions of its creator, I will always pronounce it with a hard “g”, as gif, not the peanut-buttery jif.

Which brings to mind a TV documentary that I once watched far back in the 1970s. The computer era not yet having arrived, countries such as Iceland experienced both isolation and individuality.  The show’s narrator was extolling the fact that Icelandic people still spoke the language, unchanged, of their distant forebears, the Viking people.  As the narrator spoke, the video ran, displaying an Icelandic TV news announcer, reading the latest stories to his listeners in their ancient tongue.

This sent me into gales laughter. Exactly what, I wondered, was the ancient Viking word for “television”?!

The simple truth is that none of us who have either been raised speaking or who have later acquired the English language speak the language as it once existed—the English of Chaucer’s day. Within a world of instant communication, language is changing even faster than it did in the hundreds of years that divide us from notable writers such as Shakespeare.  Some of those changes in both pronunciation and usage will be sensible.  The language we read and speak will continue to evolve.

But I absolutely, positively, totally refuse to bend even an inch on the pronunciation of mischievous!

Controlling the Rainbow

(This post was originally published on December 4, 2017, and is now rededicated to Amanda and John. Happy First Wedding Anniversary, my dearest children!  What an eventful year!  And, yes, little Morrigan Lynn, our magnificent miracle–yes, someday you will be a young girl counting on your fingers…but I assure you, your birth was a full ten and one-half months after your parents’ wedding day!)

There was a rainbow on my daughter’s wedding day.

As omens go, that’s hard to beat.

Neither she nor I actually witnessed this phenomenon, but were told about it afterwards by the relatives, smokers all, who had stepped outside to indulge their nicotine habit.

I’d been praying for days—weeks!—for lovely weather to grace the outdoor wedding ceremony of my only daughter. The venue she’d chosen had an excellent hall, and we knew that, if the weather didn’t cooperate, the ceremony could be moved indoors.  But she wanted an outdoor ceremony—wanted it desperately.

And things weren’t looking good.

I began scouring the weather reports two full weeks in advance of the ceremony, constantly checking on my phone, Kindle and computer, comparing predictions that somehow never quite seemed to mesh except for one thing: rain, rain, and more rain. I continually reminded myself that “weather forecaster” is the only job where one can be wrong 95% of the time and still remain employed, but that wasn’t convincing me. So I decided the best thing to do was gather all of my friends and family and issue a request (command!) for prayer.  Prayer and petitions to whatever deity, saint, deva or nature spirit they believed in.  If they didn’t have a favorite divinity, I supplied them with options, using my favorite search engine (NOT Google, but that’s  subject for another blog post).  I tracked down the names and antecedents of every saint, goddess, god or nature spirit said to have authority over the weather.  And there were a bundle of ‘em.

And so the prayers and petitions and appeals and entreaties went up from a dozen hearts and lips. But the weather forecast remained unswerving.  Rain.

However, the forecast began to alter slightly, from rain all day to “rain in the afternoon”. Raindrops, just wait until after 4:00 p.m., I prayed.  That would get us safely through the ceremony and all decamped to the reception hall.

Smaller Walking Up Aisle
Her Dad and I walking our daughter up the aisle at her outdoor wedding, October 7, 2017.

And, in the end, that is exactly what the deities, gods, goddesses, saints, devas, divinities and nature spirits (most likely, heartily sick of hearing so many desperate petitions) provided: The perfect early fall day. A temperature that rose to no more than 80, a light breeze lifting the brilliant leaves of the trees, and fluffy white cumulous clouds cruising through a blue sky…all of it lasting until just that last shutter click as the final formal portraits were taken.  Just at 4:00 p.m., a dark thundercloud rolled over to obscure the sun, and we all made tracks for the reception hall and food, music, drinks, dancing, cake and joy.

And, at some point during the proceedings, a rainbow.

And that was the one thing I’d forgotten about in my desperate need to control every last detail and thereby provide my daughter the perfect wedding day: the possibility of a beauty even greater than clear, warm weather. A rainbow.  The ultimate promise.

