Marvin

And in this dream I had a dream…

It is a crisp, clean and warm Spring day.  No clouds mar the amazingly blue East Texas sky.  Marvin and I are wearing t-shirts and shorts because we can; in another month the heat and humidity will demand it.

We have left his house and are now driving down a quiet, country road in his rather large convertible.  Rich, a friend of his, is working outside his house as we pass and Marvin calls to him, though not stopping.  Thirty seconds or so later I interrupt the still talking Marvin to ask him why he is, in fact, still talking.  It is obvious Rich can no longer hear him.

In an instant I know the reality of my situation.  I know I am dreaming and that knowledge alone should have awakened me, yet I am still in the dream.  So I ask him.  A little angry and more than a little sad, I ask him why he chose to leave his wife and one month-old son for a useless trip to Louisiana.  I ask him why he chose not to stay overnight and come back in the morning.

I ask him why he died that night twenty-three years ago.

That, at least, is what I intended to ask Marvin, my best friend from high school.  But I was so overcome with emotion that I only managed a single “why” before the dream fragmented and was gone.  I awoke with lingering sadness and sense of loss not only for my friend, but I felt I had missed an opportunity for discovery, or maybe closure.

It would be a while before I realized I was still dreaming.

My spam is boring

Sad, but true.  Every time I check my junk mail folder to see if any “real” mail fell through the filters I am disappointed by what I find.  Where have all the good spammers gone?

In the beginning there was no spam and it was good.  Then some entrepreneurial nerd with way too much time on his hands invented a new way to break an old law and it was not good.  Not every Thomas, Richard and Harold could afford a personal computer in those days so the spammer’s sales pitch had to be believable, or at least inventive.  The major spam-fighting tool was, and still is, common sense.  If someone you’ve never heard of tries to sell you something you weren’t in the market for in a way you cannot verify, take a pass.

Spam filtering has evolved to the point where not a single piece of junk mail has found its way into my inbox over a period of years.  On the other hand, spammers have devolved into special education “script kiddies” whose efforts are pathetic.  They do not try to be creative in the least, dispensing several times a day their offers of…

  • Swiss watches – Over a million had been sold by December 14th, but that number was down to 600,000 on the 15th.  (400,000 returns?)
  • Erectile dysfunction medication – For the record, I don’t need it.  But if I did I would get it from someone who could spell the name correctly.
  • College diplomas – I can just imagine the job interview: “Yeah, I got me a Masteer degree, so when do I gotta start?”

…and a special shout out to all those ladies who found my ad on “that dating site”.  Sorry, girls, but the idea of unprotected cyber sex doesn’t appeal to me.

That is the extent of my spam entertainment.  The fact that I get each one several times a day is completely irrelevant.  They are all dumped into the junk mail folder and I never have to look at them.  They’re even deleted automatically after a given period of time.  That said, today will most likely be the last time that folder is ever opened.  Today’s spammers are almost too pitiful for words and I will not allow them to continue to disappoint me.

Perspective No. 2

Seating capacity of:

  • FedEx Field (Washington Redskins) – 91,704
  • Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans) – 71,500
  • M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens) – 71,008
  • Texas Stadium (Dallas Cowboys) – 65,675

Population of Lufkin, Texas (my hometown) – 36,830

No insights.  I just find it extraordinary that every citizen of Lufkin can fit into the smallest stadium with almost 29,000 seats left empty.

Chiefly British

It never fails.  I will be otherwise occupied when a question occurs to me and I’m not in a position to research an answer.  Then, just as silently as it rose to the surface of my waking thoughts, it sinks again—waiting.  Today’s topic was just such an anomaly, but now I have time on my hands.

I believe the prototype America—the one the American Revolutionary War would forge into a proper United States—required three main ingredients for it to succeed: new ideologies for government, literal and figurative fertile soil for them to thrive, and British citizens.  We forget that, in the beginning, we were all subjects of King George III.

Given that the United States was birthed from primarily British stock, when and why did differences in spelling occur? For example, the chiefly British theatre became the American theater.  Centre became center, litre/liter, sabre/saber and fibre/fiber.  And those are just of few of the “re/er” words.  We cannot ignore the “our/or” words, such as honour/honor or colour/color, or those annoying “ce/se” ones like defence/defense.  The answer turns out to be more complex than I could have, but probably should have imagined.

