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Was or were, right or wrong, not to worry, just read on

On a day not really all that far back in time—22 June, 2009—I submitted a letter to our local daily newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States in the hope that it would be published. An offer was made to publish it but the editor e-mailed me to say that certain parts would be cut out. In an e-mail I told him to not publish the letter, and I chastised him for his response to a long-time subscriber to the paper. What follows is the initial response from the public editor.

From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM
H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad).
Bob Richter

I rejected publication because the public editor slimed me—well, perhaps slimed is a bit too strong—let’s just say that he whined me and because of that whining, the same label he placed on my submission, I vowed to never submit another letter to the public editor for consideration, but instead post my whining on WordPress, a far more appreciative audience than the Express-News. I have never had a submission rejected or criticized.

Now to get to the crux of this posting—everything I’ve said up to this point was intended to explain my criticism of the public editor’s grammar in his article that appeared in Metro of the Sunday edition of March 6, 2011.

Yes, grammar—with all that supposed talent he has at his beck and call, he started and finished an article he wrote by improperly using the verb was. The article centered on budget cuts proposed by Rick Perry, the governor of Texas that involved disabled Texans, and much to his credit he began the article with disclosing that his son has disabilities and lives in a group home that receives state aid.

I can readily understand and admire the title of his article:

Budget Cuts: What if it was your kid?

The final paragraph is a one-sentence closure with a wish from him and a question for Governor Perry:
What I wish is that Perry would put himself in our shoes:

What if it was your kid, Rick?

The verb was is the subjunctive mood of the verb to be, a mood suggesting that something is not or perhaps may not be. The subjunctive mood gets really complicated if one digs too deeply, but one does not need to dig deeply, or even pick up a shovel in order to determine whether was or were should  be used.

There is an incredibly simple way to remember whether to use was or were. If the word if is lurking anywhere in the sentence, whether visible or concealed, the proper usage is were, and if if can neither be seen nor assumed, the proper usage is was. Please forgive me for the double if in the previous sentence—I just couldn’t resist it—when read aloud it sounds like a puppy barking.

The article’s title should read, What if it were your kid?

The ending should read, What if it were your kid, Rick?

Some more examples of the subjunctive verb were:

What if the copywriters were better versed in English?
What if the current public editor were reassigned?
Were he reassigned
, would it lower the paper’s ratings or raise them?
Was
he reassigned?
No, he was not reassigned.
Note the absence of if in
the last two sentences above.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: In all fairness I must state that, in my somewhat unlearned opinion, the public editor’s article was highly cogent, nicely constructed, timely and well presented, with the only exceptions noted in this posting.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Revisit: A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . . (via The King of Texas)

Dear Larry, I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings—Read More here. . .

via The King of Texas

Concerning comments and replies thereto:

Astute readers will note that in this posting I have placed the cart before the horse—what follows below is a comment on the original post and my reply to that comment. In order to fully appreciate the reader’s comment and my reply, one should first read the original posting by clicking on the Read More above, or by clicking here if you like.

I like to consider my postings on Word Press as travels and travails through life, both for me and for my family members and others about whom I write. The actual postings are the interstate highways, and reader’s comments and my replies to those comments are the blue highways, the roads traveled by the author of the book Blue Highways, a forever memorable journey—read a review here. The following is excerpted from the Amazon.com review:

First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.

I assure you that Blue Highways is difficult to put down once you have started reading it, comparable to running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex. I beg forgiveness for having used those hoary similes, but they are so expressive I cannot pass up an opportunity to voice them—I’m sorry, but it’s in my nature! And continuing in that same vein, comments to postings and the author’s replies are, at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road, a couple of metaphors that, although quite descriptive, are tremendously overused.

But I digress—this is a revisit to my July 2010 posting of a letter I wrote to my brother some 23 years after his  death (I assume that it was received, because it was not returned). I have extracted a reader’s comment and my reply to that comment—I felt that they were far too cogent to remain in Stygian darkness so I brought them out into the  bright light of today.