Let go and let God. I’m a great proponent of that saying…in theory.  Practice is an entirely different matter.  However, my daughter’s wedding day was a firm reminder to me of that concept.  Another was taught to me by a Hindu friend, who explained that rain on one’s wedding day is considered “a blessing of water”.  Sunshine, warm breezes, trees clothed brilliantly in green and gold and ruby, rain and a rainbow. Every possible good luck omen.  My daughter and new son-in-law got it all—more likely in spite of, rather than because of, all my desperate pleas to the heavens.

Now, though, laughingly thinking of omens, I’m forced to remember my own wedding day to her father, right here in my home state.  Omens indeed!

Indiana had an earthquake.

Nigerian Princes and Dingbats

I was once acquainted with a woman who, although not unintelligent, was somehow still not the brightest bulb in the shed. It was not just that she was lacking in common sense, although that comprised a great deal of the problem; tact was also absent in her makeup, as were diplomacy, tolerance, and objectivity.  Most of the time, though, she simply failed to use the completely adequate brain God had put in her head.  “Dingbat” was probably the most courteous description of the lady, whom we shall, for the purposes of this essay, call “Lorene”.  I added a number of other, less-complimentary labels to my assessment of her character before I finally stopped associating with her, but the Dingbat label still stands out.

Lorene had an on-going feud with her step-daughter, of which she complained bitterly and at great length whenever we were together. I personally witnessed the interaction between the two of them just one time, when invited to a backyard barbecue.  Her step-daughter leaned down, smiling, to Lorene, who was sitting on the back porch steps, to offer her an appetizer from the tray she had carried out.  The look Lorene gave her would have melted steel. The step-daughter quickly lifted the tray out of range and stepped back.  A few days later, I mentioned my perspective on this interaction to Lorene, suggesting gently that she might possibly be contributing to their on-going misunderstanding.  Lorene was genuinely confused.  She hadn’t said anything nasty to her step-daughter, she protested.

After having gotten to know Lorene better, though, I came to realize that the real fault she found with her step-daughter was the fact that the young woman was in an interracial marriage. Lorene was a closet racist, but her mask of “good manners about black people” slipped askew on more than one occasion.  Perhaps the worst of these was when Lorene became the victim of a purse snatching in a mall parking lot.  Her attacker had been black; the detective sent to the site to interview her was African American, also.  As the detective probed for any information Lorene could provide him about the appearance of the mugger, she exclaimed vehemently, “I don’t know what he looked like!  You people all look alike to me!”

When she recounted this conversation to me, I nearly had a stroke. “Lorene, you didn’t!” I exclaimed, and she looked at me in total bewilderment.  After all, she explained, she was merely stating the truth.  Why on earth would the detective get upset at that?

Associating with Lorene, I learned, required frequent infusions of headache tablets.

But never was the Dingbat label more justifiably hung upon Lorene’s brow than when she was taken in by an e-mail scam. This was during the “Nigerian Prince” era of email scams, and one would think that nobody, nobody at all, could have been stupid enough to fall for those badly-written, misspelled missives that circulated so endlessly. One would think…unless one knew Lorene.

One afternoon Lorene proudly told me that she was assisting a woman in a third-world nation to escape a brutal husband. She’d received an e-mail from an overseas support network for just such women, and of course, she’d immediately responded.  They’d asked her to set up an account under her own name, with money they would wire to her.  When the brutalized spouse arrived in the U.S., she would be directed to Lorene, who would then turn over the account to her so that she could have a fresh start .

The whole “massive stroke/fatal heart attack” scenario flitted once more through my body as I choked out the information that, “For God’s sake, Lorene! This is either a terrorist organization or  money laundering scheme!  And soon they’ll have ALL your personal information! They can steal your identity! They can take everything you have!”  As I spun all the other likely consequences of her actions, Lorene’s face went from disbelief to bewilderment to, finally, dismay.

I quickly located a number for a federal agency to which Lorene could report the scam. But now Dingbat was too frightened to take action, so I suggested she tell her husband what she’d done and let him contact the feds.

Accustomed to his wife’s vagaries, her husband thought the whole affair was hugely hilarious. He did, however, contact the reporting agency, who managed to get the account shut down and somehow protect Lorene from identity theft.

