Sunday, October 31, 2010

Every book in the world, in over 20 volumes

I recently finished an intriguing book: Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, by Ammon Shea. Shea’s day job was as a furniture mover; he dated a lexicographer with a dictionary publisher; and he has a lifelong fascination with dictionaries. His apartment is lined with homemade bookshelves laden with dictionaries; he derives most of his pleasure in life from pulling one down from the shelf and opening it to any page to read. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the monster of all dictionaries.

Each chapter of this book was named after a letter of the alphabet. Each chapter has a short essay, usually humorous, followed by a few chosen words that start with that letter. Generally, I skipped the words and definitions (this was a filler book, between other choices), but I marked a number of interesting entries:

Kakistocracy: government by the worst citizens. Worthy of an essay all by itself, since Tuesday is election day and the vitriol seems so ramped up this year.

Misandry: hatred of men. As Shea notes, its partner, ‘misogyny’, seems to have much more currency.

Vocabularian: one who pays too much attention to words. Shea should volunteer to have a snapshot on that page.

Wine-knight: a person who drinks valiantly. “As entries occasionally are in the OED, this is wonderfully unclear. How exactly does one drink valiantly? Draw your own conclusions.”

Wonderclout: a thing that is showy but worthless. “Surgically augmented breasts and a large vocabulary are two things that come to mind…”

Yepsen: the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together; also, the two cupped hands themselves.

Scringe: to shrug the back or shoulders from cold. Finally, a word that describes Nelson’s story about what northeastern winters force us all to do, almost involuntarily. I had to tell him last night when we got together for dinner.

Shea does identify one word not listed in the OED: ‘adoxography’, meaning good writing on a trivial subject. To many readers, Shea’s book would appear adoxographic at first glance. But I found it a very entertaining description of one man’s love of reading that turns into an obsession. In the last chapter, he admits that he is going to read the OED cover-to-cover again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stressing with the HomeTeam

I can watch a baseball game dispassionately if the Giants are not one of the teams on the field. That makes this year’s World Series a risky venture for my nervous system.

Certainly counter-intuitive, huh? My favorite baseball team is the San Francisco Giants, something inherited from my father, who traced his love of the team back to Mel Ott and the Polo Grounds. I go back to Mays, Marichal, McCovey, and lived thru Jack Clark, Will Clark, Jeff Leonard, Bud Black, Jeff Kent, the social debacle that was Barry Bonds. So as a fan, I should be able to translate that sense into the enjoyment that comes from watching those uniforms on television.

Not so. I assume they will eventually lose -- some reliever will enter in the eighth inning, walk the first batter, give up a single, then watch the next guy put one over his shoulder into the center field stands. I still see Russ Ortiz walking off the mound in Game6 of the 2002 Series, the Giants seven outs from the championship -- and the wheels fell off in Anaheim Stadium. Game 7 was an afterthought.

Brian calls me the pessimist fan. I did survive the one-run agonies of the LDS, but the first feeling i manifested was relief when Ryan Howard watched the last strike of that series fall off at his knees.

I managed to enter both of the first two Series games when the Giants were ahead. Makes it easier to watch. No pacing.

The commercials are silly, boring, even disturbing. You see the same ones each night during the three hours that is a baseball game. Two of them are particularly strange.

Direct TV touts their ability to have a movie available a month before Netflix. The commercial depicts the projection room of a movie theater. An intruder enters and attacks the teen projectionist with a blowdart. The first one misses when the kid leans over; he stares over his shoulder, wide-eyed, at the dart stuck in the wall. The second blowdart hits him in the neck, and he keels over. The intruder then scoops the movie reels into his sack and runs off.

The second is an Old Navy commercial that uses plastic mannequins. In this one, the mannequin family is watching their 10 year old play soccer. A boy shoots the ball near the goal, and it hits the stationary plastic boy in head, which breaks off at the neck.

Rather jarring methods to sell product.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Losing Coffee Ground

The coffee shop in my village will close in December. There’s already a sign on the door with a new schedule; it is only open from noon to early evening from now until it closes.

This saddens me. This shop has been open a little over a year. I have not been the most regular of customers, occasionally stopping for a coffee and a muffin on my way to work. The food business is a low-margin affair, it’s tough to make much money on coffee, juices, muffins and cookies. The baked goods were made on premises, and they kept their volume low. They sold trays of muffins or cookies for events and gatherings, but they didn’t seem to publicize that very widely.

Danielle, one of the owners, is expecting their first child any day now. She was the perfect greeter and hostess – big smile, positive personality, always asked how you were doing.

They had music on many nights, even had a CD release party for a local artist. They held Open Mic a couple times a month; Danielle would encourage me to come read because it might bring in a ‘different crowd’. I assume she was referring to the number of 20-30-somethings that generally attended their music events.

Espresso Therapy becomes another mark on the loss side of the village ledger: the unique, singular purveyor that provides not just coffee and muffins, but a place to gather – a place to be a community. Those young adults had a place to come together, to support each other, to enjoy music, to celebrate success, to share experiences.

Such places get subsumed by the commoditization of our retail stores. A Dunkin Donuts is two blocks in one direction down the street, capturing any cars that enter or exit the village at the bridge. Another DD is two miles in the other direction, sitting at the end of the interstate that loops around the village. The prices are not much different from the coffee shop; but it is tough to compete with mass advertising and blunt familiarity brought about by ubiquity.

Every population center in this country begins to look the same. Home Depot and Loews build multiple stores within a few miles of each other. WalMart parking lots, if strung together, would easily be a 51st state. CostCo, Sam’s Club, Dick’s, Sears can all be found on the edge of any town in nearly every state. The mall outside Denver looks just like the mall outside Albany.

We lose our community identity, the unique elements of place that provides subtle differences in our culture and society, when our physical community starts to look the same as our neighbor’s.

This is not to say that all our suburban or village singularities are gone. My village still has a small downtown diner. We have a single-screen theatre that shows movies for a reasonable ticket, just before they hit the Netflix circuit. There are three downtown restaurants that are not part of any franchise, have no exact replica anywhere else.

I don’t intend to over-romanticize the theme. We have been told for the past dozen years that we consumers are the driver of the economy – and the major retailers are perfectly happy to provide familiar, comfortable territory in which to spend our money. We asked for this convenience.

Espresso Therapy got lost in the process.