This is a comment from my niece:

Thanks to Vicki I found your blog earlier this week. To say the least I have spent several hours strolling down memory lane (memories of tales told to me by my mother, grandmother, and aunts) and other hours traveling new and foreign fields. Once when I was visiting your “prettiest sister” she shared the letter you had written her, the one I found here that was written to both sisters. You have always had a way with words. Make that 7 favorite granddaughters—I never could count.

And this is my reply:

Hi—it’s a real pleasure to hear from you. The first name was familiar but the Argo stumped me. I believe that your married name is a harbinger of things to come—good things. Cindy is archiving all this drivel to which I’m subjecting viewers in the remote possibility that she will one day publish said drivel in book form. She already has my first book standing by in the wings, ready to publish. It’s a compendium of jokes, and some—well, many of them—okay, okay, all of them—are of the type that would require the book to be displayed on the top shelf, out of reach for children. In our current motion picture rating system, it would probably be labeled MA15+, Not suitable for persons younger than 15. I’m mulling over that provision and so far have withheld permission to publish—not that Cindy is all that eager to publish  it—she’s pretty busy, deeply engrossed in the process of making a living.

As you well know, Argo is the name of Jason’s craft in Greek mythology, the vessel that sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. I know it’s a stretch but that’s what I’m doing—if it should come to pass, a book of my postings, my pseudo autobiography, will be my Golden Fleece. The term pseudo has many meanings—one of those meanings, perhaps the one most applicable to my efforts is, something old and useless that is paraded around in order to evoke irony.

I hasten to say that I do not profess to be a modern Jason. I humbly admit, with all humility aside, that I am merely an Argonaut, one of the band of heroes that assisted Jason in his quest. I’ll also admit that I’ve never understood why anyone would risk life and limb in search of a stinky old sheepskin.

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment, and I promise I’ll keep posting if you will continue visiting and commenting—as we sailors are wont to say, “I like the cut of your jib!”

Oh, and one more thought—you and I are in emphatic agreement on your label of my prettiest sister, but please don’t tell the others! That’s what your Grandma Hester did each time we visited—one by one she would take the girls aside and tell each that she was the prettiest and that she loved her more than the others but please don’t tell them. That worked for several years until one of the girls—we’re unsure which—finally spilled the beans, whether deliberately or inadvertently is unknown.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., and our mother felt that you could well afford that amount and would jump at the chance to support baby brother in his work.

I don’t say this in an effort to pass the buck, but that letter was not my idea. Mama suggested it, and at the same time she had me write to Willis, our dad, and ask him for money—no specific amount was requested, and I received no specific amount—none, zilch, zip, zero—and my letter was neither answered nor returned, much the same result as my letter to you. I wrote a letter to Willis, but the only thing I remember about it is the sign-off that Hester composed:

No mon, no fun, your son—Mikey

I was really having trouble balancing that heavy paperbag, especially on Sundays because of the increased weight of the papers. As one might expect, much of my paper route was on unpaved streets—it was mostly on the south side of Columbus, Mississippi, and the city’s southside was the last in line for upgrades such as converting graveled streets to asphalt paving. I have since learned that such niceties depend on the tax base, and relatively few dollars flowed into the city’s coffers from southside residents and businesses.

I found the cycle of my choice in a magazine advertisement—it was black, low-slung with a Harley Hog saddle seat and a kick-starter, and it was belt driven—it sported the requisites of headlight and tail light, and in those days tags and a driver’s license were not required.

Note that I said belt driven—the motorcycle belts advertised and used nowadays are steel, not rubber. The cycle of my dreams was driven by a rubber belt identical to the fan belt on an automobile—can you believe it! The name of the bike has faded from my memory, lost in the dim mists of the past, but I believe it was called a Service Cycle, or perhaps a Servi-cycle—anyway, something on that order.

Apparently your response was lost in the mail because I never received an answer, and in our contacts in later years the subject was never broached. It’s also possible, of course, that you never received the letter. No matter—that’s a moot point in view of the fact that I lost my exalted newspaper delivery boy status soon after that—I was fired by the son of a—no, not that kind of son—I was fired by the son of the owner of the Commercial Dispatch, a junior unless my memory fails me.

If they provide you with a computer where you are, you can Google my version of the incident here—the true version, regardless of what that son of a—well, regardless of other versions, whether of the home owner involved or the Circulation Manager of the Commercial Dispatch.