These days I think of Lorene each time I read of the newest, more sophisticated way that scammers have developed to separate people from their money. I wonder if she’s ever wired money to a grandchild stranded in another country, or if she’s answered, “Yes, I can hear you” to the unknown caller, or allowed a “Microsoft Representative” to remote into her computer to “remove a worldwide virus”.

If it happened to anyone, I’m sure it happened to Lorene.

Crappy Toilet Paper

I have to use dreadful toilet paper in my bathrooms.

It’s not that I can’t afford the “downy soft” or pillowy versions of this necessary household accoutrement. It’s that the original owner of my condo, prior to my purchase, installed very high-end, brand name, low-flow toilets that are, if you will excuse the awful pun, not worth a shit.

I should have found it telling that, when I viewed the home prior to purchase, there was a plunger stationed beside each toilet. But it wasn’t until after multiple drainage backups (the most memorable being the day that I was running both the washer and the dishwasher at the same time when the pipes refused to drain), that a plumber explained the culprit to me.  Arriving after my panicked call–my toilets had begun making big burps, as though some hideous monster was trying to climb out of them, while both the dishwasher and the washing machine, hitting their drain cycles, began spewing their contents onto my kitchen floor–he ran one of those pipe-colonoscopy things.  Then he showed me the screen of his apparatus, and there lay the problem: paper.  Lots and lots of paper clogging the main drainage pipe.

If I followed his instructions, Plumber Guy kindly explained, I wouldn’t ever experience this problem again. And the main information contained in those instructions was: Use crummy toilet paper.  The “septic safe” kind.  One ply.  Not beaten into soft, fluffy submission.  About the same consistency of the paper used for dressmaking patterns or gift wrap.  That little change, and a monthly addition of special drain-clearing, paper-eating enzymes (usually reserved for those who have a septic tank, not a city sewer system) would clear up my problem and allow me to avoid further catastrophes.

Plumber Guy was correct. Following his advice, I’ve gone three years without further drainage incidents. But the price I have to pay is using toilet paper that is, shall we say, unkind.

I’ve become accustomed to it, and really don’t notice the substitution except on those unhappy occasions when I’m not well and must make multiple trips to the porcelain throne. Then it hurts—and not just my pride.  But I do, nevertheless, run about like a madwoman when guests are expected in my home, replacing those unpleasant, scratchy, septic-safe rolls with the “nice” toilet paper.  The super-soft, cushiony kind.  I run out to my garage, where the cache of spare paper towels, Kleenex and toilet paper is stored, and there, reposing on a special shelf is the “good” toilet paper, reserved solely for guests.  I do sometimes angst over this when the rare unexpected guest drops in, but have finally decided that if you show up unexpectedly on my doorstep, welcome as you may be, you must take what you can get.  And I have made the rare mean-spirited decision to leave the rude toilet paper on the role when an expected guest was someone I’d prefer to not have in my home!

This whole situation loomed heavily on mind, though, when many people were coming in and out of my home to help out while I was recovering from surgery. After a long talk with myself, I decided that requiring them to deal with a drainage disaster would be to add just another layer of onerous responsibility to their tasks.  So I compromised by putting the “nice” toilet paper in the downstairs half-bath, which they were most likely to use, and leaving the same old nasty stuff in the main bathroom upstairs.

Someday, perhaps, I will have reason to replace my current toilets and the problem will be solved for once and for all. Having done considerable research on the subject, I know what brands of toilets have a good rating in regard to this problem, and what I will select.  And I will happily—joyfully, even—trade in my high-end brand toilets for the less fancy and much more effective ones.

Truthfully, though, I recognize in the grand scheme of things, having to put up with scratchy toilet paper is so extremely minor a problem that it is not even a blip on the radar. But, there you have it: it’s my problem, and I am constantly aware of it.  I am tired of dealing with crappy toilet paper.

The Horrors of Voice-to-Text!

Years ago I had a darling little “slide” phone. A teeny-tiny keyboard slid out from beneath the phone proper.

I could text like the wind on that little phone. Even proper punctuation was easy on it.

But it was a “dumb” phone. Not a smart phone.  And it was growing old.  So, with a sigh, I eventually gave up my darling little phone and upgraded.  I chose another carrier and purchased a smart phone.

