Notes from a Sensitive Grammarian

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As a man of flawless diction and grammar who is also hell-bent on improving the ordinary man’s spoken English, I submit a few grotesque howlers that a variety of people have addressed to me in the last few days. Frankly, the speakers quoted here made me feel ill, so sensitive am I to errant language. I then offer the corrected versions, or what the simpletons should have said, in hopes this will improve the lot of man and settle my stomach.

1.) “Get out of the car and put your hands over your head.”

Poor diction indeed, betraying the speaker as a ruffian and a barbarian. It is much better for the officer to say, “Sure you went through a red light and struck that old lady back there, but I’ll let you off with a warning this time.”

2.) “Who wants to see your shriveled old thing? Pull your pants up.”

Frankly embarrassing. One cringes to hear such English, even from a pretty young lady in the park on a Sunday morning. Of course, it should be, “Let’s play Hide Mister Mole.”

3.) “Hey, man, can I borrow ten bucks till payday?”

Completely uncivil and showing a total disregard for the niceties of language. The correct wording is, “Hey, man, here’s that ten bucks I borrowed from you last week, and another ten for being there when I needed you.”

4.) “Your account is overdrawn. I’ll have to apply a service charge to your next deposit.”

Reprehensible in an otherwise sophisticated and well-trained teller. Proper is, “Would you like free checking?”

5.) “I’m afraid your car needs a lot of expensive work.”

Note how changing just a few words can render this faulty sentence correct, to wit, “Your car needs a small amount of inexpensive work.” Or even better, “Your car is okay.”

6.) “We’ll know more after the biopsy.”

Physicians are highly educated people, but even they can lapse into elementary blunders that lead to misunderstandings and, possibly, malpractice suits. Here the doctor should say, “It’s just a wart.”

7.) “I know I should have mentioned it earlier, but I have herpes.”

Sad to say, but one hears this infuriatingly faulty expression more and more these days. As we all should know by now, correct is, “I have a cramp.”

8.) “You’re not built very big.”

As bedroom talk, this leaves a lot to be desired. Is it really more difficult to say the correct “What a monster!”?

9.) “I feel like going to the opera tonight.”

Hideous, showing that, in women, beauty and good grammar do not always accompany each other. The lady should say, “Let’s go see female spaghetti wrestlers tonight.” Some grammarians, it is true, prefer “Let’s go to a tractor-pull tonight”; however, either is correct.

10.) “I have a gun. Hand over your wallet.”

Even a second grader should know what’s wrong here, although I doubt the man who said it to me had even that much education. He should simply have said, “I’ll work for food,” which is less cumbersome and safer in mixed company.

11.) “I done brought my Playboy Bunny sister over here to meet up with you on account of she thinks you is cute.”

Impeccable. Keep up the good work.

Again, these are just a few of the phrases, most of them appalling in their formulation, that have recently come my way. Be careful to avoid the first ten, and let others know how inappropriate they are. That way we will all work together for a grammatically correct world, which is the only kind of world I feel okay in.

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Did Someone Call Me Snorer?

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Sleep…sweet, sweet, sleep…let it come…the soft fog lowering among the white pines…black waves hissing against the sand…in, and out…in, and out…the unblinking moon in the mist…a sea bird trills gently, distantly…the bird cries…how sad, it says…how beautiful…its voice goes an octave lower…two octaves higher…it gurgles…hiccups…what’s wrong with that bird?…it makes a sound like a rachet…getting closer, louder…rasping like a ruptured air hose…now shrieking and swooping…gibbering and — and laughing!…flapping horribly — that thing was never meant to fly…oh God, it’s not a bird, not a bird but a bug…a great, hideous, jabbering insect…all swirling tendrils and swollen abdomen…a thousand eyes, a thousand mouths — all staring, screaming…blotting out everything…

I bolted upright, gasping. My wife lay next to me. Her snores filled the room with a wash of sound, an alien symphony of whistles, grunts and nasal blasts. When I nudged her she mumbled and turned over, muffling the free concert. I lay back thinking, Where did she get such talent? From her Uncle George, the one who could smoke cigarettes through his ears? Or the grandfather she wouldn’t talk about — what was his name?…

“Grandpa Vlad.”

