A Little Romance

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A Little Romance

 

Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it’s our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have at dinner” Kathleen Mifsud

Men and woman have a different definition of what “romantic” means.  To psychologists, a romantic state is an endorphin and dopamine fueled experience – – a neurochemical “matrix” that allows us to see things as we want them as opposed to the way that they really are.  Romance’s accessories are lighting, old movies, alcohol, nostalgia and anywhere in Europe.  Men, generally do not get high marks for being romantic.  They are “explicit “creatures, and much further down the emotional evolutionary chain.  Men, like Pokemon, evolve in stages.  Most start in the “Pig “stage, a sort of larval state where everything is about them.  They eat, sleep, make noises, don’t call back and tell their friends everything that happened on your date. In time, life punishes this behavior and men move to the “Clueless“ stage.  Cluelessness is most commonly characterized by the statement, “what did I do? “ Clueless men take a three day trip with their college buddies every year and always come home too tired to take out the trash. Finally, after dedicated coaching and nights on the couch, men begin to walk erect and enter the “Considerate” stage.  This final stage is fragile and highly vulnerable to regression back to Clueless or even Pig phases.  Maintaining the Considerate stage requires years of marriage, therapy or the ability to admit to at least three Pigs that you cried during the movie “Brokeback Mountain”. Pigs can sometimes pose as Considerates.  However, they inevitably get caught.

There are documented records of an even higher stage called “Romantic” but it seems no male has ever been able to truly stay in this position.  It is a bit like climbing Mt Everest and being over 22,000 feet.  It is a death zone where no one can survive. Remaining in this zone too long begins to psychologically damage a male.  Binary brains cannot function with open ended questions such as “what are you thinking “and “who would you have married if you did not marry me?” Romance by its sheer nature is built on the seemingly conflicting virtues of spontaneity and meticulous preparation.  Therapists refer to it in metaphoric terms such as “setting the table” or “playing the mood music”. Men generally fail to understand the concept of playing mood music.  Men are rap musicians and clanging gongs.  They are overt, direct and venal.  Men march out to the windy plain and fight the enemy until the death.  Women, on the other hand, are folk musicians and piccolos.  They prefer to move stealthily, never engaging in direct confrontation, slowly winning a war of attrition through relentless passive aggressive behavior.

“Men always want to be a woman’s first love – women like to be a man’s last romance.”   – Oscar Wilde

The fact is if romance was a shirt, men would buy ten of them and be out of the store in five minutes.  Men don’t generally like ballads or love songs by Cole Porter.  They hate poetry. Walt Whitman?  Uh….wasn’t he…? ……Not that there is anything wrong with

that.! Shelley, Keats and Yeats? Weren’t those the names of the girls on Charlie’s Angels? Guys don’t want a soul mate, they want a cell mate. Guys want to be John Belushi in Animal House smashing the guitar of the guy with the goatee reading poetry and singing ballads on the stairs.  For some men, romance is as simple as having the lights out while watching Charles Bronson in “Death Wish”.  They can’t understand the difference between The Newark Marriott and Auberge d’Soliel in Napa Valley, except that one is a lot more expensive and has a smaller pool.  These men are the target demographic of the floral, greeting card and confection industries on Valentine’s Day.  Red roses, a Whitman Sampler and a beautiful card and you will be Charles Boyer.  Wait, wasn’t he a third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves?  

Marriage is the process of finding out what kind of person your spouse would have really preferred – Anonymous

 

Lack of romantic IQ is an age old liability.  The Greeks had myriad words to describe the many facets of love – – Eros was perhaps the most applicable word for romance and passionate love. In Southern Europe, many men are born “Considerate” and sometimes attain the highest evolutionary form of “Romantic”.  However, this only applies when they are courting a mistress or college student backpacking for the summer.  Across the Southern Mediterranean, men have a reputation for being hopeless Romantics but regression is always around the corner.  It is quite a different story in Northern Europe where being romantic is still synonymous with wearing a clean pair of underwear.  

 

The great question… which I have not been able to answer is, “What does a woman want?” — Freud

 

In the 19th century, there was a brief surge of estrogen in the cosmos in the form of the Romantic movement which encouraged impulse and intuition over repetition and reason.  Men liked the part of romanticism that encouraged them to be reckless and unaccountable. Men felt more free to read poetry, enjoy art, and pick petals off daisies while on a picnic in the country.  However, the Pigs began to worry that they were being overrun by the Clueless and the Considerate.  No one was showing up for hangings, bare knuckle fist fights or helping to break up local picket lines during labor strikes.  The bars were empty in the middle of the week. The Pigs started a rumor that anyone who read poetry was indeed a Communist.  This quickly led to a massive peer pressure regression known to many historians as “The Great Backslide of 1898”.  With Romanticism dying, the bell curve of behavior was more balanced, The Pigs breathed a sigh of relief.

