A Collection of Words

We are all collectors, whether we admit to it or not.  Men usually collect tools, fishing gear, old shoes and bent nails, because you never know when you’ll need one.  Women typically collect cosmetics, kitchen utensils, safety pins and scraps of soap.  Kids are famous for amassing toys, bugs, bottle caps and uneaten portions of dinners past (usually hidden underneath cushions and behind heavy furniture).  Even our pets accumulate stuff, like bones, hairballs and valuables we humans leave within their grasp.  This reminds me of a friend who collected dog poop in his back yard.  Every time he’d invite us over for a barbeque I felt like I was in a Vietnamese mine field, and I wasn’t even in that war.

Actually, we oftentimes use the word ‘collector’ when we really mean ‘hoarder’.  There’s a show on cable that documents the worst of us, and even supplies a psychoanalyst to help throw stuff away.  Serious hoarders are nothing to laugh at, even though there’s a part of us that want to.  There are some who are compulsive buyers and then can’t get up the nerve to return the things they didn’t need to begin with.  Usually, though, the professional hoarder is just a sophisticated pack rat, using the same logic guys have for collecting bent nails.  If society regresses into anarchy, these people will rule the roost. 

There are the garden variety collectors, who save things like state quarters, Happy Meal toys and trading cards.  This is not unlike playing the stock market.  Joe Shmo may have an autographed baseball card from some unknown backup outfielder, but if that player’s team wins the World Series, and the unknown backup outfielder happened to catch the game winning fly ball, that card may be worth something.  Chances are, the outfielder will become famous, which will go to his head, and he’ll end up blowing all his money on bling and end up in jail for trying to get his autographed cards back.  Then the card’s value will soar.  Such is the irony of life.

You’ve heard the old saying “You are what you eat”.  The same holds true regarding what we collect.  If you collect stuffed animals, you’re fluffy, cuddly and stuffed.  If you collect stamps, you tend to be small and raggedy around the edges, avoid lines whenever possible, and secretly wish you were an upside down Wright brother’s plane.  If you’re a comic book collector, you’re colorful, graphic and have balloons coming out your mouth when you talk.  Look around you and you’ll see it’s true.

Of course, I don’t want to know the personality of some collectors.  Consider Steve Silberberg from Hull, Massachusetts, who has over 1,600 air sickness bags and is, ironically, single.  Makes me wonder how he is as a cook.  “Ok, here’s your dinner and, just in case . . .”   Then there’s Steve Salcedo from Indiana who collects street signs and traffic lights.  Next time I get pulled over for speeding, I blame him for taking the sign.  How about Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum in Alamo Heights, Texas?  Chances are he’s got a potty mouth.  He even has one with the Egyptian Pyramids on it.  Now that’s a toilet seat only a mummy could love. 

You remember earlier when I said women collect soap scraps?  Carol Vaughn from Birmingham, England has amassed over 5,000 bars of soap.  Whatever you do, don’t cuss around her unless you like the taste of soap.  A Mr. Graham Barker from Australia holds the Guiness Book of World Record’s largest collection of navel fluff, and as weird as this sounds, I’m jealous.  My father used to keep his in a naval jelly jar tucked away in his sock drawer and tried to get the rest of us to add to it, much to my mother’s protests.  How I wish I had that jar now.  Probably the most unusual collection belongs to Deb Conant from Massachusetts (must be in the water up there) who is curator and primary contributor of the one and only Burnt Food Museum.  She even tours the country exhibiting this assortment of crispy desserts and overcooked dinners.  She became hooked when, in 1980, she forgot a pan of hot apple cider on the stove and found it was able to stand on its own.  My wife says I could burn water, so perhaps I should contact this lady and see if she needs some to add to her exhibits.

Me?  I collect words.  If we are what we collect, that means I’m informative, entertaining and best of all, free.  What are you?

