What’s in a word?

A recent column on the use of profanity and obscenity drew quite a bit of reaction. I’d written about language and how it affects people.

The crux of the discussion was that identifying words that are too gross to appear or be uttered in public places is difficult. How do we sanitize language?

Coverage of President Trump’s verbal choices drew much fury in the press. I was a bit miffed at reading terms like s—holes to describe the topography and living conditions of people in Africa and other regions. A flurry of letters appeared in the daily press, analyzing the suitability of such terms.

And of course, my own sheltered existence — of which about 20 years were in a parochial (as in “parish”) school — may have tempered my attitude toward what some people call “fighting words.”

As I began the recent column on Trump’s use of language, I believe I made it clear that I would not engage in profanity. By that I meant that I would not use the actual words that offend; rather, I’d water them down in hopes of diluting the terms and sanitizing them a bit. But I found even that a big task. Continue reading

We can’t live on tips

How much might a person earn as a door holder opener? I can answer that in a heartbeat: exactly 25 cents.

Let me explain:

One day, as I was leaving a downtown restaurant I saw a man. a stranger, racing to hold the door open for a family of four. I heard the man in the group utter something like, “I’d like to tip you for that, but I don’t have any change.” I have no doubt a tip for such a simple act was far from anything the door opener was hoping for.

Then, as the patriarch of the old Katzenjammer Kids comic strip would say, “Gifs idea.” I thought I’d try it too.

But let me proceed with my myriad accounts: I certainly am not hard up; I don’t need the money; I realize more people carry plastic than loose change; I ask for a tip only to test others’ reactions; I’ve received only 25 cents in my life, and that was almost forced on me by a woman, a stranger, who insisted, explaining, “You have a right to earn a living.” And finally, I suspect she had wanted the quarter in her hand expecting her genial door opener to ask for compensation.

Additionally, I realize there are needier people, those who would benefit from a handful of quarters which might add up to the price of a meal or a snack. I certainly don’t want to compete with them. But the lady insisted, and I became richer for that. Continue reading

Grownups use childish taunts

When we were kids — and because we were kids — we used lots of taunting phrases, the most popular being the chant: “Nanny nanny boo-boo,” or something equally imbecilic.

Every kid I knew was familiar with that chant. We used it too in our Railroad Avenue barrio, and if the recipients could run fast enough, they made us pay. It’s on a par with youngsters engaging in p–sing contests.

Now, several decades later, we’re being exposed to grown-up (although not necessarily “mature”) taunts in which our own president is engaging in verbal jousts with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

Pardon me for waxing eloquent, but can’t President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un end their “mine is bigger” feud? It’s on the par with two kids in the playground spoiling for a fight, ending each outburst with “mine is bigger,” But we never discover the object of the bigness.

Possibly the “bigger” item is a family, or an older brother, or a gang, or maybe a cudgel.
And speaking of taunting-leading-to-fisticuffs, I saw a brilliant commercial on TV during the height of the Vietnam War that raged in the ‘70s. We were living in a suburb of Charlottesville, Va., not far from our national’s capital.

The black-and-white ad showed two middle-aged men, double-chins-sagging, pot-bellies showing, wearing white shirts and marching into a forested area. Continue reading

What’s in a name?

I’ve been called a number of things åin my life. Some of the names, at least, have even been respectable.

Many old timers still call me Mannie. In my childhood, I must have been given that moniker by one of my parents. It stuck, and now, when someone (probably an alumnus of Immaculate Conception School in Las Vegas) calls me that, I generally recognize that person as a former classmate.

And there have been other names as well. In high school, when I wrote sports for the Optic, my name became Clark Kent. Remember that fellow who wore glasses, worked for a newspaper and doubled as Superman?

And there was also “There.” It’s a noun that comes from an adverb, and I give credit to Janice Odom, the former public information director at Highlands. I called her once, as her job had connections to the Highlands University journalism department of which I was a member. I introduced myself, and Janice responded with, “Oh hi, There.”

It didn’t take long for me to leave messages like, “Hi, Janice, this is your friend, ‘There.’” In fairness, the late Alnita Baker, to whom I delivered the Optic when I was 11, would also say, “Hi, There.” But it was Janice who got more mileage out of the Christening. Continue reading

Quitting ‘cold turkey’?

Don’t most of us use expressions that mean nothing, that can’t really explain why those combinations of letters come to mean something we agree on but don’t always know why?

I’m referring to the archaic expression “cold turkey.” Where did that come from? When I smoked for 25 years about 33 years ago, friends, family, doctors and others advised me to “quit cold turkey.” By that they meant I wasn’t to hide an emergency stash of Salems in the trunk of my car, or to allow myself just one cigarette in the morning upon arising and just one more at night, or to simply stop buying those cancer sticks.

Although cold turkey has no doubt worked for many, a great number of smokers choose to “taper off.”

I think quitting, when I did, in 1984 was as difficult as trying to ferret out a reason why the term “cold turkey” ever came about. I used to hear it a lot — mostly from adults whose bellows and exhalations filled our house. All eight of us Trujillos smoked for a time. Mom smoked Luckies, Dad smoked pipes and Roi Tan cigars. Uncle Juan bought a pack of Camels every day, and the rest of us smoked — my late brother, Severino, was a smoker, as was I. Our three sisters were no strangers to cigarettes, although my recollection is that they smoked small quantities, and not for long. Continue reading

Snippets of things past

My mom, the late Marie Trujillo, was certainly not a woman of limitless patience. And proof of that were the smiles on the faces of new-car dealers whenever Mom called them to complain that the car wouldn’t start . . . or that the car was out of windshield washer fluid.

