Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wonderful Words

Having used the word 'skedaddle' in the title of my last post, it got me to thinking about some of the wonderful words we just don't hear as often anymore. With text messaging and chat rooms clipping and simplifying language to an almost incomprehensible degree (well, to fogies (another great word) like me it does get annoying) it's a treat to think about some of the long and lazy words of yesteryear.

When I was young I used to walk to and from grade school. If I needed to be home on time for something, Mom would tell me either not to dawdle or to lollygag. To my kid's mind, these words obviously meant something very specific to her, and it was almost a game to figure out whether an activity was dawdling or lollygagging. After all, had I been told not to dawdle, then lollygagging was probably an acceptable activity, and vice versa.

It just came down to definitions, of course. For example, was stopping in front of a bunch of purple flowers and squeezing the air-filled buds until they popped with a satisfying sound – was that dawdling? To me it felt far more like lollygagging. However, if I saw a friend and stopped to sample a new Incredible Edible fresh from the mold, that seemed like dawdling.

Sometimes she'd throw in a ringer and tell me not to shilly shally. Now that was a puzzler. It has a lollygaggical feel to it and yet it was obviously something much rarer, since the instruction didn't occur as often. Perhaps only flibbertigibbets knew exactly what shilly shallying was. Regardless, I would make sure to avoid popping buds, eating Incredible Edibles, and skipping (in my mind, skipping was closely tied to shilly shallying). I felt that covered all the bases.

I suppose today's generation will someday wax nostalgic about the days of lol, bff, pos, and mmtmntloltlt (i.e. "My mom told me not to lollygag too long online today). Personally, I find it a little unsettling to look up the words of my youth in the dictionary and see "archaic" next to them. Perhaps the text generation will some day look up theirs and see a "huh?".

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sleepless 'N Skedaddle

If you've ever been a victim of insomnia you know how difficult it is to greet the day with energy. Stress, diet, exercise, apnea, narcolepsy, loud neighbors, caffeine, a barking dog – there are dozens of reasons why sleeping can be difficult. One of the most insidious is the inner monologue.

We've all had it happen. We're just about to doze off and suddenly we think, "That bill is due in two days. I've got to pay it. Now? No, when I wake up is fine. Will I forget? I might forget. That would be disastrous. I need to write a sticky and put it somewhere I'll see it. Where are my stickies? Are they in the drawer or... wish I had some nachos. I should write a sticky to remind myself to get some nachos next time I'm – the bill. Right. Need to write a reminder about..." and soon you turn on the light, find the stickies and plaster a note on your computer to pay the bill. Now you're awake and craving nachos.

When I don't get enough sleep I drag around, eyes at half-mast, dreaming of a nap. That was me today. In fact, right in the middle of writing this, I dozed off. Says a lot for the excitement of my prose.

In truth, it has to do with one of my frequent, albeit dreaded, schedule shifts. My natural inclination is to sleep in the day and work at night. However, I can't seem to live a 24 hour day. Mine is always a bit longer. This means my sleep schedule tends to creep up, happening a little later each day. Because I'm also prone to insomnia, I'll sometimes add a number of extra hours at the end of the day. So if I had been going to sleep at 4am, I'll suddenly be up until 8am.

I hate sleeping through the entire working day because it's so tough to get anything done. You can't run errands, make phone calls, or any of the other things we all take for granted. So what I do when this happens is deliberately push my schedule, staying awake longer and longer until it's a "normal person's" schedule. That lasts about a day or two, but at least I can run some errands.

And now, off to pay some bills and get the ingredients for nachos.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Toasted Jammies

When you're a kid, the world can be a very literal place. Grown-ups tell you to do or not to do something and you take them at their word without thinking beyond it. For example, kids are always told that if their clothes catch on fire, they're supposed to roll on the ground to put it out. Excellent advice as long you assume the child is actually wearing the clothes when they catch fire.

It was a cold November night and my family had just returned from a high school football game. I was never all that into football, but Dad adored it and always supported the local teams even without kids old enough to be in high school.

On that particular evening, my parents invited the next door neighbors over after the game. While the adults laughed over hot drinks in the living room, I went to get ready for bed. My room was the coldest in the house so I had a small space heater to help warm it up. I turned it on high and did my favorite trick – I draped my pajamas on top of it to get them "toasty". I'm fairly certain I never shared this trick with anyone because even at that age, I knew it wasn't all that smart. Still, with careful monitoring, I was very good at picking the moment when they were just the right warmth, without being a danger.

I was sitting only a few inches away trying to get the chill out of my bones, waiting impatiently for my flannel PJs to get warm. Not all that exciting, to be sure. So while I waited, I decided to draw some pictures. I brought the hardback chair over from my desk and used it as a table, my back now to the heater.

You can probably guess where this is going. Lost in my drawing, I soon smelled smoke. Glancing behind me I saw that my pajamas, still draped on the heater, were in flames. Good thing I knew what to do. Call my parents? Of course not. When your clothes catch fire, roll on the rug. Since I wasn't actually wearing the clothes, I figured it wouldn't do much good for me to roll around. Instead, I grabbed the flaming pajamas and rolled them on the rug.

This didn't have quite the result I'd hoped. The pajamas continued to burn and now the rug was also on fire. Oops. I hadn't quite put together at that age that the weight of the body IN the clothes is what helps snuff the fire. Carpets themselves have no innate fire-dousing powers.