 

However, society has continued to evolve.  Pigs are increasingly chastised for their misogynist views.  The Clueless attend classes with their partners and use “I“ phrases for sharing how they are feeling.  Considerates understand that relationships are a zero sum game and one is always in danger of being in a deficit position.  These men are beginning to realize that a little romance is not life threatening.  It may require watching a movie about far away places or star crossed lovers caught up in epic conflicts that conspire to keep them apart.  It may mean sitting outside listening to John Mayer music float gently on a warm summer night.  Romance means appreciating intrinsic beauty whether it is found in a lingering glance or a spontaneous kiss.  Considerates are finally grasping what Gable and Lombard had going.  They appreciate sunrises and sunsets.  They understand even the most ancient ember can be rekindled and that romance is its oxygen. They see integrity in monogamy.  Some even recognize when another man is a Pig, although this is a very advanced state of Considerate.

 

Valentine’s Day is framed with sepia sentiment, devoted nostalgia and stories of lovers whose words, music, and deeds transcend time. It targets the Clueless, occasionally snags a few Pigs and is supported by legions of Considerates.  Valentine’s Day for most men is a compulsory 24 hour chick flick.  For women, it is another chance for their partner to show a modicum of romantic intelligence and perhaps evolve.

Au Revoir Mon Enfant

Le Nôtre's central axis of the Tuileries' part...
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“On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.”…. (We see well only with the heart)

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The first beams of le soleil d’été crawled up the Champs D’Elysses like an early morning tide rising along the beaches of the Cote d’Azur. The city streets were littered with debris and the fading accents of revelry that had only just melted away with the sunrise.

Our street, Rue de Berri was quiet and not yet stirring.  The morning light was only tapping at the highest windows festooned with potted geraniums and midnight blue wrought iron.  A burst of wind, having wandered off the main boulevard carried the stale smell of an urban summer and brushed back our hair.

I had come to Paris with my 16-year-old daughter to suspend, even for a moment, her rapid ascent into the higher elevations of adulthood.  We had planned the trip for over a year but in such difficult times, I was tempted to cancel our journey. Yet, instinctively, I understood she was slipping away.  In time, she would become a distant speck on my horizon line as she pursued her raison d’être.

Given her increasingly independent routine, we had become passing ships. Extemporaneous engagement had been supplanted by negotiated interaction.  Our world was changing – with her universe expanding and mine contracting to supply, support and finance her inevitable departure.  It seemed my initials were slowly changing from M-A-T to A-T-M.  Paris was perhaps now, or never.

We wandered out into a magnificent, cloudless summer morning. Cafes hissed happily with the steam of espresso machines and joie d’ vivre. Sleep-deprived baristas mumbled at patrons as they laid out baskets of chocolate croissants and pastries.

The day would lead us across the Place d’ Concorde through the Tuileries Gardens and across the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay.  After studying Pissarro in art, she was amazed to see the original subject for her semester report, “Vegetable Garden and Trees in Blossom”, painted in Pontoise in the spring of 1877.  The masterpiece         hung prosaically on a wall alongside Manets, Renoirs and Matisse plein air oils.

We immediately fell into Van Gogh’s 1887 ” Starry Night Over The Rhone” with its glowing celestial swirls of starlight and the warm lights of taverns spilling across a sequined midnight blue river.

I was eager for her to see the whimsical strokes of Toulouse-Lautrec who prowled the bordellos and dancehalls of the Montmartre neighborhoods.  It was here that Paris shed any sense of morality and laid bare a world of venal feelings, colors and characters.

We finally fell out into a warm afternoon following the Seine, blown by a strong breeze and the need for motion.  We rented bikes at Vélib – the ingenuous Parisian bicycle rental kiosks and service stations strategically situated throughout the city.  We biked along the river to the Tour Eiffel, Le Trocadero and along bike paths to the Latin Quarter to explore, shop and lose ourselves in the historic, bustling alleys.

We exchanged more smiles and glances than words during our exploration.   As she slipped her arm into mine, it was worth a thousand affections and I had to resist acknowledging the moment.  I can still recall enjoying an experience with my father until he would shatter the moment with innocent enthusiasm. “Isn’t this great?” – a rhetorical question that would be rebutted with a superficial smile.  To publically memorialize any moment to a teen is to kill it – transforming it from substance to a saccharine platitude.  Formal moments were now implicit, having been explicitly left behind long ago like a discarded beanie baby or blanket.

On this night, le grand fete de la Musique- the music festival marking the first day of summer was spreading across the city center.  Our Metro screeched to a halt at Châtelet as we climbed up to a late afternoon multitude surging and straining to feel the youth and music of the June evening. In a deep caffeine and crepe blackout, we coursed through the narrows arteries of the Left Bank moving from one animated coterie of partiers and street performers. There was a sudden blood trail that led to a recently broken fight and three arrests. A young bohemian sat bloodied on the ground as police officers attempted to reconstruct the crime scene.