The salespeople immediately thought “here comes a sale.”

I knew her for more than six decades (her being some 28 years my senior. I don’t think of her impatience as a detriment, although I never made a big issue of it and merely chalked it up as a way of getting things done.

Many are champions of revisionist history. Notice how those snippets of things past arise, usually when we’re all seated for a Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s one example: Turkey Day usually brings together friends and families who might not have seen one another in months, or years. That reunion makes it necessary to make conversations, to engage in the remembrances of things past, and for all of us to have a good laugh over the exhumed tales of things we did decades earlier. Continue reading

Got to be carefully taught

A 1949 Broadway musical by Rogers and Hammerstein, “South Pacific,” contains a profound song lyric.

The song is “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” A few lyrics follow: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear; you’ve got to be taught from year to year, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear; you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

The highly successful musical then lists things we need to hate and fear: “People whose skin is a different shade,” “People whose eyes are oddly made,” and also, “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are 6 or 7 or 8, to hate all the people your relatives hate . . .” The words, clearly, are ironic.

I first heard those lyrics around 1950. Even at age, 11, I wondered why the lyrics hinted at prejudice — maybe even encouraging it. Hammerstein’s lyrics offended some, particularly music lovers from the Deep South. That didn’t deter the composers, who faced the issue of racial prejudice by keeping “Carefully Taught” as a major part of the musical. Continue reading

Just the tip of the iceberg

Las Vegas, N.M. — where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

Well, maybe that’s not the perfect description of our Meadow City. But the shock waves are as palpable as if they originated here.

That topic ­— and others of that ilk ­— took up part of the time we news personnel devoted to the increasingly frequent reports of various sexual improprieties around the country.

It’s not solely the province of athletes and other superstars; the names that emerge include celebrities and politicians.

A recent report involves Garrison Keillor, he of an enormously popular program, “Prairie Home Companion.” That avuncular, 75-year-old purveyor of clean, wholesome wit and wisdom, is now gone from his Saturday afternoon PBS radio broadcast. Keillor called the reasons for his dismissal “all kind of bewildering.” Most snippets on the firing are sketchy at best, the most common reason given as “improper behavior.”

It saddens a slew of people who’ve set their radio dial on Saturdays to NPR and laughed at some of the comments of the well-known wordsmith.

I joined with fellow members of the Optic’s editorial board to discuss this strange phenomenon in which so many people in the news suddenly face charges of inappropriate conduct.

This isn’t an attempt to be comprehensive but merely to ask whether the plethora of scandals is merely the tip of the iceberg.

And we needn’t go all the way back to the Bill Cosby matter ­— an issue which needs no further explaining.

There’s the recent Alabama matter in which U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is determined to stay in the race despite some damning allegations that he molested girls in their teens, when he was in his 30s.

Of course Moore denies the allegations. The almost-even split between those who plan to vote for him, as opposed to his Democrat opponent says much about party loyalty as opposed to doing what’s morally right.

And there’s Matt Lauer, who was fired from his position as host of the “Today” show, amid accusations of sexual harassment.

And also Bill O’Reilly, the erstwhile promotor of whatever is extreme right in our country.
Reports reveal Fox News gave O’Reilly a big contract after he was sued for $32 million by a colleague who threatened to sue him for alleged sexual misconduct. Continue reading

Just how cold was it?

How many times have you played a leading role in a real-life winter pageant? You need to gas up your car on a December night, to have it ready for a trip to warmer climes, like Albuquerque, and rather than waiting till morning, you head out to a station at night.

You insert your debit card, punch the necessary buttons and wait for the pump to read your card. You’re greeted by some commercials, right on the screen, when the first of many arctic blasts hits you, loosening all your back teeth. Then, as another gust arrives, you struggle to thread the pump into your tank while debating whether to wait in the car, despite the chance the pump won’t shut off automatically and you’ll flood the pavement. And pay for the spilled gas.

It seems that Mother Nature holds back her icy gusts until the precise moment that you realize you’ve forgotten to pop open the gas tank. That’s common. But becoming just as common is having to wait for a long time just to complete your transaction at an ATM. Here’s what I’ve noticed only recently.

Somehow, the ATM I use has begun to provide commercials. Rather than 1) Insert card, 2) a list of possible tasks I need help with, like withdrawals, one gets treated to a series of repetitious commercials in which a president of some bank apologizes for some mortal sin committed years ago and vows that it’ll never happen again. Continue reading

A primer on expressions

It’s been only in my adult years that I’ve come across the term “Black Friday.” I’ve heard several explanations as to why it’s called that — some much more plausible than others.

Three of the most common explanations about the term have to do with weather conditions and pollution, the kind we find in big cities, compounded by rain, snow, sleet and sludge, as shoppers rush home with their treasures.

Not convinced? Then what about the opening of the holiday Christmas season, wherein those treasure-seeking shoppers turn their financial statuses red as merchants’ ledgers turn black?

And finally, some contend the term refers to members of the clergy, who wear black in anticipation of Easter Sunday. Continue reading