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When One Meaning Just Isn’t Enough

As a writer, I am constantly challenged.  This statement could be understood in two ways, which makes it a really fun figure of speech called the double entendre.  Even though I don’t speak much French, I do know that this phrase has something to do with saying two things at once.  This makes it a cousin to speaking out of both sides of the mouth, which is what politicians have to learn before they get elected.  It doesn’t necessarily involve telling a lie, which is also part of a politician’s portfolio, but can mean two contradictory things.  For instance, if I want to tell someone that I don’t buy their particular brand of malarkey, and avoid getting punched in the nose, I will say, “I couldn’t agree with you more”. This could mean I agree wholeheartedly with them, or that I’ve suddenly found it impossible to agree with them.  Of course, now that I’ve told you, I can’t use this particular double entendre again – unless I intend the statement to be interpreted only one way, which makes it okay.

Literature is chock full of double entendres, and is a favorite form of wit amongst the most intelligent authors, a class that I haven’t been invited to attend yet.  Or maybe I was but just wasn’t bright enough to catch the hidden meaning.  A classic example of the double entendre is when Mr. Cannibal arrives home after a long day of shrinking heads, and Mrs. Cannibal says to him “We’re having missionaries for dinner tonight.”  The missionaries may very well have thought they would be dining on stew when they rang the Cannibal’s doorbell, but would soon discover that they were in a stew.  The 17th century music hall singer, Marie Lloyd, was crazy about putting two meanings in the line of a song because she loved sticking it to the Victorian prudes of the day.  One of her songs was entitled “She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas”.  This particular type of double entendre, which is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, is called a “homophone”.  The first time I heard that word I thought it was a cruel joke about a gay ET calling home, until I learned it originated from the Greek and means ‘same voice’.  Those Greeks were such sly devils, weren’t they?

Don’t confuse double entendre with a double negative, such as ‘bipartisan support’, or doublespeak, such as the person saying ‘bipartisan support’.  The double entendre usually has a naughty side to it.  The sexy actress of the early silver screen, Mae West once said “I feel like a million tonight – but only one at a time.”  My personal favorite, which I advise anyone to say to the opposite sex in a social situation, especially if they want to spend the rest of the evening playing solitaire, is “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”  If you’re interested in the concept of double entendres without all the hassle of trying to think of one, wait until someone says something, like your friend pondering if his car will make it into a parking spot by saying “I don’t think it will fit.”  Without missing a beat, reply, “That’s what she said.”  This is what I call the ‘he said, she said’ game, and can be used in almost any circumstances.  Usually people will roll their eyes and say “Please!” to which you add “That’s what he said.”  See how fun it can be?

You don’t have to go any further than the newspaper headlines to catch examples of a double entendre.  “Stolen Car Found by River” “Miners Refuse to Work after Death” “Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Space” “Colonoscope Considered World’s Most Powerful Telescope Because it Sees Far Past Uranus”.  The list goes on.  I particularly like the headline that read: “Couple Slain: Police Suspect Homicide”.  This peculiarity isn’t confined to newspaper headlines, either.  There’s a sign down the street that warns “Slow Children Ahead”.  Or how about the sign outside a secondhand shop: “We exchange anything – bicycles, washing machines, ect.  Why not bring your wife along and get a wonderful bargain?”  Some double entendres are so cool they’re sick.  I mean, they’re broken.  Uh, they’re like my sweat pants: off the hook.  Just look around or listen carefully and you’re liable to find one.  Let me leave you with a real life example that happened not too long ago:  A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and hadn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked, “So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?”  The station had to go to a commercial because the crew was rolling around on the floor.  If you’re still hungry for more double entendres, you can always ask my friend Hugh Jass.  He’s behind me every step of the way.

The Cat’s Meow

There was an article in the news recently that said a study was done which proved that cats are in control of their owners.  This causes me to wonder if there’s a gaggle of scientists somewhere who sit around all day thinking of ways to spend money on obvious things.  I could speculate on a wide variety of subjects that would make for easy studies, such as finding out if the sun really does rise in the east, but my cat wants me to stay on topic.