And the damn thing was the dumbest phone I’d ever had since my first, brick-like cell phone.

Oh, it could do all the expected things: take photos, run apps, access the Net. But the keyboard was a nightmare.  No matter what I tried—turning it sideways, using different keyboard colors, changing the keyboard sensitivity, downloading different keyboard apps—I could not type an error-free text on the dratted thing to save my own life.

Frustrated beyond belief, I began using voice-to-text.

Oh, dear.

Now, mind you, my not-so-smart phone is an Android. On a limited income, I was not about to pay the overreaching, exorbitant price of an iPhone. But for that very reason, I am forced to wonder why the very same phone that can, whenever I say, “Okay, Google” and make a request, figure out precisely what it is that I’m asking and type it correctly—why, why can that same phone NEVER, never ever even once type a text out correctly on the first try?  Or the second.  Or even the third.

The same voice—mine–asking a question is the same one speaking the text, so why?! It makes no sense.

Even worse is the damned thing’s propensity for changing what I have just said. I speak, I watch the screen, and it (for once) types what I have said.  But when (as I have learned I absolutely must do!) I scroll back to check the text, I find that it has changed not just words, but entire phrases, to something else.  WHY?  It wrote what I said…and then, without reason or warning, changed it.  I have even, to my horror and dismay, watched it change entire phrases WHILE THE TEXT IS SENDING.  Right in the middle of cyberspace, BINGO!  An entire sentence of carefully-spoken words is changed to something completely nonsensical.  This, of course, requires a sigh and another text, correcting the nonsense that the Evil Child of Terminator has just written.

Then there is the fact that, no matter how carefully I speak, my phone can never seem to comprehend the difference when I say the words “And” and “In”. Inevitably, it switches them.  And although it was finally corrected, for the longest time it could not comprehend the punctuation words, “exclamation point”, writing those words out completely unless I used the British version, saying, “exclamation mark”.  Even a phone as dumb as mine should be able to figure out  that I AM NOT LIVING IN BRITIAN!  Nor can it still figure out the punctuation statements “Quote” and “Unquote”.

And then there is its habit of, out of the blue, capitalizing words. Words that have not, in any way, shape, or form, been spoken with emphasis.  Words that do not relate to some current cultural event—not a movie, a song, or an idiocy perpetrated by a Kardashian.  Nope.  Just because it wants to, apparently, and consequently requiring that I backspace using that irritating, miniscule cursor (that no more obeys my thumb than does the keyboard) to correct the inaccurate upper case.  The opposite, of course, is also true—no matter with what emphasis a word is spoken, the phone will not capitalize a first letter, let alone an entire word.

And there is the final (to me) insult,  no matter how many times I have corrected it, of using the sub-moronic version of the decades-long accepted contraction, ‘cause, and mutating it to “cuz”. Listen, you jerk-ignorant programmers: a “cuz” is one’s cousin.  The slang word is not even pronounced in the same manner.  The word, “ ‘cause ” is a contraction of the full word,  “because”, and has been in use in the English language since the 15th century.  It is ‘cause, not cuz or cos.  (Because that’s what is grammatically correct, dammit!)

The best thing I have to say of Voice-to-Text on my phone is that it is ever so slightly easier than typing on the worthless keyboard. And perhaps my next phone (which will still be an Android, because I still have the same reaction to the overpriced and really no better iPhone) will be a bit more sensitive to my spoken statements and print them out a bit more correctly.

Even if I could talk without breathing, though, I’m not holding my breath.

It Is Pronounced!!

Before I write one further sentence, let me state, unequivocally, that I mispronounce many words. While I don’t make some of the most egregious errors of Midwestern pronunciation – I do not “warsh” my clothes, nor return books to the “liberry”; I do not “ax” a question, nor shop at the “groshery” – there are still several words that I’ve spoken incorrectly for so many years that the mispronunciation now sounds valid to my ears.  I catch myself in two of the worst quite often, uttering the Midwestern “jis” rather than just, or “tuh” instead of too.