Across the Seine on the the Île de la Cité, steps that fell down to the quays and embankments served as an amphitheatre for hundreds of people listening to an African guitarist.  The bateau-mouches ( fly boats ) coursed silently across the slate blue water reflecting a night sky of stars and a palette of colored festival lights, lanterns and lamps in their wake.   Notre Dame’s buttresses were bathed in soft pastel light while inside, prayer candles and the gentle chants of medieval baroque music reverently beckoned passersby to sit and reflect. There was magic everywhere.

The Parisian summer night fell slowly – hesitating, and lingering like the gangly silhouettes of teens with their tangerine glow of cigarettes and faces occasionally illuminated with the paparazzi burst of light from a passing car.  Three AM.  It was the realm of these young vampires – sinewy, sartorial and invincible.  They possess a élan for life and belief that tomorrow only happens to other people.  While they wait for life to happen at night, la vie is invisibly passing them by day.  Their restless migration along narrow cobbled streets and across abandoned gardens is occasionally punctuated with a wild yell or pitched outburst. With the dawn, they vanish –presumably undead in some tiny garret apartment awaiting another twilight.

The following day, we travelled to Versailles – my daughter not much older than the Austrian Princess, Marie Antoinette who would marry Louis, Dauphin of France.  He would ascend the throne in 1774 to become Louis XVI.  Marie would reside at Versailles and at the Palace of the Tuileries until 1791 when the reign of terror ushered in France’s First Republic.

As we entered Versailles halcyon gardens, the clouds moved across a brilliant aquamarine sky – great man-o-wars casting shadows across fields of rolled hay and poplar trees. Against a backdrop of shimmering fountains, we descended into the gilded age of opulence and patrician consumption. The gardens of Versailles cover over 800 acres.  A mathematician’s dream, the property was perfectly symmetrical dominated by manicured 30′ high boxwood bosquets that formed intricate passages and mazes.  Alabaster sentinels – statues of mythological heroes frozen in perpetual triumph and tragedy, guarded each path’s junction.

We followed La Croix – The Grand Canal, a crucifix shaped lake edged with footpaths that skirted in and out of the shade of massive horse chestnut trees.  Magnificent swans patrolled the shallows for snails and rudely turned their tails and bottoms at us as they scanned the emerald lake for breakfast.

We stopped and lay across the rough grass staring up at the sky. A middle aged French couple descended the mild sloping hill to our left and sat to picnic.  Within minutes they were rolling across their blankets like mating water buffalo, indifferent to the great risk to one another or their violent public display of affection. We assigned them names and circumstances that seemed to only heighten our amusement. When “Monique’s” blouse started to hike up her alabaster trunk, we agreed that our lunch would be spoiled if we persisted on spying on this amorous wild kingdom encounter.

We returned to Central Paris and retraced the footsteps of Hemmingway, Pound, Sartre, Camus, Picasso, Stein and Fitzgerald.  We tossed back espressos at Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area.  I imagined them to be the opaque green absinthe liquors that fueled the conversations of great writers in Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast.  We moved on to shadow artists in Montmartre and peruse the Quai booksellers that sat rigidly next to their long green coffins of artifacts.

On our last evening, we crawled up on to the roof of our hotel and watched the golden lights of the Tour Eiffel.  Off in the opposite direction, The Sacre Coeur shined like Camelot at Montmartre. We sat silent drinking in the history and elegance.

Just as suddenly as we had stumbled on to Rue d’ Berri, we were descending into a hazy east coast evening, falling back into old patterns – texting friends, emailing and checking the blackberry. As the car crunched across the gravel of our front driveway, my daughter turned to hug me.  “Daddy, that was the greatest trip.  I will remember it forever.” Just then, her phone rang and her face lit up recognizing a friend’s voice.  She ran upstairs as I lugged in our pregnant suitcases.

Tickets to De Gaulle? Expensive. Hotel Lancaster? Very expensive.  Sitting on the roof of a hotel looking across the City of Lights through the eyes of your own daughter?

Priceless….

Peter Pan and The Call of Duty

Peter Pan and The Call of Duty 

As another northeast evening descends, lingering magically with far off electrical storms and flashes of lightening bugs, I am drawn to the fragrant, familiar abandon of youth through my summer children. It is in these long twilights that I feel their years slipping through my fingers like so many precious grains of hourglass sand. I become keenly aware of my need to play.

Their insatiable quest for stimulation and action shakes me out of a rigid work routine that is agnostic to the season – transforming me into Peter Pan, Confederate General in the army of the mischievous and reckless Lost Boys. 