I’m sorry that I was not able to attend your funeral back in the fall of 1983. When our sister, Jessie, called my hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, I was preparing to leave for National Airport—now Ronald Reagan International—to board a plane for Miami. I was in Washington on a 90-day special detail, and the trip to Miami was very important to my assignment in Washington, an assignment that culminated in a promotion to a higher level in the U.S. Customs hierarchy, a significant increase in salary and a three-year stay at Customs’ national headquarters.

All things are possible, of course—I could have canceled my flight, but the cancellation and my failure to participate in the activities in Miami would have made a major difference in my burgeoning career. I know my apology is rather belated because  27 years have passed since that day, but at least I’m making the effort now to express my regrets.

Larry, I remember that you like jokes, and I intend to include some of yours in future letters to remind you of the jokes you told me and the songs I learned from you. Just as a sample, I’ll show one of those ditties—it is hilarious!

There was an old woman that lived in the grass,
And when she bent over you could see her . . .
Ruffles and tuffels and also her tucks,
She said she was learning a new way to . . . .
Bring up her daughters and teach them to knit
While the boys in the barnyard were shoveling up . . . .
Contents of the stables and also the sod
And if that isn’t poetry I’ll hang by my . . . .

I must tell you that I am using this letter-writing method on the premise of contacting you because of my daughters. I’m sure you remember them, but perhaps not their children. Debbie is the elder of the three, Cindy was born seven years later and Kelley just four years after that. All are well and loving life. Debbie is married and has a grown son and daughter, Cindy is married and has two cats and numerous species of aquarium fish, and Kelley is married and has a young son and daughter, both in grade school.

All three women would like to know more about our family, and my middle daughter, Cindy, has convinced me that the best way to inform them of their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is for me to convey the information in the form of a letter to each relative. This letter to you is the second letter I’ve written. The first was to our sister Hattie, the little girl that only lived one day after her birth in 1917, just two years before you were born. You can Google it here if you would like to read the letter. Neither of us knew her on earth, but perhaps you have met her in the hereafter—if so, please give her our love and best regards.

Here are a couple of off-beat poems I’ve carried around in my brain for many years. I realize that this letter is rather somber in nature, and perhaps this will lighten things up a bit:

An epitaph found on an old tombstone:

Know, my friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Some wag added this below the epitaph:

To follow you
I’m not content,
Until I know
Which way you went.

Larry, you and I were together for brief periods, widely spaced, and away from each other for years at a time. Those years covered more than a half-century—51 of them, from the year of my birth to the year of your death. Other than the two years or so that I lived with you and your family in Maryland and for a few weeks in El Paso, Texas we were together for very short periods of time. We may think we know each other, but I don’t believe that we know each other very well.

Much of what I know, or think I know, about you comes from you—you’ve told me many things about yourself and about incidents and people that I never knew, so my knowledge must be considered secondhand at its best—hearsay, if you will—because I wasn’t there. I intend to discuss those incidents and people based on your stories for the benefit of my children, to help them understand our relationship to each other and to other family members. By the time I finish, if in fact I ever finish, there should be a good-sized portfolio of letters such as this one.

And be forewarned—some of the things I will discuss are a bit far out and in certain instances bear the scent of braggadocio, but as the little boy accused of bragging said, If you done it, it ain’t bragging!

Larry, you should consider this letter a harbinger of things to come, the first of many. I’ll talk about locations and events and people, some that you knew and I didn’t, and some that I know and you didn’t. Throughout the process I will make every effort to document the source of my information. Those other than you that read the letters can either accept them as fact or dismiss them as fiction, and you of course have the same choice. Whichever you and they choose to do, I promise that everyone will be enlightened, and perhaps even entertained, in the process.

I’ll get back to you with more details. Please take care of yourself.

Lots of love,

Mike


 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Family, newspapers

 

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More on wasp spray . . .

