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Dear Charles,

Guess what?  I decided to be a vegetarian!   I know!  So cool!  And guess what else!  I have now been a vegetarian for nine whole days!  Well – actually more like eight whole days because I didn’t really decide until January 2nd and then I sort of wavered on Jan 3rd and ate the rest of the left over clam chowder  in the fridge which was kind of vegetarian if you are one of those ‘eats fish’ type vegetarians.  But then I decided to not be an ‘eats fish’ type vegetarian so I guess I have really only been a vegetarian for seven days.  But that is still a whole week!  It really hasn’t even been very hard.  I kind of like being a vegetarian!  In fact, I like it a LOT!  It’s kind of fun.  Does that sound weird?  Did you ever think that being a vegetarian was fun?  Because right now, I think it is very fun.  I don’t know exactly what the fun part is – except that it is sort of just generally fun.  It makes life a bit harder and a bit more work but also a bit more interesting and strangely – that is fun.

Do you want to know why I became a vegetarian Charles?  Okay.  Let me tell you why.

1.  The meat meme.  That means that people didn’t always eat meat Charles.  They only started doing that after they were vegetarians for a long, long time.  It got added to the culture of humanity later – when we moved out of the jungle which was full of fruit and nuts.  Do you know what a meme is Charles?  Because that is one of my very favorite words and I constantly fear that I am going to use it far too much and people will start to hate me for it.

2.  Meat is murder.  So obvious!  Why didn’t I see it before???

3.  I like vegetables.  A lot.

4.  It makes me feel superior to other weaker meat eating people.

5.  It gives me this sense of control over myself.

6.  It gives me this sense of being able to control other people with my ‘special needs’.

7.  I have this good friend who is a vegetarian and he made me think about being a vegetarian myself and then I became a vegetarian.

8.  I don’t know how long this will last Charles – but I like it and as stated before – it is fun.

9.  Now you need to tell me why you are a vegetarian Charles.  Because that story about the pot roast and the grocery list just wasn’t very good.

Meme,

Rechelle

___________________

Dear Rechelle –

I knew you were giving up meat because I read it on your blog, and I wanted to write to you about it, but I was too ashamed to contact you because I hadn’t finished my repy to your book club question, which you sent me several weeks ago and which I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs in brief stolen moments because I’m apparently very bad at time management. I wonder what advice I would give to someone who wrote to me about a time management problem? Maybe I’ll write to myself about it and find out, although I know I’d have to wait a long time for my reply because it would have to wait until after the book club post, which I still haven’t finished.

Anyway, I was surprised and delighted to see your vegetarian news, especially after you painted a picture of yourself as a raging carnivore whose pie hole craved not pie, but bacon, and plenty of it. It gladdens my heart that you will now be using your oral cavity more for pie, as the Creator obviously intended, as evidenced by His letting Adam name it a “pie hole,” which is the name He obviously knew Adam would come up with when He saddled Adam with the task of giving names to all the orifices in the on the fourth or fifth day of creation.

I agree that being vegetarian is gobs of fun. A vegetarian diet is probably the most fun of anything referred to by a phrase with the word “diet” in it. However, the difficulties with it don’t contribute much to the fun for me. It’s fun for me mainly because the fun of eating, which is pretty fun all by itself, is enhanced when the thing being eaten is particulary pleasing to the palate, and I love most vegetables and vegetarian cuisine. I also feel healthier as a vegetarian, and everything’s more fun when you feel healthier and smugly superior.

And feeling healthier is really the reason I became a vegetarian after being nudged into it, which unfortunately happened with the notoriously weak pot roast/grocery list episode, which we won’t mention again and which, to my everlasting regret, can never be a better story. Anyway, after having become a vegetarian for my health, I decided that I was a vegetarian for all the most noble reasons you can imagine.

I wanted to tell you that if you’re cutting out fish, you should take an omega-3 supplement, because you need omega-3′s and they’re kind of rare in vegetarian fare. It has to be DHA. The ALA omega-3′s you get in things like flaxseed oil are next to worthless becasue your body has to convert them to DHA omega-3′s and it’s not very good at doing that if it’s like most human bodies. Most DHA omega-3 supplements are made from fish oil, but there are some that are made from algae, which is where the fish get the omega-3′s for their wondrous oil. Obtaining omega-3 supplements will make life a wee bit harder for you and thus make vegetarianism a wee bit more fun for you.

This friend of yours sounds like quite a remarkable person.

I don’t feel like I have enough of a grasp of what a meme is to use the word in a sentence other than this one.

Mentioning a meme again, this time in a sentence fragment,

Charles

Vegetarians!  They are Just Like US!


Photo of vegetarian shopping for groceries.

Yes, they do skirt the meat aisle, but other than that…

Just like us!

Vegetarian pouring a cup of rice cereal for peanut butter balls.