Our home becomes a single parent household as I break curfews, co-opt kids into late night movies and ice cream runs, disregarding carefully negotiated boundaries designed to wean them from their adolescent impulses. We race across a cool shadowed plain of grass chased by an over stimulated Australian Shepherd.  We throw a baseball in the fading light of a day that will soon be lost forever, or we hibernate like opium den addicts playing forbidden video games. 

In these Pan periods of regression, I am often the recipient of well deserved criticism – most recently when I led my band of brothers on a late night run toGame Stop where we bought the Xbox Live video game “Call of Duty 4.”

It seemed harmless enough – brave American Special Forces soldiers engaged in a series of clandestine urban and third world conflicts – often times having to move precipitously through the detritus of broken cities and burned out towns to root out insurgents. 

When my son, donned his Xbox headset, connected to the Internet and was suddenly descending from a Black Hawk helicopter into an urban hell of chaos, I was transfixed.  My first reaction was to whisper, “That — is so cool…” My endorsement was immediately overheard by my horrified spouse who lectured me about how hard she had been working to prevent these high violence, virtual reality videos from shattering my children’s cocoon of innocence. 

 “Look” she pointed, as my son fragged several insurgents with a phosphorus grenade. “Hmm?” I said absentmindedly with one eye on her and one over her shoulder surveying the action. 

I could not control myself. “Buddy, you let one of ’em get away. No, no.” I waved my finger to the left corner of a dusty street as his combat avatar ran firing his automatic weapon. 

“Over there. Shoot him in the back!  Ooh, you missed.  Oh, good. You got him.” 

Relieved, I turned with my best “now what was it you wanted, honey” look and was met with the same distain and disgust that any mother exhibits after discovering something ungodly in a sink, un-flushed toilet or laundry basket.

“What game are you going to bring home next: Serial Killer’?” 

Voice over: “Yes, kids, coming out for Christmas, it’s Serial Killer – Demons and Despots. You must try to avoid criminal profilers and detectives as you rack up body counts. If you buy now, you will receive a bonus pack of history’s most murderous dictators – Stalin, Amin, Kim Jung II, Hitler, Pol Pot and Caligula.  

You must find ways of hiding your genocide victims and evading your countrymen and/or inquisitive UN investigators who wonder what the smell is that is coming from under your presidential palace Your goal is to stay in power for as long as possible by any means necessary – even if it means signing a treaty with another despot.”

As I break out of my Don Pardo impression, my spouse shakes her head. “You really need help. Why don’t you think up some video games that will prepare them for the real world? ”

That got me thinking again.  With today’s technology, why not create a series of Education and Empathy Games — E Squared Gaming, Inc.   Our first game could be a collaboration with Electronic Arts and the Sims producers called,” Sims – Office Politics.” 

In Sims -OP, adolescent gamers can choose between starting their own business raising private equity or venture capital or go to work for a big company.

There are multiple scenarios based on company’s size, regulatory exposure, competitive position, and complexity.   One can pick roles ranging EVP Sales, Legal Council, Controller, CFO, President, CEO and Chairman. The goal is always the same – make as much for yourself and the shareholders as possible, consolidate power, rope-a-dope with regulators and if indicted, get immunity as by rolling over on your colleagues faster than a street paver. 

Or how about a lesson in civics with, “Race for Congress.” In this action paced virtual cesspool, you begin as a neophyte entrepreneur running for a vacant House or Senate seat. You must gather supporters and political momentum. You gain experience points as you commit gaffes and miscues that set your campaign back. The computer program interfaces with your Sims hard drive folder and imports any illicit or embarrassing episodes such as affairs or drug use from your past that may be dredged up by a nosey reporter or by your political opponent. 

You must cut hallway deals with special interests and learn to stay on message with the media irrespective of what’s being asked.  If elected, you become a freshman legislator and must deal with pressure from your party to conform to policies that may piss off your constituents back home.  You learn to vote for bills that have no hope of passing to maintain the optics that you are your own man. You earn points for successfully slipping pork into legislation and building a summer home with free labor. You learn the golden rule that you either have a seat at the table or you are on the menu.  

You can then purchase a bonus pack – “Race for the Whitehouse” where you are nominated for the Presidential primary. You must make campaign promises you know you cannot keep, hold press conferences, spend more time than a moose in New Hampshire and even appear on Oprah.  

If you make it to the Oval office, there are wars, lusty interns, bio-terrorism threats, a derelict brother, recession, and scandals. Your personal dashboard includes a geopolitical crisis index, homeland security color bar, public popularity meter and a moral and spiritual compass that determines your level of corruption.

“Recession 2008” is certain to become a classic.  Players dodge predatory lenders, wild swings in the Dow, plunges in net worth, marital problems – all the while trying to remain employed. 

The game is designed to help players gain empathy and understanding for all classes of society. After a few months of staying up all night trying to keep the repo man from taking the car, having to sell your prized baseball card collection to pay for COBRA benefits or trying to qualify in a bankrupt state for unemployment, gamers will never again look at a homeless individual and say, “get a job.”