I first posted this item in July, 2009. I reposted it in March, 2010 because I felt that it had failed to connect with very many readers. The reposting brought a comment that should be of interest to others. It reproduces the original posting in its entirety, and I must say with all humility that it’s well worth the read. I welcome comments on the original posting, on the reposting, and on this addendum—nay, I urge viewers to make comments, whether positive or negative. Time is a precious and finite resource—time spent on a posting is wasted if a reader neglects to comment on items that consumed some of their time, however brief. A comment should be forthcoming, if for no other reason than to justify spending time on the posting.

This is the viewer’s comment, exactly as received:

My family owns and operates Security Equipment Corporation which manufacturers SABRE pepper sprays. I appreciate that web-sites like this one are sharing proactive safety ideas. That’s very good. However, there is an issue with WASP spray. WASP sprays’ labels state, “It’s a violation of federal law to use in any manner inconsistent with this label. Never Use Indoors!” Police departments worldwide use pepper spray because the inflammatory effects of this agent work on those which cannot feel pain (very important). The inflammatory effects of pepper spray cause eyes to close involuntarily and produce a loss of breath sensation. Pepper spray has been proven effective on deterring and incapacitating aggressive, combative, intoxicated and drug induced individuals for over 20 years.

To date, no human testing has been conducted on WASP spray and it’s a violation of federal law to use in self defense. There are pepper spray options which will deploy up to 25 feet and unlike WASP sprays, these pepper sprays require the user to be less accurate because they will cover an entire doorway. It’s probably not a good idea to use WASP spray for home protection since it is against the law and WASP spray labels themselves state “NEVER USE INDOORS”. Pepper spray is a safe, proven option which is trusted and relied upon by police officers worldwide.

Thanks for reading this.

This is my reply:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. I’ll pass this information on to my daughter and to my readers. As for wasp spray used for self-defense being a violation of federal law, I opine that one should use anything and everything available to defend one’s self. The use of knives, guns, hammers and baseball bats for self-defense may also be violations of federal law, but they can be highly effective in such instances. And I must add that when one is under attack, it could be quite difficult to determine whether the need for self-defense is lethal or non-lethal—in such instances the doubt must be resolved in favor of the defender—not in favor of the attacker.

An addition to my reply:

In any situation in which my well-being and/or that of my family is threatened, I will depend on something that has a much higher deterrent factor than wasp spray or pepper spray and is effective at a range greater than 25 feet.

That’s my story and that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to both!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Web worms?—A return to wasp spray and self-defense . . .

This is a repost of my July 30, 2009 posting entitled On wasp spray and self-defense. That posting has languished in total darkness for some nine months, as evidenced by only two votes, although votes of excellence, and zero comments, and in the interests of full disclosure I must admit that I made the two votes of excellence. I am dragging the posting out into the bright glare of today’s Word Press readers in the hope that some will lower their expectations of finding high-brow literature and lower themselves to perusing my puny efforts to educate, advise and entertain.

On self-defense and wasp spray will follow immediately after this timely hint concerning web worms in arboreal gatherings in people’s yards.

Do you have web worms?

Not you, your trees. Do they have web worms?

If so, listen up!

Item #1: Web worms begin life as larvae and from there progress to building their very own webs with the intent of propagating their species.

Item #2: Adult wasps eat web worm larvae.

Those two items combined should not require any additional instructions on how to control web worms. Any reasonably educated and discerning reader would, on reading the two items, know how to eliminate web worms on their property, but just in case one or more are unable to figure it out, I will shout it out:

STOP KILLING WASPS!

You have my guarantee, hereby and herein written, that the web worms will disappear.

Now for the repost of my original treatise on wasps, dated 30 July, 2009:

On self-defense and wasp spray . . .

I recently received an e-mail from one of my princess daughters, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. The e-mail included a link to an on-line movie that extolled the value of using wasp spray as a defensive weapon, a weapon that used properly might save one’s life. The movie suggests that the attackee spray the solution into the face and eyes of the attacker. Click on the following link to view the movie: movie clip

This is my response to my daughter’s e-mail:

Nice tip, thanks.

I’m going out to buy some wasp spray today. Fan #2 on the patio (counting from the east side of the patio) has (had) a wasp colony inside the motor housing. Brantley turned it on yesterday (the fan) and they swarmed out. A few got clipped with the fan blades while exiting, and to those I administered the coup de grace, which, as you know of course, is a French term meaning “a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature.” Several more got clipped by the fan blades when, after successfully exiting the fan housing, they attempted to reenter—most met the same fate, but they kept trying—this particular species of wasp seems to be comprised of slow learners.