It’s not Rice Crispies, but other than that…

Just like US!

Close-up of vegetarian hands squeezing honey.

Amazingly similar to regular hands squeezing honey!

Glistening arty food shot of vegetarian fare.

Just like glistening arty food shot of meat fare!

Vegetarians – they laugh just like us!

Many of the foods that vegetarians can eat.

Non-vegetarians CAN ALSO EAT THIS FOOD!

Hiding vegetarian.

Found vegetarian!

Vegetarian DINNER!

DELISH!


Can you spot the vegetarian?
I know!
They all look the SAME!

Hey Dufus –

It sort of bugs me when writers throw an unnecessary “that” into a sentence.  Such as, “This is the largest mollusk that I have in my collection.”  You seem to have some pull out there.  Can you help?

Sincerely,

That Guy

Dear That Guy –

When I saw the salutation of your letter, my first impulse was to delete your e-mail without further consideration. However, upon discovering that the body of your letter was the most thought-provoking, insightful, and moving piece I’ve ever read, I decided to answer it.

The writing tendency you mention is a vestige of a more dramatic time. Before the era of radio, television, and cinema, there was an era in which radio, television, and cinema did not exist. The people of that era, without easy access to the vicarious excitement we now take for granted, were inclined to try to make their day-to-day activities more sensational; thus, during this period dramatic pauses were plentiful in speech. Two or three turns of the century ago, a typical conversation went something like this:

LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: We’ve traced the call … [dramatic pause] … and it’s coming from inside the house!
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: “Traced the call”? What do you mean, Smeggy? You’ve been saying some frightfully … [dramatic pause] … strange things lately. Are you … [dramatic pause] … all right?
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: Terribly sorry, old man, I just can’t seem to help myself. It’s as if someone … [dramatic pause] … or some thing … from another time and place is force-feeding me impenetrable lines, and although I struggle, I have no choice … [dramatic pause] … but to regurgitate them! And now you know … [dramatic pause] … the rest of the story!
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: Listen, old wad, I don’t know what story that’s the rest of. It seems more like a sketchy exposition for a possibly … [dramatic pause] … demonic story. If it is the end of a story … [dramatic pause] … then please be kind enough to tell me the beginning.
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: It’s the story … [dramatic pause] … of a lovely lady … [dramatic pause] … who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: I’m not seeing the connection, old bat. Is this woman … [dramatic pause] … a witch, who is somehow influencing you through … [dramatic pause] … black magic? And are the three girls … [dramatic pause] … her assistants in this fiendish project or … [dramatic pause] … are they also her victims?
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: Something has happened to … [dramatic pause] … The Children.
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: You mean the three girls, old bag? What’s … [dramatic pause] … the trouble with them?
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby … [dramatic pause] … IT’S ALIVE!
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: I don’t know who this … [dramatic pause] … Davis baby is, but I believe life is generally looked upon as a positive quality in a baby. It’s difficult to imagine someone thinking otherwise unless that someone happens to be … [dramatic pause] … the spawn of Satan! It would be a good idea for you to start speaking plainly and comprehensibly, old cataract … [dramatic pause] … if you want to avoid any inquiries into your bizarre behavior.
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: I know what you did last summer.
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY: Are you out of your mind, you old undergarment?! There wasn’t even a … [dramatic pause] … dramatic pause in that utterance! And if you’re suggesting that your intention is … [dramatic pause] … blackmail, I might remind you that I was privy to a few of your summer exploits as well!
LORD SMEGGINHIDLEY: [Begins speaking in tongues; his gibberish is punctuated with dramatic pauses and snatches of dialogue from circa-1970s horror movies.]
LORD HIGGINSMEDLEY [apprehensively, as Lord Smegginhidley, now seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, continues speaking]: Pardon me for just a moment, old toenail clipping … [dramatic pause] … I need to check on Reginald and Sylvia in the drawing-and-quartering room. [Leaves quietly in order to make arrangements to have Lord Smegginhidley tarred and feathered as a witch.]

As you’ve probably surmised, That Guy, during the era in question, the sentence you offered as an example would have been delivered orally with a dramatic pause in the middle (“This is the largest mollusk … [dramatic pause] … that I have in my collection”), and you will notice that this delivery does not work as well without the “that” (“This is the largest mollusk … [dramatic pause] … I have in my collection”). Contrary to popular belief, the attention spans of people in those bygone days were no better than those of people in the present day, and it was not uncommon for a listener to lose interest during a long dramatic pause and start thinking about something else. Hence, it was best for the material following a dramatic pause not to sound like it could be the beginning of a new thought, and “I have in my collection” could be taken as the preface of a listing of items in the speaker’s collection if not tied in with the material preceding the pause with “that.”