“Public Servant” is a parent’s dream where a young gamer selects a city, county, state or Federal job – all of whose public domain budgets are preprogrammed.  Players must contend with the bureaucracy and Catch-22’s of inefficient government. Gaming health is predicated on five biometric markers that indicate a public servant’s risk for chronic illness.  Random scenarios include berserk co-workers, budget cuts, drug testing, layoffs, labor disputes and devious public officials.  After playing this game, your kid will be saying please and thank you to every public employee they meet. 

As I inventory the endless permutations of real life video gaming for kids, my son, jumps into a virtual tank and blows up a neighborhood in Mogadishu. I wonder if I could ever get him interested in my reality. The problem is if he played my reality games, he’d probably never come out from underneath his bed.

“Being a grown up seems too scary, Dad.”

“Amen to that brother. Move over and give me that controller.”

The Killing of Michael Malloy – A True Story

Profile of a Gangster
Image by ~ Phil Moore via Flickr

It was a frigid January night in 1933 Bronx, and Tony Marino’s dingy speakeasy was a warm escape for those choosing to drink away their troubles. For Marino, money was scarce and business bad. Only six months earlier in the summer of 1932, the Dow had hit an all-time depression low at 41.22. Unemployment in New York was running at 30 percent. Across the Atlantic, the National Socialists had elected a firebrand ideologue named Adolph Hitler as chancellor on promises that he would restore the country to greatness and reduce the estimated 25 percent unemployed. It was a time of despair and dark intentions.

Marino and his confederates had subsisted during these difficult times on graft, smuggling and murder. From a dimly lit corner booth, the gang that would be later labeled the Murder Trust; Marino, Joseph Murphy, a failed businessman turned bartender; Francis Pasqua, a local undertaker; Hershey Green, a New York cabbie; and Daniel Kreisberg, a local fruit vendor; spoke in low conspiratorial tones. It would be Pasqua who, momentarily distracted by a commotion at the bar as an alcoholic patron was refused further credit, would propose repeating a plan that had proved profitable a year earlier.

“Let’s take out another insurance policy on him.” He pointed to the patron who had been refused and was being summarily shoved from the bar like a broken scarecrow. “Him”; he pointed with lifeless eyes, “Malloy”.

The previous year, the five men had taken out an insurance policy on Marino’s girlfriend, a strawberry blond named Betty Carlson, who was mysteriously found dead in her apartment, stripped naked, doused with water and frozen from windows being left wide open. The coroner’s report declared cause of death to be pneumonia complicated by alcoholism. Her insurer immediately passed on a check for $800 to Mr. Marino along with his sincerest condolences.

In a period where insurable interest laws could be circumvented by a shady insurance agent or willing underwriter, the practice of murder for money held great appeal to an unimaginative group of thugs hungry for quick cash to plug the holes in their failed personal and business lives. Michael Malloy seemed the perfect victim, an unemployed fireman, a nobody – one of life’s cast offs and ne’er do wells that could disappear underneath the surface of the a dark urban ocean and not leave the slightest ripple.

Malloy had emigrated in the late 1800s from County Donegal, Ireland, seeking a better life and instead suffered a fate of unfortunate blows and disappointments so often preordained for first generation immigrants. The broken Gael was a frequent visitor to speakeasies and illegal establishments across the Bronx and chose to spend what meager earnings he made as a part-time janitor on whiskey. His alcoholism was advanced but his brogue and Irish charm still glimmered through the haze of his disease, enabling him to subsist on the kindness and amusement of patrons who would listen to Malloy regale them with tales of the old country. “They never got the best of me” was Malloy’s raspy punctuation to a colorful story.

The gang put their plan into action taking out three policies totaling more than $1,700 with the possibility of collecting double indemnity should Malloy die by accidental causes. In his advanced state of ill health, the group estimated Malloy would require no more than one week of an open tab before drinking himself to death. Marino and Murphy informed Malloy that due to stiff competition, drinks would be free for loyal patrons for one week. Each night, Malloy was only too eager to accept the house’s generosity drinking into oblivion and often passing out outside with little more than a shirt in the frigid winter night. Each morning, Malloy would miraculously return to the bar. After a week, the group became restless and decided to begin substituting anti-freeze for whiskey. Malloy downed the wood alcohol, and immediately lost consciousness. But like Lazarus, he miraculously rose from the dead, thirsty for another shot of that whiskey with a kick.