I dispatched others to wherever dead wasps go by swatting them with a rolled-up copy of the San Antonio Express-News, our one daily source of “news.” The publication has undergone so many changes in size, style and content that I have been forced to find some use for it other than keeping abreast of local, national and worldwide news—the only thing that seems to have remain untouched is its commercial advertising. The publication has a pronounced tilt to the left, similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and may eventually topple unless drastic measures are taken (similar to those measures taken to shore-up the Pisa tower).

In days of long ago—in the days now shrouded in the dim mists of history, in the days when outdoor privies ruled—the paper would have taken its rightful place alongside corncobs—yes, corncobs, either red or white or both—and outdated mail-order publications such as Sears, Montgomery-Ward and J.C. Penney catalogs.

Ah, those were the days, my friends.

I believe the survivors (wasps, not newspapers) have migrated to greener pastures, but they may have taken up residence in one of the other fans—we’ll just have to wait and see. These are Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini wasps and may have just hatched out—or they could be part of a pygmy species of wasps. Could be. Maybe.

That’s pure speculation on my part—I didn’t see the Mamas and the Papas anywhere.

Oh, by the way, although the video didn’t cover this part it could be that, in addition to possibly saving one’s life some day, a handy can of wasp spray might some day save one’s birdhouse—it could happen.

No, one’s birdhouse does not refer to any particular body part, or parts, of any bipedal primate in the homo sapien family, neither male nor female. It refers to a type of housing comprised of various materials assembled in various architectural styles, having been constructed with the intention of attracting and sheltering various species of avian creatures whilst they (the birds) go about the important business of procreating their particular species. However, as an afterthought I must confess that if the phrase one’s birdhouse were used to refer to any particular body part, it would probably refer to the female of the species rather than the male.

Note: The word whilst is not misspelled—its spelling is accurate but archaic and is usually restricted to poems. The whilst spelling (and pronunciation) of the word prevails in England, but has pretty well died out in the United States. In my opinion, humble though it may be, whilst is used in the U.S. by persons who also say amongst, unbeknownst and dreampt, all archaic and poetical, and all of which are used purposefully to attract attention—much in the manner of birdhouses.

A prologue to my e-mail:

A colony of yellow jackets (insects, not cheerleaders) established residence in my daughter’s garden birdhouse and one of them, for whatever reason, saw fit to sting her on her aft side, somewhere below the waist and between the hips. The unprovoked attack sent her scrambling into the safety of the house. Because she felt that another attack was highly predictable, she arranged to have the birdhouse consigned, with the yellow jackets extant, to the nearest dumpster. They are probably now feeding voraciously in a local landfill, and may morph into giant yellow jackets and instinctively home-in and return to their previous location.

Bummer.

So, as can readily be seen, had a can of wasp spray been available it might have saved that birdhouse.

And one final thought concerning the possible effectiveness of wasp spray when used as a defense mechanism—if it works on wasps it should be just as effective when used on any attacker, whether the attacker is a a yellow jacket, a wasp, a WASP or any other person, regardless of color, national heritage or religious preference.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2010 in education, Humor, Writing

 

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Letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-news: Obama’s reeling . . .

A letter from a reader of the San Antonio Express-News prompted this posting. The letter was printed in the paper’s Metro Section (Your Turn) January 22, 2010,  In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that my Letter to the editor, was not sent to the paper’s editor for consideration. I did not submit it because of a series of rejections of my submissions over a period of many years. Many were printed, but now I prefer to air my thoughts on my blog. Word Press has never rejected one of my letters, and the letters are available to infinitely more viewers than is the San Antonio Express-News.

Letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-News

January 22, 2010

A reader’s submission printed today in Your Turn was titled Obama’s reeling. The apostrophe was apparently used by the copy editor to form a contraction meaning that Obama is reeling. In the literal sense it means that he is off balance, staggering and lurching violently (figuratively, of course) in reaction to the result of the Senate race in Massachusetts, a race in which the Republican candidate was elected to the Senate.

