Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Family Language

I've been thinking about it a lot lately, the special words that bind us as a family. Sometimes these silly remains of idiolects are all that remain of someone you loved, and love still.

Spending time last week with my brothers John and Rob underlined this for me. We joked about all kinds of things, and we fell into old patterns of speech and even our original accents, which were strange to modern ears. No one talks like we did, not even where we were brought up. They sound pretty much like Americans now; we sounded like immigrants from some weird English-Irish-New England territory that's sunk under the sea.

I remember some of the intimate, childish family words we used, like:

Eggie = soft-boiled egg

Slugow = rimes with "cow", a macaroni and hamburg concoction made in a frying pan

Dubbah = wanker

Hah fream = ice cream (these things start out as baby talk and wind up being used against the kid who came up with it)

Binlt - build, with a nasal vowel

Fi-ah fuck = firetruck

Episketti = spaghetti

Frishafrisha = refrigerator

And others I can't remember right now.

My late wife and my kids devised special ways of construing certain words, too. And pronouncing "regular" words.

For example, Marcia, my wife, had a distinctly "black" pronunciation with many words, among them:



Mus'eh-mm = museum

Poym = poem

All of which makes sense because the happiest, warmest memories of her childhood revolve around Henrietta, who was brought in to care for Marcia when she was a few months old. My late, great mother-in-law, Gert, was anxious to get back to work in the store to keep an eye on her husband, who wasn't so good at keeping it in his pants.

So Marcia followed Henrietta like a hungry puppy. She went to Wednesday night services with Henrietta, she loved the New York Yankees because Henrietta did, and she loved when Henrietta and her husband, Henry, took her in a buckboard to the peanut fields out in the country and sat round a fire and roasted peanuts, singing gospel songs with their friends. Marcia's dearest memory of her childhood was being out there with them by the fire, being passed from gentle arm to gentle arm, basking in the glow of being "Henr'etta's girl," carried aloft like sparks in the gospel songs they'd sing.

Marcia and I had our own secret words and signs as well. I'm not sharing those with anyone, ever.

My kids said a raft of cute kid things, of course. In the case of my daughter, Julia, who's been dead four years, her little sayings are much of what remains. For example, she used to ask about the little terrier next store, "Does Annie have fur pants?" Julia was toilet-trained at that point and wanted to make sure the dog wasn't soiling herself. Julia also corrected my pronunciation of the word "car" at an early age: "It's carrr, Daddy, not cah."

And as my son, Eric, lurches toward middle age, his special words are something to hang onto. When he was about a year and a half old, he'd hear me fulminating about some neighborhood brats who rode a motor scooter through our yard, so that when he heard them coming he'd growl, "Bustahrds!" Woops.

The kids and I -- okay, and their mother too -- would laugh over the odd pronunciations that Gert had, like:

Cookeh = cookie

Hunneh = honey -- as in "Mawsha, give the kids some cookehs, hunneh."

Furnichy = furniture

Chanuky = Chanukah

And others that time has erased from my dutiful memory.

The kids had some nice ones:

Baby suit = bathing suit

Prinsa Lee-a = Princess Lea

-- And, Christ, they're gone. Already gone. I can't recall any more. We're dying in more ways than one. Our brave little family is half gone, the two of us left are far away from each other. The little culture we built, one joke and sweet saying at a time, is disappearing as fast as a 21st century movie star.

This is the central sadness of getting old. Memory is water.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


by E. ___________, Brown 2009

Shocking news rocked the staid world of Facebook recently, when Strappo Hughes, snarkmeister supreme, hired the emperors of identity and branding, Landor Associates, to come up with an exciting, intrinsically interesting name for his new blog.
After weeks of deliberations and PowerPoint presentations enhanced by both qualitative and quantitative research, they came up with the elegantly simple name of "Strappo!" It was the addition of the exclamation point that sold Hughes, he revealed.  "Though it was suggested that the blog title be italicized, I rejected it firmly. It was too unsubtle even for me."

Hughes told me that "Strappo!" appeared in the third or "desperation" PowerPoint, after he'd tossed out such names as I Luv My Dog ["too saccharine"], Pickled in Pompano ["ouch!"], STFU! ["I kinda liked this one though"], and Defending the Oxford Comma! ["That should be Fredric Koeppel's side blog"].

He reported that Landor seemed fixated on the exclamation point. "Maybe they all wanted to star in a musical," he remarked in his trademark sardonicality. "I don't know, you tell me, as the Saviour of America would say."

When asked what he wanted this blog to accomplish, he said, "I want to bring some joy and some chuckles to a world that groans in agony."

After our interview, conducted in his office at Starbucks/Coconut Creek, Hughes sent me a hopeful preface to the new site:

Anyway, here we are, ladies and germs, you're at the new place where Strappo Hughes will delight you, disgust you, and make you laugh and cry -- not always in the right places. The royal we shall also present the rollicking adventures of Sparks Hughes-Krasney, the doughty little dog who escaped from Cuba on a raft with a prolific killer nama Hector.

This reporter shot back an email asking what Hughes expected out of yet another blog in a world surfeited with them. In a fit of obscene rage, he replied that this reporter was an antisocial motherfucker who spent his many off hours at a glory hole on 56th Street.

* * *

That interviewer was one of the recently sacked reporters from the New York Times, who asked that his name not be divulged. He was insecure enough to write in his alma mater, though, wasn't he?

I felt snarky enough to publish the guy's name, but -- no. I have my limits, believe it or not.

The irony, folks, is that I haven't got a fucking thing to say right now.