The gang was astounded at the Irishman’s resilience. They began substituting turpentine, horse liniment and finally arsenic into his beverages. Each morning, like a ghost, Malloy would stagger into the cantina anxious for a beverage and always quick to relate how the booze could not get the best of him. Marino was beginning to lose his patience and suggested they poison Malloy with rotten oysters saturated in wood alcohol. This entrée along with a sandwich laced with poisoned sardines, carpet tacks and metal shavings was offered the Irishman who engulfed the offering, bid everyone farewell and stumbled into the evening. To the delight of the Murder Trust, the next day came and went without an entrance from Michael Malloy. As they were readying their final phase of filing an insurance claim, a tired Michael Malloy walked in, apologizing for his absence and complaining of a slightly dyspeptic stomach. Pasqua and Kreisberg suggested a more drastic plan; a plan similar to the one that had succeeded in killing Marino’s girlfriend.

The gang proceeded to once again intoxicate Michael Malloy and waited until he had passed out. On a negative 14-degree bleak winter’s night, the group dragged Malloy to a nearby park, opened up his shirt and doused him with five gallons of water. His death from hypothermia was as good as guaranteed and the group awaited the news of the vagrant’s death. Instead, Malloy once again arrived at the bar, quite chipper after an invigorating evening spent sleeping rough in the park.

The group was now more than committed and the money that had seemed so certain a solution to their collective and individual problems was slipping through their fingers. They hired a professional, Tony Bastone, to assist them in tackling the seemingly indestructible Malloy. Once again, the group dragged an intoxicated Malloy out of the bar and attempted to murder him – this time propping him up in front of Green’s taxi which struck Malloy head on at 45 mph and then returned, for good measure, to run him over again.

For three weeks the group waited for a death notice that could be used as a certificate to collect on Malloy’s policies. Impatient to receive their hard earned royalties, the Trust attempted to murder another vagrant and plant papers on the body – identity papers belonging to the one and only Michael Malloy. The vagrant survived his brush with the murderers after a 55 day stay in the hospital. About this same time, Michael Malloy limped into Marino’s apologizing for his lengthy absence and sharing his terrible ordeal of a car that had tried to get the best of him.

The group had exhausted every means known to cause the accidental death of another human being. It seemed as if Michael Malloy was inhuman or possibly, immortal. As the group started to fracture in their resolve, Bastone, Pasqua and Marino took matters into their own hands and forced all the participants to drag a once again, drunken Malloy into a bedroom apartment where they succeeded in inserting a gas hose down his throat and killing him. The coroner declared the death a result of alcoholism and pneumonia. Malloy was quickly buried and the Trust began to debate over how to collect the insurance proceeds.

However, it seemed the memory of Michael Malloy would not die. While his mortal body was indeed deceased, his extraordinary resilience and the pending insurance reward began to divide his conspirators. Someone started sharing the remarkable story of the indestructible Malloy, while another murderer complained about his share of the money. The bickering escalated arousing the suspicions of the authorities. An investigation led police to the discovery of Michael Malloy’s body that was exhumed and confirmed as having been killed by inhalation of gas.

With the exception of Green, all four members of the Murder Trust went to the electric chair. Michael Malloy had found a way of rising one last time and making certain that even in death, his murderers would never get the best of him.

Dear Merriam-Webster

Dear Merriam -Webster

 There are those who believe that dictionaries should not merely reflect the times but also protect English from the mindless assaults of the trendy. – Anonymous

 The Merriam Webster’s dictionary announced recently the adoption of over 100 new words into their world famous lexicon of language.  The adoption of new terms into the world famous anthology of English is no simple feat. In the past, scores of popular cultural slang have languished in literary purgatory awaiting proper recognition from Webster.  A sampling of the potpourri of lucky winners includes:

 Carbon footprint (1999): the negative impact that something (as a person or business) has on the environment; specifically: the amount of carbon emitted by something during a given period.

 Waterboarding (2004): an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee’s mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning.

 Flash mob (1987): a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing.

 Frenemy (1977): one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.

 Goji (2003): the dark red mildly tart berry of a thorny chiefly Asian shrub (Lycium barbarum) that is typically dried and used in beverages.

 Green-collar (1990): of, relating to, or involving actions for protecting the natural environment.

 Sock puppet (1959): a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.

 Locavore (2005): one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.

Over the years, I have habitually, and unsuccessfully, submitted words for consideration to lexicographers only to be snubbed by these sultans of syntax. My terms and phrases represent orphaned gaps in our day-to-day lives – situations that leave us speechless, groping – often for a word that has not yet been birthed but is  needed to give wings to our articulation. Consider how our daily grammar could be enriched when leavened with these highly descriptive terms:

Renervate. (v). (rehn-er-vate) To repeatedly push an already illuminated/activated button such as a street crossing or elevator out of anxiety or impatience. Ex. The nervous little man got on to the lift, renervating the illuminated Lobby button as if somehow by doing so, he might force the carriage to go faster.