As you correctly observe, “that” in sentences like the one you cite is unnecessary and even slightly irritating in today’s world of infrequent dramatic pause use. You are also correct in your observation that I have considerable influence on trends in the grammatical sphere, and I believe we can expect the use of the unnecessary “that” to meet its demise within a week of the publication of this post.

Please let me know if there is anything else that I can do for you.

Sincerely,

Charles

Confidential to anyone who has written to me and not received a response: I recently checked the “Junk” folder in my e-mail account for the first time and found a couple of perfectly good letters in among the junk. If you’ve written me a perfectly good letter and have not heard back from me, chances are, your letter ended up in my “Junk” folder and was automatically deleted after 20 days spent languishing among ads for cheap meds and work-from-home opportunities. I now check my “Junk” folder semireligiously, so please try again.

Confidential to Rhonda: Help me.

Dear Charles,

Hey guess what Charles!  I woke up at 4:30 am panicking about my oldest son who was spending the night with some friends absolutely positive that he was upended in his car in a ditch on a back road.  So I texted him, but he didn’t text back so then I called him and he didn’t answer, so then I texted him again and then I called him again andhe still didn’t answer and then I got really panicked and figured he really was upended in a ditch on a back road somewhere, so I bundled up in my robe and a coat and drove to his friend’s house to make sure that his car was parked at his friend’s house AND IT WASN’T THERE!  So then I drove to his other friend’s house to see if maybe he had decided to spend the night there instead and NOPE CAR NOT THERE EITHER!  So then I called Mike and told him that Calder wasn’t at his friend’s house and he wasn’t answering any of my calls or texts so he is probably upended in a ditch on a back road somewhere.  Then Mike called Calder and Calder finally answered and said he was at his friend’s house, but that he had car-pooled there with his friend and that his car was at the highschool parking lot.  So Mike called me back and told me to call my son and talk to him and to go pick him up because he is probably not really at his friend’s house because he is probably really at some strip joint on the outside of Topeka drinking beer and doing drugs.  Except that Mike didn’t really say that part about the strip joint/beer/drugs, but I know we were both thinking it.  So I called Calder as I was driving to the Highschool to see if his car was really there and not at a strip joint in Topeka and at first, I didn’t see his car, but finally I located it at the far end of the parking lot and then Calder called me and said in a very thick sleepy voice, “Mom?”

Me – “Yes?”

Calder – “What do you want?”

Me – “Where are you?”

Calder – “I’m at Tanner’s house.”

Me – “Why isn’t your car there?”

Calder – “Because I met Tanner at the Highschool and got in his car so we could go to lift weights together in the morning”

Me – “Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

Calder – “I was sleeping…?”

Me – “Okay… well… go back to sleep son.”

Calder – “Are you going to come get me?”

Me – “No, that’s just your dad talking crazy talk – you know how he is – but you come home right after weights understand!”

Calder – “I was going to anyway.”

Me – “And call us next time when you get to your friend’s house so I don’t have to worry about where you are!.”

Calder – “Okay”

Me – “And if you decide to carpool with a friend, you need to TELL us!”

Calder – “Okay”

Me – “Goodnight.”

So that is how my morning has gone Charles!  I don’t know which is harder.  Being a teenager or being the mom of a teenager.  But I think that being the teenage son of a crazy mom is probably the hardest of all.

Also – I think I will be totally exhausted by the time Christmas Eve gets here!

Going to try and sleep now.

Merry Christmas Charles,

Rechelle

_______________________

Dear Rechelle –

 


That’s horrible! It sounds like in this case, being the mom of a teenager was harder than being the teenager. All Calder had to do was sleepily answer a vaguely annoying call from Mike and then sleepily and vaguely annoyedly establish telephonic communication with you and then go back to sleep. You, on the other hand, had to run around for hours in an adrenaline-soaked state of alarm and then go back to sleep. I’d say you won this round of who-has-it-harder? handily.

If you ever find yourself waking up at 4:30 a.m. in a panic about something like this again, you can perhaps calm yourself with the knowledge that the police are generally good about spotting upended cars in ditches and about following up with all interested parties in a timely fashion if they do make such a discovery, so the upended-car scenario is highly unlikely if the police aren’t at your house following up. Also, I’m pretty sure strip joints close at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. At least I’m pretty sure that alcohol can’t be served after one or both of those times in Kansas, and I assume that the strip joint owners figure that no one’s going to want to pay high prices for nonalcoholic beverages to nurse while watching the strippers, so what’s the point of staying open? Therefore, you can rule out the strip joint scenario. With these two scenarios out of the picture, you can peacefully drift off back to sleep.

Anyway, I hope you were able to get back to sleep after all that anxiety and activity and that you’re now well rested and rarin’ to go for Christmas Eve.

I’ve got the day off today and have a couple of things to catch up on, one of which is the next Dear Charles post, which I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to. Tomorrow, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with none of the fixin’s, by going to a movie and dinner with some friends from work.

Fa la la la la la la la la,
Charles