Hey, I have an idea! Let's publish the first chapter of The Americanization of Sparks right now. I sent it to a lot of people whose deafening silence leads me to believe they were embarrassed for me. But I'm a stubborn old sod. Nothing much can wound my ego now. I already loathe myself, so self-esteem is not an issue. It's up to you to love or hate the tail (get it!?) as you wish. Comments here will be welcomed -- not on grabby Facebook, which would claim your bowel movements if they could find the right technology.

Anyway, the chapters are very short since no one has an adult attention span after 20+ years of the Internet and cable news. Cheers!

BTW, Sparks' "faithful amanuensis is yours truly, the despised Strappo, who will otherwise be known as What's the Matter with You.

Sparks and his precious Daddy. WTF


As Told to His Faithful Amanuensis
JULY 31, 2016 – AUGUST 2, 2016

Dedicated to Daddy and no one else

My name is Sparks. This is not my original name. Florida USA is not my original home. I am from Cuba, which is ruled by a kindly old king named Fidel. Americans say he is evil, but he was my savior and papi.
Everybody says I am adorable and precious, which I am. I’m so small and cute – 11 pounds with silky white fur -- many people assume I’m a puppy. I am not. I am 6 years old in human terms, 30 in dog years. Mature beyond all years. In my life I have endured much, suffered greatly, and with the help of St. Fidel and one or two decent humans, I am here to tell my story.

Chapter 1: I Am Born a Son of Cuban Revolution

            I was born in a tropical storm on an estate called Revolucion Popular outside Havana, Communist Cuba. As the palms were tortured by the wind and driving rain, my mami gave birth to me and three other puppies. Under a pile of wood in a rat’s nest. We were way smaller than the rats. When them rats came back home, Mami would shake them until they died squeaking. They learned to stay away from our fierce mama. With her rich milk we grew and thrived.
Mami’s name was Tapioca. She was a miniature poodle. My sire – she said his name was Hector, but she may have lied to protect him from the Dog Police. This “Hector” was a pure Maltese, one of the favorites of the estate’s owner. The owner of Revolution Popular was claimed to be the people of Cuba, but everyone knew better.
The owner was really the king I came to know (and love) as Papi Fidel.
The first time we saw each other I had been weaned. I was struggling to find enough to eat. At the moment, I was on the trail of a giant palmetto bug, and I was very hungry. Mami Tapioca had taken off. I think she went in search of Hector the Maltese. I never saw her no more. <sob>
Fidel was chatting with another old man in an army uniform. He called the other man “my brother.” He loved everybody like they were family.
Fidel was wearing a funny hat that looked like it was stuffed with tapas plates. He stopped blabbering and saw me on the hunt. He exclaimed, “Que cariƱo perrito!” and picked me up. “Comrade, feel his silky fur! Look at this beautiful little white face! Aha! He must be one of my dear little vanished Hector’s!” His voice shook with emotion. “Come, perrito, you shall live in my little worker’s cottage with me!”
I licked his gnarly old face in gratitude. I didn’t love it, but one thought kept me going: No more palmetto bugs for this little pooch!
Then Fidel did something that froze my blood. He yelled for a human named Hector – Hector Lopez y Marrano – to find any other puppies around and drown them. Hector was a handyman who did all sorts of things around the estate. Evil things.
Fidel added, “And that bitch Tapioca, too, if you can find her.” :((
Hector was a big hairy man with cross eyes. He looked like a wild boar. Smelled like one too. He started his own hunt. “Can I drown her?”
Fidel smiled, “Oh, sure, whatever,” and waved Hector off. 
So, you can see, I was saved by Papi Fidel. But I was wary of him. He okayed the execution of mami and also of my brothers (meh). Plus OMG he had wild mood swings and talked non-stop all the time. I learned to tune him out, but at first I wished Hector Lopez y Marrano would take me to the canal and drown me too.
Fidel treated me well, though. His worker’s cottage was, I came to understand, a huge mansion, where he gave me everything a little waif could want. He gave me a brand-new downy bed to sleep on. He fed me rice and beans every day. Sometimes the cook would sneak me a little chicken skin. But Fidel didn’t like that and he told Maria to stop spoiling me or he’d send her away for re-education. It’s funny, because she already knew how to sign her name.
“Perrito must have workers’ rations, Maria. He is a son of the rebolution!”
Maria gave the goodies to me anyway. She went “Ssshhh! Nobody cares what he says no more.”
I asked Papi Fidel why he called me Perrito. It was kind of generic. “Little doggie.” I didn’t feel like an individual.
Papi was holding me in his lap, which I loved, because he hadn’t bathed in a week. He gave me one of his long lectures. To cut it short, he said, “I call you that because everyone should have a name that makes them no better than any other. If I had my way – damn it, I don’t always! – every comrade in the land would be named like Comrade 12345 or something. Or 12345F for females.”
I thought about that for a moment and said, “Then I should be Perrito1!”
He laughed and gave me a smooch. Then yelled for more rum. “Best Cuban rum better than keppitalist cone yak.” Papi liked imitating a Russian – he did it a lot and then laughed his beard off. 
Hector Lopez y Marrano came in with the bottle of rum. Giving me one of his smiley looks until he went out. Creep! 
Papi Fidel drank until he fell asleep. I lay there afraid to move until he had been snoring for a long long time. But it was OK because “I Love Lucy” was on TV, the one where Ricky sings Babalu! Ricky Ricardo was our Cuban hero, a Yanqui success!
I fell asleep chuckling as Lucita tried to sing a song.

Sparks after a tragic incident
 that will occur in a later chapter. 
He brought ruin and near death on himself.

© Terence Hughes 2016