Obama’s reeling?

Such construction and presentation of the contraction Obama’s is incorrect and could be very misleading, providing fodder for various political commentators, particularly late night comedians.

One places an apostrophe and an ess after the name of a person, place or thing to show that the person, place or thing possesses something. Obama’s reeling is not a contraction, at least not a proper contraction as used in conjunction with the verb reeling. I suppose that Obama could possess a reel, as in fishing reel, but a reeling? Not likely! Reeling is a verb—had the article been titled Obama’s reeling in votes for Democrats, the contraction would have been proper and understandable. And if there is a fish or an aquatic animal that is known as a reeling, and if the president were fishing offshore at Martha’s Vineyard while on vacation, and if he had actually hooked a reeling the heading could have read, Obama’s reeling in a reeling. That would be a proper contraction, completely understandable and unlikely to mislead a viewer’s perception or conception of the president’s physical condition.

And as an afterthought, our president may possibly be reeling in a purely psychological sense, keenly aware of the fact that the balance of power in his administration is changing and has become off balance.

Had the letter referred to something possessed by our president, the apostrophe and the ess would have been proper. A few examples would be: Obama’s decision, Obama’s wife, Obama’s effort to nationalize health care, Obama’s reliance on teleprompters, etc., etc. In those examples the words decision, wife, effort and reliance all are things Obama possesses (well, I suppose wife may be a stretch, except perhaps in the biblical sense).

And now on to the use of apostrophes and esses:

From: (http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#1

William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946).  The Elements of Style.  1918

II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend

Burns’s poems

the witch’s malice

This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

I  strongly disagree with William Strunk, Jr. when he states,  Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. To show that a noun—any noun, whether a person, place or  thing—possesses something one does not add an apostrophe and another ess when that noun ends with an ess. That may have been correct in William Strunk’s day (1869-1946) as presented in Elements of Style by Bartley.com). The three examples given by Strunk to show possession are Charles’s friend, Burn’s poems and the witch’s malice. The first two end with an ess, the third does not. The first two are incorrect—the third is correct. Charles’s and Burns’s are incorrect, regardless of the fact that This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press. The various US publications on writing style are littered with errors and some should be consigned to the litter boxes from whence they came.

Just because the federal government prints it does not make it true. And unless my memory fails me, the Oxford University Press is a British organization, and our treatment of the English language differs considerably from that of the British people. Remember when President George W. Bush, on his first trip to England as president, was asked what he considered his biggest challenge on the visit? The president said something to the effect that he might have a problem with the language.

Oh, and if one is fain (archaic, but a good word—look it up) to know the plural possessive form of witch, one only needs to add an ess to make it plural and an apostrophe to show possession thusly: the witches’ malice. Please do not spell it and pronounce it as the witches’ess.

Go ahead—try it—unless the three syllables are carefully and properly enunciated, the witches’ess tends to come across as the witches ass—we would not want that, would we? Our listener would probably respond with a “Say whut?”

I can legitimately speak with the voice of experience—nay, with authority—in this matter of proper punctuation. I labored (laboriously) at various tasks during more than 22 years in the United States Air Force and during an additional 26 years in the ranks of our federal Civil Service. Throughout those 48 years I was called on (compelled, actually) to compose a wide variety of writings, including performance reports for myself and for others, and recommendations for various awards and medals for myself and for others (my efforts brought me several personal awards). I had access to most government style publications, and in fact brought some home (inadvertently, of course) when I retired from federal Civil Service. I still reference (and quote) the publications, but when they conflict with what I know is correct, government loses—I win. And at the risk of repeating myself, I will repeat myself—just because the federal government prints it does not make it true.

And here I must digress from my subject:

The thought just occurred that if one could literally repeat oneself, and if every person on earth repeated one’s self simultaneously, the world’s population would immediately double, rising from the present population (as of January 24, 2010) of 6,798,300,000 to 13,597,600,000 (From Wikipedia: The Earth’s population is estimated by the United States Census Bureau to be 6,798,300,000). That was as of January 24, 2010. I strongly urge than none of us attempt to literally repeat ourselves and especially not repeatedly—if we should succeed in our efforts we would soon run out of standing room on earth.