But there are common mispronunciations that grate on me almost daily. For this, I blame Mrs. Dryer, my excellent third-grade teacher.  It was she who told our whole class that if we mispronounced the word “mischievous” in her classroom (saying it as “miss chee vee ous” rather than the correct “miss cheh vus”), we would receive an “F” for the whole day.  Never mind that this word has been so consistently mispronounced that the incorrect pronunciation now appears as a secondary pronunciation in dictionaries; in Mrs. Dryer’s classroom, one said the word correctly or suffered the consequences.  Mrs. Dryer’s classroom rule set me up for a lifetime of picky pronunciation.

As an adult, I hung my head in embarrassment when an executive at a meeting I attended spoke of the “physical year” rather than fiscal year.  As a teenager, I sat cringing in my classroom seat while my American History teacher spoke of “Eyetalians”, or our Assistant Principal made an announcement about our school “athaletes”.  I recently heard the same mispronunciation made by TV news commentator and I wanted to reach into the screen and rip the speaker’s tonsils out of his throat.  Now I mute the set each time that commentator is on air.

I generally adore British accents, but I find myself bothered by the British habit of adding a faint but noticeable “r” at the end of any word ending in a soft “a”. I hear them mangle Asia into “Azhar” and transmute Amanda or Anna into “Amandar” and “Annar”.  “There is no ‘r’ at the end!” I want to shout at the actors on the screen.  But I find myself just as furious when Americans end these same words in “uh” rather than ah.  “It’s an ‘a’,” I insist to the No One who is listening.  “It’s pronounced with a soft ‘a’!”

But I save my most impressive rants for announcers and newscasters on TV and radio. Hear My Declaration, O Ye Who Are On the Air: If one has made the decision to go into a field which requires public speaking, then Diction Is An Essential Skill.  So I rave at the car radio or the flatscreen when an announcer says “uh-mediately” rather than ih-meditately, or “uhh-fective” instead of eh-fective”.  I bury my face in my hands when they slur sort of  into “sorta”, or, just as I do, utter the word “tuh” instead of to.  I wince with shame when I hear them speak of “Queen Uh-lizabeth”.

Nevertheless, having been embarrassingly called out myself on an occasional mispronunciation, when faced with an acquaintance who has mispronounced a word, I have learned to soft-pedal my corrections to avoid humiliating them—yes, even to the boyfriend whom I was almost done with. Having heard him, for the umpteenth time, suggest we dine at the “buffit”, I said mildly, making sure that there was no one else to hear me correct him, “Is that how the word is pronounced, are you sure? Because I’ve always heard it pronounced buffay.”  “Don’t be dumb!” he retorted.  “It’s not Jimmy Buffay, is it?!”  So I shrugged and said not a word as he suggested to the couple we were meeting that we have dinner that evening at the “buffit”.

And I didn’t say a word, either, when they realized he was serious, began to chuckle, and corrected him.

Well, I did smile. A little.  Evilly.

To Wash or Not To Wash: No Question!

(Warning: This post may be dangerous to your gag reflex!)

The other day I was at my daughter’s home, and she commented that “Puppy” (a full-grown, 80-pound Husky) was in need of  “a spa day pretty soon; she smells like a dog”.

Now, I lost much of my sense of smell to a sinus disorder many years ago, so I could not comment on the problem, despite the fact that my granddog was dancing in front of me, performing her “I have not seen you in at least two days and you’re my favorite person on the planet” act. She might not have smelled like roses, but Puppy’s doggy-odor hadn’t reached offensive levels, I thought.  However, the comment on smell jogged my memory regarding an article I’d read a few months earlier.

The author of the article was a proponent of infrequent bathing. His essay discussed the natural biome of the skin which was, he claimed, destroyed by too-frequent bathing (which, he seemed to indicate, was basically any form of bathing at all).  The author explained that he no longer showered or bathed, contenting himself with occasionally rinsing off excess sweat, something made easy in the summer months by merely standing beneath the garden hose—especially to rinse off his genital area.

After I finished retching (and wondering just how active this joker’s sex life wasn’t!), I continued reading to his conclusion that, instead of soap, he “smelled like people”.