Freep,n. ( frep ) – an inorganic noise identical to the sound of human flatulence. In a social setting, a freep can be a source of embarrassment and while usually not acknowledged, it is often followed by the offending freeper’s deliberate efforts to reproduce the noise to reassure bystanders that the sound was not gastro intestinal. Ex. As Robert leaned back on the leather sofa, his seat emitted a distinct, high pitched freep.  He discreetly shifted back and forth hoping to replicate the sound so all might not think he was dyspeptic.  v – Freeping, freepulous, pl. -freepae

Strumble, n. ( struhm-bell) – an awkward, lunge forward, usually as a result of a misstep, where one tries to give onlookers the illusion that the gaffe was planned. As Patrick stared at the gaggle of girls, he tripped on a tree root – launching him into a ten foot long strumble followed by a light jog.

Brupp, ( bruhp )v.  A sudden inhaled, breathless hesitation, normally occurring in mid sentence. Effecting mostly men, a speech delay caused by mild upper gastro intestinal distress.   As his father was lecturing him at dinner, Ted’s dad brupped and then thankfully lost his train of thought. 

Crizzle- n. ( kriz-zel ). – Petrified pet food, usually caked on the sides of dishes or on the floor adjacent to an area where an animal feeds. The crizzled bits of cat food stuck to the bowl and attracted large blue bottle flies.  –adj. crizzled, crizzulous

Brunk, n. ( bruhnk ). The uninformed, stupid face teenagers make when they have no excuse. Alternative – oaf like, utterly without wit or forethought. When asked repeatedly what he was thinking when he took his father’s car for a joy ride, 15 year old Lance stared brunkishly at his parents and shrugged. adj – brunkish,

Sprinver, n. ( spen-vur )- The last cracked razor sharp shards of soap usually found in abandoned bathrooms and bachelor apartments.  Lucius groped for the new bar of Dove soap only to find it purloined by his roommate. All that remained were useless, ancient sprinvers that would produce no lather.

Vasp- n. ( vassp). A mean vacuous person whose uses social status to malign, manipulate and manage others.  She was quintessentially LA – an anorexic, cosmetically altered vasp – a veritable social XRAY. Adj – Vasp, vaspish, vaspishly

 Supraculous, adj. ( soo-prak-you-luhs )- describing those who glance over a person’s shoulder in mid conversation to watch others entering a social gathering or meeting.  It was clear from Sandra’s supraculous glances that Mike was merely a placeholder until someone more interesting came along.

Cherking, v.( cher-kin)  – the deliberate act of resisting getting ready for church on a Sunday morning.  To Mark, this was a clear case of cherking as he went upstairs to find out why the boys were not in the car.

Assceleration – n. ( as-sel-ahr-ate ), The action of a person speeding up in an adjacent lane to prevent you from changing into their lane.  As Tina indicated her desire to change lanes, an adjacent BMW quickly asselerated, forcing her to swerve and curse out loud.  n -asselerator

Disconsequentious,  ( dis – con-see-kwen-chus ) adj. The look of hesitation a small child or dog gives you just before they deliberately ignoring your commands. The two year old child disconsequentiously glanced as his mother yelled, ” stop” just before putting the kitty litter into his mouth. 

 Fraculent – ( frak –el – unt ) adj. Foul smelling , normally associated with decay and/or body odor, a noxious miasma often encountered in gymnasiums, laundry baskets and children’s travel hockey and lacrosse bags.  As she walked into the house with the groceries, a fraculent odor assaulted Caroline’s nose – causing her to gag and search the foyer for a dead animal.

 Retroflagration – n. ( ret –roh-flah-gray-shun )The unnecessary feeling of guilt one gets as a result to some specific stimulus or trigger. John was struck with an odd flash of retroflagration as he watched the USC cheerleaders. He suddenly felt very old.

 As I conclude my list of worthy descriptions, expressions and objects to Webster’s, my Microsoft Word Spellcheck keeps underlining them in an annoying serrated red line.  Someday, perhaps, when grammar and Spellcheck become more contemporary, these words will not register red or even green.   They will become normal brush strokes on the literary canvas of our daily lives.

 It’s my belief that we need constant new shoots springing out of our tired, archaic palaver that help us refine the description of our daily circumstances and situations.  Without new terminology, our lingua franca becomes fractured and depleted – a fraculent relic of a once beautifully perfumed form of communication. 

 Ugh, there’s that red line again!

What Were You Thinking ?

Helen leaving for Troy with Paris, as depicted...
Helen leaving for Troy with Paris, as depicted by Guido Reni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Were You Thinking?

The troubles of adolescence eventually all go away – it’s just like a really long, bad cold.  ~Dawn Ruelas

Psychologists have now determined that the physical development of the brain takes a strange turn during the teenaged years.  I could get very technical but the message is basically that their synapses, mental message boards and other neuroelectronics essentially start to behave like a PC that is overloaded with viruses and spyware. The teenager’s decision process becomes increasingly impaired as a cocktail of hormones, natural physiological changes and reality television confuses logic signals and reroutes information into inaccessible files.

