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The thing is…

May 28th, 2008 · No Comments

•  One of my many peculiarities is my disdain of the popular overuse of the word “thing.”  I would call it a pet peeve, ranking near the top of my list with turn-signal non-usage and the misuse of and over-reliance on cellular telephones.  Why, when the English language is so rich with word choices both complex and simple, would any self-respecting educated person expose his laziness to the world by substituting “thing” for any of the wide variety of expressions at his disposal?  “Doohickey” and “thingamajig” get a pass from me, as their use in spoken language reveals some humor and implies that the speaker knows that there is another, more appropriate, word for that moment that they momentarily cannot access.

I suppose I could go on about this, but it gets really tiresome.  For both of us.

•  Why do people mutter under their breath?  Do they really not want you to hear what they are saying?  I don’t think so.  Usually, when people are said to “mutter under their breath,” they are speaking in a low, quiet tone.  As described, muttering under the breath would be less audible than breathing which, in most cases, would be about as loud as silence.  If the mutterance were not meant to be heard, I imagine that the mutterer would merely think it.  Thus, muttering under the breath is more of a dramatic parry.  Here, catch this, if your senses are sharp enough, seems to be the message.  It’s a gamble on the part of the mutterer that he can get away with saying something that in text would be written parenthetically, and is most often an insult, offensive, or a rhetorical challenge.  I do it more often than I would care to admit.

•  Why are we fascinated by sadness?  (I am assuming here, possibly falsely, that “we” share the fascination that “I” possess.  He said, muttering under his breath.)  Last night, doing a little channel-surfing, I happened upon Million Dollar Baby, the Clint Eastwood film.  It’s a wonderful film, strong on character and story, and as tragic and heart-wrenching as a Shakespearean drama.  I ended up watching it for about half of an hour.  I just could not turn away.  I thought about how much I enjoy Eastwood’s movies, especially those from this later part of his career that he has directed and, presumably, chosen to work on.  Unforgiven and Mystic River, specifically, contain the same thread of melancholy that I responded to in Million Dollar Baby.  And I could watch Unforgiven over and over again.  Puzzling.  Hey, I just realized that Clint and I have something in common.  Maybe I should give him a call.

The same is true of sad songs.  Songs about sunshine and dancing and blissful love are fine, and I like The Beach Boys a lot.  But it’s “The Warmth of the Sun,” “Caroline, No” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” that end up looping around in my head for hours.  What’s up with that?

•  My next-door neighbors began sharing their daily newspaper with me recently.  My end of the bargain is to make sure that the papers get recycled on Wednesdays, which is easy enough.  This news exchange has provided a base for conversation starters between us which, most of the time, revolve around the circus that is Birmingham’s city government.  And, if you live here, you know what that means: lots of talk of Larry Langford!

I’ve been thinking of things that Mayor Langford could start doing to (a) improve his image, (b) improve his and his staff’s effectiveness, (c) help the city economy, and (d) loosen the knots in my intestines that appear every time I hear his name mentioned.  They are:

  1. Start using his full name.  Lawrence Langford has a more elevated sound to it.  If it fails to earn a smidgen more respect from the citizens, its use would at least be more fitting to someone self-compared to the King of Ninevah.  King Larry versus King Lawrence.  See what I mean?  It worked for Debbie Gibson.  But maybe his given name is indeed Larry, in which case, kinghood is definitely out of the question.  Do not, under any circumstances, allow people to refer to him by his initials LPL, as it may cause some people to confuse him with lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that hydrolyzes lipids in lipoproteins, like those found in chylomicrons and very low-density lipoproteins, into three free fatty acids and one glycerol molecule. (I’m just sayin’.)
  2. Turn self-righteousness into group-righteousness.  Tell someone, anyone, that he or she is correct.  Do this at least once every hour – spread it around a little bit – and make sure there is a media person within earshot to record it.
  3. Enough with the God platform.  Get off of it.  We know that he has God within him because GOD IS EVERYWHERE!  (Mutterance: Catechism class, day one.)  The new rules dictate that each time Langford mentions His name while on the job, he must put $1,000 into a neighborhood fund to be split between Roderick Royal’s and Valerie Abbott’s city districts.  That’ll put the kibosh on that in a flash.  (Mutterance: Or, start saying the word “thing” instead of God, Jesus or Jehovah.  That’ll really get people thinking.)
  4. Demand that his chief of staff Deborah Vance stop wasting time at work Googling her name.  At least once a week, I get a hit from someone Googling “deborah vance” and linking to a February 19th post on my blog.  If she spent less time doing this, she’d have more time to spend effectively deflecting media attention from his latest gaffe.  And, if the phantom Googler is not Ms. Vance, at least she is now aware that someone out there is researching her on a regular basis.
  5. Write a blog on al.com.  Allow comments.
  6. Learn the difference between constituency (all: a fairly constant number) and voting block (some: a highly variable number).  Learn where the entirety of the constituency lives.  Put that Harvard Public Policy seminar – the one that is mentioned in his Wikipedia entry, but has a footnote that doesn’t even contain the reference – to work.
  7. Stop smoking.  He’ll save money at the dentist.  And we might have saved money on a smoking patio.

Tags: film · ideas · language · music · politics · self

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