Carrying the remnants of the clothes, I ran to the bathroom, threw them in the sink and turned on the water. Happy that fire was finally out, I left them soaking. I returned to my room to put out the fire on the carpet with water in my cupped hands. I suppose that with the way things were going, I feared that had I brought a glass it, too, would have caught fire.

Now I had a new problem. I wasn't eager to tell my parents what I'd done for fear they'd take away my space heater. It really was cold in my bedroom during those Wisconsin winters. With black, burned patches on the carpet, I knew it wouldn't take much to figure out what happened. So I took a pair of nail scissors, crawled under my desk where the carpet was fluffiest, and clipped small pieces of fiber – never too much in one spot – until I had a big handful.

As I was gluing the clippings on the burnt patches I heard my Mom's voice saying, "It's stronger over here!" right outside my door. Uh oh. "There are... burnt pajamas in the bathroom sink!" The jig was up.

Mom opened the door and took in the scene. I was sitting on the floor, gluing bits of fiber onto bare, dark holes in the carpet. The heater's grill was black with soot and smoke hung thick overhead.

"What happened?"

"I was warming my pajamas on the heater, they caught fire, I rolled them on the carpet, the carpet caught fire, I put out the pajamas, put out the carpet and now I'm fixing it." Sounded perfectly reasonable to me.

"Are you hurt?"


"Okay. Get ready for bed. We'll talk about this later. Oh, and turn off the heater."

Having an incredibly understanding mother, she did not take my heater away, did compliment me for remembering the "roll on the rug" thing, told me next time to call for help and forbade me from ever toasting my jammies again.

I didn't.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


18 years ago today, my dad passed away quite suddenly from a heart attack. He had just turned 65 and had decided to work one more year and then retire. He never had a chance to sit around watching sports and drive Mom crazy, which I assume were his plans.

Rather than be maudlin about it, I'm more inclined to remember the happier times. Dad had a good sense of humor and was loved by an awful lot of people. Over a thousand people showed up the day of his funeral. Popular guy.

He loved puns and told the same ones over and over again. It drove us nuts. After dining with new people he always broke out the, "Sirloin! Nice to meat you. Sorry you couldn't steak around" during the good-byes. He could also tuck his ears in and make them 'pop' out at will. This was endlessly fascinating to my friends when I was a kid because it was pretty goofy-looking and appealed to that kid sense of humor. "Your dad is SO funny!" Kids tend to like it when dads attempt to charm them.

Dad was a salesman and he spent his life charming whomever he met. He worked his way up the ranks in his company and eventually became the President of one of the subsidiaries. A self-made man who came from humble beginnings, he used the GI Bill to go to college (after serving as a fighter pilot off aircraft carriers in WWII) and lived the American dream. His father was from Norway, his mother American – they worked hard, never owned a car, and lived to see their son become a genuine success. Pretty cool.

He had an 800 number at work and no matter what he was doing, if I called to chat, he'd greet me with genuine joy. More than once he was actually in a conference but he put his underlings on hold so that he could talk to his daughter. I always found that amazing. As much as he loved his job – and he absolutely adored it – he loved us best of all. There was never any doubt.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had very little money, no car, and no job. He came out on a business trip and stayed for the weekend to be with me. "Whatever you want to do, that's what we'll do." I desperately wanted to see the musical "Evita" so he bought us the best seats in the house and we went together. We both loved it. There was a Hitchcock retrospective playing at an art theatre and he happily took us to a double feature. He had a rental car and that meant even the small inconveniences were finally within reach. He took me to a music store to get new strings for my guitar. We went to the grocery store and I bought heavy things and bulky things – the stuff I had the most trouble carrying the several blocks to my apartment (I refused to steal carts on principle). In short, the entire weekend was about me and what I wanted and he greeted each activity – regardless of his own tastes – with enthusiasm and smiles. It's amazing to be that loved and adored. But then, Dad never made a secret of it.

So here's to my Dad. He didn't live nearly as long as he'd expected, but he sure did a great job with the time he had.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Starting something new

I was born the middle child of a middle-class family in the Midwest. I am currently middle-aged. That's about as much middleness as one person should be expected to handle. In my youth, I rebelled against this middlosity by moving to the west coast to live in Los Angeles, California. I did not go the husband and kids route. Rather, I focused on having a career.

I had two loves: voice-acting and writing. For several years, I tried to get my voice-acting career into the big time. It never quite made it. So I switched my focus to writing and I faired a bit better. I wrote for TV with dreams of someday switching to movies. I wrote nonfiction with dreams of someday switching to novels. Right now, I'm in the middle (there's that word again) of the latter, trying to get a career as a novelist going while attempting to keep the nonfiction career, as well.

I wanted to try my hand at blogging for a number of reasons, but I'm finding my choice of date to start up a little unsettling. Today was my father's birthday. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. Because of its proximity to Halloween, I'm not much of a fan of the holiday. I don't go to costume parties, decorate my apartment, or do anything more than try to ignore all the orange and black. A strange day to start a new venture like this. After all, he never lived to see a computer in his home, use the term "worldwide web" or heard of an activity called "blogging." Therefore, in his honor I will root for the Badgers and Packers. I will also blog about the life of his middle child.