As I clicked off the article, I wondered to myself if smelling like people might be equivalent to smelling like a dog—especially after the garden hose trick. Despite my weak sense of smell, wet dog is not one of my favorite scents.  I’m pretty certain that wet, unwashed people smell pretty similar to that.  And I was absolutely certain that the male author of the “don’t wash” essay had never been a menstruating woman on a hot summer day.

I’ve always equated not bathing with, oh, say, body lice and bubonic plague. I’ll take the sheer, unmatched pleasure of soaking in a hot bath with lavender salts, or a steamy shower with scented soap on a body puff—yeah, I’ll take that any day over any amount of “natural biome”.  And don’t even get me started on the “no-poo” non-hair-washing crusaders.  No-poo-schmoo-poo—my hair gets washed every other day, and on the rare occasions that I must wait to wash it until the third day, it feels gross and looks dull and anyone trying to restrain me from the hot water and shampoo had best be armed!  I use a nail brush to scrub beneath my fingernails every morning, too, all the while wondering to myself just what frightening “natural biome” lurks beneath those lovely gel-manicured fake nails I see on every second pair of female hands.

I still wonder how the author of the “don’t bathe” article felt about the CDCs recommendations for handwashing during the flu season. And that causes me to recall another article that I read, this one long before the marvels of instantly available knowledge on the Web.  That article discussed the age-old scourge of the disease trachoma, a bacterial eye inflammation that causes granulations to form beneath the eyelids. The disease is progressive, eventually causing the eyeball itself to harden and blinding the sufferers. Trachoma is a common cause of blindness in third-world countries.  But the researchers had discovered a simple way to reduce the spread of trachoma and prevent re-infection of those receiving treatment.

They simply had the people, either infected or at risk, wash their faces every day.

Natural biomes are not necessarily benign. Queen Elizabeth the First may have bathed monthly “whether she needed it or not”, but I’ll stick to my daily schedule, thank you very much. And enjoy every blessed minute of rearranging the natural biome of my skin.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Two years ago I discovered an app for my Kindle that allows me to scroll through a list of free books on the topics of my choice and decide which, if any, are those I’d like to read. Many of these novels are the initial efforts of a brand-new author; others are first books in what is to be a series.  A few are older books that the author chooses to promote in hopes of garnering new readership.

For someone who reads constantly, as I do, this should be (and often is) a great boon. It provides me the opportunity to discover authors whom I’ve never before encountered, and to enjoy reading without the worry and hassle of returning books on time to the library.  I am able to satisfy my voracious reading habits without incurring the national debt to satisfy my addiction.  In theory, then, this app provides me wonderful benefits.

In practice…not so much.

Make no mistake: I use care in selecting the books I download.  After finding a novel listed on the app, I thoroughly investigate it. I glance swiftly through the plot description, deciding if the story even sounds like something that interests me.  This can be tricky, as anyone who wants to select a good book knows.  In any case, I am persnickety. I enjoy light mysteries, but I don’t want too much blood and gore; “thriller” is not, to me, a leisure-time activity.  I’m a nervous person by nature, so I don’t need highly suspenseful novels to provoke an anxiety attack!  I also prefer that my books not be drenched in romance; heaving chests and tight buttocks and kissable lips are irritating, not titillating, and I find the romance-novel style names (Chance, Promise, Lark, Wolfe…) utterly laughable.  Nor do I want blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex act.  In my view, sex is something best done, not described.

Should a novel pass the sniff test in all these areas, I then read both the best review (the gushingly-favorable 5-Star review that was probably written by a family member or best friend) and at least two or more of the worst reviews. Those are usually the deciding factor.  If the poor reviews contain any complaints about the writing—grammar, spelling, punctuation or editing—the book is a no-go. (Disclaimer: Never doubt that I realize my own writing is hardly error-free; of that I’m  all too sadly aware.  But I am not asking a weary public to pay hard-earned money for what I’ve written.)

If a novel that I’m considering passes all my onerous qualifications, I finally take the plunge and download it.

