Monthly Archives: July 2009

We have drank a lot

As a lesson in semantics, I once quizzed my advanced students at Cuba High School, decades ago, on all the synonyms one can find for whatever right-minded people think of as objectionable.

What about the word “drunk”? How many words did my honors students conjure up for the condition indicating one is “three sheets to the wind”? But by using even that expression, well, that shows how my heritage antedated Columbus.

Going through some medieval notes I’d somehow kept from my teaching days at Cuba in the late-60s, I came across no fewer than 25 terms the students provided. Here are some of them: blitzed, blotto, bombed, buzzed, crocked, gay (yes, gay!), hammered, inebriated, intoxicated, loaded, looped, pickled, pie-eyed, plastered, plowed, polluted, potted, sauced, sloshed, smashed, soused, stewed, stoned, tanked, tight, tipsy, trashed and wasted.

I even heard an unusual expression, thanks to my son Stan: “stew in one’s own crapulence.” Naturally, I surmised a scatological tone, until Stan explained that, having heard it on the Simpsons, he too was curious and looked it up. One’s “crapulence” has to do with drinking, not the other thing. But back to my classroom. Continue reading

Don’t break the chain

First, my best friend got struck by lightning. The next day, my high-school buddy suffered a heart attack while boarding a bus. But the upside is that a man who works near me is now $7 million richer.

Such would all be true if certain threats and promises really came true.

But first some background:

One of my teachers at Immaculate Conception School, Sister Ständige Angst, did a good job of convincing us of consequences. “If you fail to put others first, you will suffer,” she reminded us.

Many of us in the fifth grade class in 1949, must have carried around this fear of retribution most of our lives. Specifically, there’s still something in my early parochial schooling training that puts fear into me over broken promises and failing to do what’s asked.

I struggled with this for years, around the time chain letters made the rounds. Out of nowhere, I’d receive a letter from a prior acquaintance who never knew I existed.

In this letter were instructions: pass it on to 10 friends, with the stipulation that each of them do the same. Have any idea how quickly things multiply? Are there enough stamps in circulation to accommodate all the recipients? What is 10 to the 30th power, for example? That number would soon be many times the world’s population. And think of the revenue the Postal Service would accrue, and the work mail carriers would need to perform.

And for what? To exchange a recipe. To insert a whole dollar. To send a prayer or poem.

The most recent e-mail I received came from a woman in Springer. The header says, “Read this alone.” Accordingly, I adjourned to the smallest room in the house, away from prying distaff eyes, to what? A poem that encourages some good old-fashioned virtues like being kind, helping others, not procrastinating. But great poetry it was not.

Before the poem appears, the reader wades through various scenarios. In one case, a woman fails to forward the poem and loses her love, who gets killed in traffic.

In Case No. 2, the recipient doesn’t forward the mail to enough people and meets a horrible fate.

And what’s behind Door No. 3? The recipient sends the e-mail to the required 10 people within the specified 45-minute span, and now is blissful, humming, “Just Molly and me, and babies make five . . .”

Invoking the nun’s lesson on promises, I thought back to when I placed duty on the par with promise. That is, if asked to do something, such as forwarding a chain letter, I often complied.

The nitty-gritty of the e-mail, the poem, refers to two old friends, one always on the verge of dropping by to visit the other. But, as Macbeth would say, “Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ to the last syllable of recorded time.”

The upshot is that good intentions are not enough. He waited too long, and one day he received a telegram announcing that his friend had died. The scenario is believable — sort of — until we learn he got a telegram. Who receives telegrams anymore?

Often, chain letters remain alive because of fears of what happens when people break the chain. In my youth, I kept the chain going because I heeded some of the consequences indelibly impressed on us by Sister Ständige Angst.

Chain letters often thrive because participants heed the horror stories about those who refuse to play the game. And what if, given the laws of chance, a person were to become injured after discarding the chain letter? Well, we need to be sure the deletion caused the catastrophe and didn’t merely precede it.

The uncertainty could be the reason chain letters thrive, even if the postage and duplicating costs for mailing 10 letters is a fortune.

I believe any time I get a chain letter, it will have been sent under duress: the sender feels obligated to pass it on, fearful of consequences.

A common chain letter contains names of people in the mix. If the chain breaks at any point, that eliminates thousands of prospective zillionaires. Remember, if the “donation” is 10 dollars, your 10 friends will have chipped in 100 dollars; they in turn spawn 100 people worth $1,000, then $10,000, up to $100,000, and more. But by the time the 12th generation appears, we’re talking trillions of dollars. Continue reading

I-strain, a word for inflation

Just a few weeks before my 70th birthday in April, a friend from High Rolls, N.M., sent me a booklet that tells all about my birth year, 1939. It’s an easy-to-read booklet whose facts I can hardly believe.

Let me explain:

All my life I’ve refused to believe that things could ever inflate as many as 10 times. For example, if I could buy a Coke for a nickel during my youth, I would never expect to pay 10 times that amount or 50 cents, even if I lived to be a hundred.

Not convinced? Look at eggs. I often got sent to Peña’s grocery store, right across the street from my childhood home on Railroad Avenue, to buy an egg. Not a dozen eggs, just one. The woman who tended the store most of the time, Lucy Peña, would charge a nickel. Continue reading

That reminds me . . .

During the Punic Wars, my high school girlfriend and I went steady by telephone. A house full of teenagers placed demands on our phone, so my slot had to be early in the evening, lest I interfere with my three sisters’ more important calls.

One time, after having been on the line for an ungodly amount of time — six minutes — I mentioned something in Mad Magazine.

The word “mad” triggered something in Evelyn’s mind, prompting her to say, “That reminds me: I’m mad at you.” Sure enough, we’d had a silly quarrel the night before, and though the next night’s conversation started smoothly, my using the “m-word” triggered memories of many a quaint and curious series of long-forgotten chats and spats.

So why had she been friendly —even oblivious — until I reminded her of something? And soon, without there being a cause, she’d remind me and herself that she was mad. Continue reading

They leave in twos and threes

Famous people die in threes, as in Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett Majors and Michael Jackson. Important people, not necessarily famous, pass away in pairs.

Two people who have been close to my family, though probably unacquainted with each other, are Robert W. Johnston and Nea Escudero.

First Bob.

The name Johnston in Las Vegas is much less common than Johnson, without the “t.” Robert K. Johnston, a prolific writer of letters to the editor, for a time was confused with the Robert with a W in his name. I know both.

Robert W. had a background in journalism and advertising, even having worked briefly for the Optic. He lived two doors from my house at Camp Luna. He’d come to my house with his Welsh corgi “Tigger” and invite me on walks. I’d take along my whippets, “Moosa” and “Watsita.” Soon, Bob would come to the house and announce, “Tigger asked me about Moosa and Watsita and wondered  if they could come out and play.”

Continue reading