The study says felines have a particular way of mixing a purr with a cry when they want something like food or your favorite shoes, and this somehow reminds their owner of a hungry baby, causing the human to stop whatever they’re doing and look for a bottle and diaper.  I’m not smart enough to make this stuff up.  My cat, Jack, makes this precise sound whenever I get up in the morning, and it works like a charm.  I toss him one of my favorite shoes so he’ll shut up and let me have a peaceful cup of coffee.  I think he’s got me trained well, because I know what will happen if I don’t give into his demands: he waits for me to get comfortable and then pounces out of thin air to use my leg as a scratching post.  I’ve tried tricking Jack by putting scratching posts where my legs should be, but it’s hard to get comfortable when you’re hiding your legs behind your back, all the while trying to cross your scratching posts.  In times like this Jack looks at me as if I’m brain damaged then sneaks around behind and shreds my bent, folded and spindled legs.

Have you ever tried to get a cat to do anything?  They know who rules the roost.  Jack will toy with me by standing in front of any closed door and making that hungry baby sound, but when I run over to open it, he just stares at me as if he has no idea why I opened the door that he’s refusing to go through.  Whenever I call him by name he acts like I must be talking to the doorknob, so I have to resort to inhaling helium and yell “Here kitty kitty kitty!”  Usually by the time he saunters over to me, I’ve forgotten what I wanted him for.  It’s no fun getting old, especially if you’re slave to a cat.

My son told me about this cartoon he saw once where this dog and cat were laying side by side and thinking.  First of all, I know it must be a cartoon, as any respectable cat will tell you that dogs don’t have the capacity to think because all they have in their cranial cavity is a huge drool gland.  Secondly, it is highly unlikely that a dog and cat would lay side by side.  The cat demands top billing and must be at least two feet in front of the dog in the event the dog’s drool gland activates.  Anyway, my son said that in the cartoon, the dog was thinking, “My human feeds me, brushes me, bathes me, plays with me.  He must be a god!”  The cat has similar thoughts.  “My human feeds me, brushes me, bathes me, plays with me.  I must be a god!”  Even though the cartoonist’s fundamental message is sound – that dogs looks up to us and cats look down on us – I would never have imagined a cat thinking such things.  Instead of thinking “my human”, the typical cat regards us more like minions created to serve.  Finally, I’m not going to mention the obvious logical flaw that a cat would think his minion bathes him.  I’ve got permanent scars on my arms from the only time I attempted to bathe Jack.  A co-worker asked me once what was up with my arms, and instead of humiliating myself with the truth, I said I had been involved with an industrial paper shredder accident.  I still haven’t figured out what to say about my legs, though.  There’s no way a paper shredder could attack both my arms and legs, unless a couple of them ganged up on me.  Now that’s a disturbing image.

The study quotes a Karen McComb of the University of Sussex who says, “Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom.”  That’ a funny phrase, “solicitation purring”.  I can just imagine getting a knock on my front door and finding a cat there trying to sell me a magazine subscription.  I probably would but a subscription to Cat Fancy just to make the cat stop that sound.

Any respectable cat slave will tell you that cats are just too smart to go around soliciting in public.  They get the humans to do that for them.  I bet behind any successful salesman sits a cat on his or her throne, pulling the strings.  Home is another matter altogether, though.  Jack does not hesitate doing his cry-purr thing whenever he wants the refrigerator door opened, for instance, or when he wants the toilet seat left up.  That reminds me of the time I found him squatting over my can of Mountain Dew one day, and when I confronted him about it, he answered with, “Well, you do that in my drink bowl.”  Since then I’ve switched to bottles.  I hope he doesn’t know how to unscrew a bottle cap.  On the other hand, any creature that can manipulate a human as much as cats do would find a bottle cap child’s play.

Time to go.  Jack’s making that purr-cry sound again, and if I know what’s good for my legs, I’d better to attend to him quickly.