And now back to my subject:

Pee Ess: This posting is a continuation of my efforts to restrict the length of my postings in order to placate viewers that may be anxious to return to other more productive activities. I’m trying, but I cannot imagine any activity that could be more productive and personally rewarding than my blog.

Footnote: The terms pee and ess are proper words, abbreviations for the words Post and Script, and may be legitimately used in place of the letters P and S, the sixteenth and nineteenth letters of the English alphabet. If you like, you may verify their definition, their use and their numerical position in the alphabet online at Wikipedia.com.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Age 14—fired from my paperboy job . . .

For several months I served my community as a teenage paperboy, delivering the daily publications of the Commercial Dispatch, a small daily newspaper in a small town—Columbus, Mississippi. For those who may not be familiar with the requirements of the job, I must note that one does not become a paperboy overnight. There is a period of intensive training, a period during which one is given the lofty title of Assistant Paperboy. Following the mandatory interview with the paper’s Circulation Manager (the owner’s son), an interview in which I was deemed acceptable for training, I was assigned to a regular paperboy, one who was voluntarily leaving his employment for greener pastures as a carhop at a local eatery—that’s a subject for a future posting—I worked as a carhop at two different locations in the same city—I was fired from one location and voluntarily left the other.

For several weeks, at the princely salary of $1.50 per week, I accompanied the Paperboy on daily paper pickups and deliveries, learning the route and the necessary bookkeeping and public relations aspects of the job. The papers were delivered in the evenings on Monday through Friday and early in the morning on Sundays—the paper was not published on Saturdays.

During the training period I met my boss, the real paperboy, after school on Monday through Friday in the basement of the building, an underground area accessible by vehicles for pickups and deliveries and by our bikes. There we counted out our papers and placed them in a canvas bag similar to the saddlebags used by horsemen. The bags, printed with the newspaper’s name, had a hole in the center so it could be worn by the delivery person with its paper-filled pouches front and rear, or carried across the handlebars of a bike and the bike’s crossbar, or across the luggage rack above the bike’s rear wheel. The bag was worn when the paperboy had no bike and walked his route, or when the bike was out of commission. It also was worn by the lucky ones that had an business-district route with all-commercial customers—these were the plums, the most desirable routes available, gems sought after by any paperboy with even the slightest desire to succeed in the newspaper delivery field.

We never rolled the papers—I suppose the idea of rolling papers and securing the rolled paper with a rubber band had not been thought of at the time—or it may have been simply because the profit margin enjoyed by newspaper delivery boys did not allow the acquisition and use of such accessories. We delivered the papers flat, and I became rather proficient at sailing the paper across lawns for a considerable distance. In the beginning, of course, I manged to land the paper in or under bushes, in mud puddles and in ditches, everywhere except on walkways or driveways, or on the porch, the ideal final location for the toss. In such failed deliveries the decision had to be made whether to stop and correct the unsatisfactory delivery, or to accept it and hope that the customer would not complain—not an easy decision to be made, especially if the hour was late and supper was waiting at home.

Hey, don’t laugh—it’s no small task for one to control a moving bike with one hand, a bike loaded with 125 newspapers in a canvas bag lying across the handlebars with one side resting on the front fender and the other on the crossbar, surveying the terrain for an acceptable target while keeping alert for potholes, dogs, other moving vehicles, pedestrians, rocks, mud puddles and other possible impediments to forward motion, then selecting a paper with the other hand, positioning it correctly for throwing and, at the precise correct instant, releasing it toward its target. I must admit that an accurate throw under such conditions gave any paperboy, regardless of his tenure, a pleasurable feeling, albeit fleeting.

I followed my boss—the real paperboy—on my bike as he made the deliveries, making mental notes of street signs, house numbers, locations, dogs, potholes, traffic, etc. Dennis—I’ll call him Dennis because that was his name—rode a state-of-the-art bike, one powered by a small battery taped to the bike’s crossbar, with power going to a small motor mounted on the bike’s front fender. With the flick of a switch, the rubber-covered shaft of the motor pressed against the front tire’s sidewall and gave a power-assist to the bike’s motion. Before the motor could be used the bike first had to be moving—inertia had to be overcome by pedaling, then the motor took over. The system worked great on level paved surfaces such as streets and sidewalks, but was a bust on unpaved surfaces and had to be supported by some old-fashioned pedaling by the rider.