English is a robust, living language, and the language of any dynamic society will change as that society changes.  It is inevitable.  Many of the differences between British and American English can be traced to a Viking leader named Rollo.  In 911, Charles the Simple of France granted Rollo and his group of Vikings, whom he had defeated in battle, permission to settle along the northern coast of France.  It was Charles’s intention that these Vikings would ward off further Viking attacks upon his domain.  It was a successful venture and Rollo’s Vikings adapted themselves to the culture of northern France, becoming known as Northmen from which Normandy is derived.[1]  Setting aside the alliances, arranged marriages and buckets of blood that followed, in 1072 England found herself ruled by a Norman king—a French king.  As a direct result, Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old French, displaced Old English and became the language of the English aristocracy.[2]  Though England has long since reverted to an English sovereign, the effects of Anglo-Norman are obvious in today’s Modern English.  This is the origin of the “-re”, “-our”, etc. words mentioned earlier.

How did we Americans come by our spellings of those Anglo-Norman words?  Noah Webster.

Okay, not entirely Noah Webster.  Many spellings happen as a result of the dynamic evolution of language.  Technology gave us Internet, hypertext, et alAspirin was originally a German trademark for A(cetyl)+SPIR(säure)+IN.  (Spirsäure is the German name of the meadowsweet plant from which salicylic acid could be derived.)  The name of my home state of Texas is alleged to be the result of a Spanish misspelling of the Caddoan word for “friends”.[3]  Back to Mr. Webster.

Noah Webster’s time at Yale College was interrupted by the American Revolutionary War, when he served with the Connecticut Militia.  One cannot discount the influence this must have had when, in the 1780’s, Mr. Webster began a concerted effort to “rescue ‘our native tongue’ from ‘the clamor of pedantry’ that surrounded English grammar and punctuation.”[4]  His three volume publication, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, consisted of a speller, a grammar and a reader (published in 1783, 1784 and 1785, respectively).  In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, and set about the following year creating The American Dictionary of the English Language, a task that would take another 27 years to complete.

“Slowly, he changed the spelling of words, such that they became ‘Americanized’. He chose s over c in words like defense; he changed the re to er in words like center; he dropped one of the Ls in traveller; at first, he kept the u in words like colour or favour, but he dropped it in later editions.”[4]

May all your simple questions have simple answers.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest#Origins

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest#Language

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster

Reading the entire Wikipedia entry will provide a more complete picture of the effects of the Norman Conquest of England.

Home cp. Here

While researching another article I came across some facts that I must have known on some subconscious level, but I’d never had them “in my face” at the same time before this morning.  It makes me long for Home all the more.

In comparing Home with Here, let me define the two.  “Home” is East Texas; specifically Lufkin in Angelina County.  I lived on Allen Gin Road (aka FM2680) at the intersection with Kenner Road.

“Here” is Pasadena, Maryland, in Anne Arundel County.  Where doesn’t really matter because this overly crowded place is pretty much the same as that one.  Twenty steps Here gets you on someone else’s property.  Twenty steps back Home gets you halfway to the mailbox.

I’m afraid I may be giving away the ending with these little hints that only someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word can call subtle.  But please, read on.  There will be facts.  I promise.

As stated earlier, I am from East Texas, an area comprising some 41 of Texas’s 254 counties.  I can also narrow it down and state that I’m from the Piney Woods of East Texas; a region of roughly 25 or so counties.  Refining further still, Angelina is one of 12 counties that make up Deep East Texas.

According to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, there are 368,675 people living in the 9,790 square miles of Deep East Texas.  By comparison, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 5,615,727 people living in the 9,774 square miles of the state of Maryland.

Obviously I knew there were more people in Maryland than in my little neck of the woods, but I didn’t realize that my little neck of the woods was larger than the state of Maryland (even if only a little).

Home wins.  Missing Home.

joie de vivre

[Originally published September 2008 in another blog]

Have I ever mentioned that I lived in Paris for a short while?  Well, more like the suburbs, but it was still The City of Light.  I loved the quiet residential neighborhoods away from the frenetic tourist spots.  Every day seemed supernaturally perfect.  Instead of finding the differences between American and French cultures grating or annoying, I appreciated them for what they were; new experiences to be savored.  During my time in Paris I was absolutely the happiest, the most fulfilled, the most complete I have ever been.  I was living a dream.

When I left it felt like my soul had been ripped away.  The pain was almost physical.  Holding on to the dream was like trying to hold onto a fistful of sand; the harder I tried, the more it slipped away.  Eventually I was fully awake, cocooned in the same comfortable sheets that had a few weeks earlier conspired with the universe to cause me to sprain my neck.  I replayed that dream over and over trying to recapture the feelings, the emotions that went with the facts.  All I found were ghosts.  The disassociation between me and absolute happiness was almost complete; joie de vivre will remain foreign to me.

That said, this dream was also puzzling.  I have never wanted to visit, much less live in, Paris.  Or France.  Frankly speaking, there are many places higher on my list: New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and there are others.  Many others.

On a related note, I have begun to entertain the notion that my most comfortable sheets are possessed.