The results of these mental brown outs are missteps of monumental proportions that defy logic and beg the question of an errant teen: ” what were you thinking?”  The answer to this enigmatic question was recently discovered and published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Simply put”, as one psychologist stated, “we now know they ( teens ) are not thinking…”.

Neurologists and adolescent specialists have irrefutable empirical evidence that between the ages of about 13 -23, the brain becomes impaired and only later in one’s twenties, does the old gray matter reconnect to function at a higher level of judgment.  It has been this way since the beginning of time.  In ancient Greece, young Paris kidnaps Helen of Troy and kicks off war between Sparta and Troy.  Imagine the surprise when Spartan King Priam goes down to the cellar to get some nectar and finds Helen and Paris playing spin the gourd? Knowing this will spark  Pan Hellenic warfare, Priam looks at his son and screams, “what hath thou in thine head?”  To which the youth shrugs and dons his best stupid face.  Priam is about to say something and then shakes his head in disgust and prepares for war.

The story about George Washington getting a new axe for his birthday and cutting down the cherry tree is the stuff of American mythology.  The fact that any adult would give a teenaged boy an axe on his birthday is a slight judgment lapse.  The fact that he could not tell a lie is only partially true.  The actual question was, ” George Hamilton Washington, you just cut down our favorite cherry tree.  Boy, what were you thinking? “. To which the father of our country replied, ” I cannot tell a lie.  I dunno…”

Stories of teen retardation are as common as fleas on a dog.  In our neighborhood, a week did not pass without the eternal question, “what were you thinking?, being asked to some teen wearing the stupid face. The fact that it is an act of nature, not the absence of nurture, that drives these mind numbing insensitive acts gives hope to thousands of adults whose teens are beginning to exhibit signs of poor judgment.  Take comfort in the knowledge that while teenagers are behaving like useless extra-terrestrials, you are not alone.  Consider the following episodes from my generation (all the names have been changed to protect the guilty):

+ John Smith discovers his father’s supply of prophylactics and begins to sell them at school to other teenaged boys, even though 80% of the purchasers have no real idea what they are.  A full 100% of his customers carry them in their wallet as a sign of status but will not use them for years, two, I am quite certain, never.  Mrs. Smith notices Dad’s supply dwindling, does some quick math and immediately suspects Mr. Smith of infidelity.  John comes home from school to find his Dad and Mom locked in mortal combat and ascertains enough to realize his new business has almost brought down the house of Smith.  He confesses.  ” John, what were you thinking?”.

+ Twins Scott and Ted Jones hear of a great trick to play on people by putting a hose in the mail slot of a person’s front door and turning it on.  What a funny joke!  The boys decide before a two-week family trip to the beach to experiment on their own home and insert the hose in their front door. The neighbor’s phone call does not come for four days.  It is rumored that the plumber had to restrain Mr. Jones whose head almost exploded when son Scott remarked, “we did not think that($10,000 in water damage) was going to happen?”

+ Teenager “Tom” tries to outrun the local police in his Mom’s Cordoba.  Aside from its “fine Corinthian leather” upholstery, the family car has little left after being used by two successive teenaged drivers.  The vehicle has been reduced to about 120HP, two cylinders and a constant squeaking that is reminiscent of a gerbil running on a wheel. An octogenarian in an electric wheel chair could overtake the car.  Tom still believes he is Gene Hackman in the French Connection.  He makes it three blocks before being corralled by the town police for reckless driving. He and his friend insist to his apoplectic parents ” the cops were out to get them.”  Um, what were you possibly …oh never mind.

+ Teen “Greg” decides to break into the local middle school with a glass cutter that he was given for his arts and crafts class.  He steals thousands of dollars of audio-visual equipment and decides to keep it in the family garage until he can figure what to do with ten overhead projectors.  The concept of obtaining a person to fence his stolen goods is lost on this suburban BSIW (Brain Surgeon In Waiting).  When his father discovers the equipment and wants to know where Greg got it, Greg shares that the ” school gave it to him”.  One phone call and Greg is on his way to the police station and unable to answer the ubiquitous question, “son, what were you thinking?”

The list of teen miscues is endlessly reassuring and unsettling.  It is a timeless arcade of missteps, landmines and vacant thinking.  It is the realm of the naïve and invincible who believe their immortality is only superceded by the fact that only ” other people get caught”.  It is the universe of the thoughtless, literally and figuratively.  The good news is the brain eventually reconnects and these masters of disaster all go on to reasonably productive lives.  Post script: “John” is now a very successful attorney ( and sells legal prophylaxis) .  “Scott and Ted” are mechanics ( and still hose people ) . “Greg” is a well-to-do investment banker ( some believe he is still stealing from people ) and”Tom”? He’s a happily married, well-adjusted businessman, baseball coach and weekly columnist for a local newspaper.

( And he still does not know what he was thinking…)