I must digress for a moment:

While in training, late in the evening on a cold winter day, the Paperboy and his AA (Able Assistant) delivered a paper to a service station and remained to warm up a bit before continuing on our route. The station manager offered us a cigarette—Dennis accepted one, but told the manager that I was “too young to smoke.” That put-down changed my life—I defiantly took the cigarette, and thus made the first step towards acquiring the nicotine habit, a habit that was finally conquered some 22 years later.

My employment as a newspaper carrier, a vocation that could have propelled me into the upper echelons of newspaper publishing, lasted only a few short months. Early on a beautiful sunny Sunday I stopped at a customer’s house, one located in a rural area with nothing but graveled roads. Any graveled road is a paperboy’s nemesis, especially one on a bike carrying a heavy load of a Sunday issue stuffed with advertising material. I knocked on the subscriber’s door several times, each time harder than the previous knock, and finally the following dialogue ensued:

Man’s shout: “Who the (F-word) is it?”

My answer: “The paperboy.”

Man’s shout: “What the (F-word) do you want?

My answer: “I want to collect for the paper.”

Man’s shout: “I already paid for the (the gerund of F-word) paper.”

My answer: “No, I don’t have a record of your payment.”

His final shout telling me to go away included a name for me which alluded forcefully to my diminutive size and the marital status of my mother at the time of my birth. He shouted “F-word you, you little bastard, go away,” so my response was that of any red-blooded American paperboy unaccustomed to such denigrating language, especially language casting aspersions on one’s mother.

I said “Okay, then do without the damn paper.”

I heard more curses and the sound of feet hitting the floor so I took flight. I hopped on my bike, flew across the road and hid behind a small outbuilding. I waited there for what seemed an eternity, heart pounding violently and scared shiftless (as we used to say under such stressful times). Finally I peeked around the corner. There was no one in sight so I left the scene of the crime, finished my deliveries and went home.

The following day, Monday, was predictable—I knew well how the day would end. I reported to pick up my papers and was met by the Circulation Manager, a worthy that happened to be the son of the owner. The incident of the previous day was not mentioned. He sternly ordered me to turn in my canvas carrier-bags. This I did with alacrity, collecting my two-dollar deposit and then slinking pitifully away from the area with my head down and steps dragging.

But that was all for effect. I hated that damn job. That stuff they say about mail carriers, something on the order of “neither heat nor rain nor snow can delay us, blah, blah, blah” never applied to the crappy job of newspaper delivery boy. Looking back on it the only bright spot in my brief career was one evening around Christmastime when the circulation manager put several of us in the back seat of his new Cadillac convertible and with the top down drove us around to deliver our papers—and this was during a heavy snowfall—I must admit that was fun, but one can’t hang around for something similar to happen—it would probably never have happened again—at least not with me being one of the fortunate boys selected.

Oh, just one more thing—I checked my meticulously kept records and found that the customer whose complaint had cost me my job had in fact—yep, you guessed it—he had already paid me.

Oh, well, you win some and you lose some.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: I was working on a new post today concerning my hometown (Columbus, Mississippi) and I encountered a familiar name, that of the Circulation Manager, the son that repossessed my paperbag and arbitrarily retired me from my paper route at the early age of 13 years. The name was the same, but he is now the owner of the Commercial Dispatch. The only difference in his name and that of the one that fired me was the Roman numeral tacked onto the name. Since the current owner claims the number III, the one that fired me was II, and his father, the owner at the time I was fired must have been the first in that particular lineage——hey, there’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

Evidently the customer told his one-sided story and the circulation manager made no effort to get my side of the incident. Had I been advised to apologize I would have readily agreed. Money was tight in my family at the time, and the pittance I received as a paper boy helped a bit. An apology would probably not have made any difference, because in commercial transactions the customer is always right—that’s the profit angle at work. In this present day and age if an adult male used that sort of language to a minor, he could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of the minor, and would at the very least face some embarrassment.

 

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