Despite my care in selecting each book, though, I’m often disappointed. And so it is that, all too frequently, I’m reminded of the time my mother had chosen a novel at the library on one of her favorite subjects, the early American settlers.  Using just as careful a selection process as I, she nevertheless found one book to be so bad–so utterly, terribly, reprehensibly, abysmally awful–that the only thing she could possibly do was read some of the more unintentionally-hilarious passages aloud to us kids.  My mother read aloud very well: expressively, and with perfect diction.  Delivered in her faultless and precise voice, the dreadful passages of that appalling book were so unbearably funny that we literally collapsed on the floor, clutching our sides as we laughed until we hurt.

I still laugh just remembering it.  Such a comically cruel thing to do to the minds of young people!  Some of the more painfully bad sentences from that book are burned into my memory to this day.

Too late, Mom and I discovered the words “Vanity Publisher?!” penciled lightly on the flyleaf of that appalling novel. It is notable that the librarians had not erased the words.

In the world of e-books, half the novels today are essentially vanity publishing specimens. Many of these so-called authors should have their keyboards smashed and their fingers broken for the atrocities they commit in the name of literature.  More terrifying yet is the fact that a reading public swallows these works, hook, line, and sinker.

Writing a book is hard work, and those unequipped to undertake the job should not be doing it (and I include myself in that assessment). But if they insist on doing so, those authors should at the very least have the intelligence and grace to haunt the halls of their local college, find some starving graduate student aiming for a Masters in literature, and offer her or him a few paltry bucks to edit their “masterpieces”.

The rest of us might have fewer laughs that way, but we’d sure as hell burns be hitting the “Delete!” button less.

The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog

I am owned by a big orange tomcat who somehow missed that memo about cats having staff. He approaches his contact with humans using a very different mindset.  I think perhaps he believes he is a dog.  Although he hasn’t yet learned to wag his tail, he has totally perfected the doglike stance of sitting in front of people and staring up at them adoringly.  Added to this is his propensity for licking.  Fingers, hands, cheeks, noses—he literally rains kisses upon any human who will sit still for his affectionately rough tongue.  When a friend sat in my home crying one day, he climbed up her lap and licked a few tears from her cheeks.  Finding that it wasn’t helping, he began to kiss her nose repeatedly until she finally collapsed into helpless giggles, exclaiming “I think he’s trying to turn off the tap!”

Puff (full name, Puffy Socks Dragon, Esquire) is a “porch rescue”. Regal Puff 5Thrown out at the tender age of one year by a despicable owner who moved away and left him to fend for himself, he survived four years on his own in a harsh environment that included the second hottest summer on record in the state of Indiana, and one of the worst snowstorms ever to grace a January landscape.  I honestly don’t know how he did it.  If anything, I attribute Puff’s survival during those harsh four years to his ability to sweet-talk and manipulate strangers into caring for him by worshipping them.

I became aware of Puff’s existence when, as I babysat my then-four-year-old twin great niece and nephew, he began to come visiting. It was they who graced him with his unusual name, deciding that he resembled cats owned by their grandparents (Puff) and great aunt (Socks).  “Dragon” was tacked on as a caveat to their favorite song, Puff the Magic Dragon, while I, feeling that “a little more made no never mind”, added the Esquire (in British form) to indicate his status as a gentleman cat.  In any case, every Wednesday that summer the twins would arrive at my home and we’d head out to the back porch, since they (unlike so many of their counterparts) could not get enough of the great outdoors.  And Puff would hear them and come running. I mean running! At that time, he’d made a den beneath the minibarn of the neighbor whose backyard abutted mine.  I would hear the telltale rattle of lumber that the neighbors kept stored outside the mini-barn, and then Puff would appear, dramatically leaping their stockade fence, Superman-style.  All he lacked was a little red cape.  He would then rush to the twins and twine around and about them as they held and petted him in a mutual display of affection and admiration.

When summer ended and the twins went home, I caved. After an abortive attempt to find Big Orange another home, I brought him inside and commenced the frustrating challenge of introducing him to my already-overcatted household.  “The Girls”—Zoe, Bella and Lilith Cats–did not take kindly to the male interloper in their midst. There followed a number of interesting months, but with patience (and a lot of yelling) Puffy Socks finally became a member of the household.

I would say that I have never regretted it for a moment, but there are times when, looking at the tatters of my formerly favorite curtains, I threaten Puff the Claw with a return to his friendless open-air existence. But then I sit down, and the big old orange guy climbs up my chest and, purring like a little engine, begins to kiss my nose. And I crumble.

As a child, my family always owned dogs. Dachshunds, beagles—we were dog people.  I still adore dogs.  I constantly buy new toys for my daughter’s Husky.

But, I have to admit, a Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog, while he may not win a blue ribbon in the Dog of the Year contest, places pretty close—especially in my heart.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, from The Big Puff,
who adores you!

The Great Battle of the Shower Curtain

A few years ago I expressed (for the second time) a laconic interest in buying a gun and learning to shoot. My brother, who had done firearms training for a good portion of his career in law enforcement, was not letting me off the hook this time.  He bought me the gun, ammunition, and countless other accoutrements, gave me two hours of personal instruction using his standard gun-safety course, and then took me to the range and taught me to shoot the darned thing with reasonable accuracy.

I took the gun safety training to heart and immediately purchased a fingerprint touch gun safe to store the weapon securely beside my bed. And later that year I had good reason to put all my training to use as someone attempted to break in my front door in the small hours of the morning.  Standing in my entryway in approved stance, phone beside me where I had called for help, I rehearsed every minute of my instruction in my head as I pointed the weapon and shouted, “I’ve called 911!  I have a gun!  I will shoot you!”.  As determined by the police who arrived a few minutes later, my intruder turned out to be nothing more than my drunken sot of a neighbor, yanking and pulling at my security door, as he tried to gain entry into what he believed was his own home.  Nevertheless, rattled as I was, I knew I was very glad I had the gun to handle the situation.

The gun has come out of the safe on a few other occasions, as well, most notably the light of early morning when a squirrel, having discovered the cache of pine cones for my fireplace stored in a copper tub on my porch, again rattled the front security door. When I crept up, gun at ready, and flung the main door open, the startled little fellow scampered off to the tree in the front yard, leaving behind the cache of acorns he’d been burying in the tub.  I’m sure we were both equally upset.

But nothing will ever equal the Great Battle of the Shower Curtain.

I was roused from a (rare) sound sleep, startled awake by an inexplicable noise. As I thought to myself, “Did I really hear that?” I realized that the three cats who were sharing the bed with me were all poised in approved “Cat At Alert” stance, one of them even perched like a meerkat sentry.  I quickly removed my gun from the safe and crept carefully to the balcony rail outside my bedroom door, where the landing overlooked the cathedral ceiling.

From that space, with faint exterior light spilling from the stairwell clerestory window, I could look down on the French doors at the back of my lower floor. They were undisturbed, the glass unbroken, the curtains in place.

Swiftly I slapped on the light from the switch at the head of the stairwell and rushed down, gun still at ready, to the spot in the entryway where I could see both my front door and the door to the garage. Both were closed, locked, undisturbed; the “screamer” alarm on the garage door certainly had not been activated.

Still stealthy, I crept further down the stairwell and swung rapidly around the corner to the kitchen. No one was there; nor was anyone in the half-bath.  I flung open the coat closet, in case someone had darted within.  Nope.  No burglars hiding in the closet.

Ah ha! I thought.  They’ve gotten the door up and they’re out there in my garage.  With a dramatic flourish, I threw open the door to the garage, pointing the gun. No dice. The main garage door was down, the car undisturbed.  Bewildered, I closed the door and switched off the screamer before it could begin its klaxon.

Defeated and confused, I was slowly wending my way back upstairs when I remembered that the attic space of our three conjoined condo units was accessible to every unit. I dashed into the spare bedroom and flung open the closet door where the attic entrance reposed.  But the attic door was still encased in the unbroken bubble wrap that I’d taped in place to prevent drafts.

Now completely bewildered, I tottered slowly out of the room, finger now carefully removed from the trigger, gun dangling loosely from my fingertips.  What the hell was the noise that I—and the cats—had heard?

By this time, considering the past moments of stress, I needed the bathroom rather badly. Sighing, with dragging steps, I faltered my way into my main bathroom and switched on the lights.

And it was there I discovered that the springform curtain rod which held the shower curtain in place had unsprung itself and crashed  from the wall, loudly hitting the side of the tub in the process.

I am happy to report that I did not shoot the shower curtain.