“Jah?” He raised his lidless eyes and looked through me. Hard to believe a gaze that tranquil could hide a broken mind.

“Your soup, Grandpa. Finish your soup.” I pushed the bowl toward him and he looked through it. I placed the spoon in his hand and he smiled. He began warbling a little song, accompanying himself by tapping the spoon on his water glass.

“In heaven dere iss no beer, dat’s why ve drink it here…” He coughed into his soup.

“Grandpa!”

“Jah, jah sure,” he said. He peered into the bowl. “Hello in dere. Anybody home?” When no one answered he dipped his spoon, took a long sip followed by a long breath and, liking the rhythm of it, finished his soup that way — sipping and breathing. The obscene slurping noises he made complemented his cadaverous wheezings, and I found myself listening for which would stop first. But they didn’t stop.

He reached the bottom of the bowl and kept going, licking the bowl when his spoon failed to bring up any more. His tongue was incredibly long. I wondered why I had never noticed it before.

“That’s enough, Grandpa.” The slurping got louder. There was no more soup but he kept sucking frantically, pursing his thick lips into a pulsating “O” like some monstrous pink lamprey. How could he keep inhaling without exhaling? I shivered suddenly and backed away. The slurping was deafening — he held the bowl to his face by sheer force of suction — and then the bowl vanished inside him. His unblinking eyes bulged swiveling from his head as the wind from within him tugged at everything loose in the restaurant: knives, forks, napkins, saltshakers, tablecloths — all flew into the widening hole that had been his face. A busboy screamed, waved his arms and tried to run, but Grandpa got him, sucking him in like a piece of lint.

Then he turned on me. His gaping orifice emitted sounds that should never be heard on this earth. Just as he was reaching for me with his shuddering snout he inhaled one of his own arms. There was a terrible screeching of torn fabric and flesh, and in a moment he sucked himself out of existence, disappearing with an audible pop.

I sat up yelling his name before I knew where I was. I didn’t want to be alone then. Shaking my wife to rouse her enough to share my misery, I noticed she wasn’t breathing right. She was sleeping on her stomach — something I had never seen her do — and her face was buried in the pillow, twisting back and forth. I turned her over but the pillow came with her, and I had to pull it out of her mouth.

“What are you doing?” she snapped. “Leave me alone!”

“You tried to swallow the pillow.”

“So?”

“You were making a noise like a vacuum cleaner in molasses.”

“So?”

“So you woke me up.”

I woke you up? I was only trying to cover my ears. I haven’t gotten three minutes of sleep all night with your snoring. You sound like a French horn being played by a rabid howler monkey.”

I hit her with the pillow and got up to look at the moon.

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A Tour Of The Zoo

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(Sound of birds chirping and children laughing.)

Oh, hello! And welcome to the Metropolitan Zoo’s Audio Guidebook. Thank you for joining us today on a beautiful listen through the zoo. Weather such as today’s weather is perfect for our tour, so let’s get going! Get your bags together, make sure you have your hat on, and we’ll begin. Press “stop” on the tape now and then press “play” when you’re ready to start.

*****

So! (Long, uncomfortable pause.) You’re blind. We know, it’s pretty rough (tuba blats) but you know what? It’s also…good enough! (Bugle blares.) While being blind means you can’t drive a car to the zoo (sound of a car hitting a wall, and then a hubcap rolling away), it doesn’t mean you can’t take a tour of the zoo! So keep that chin up, those fists clenched, and that seeing-eye dog leashed, and let’s start by taking two hundred steps straight ahead. Press “stop” on the tape and then click “play” when you hit the Plexiglas window and feel like you’re in the shade.

*****

You made it! Congratulations on visiting the first stop on the tour. Now, to your immediate left are the grizzly bears. There are four of them either sitting on a log, sleeping near the pond, or not doing either of those things. Also, if any of them have had babies or died since this tape was made in November 1996, there may be a different number of bears, doing some sort of other thing, today at the zoo! Feel free to ask a fellow zoo-lover what the bears are doing. (Whispering.) And psst, maybe make a lighthearted joke about your blindness to alleviate the tension! We recommend saying, “Bear with me, I can bearly see these things — do you mind telling me what they’re doing now?” (Normal voice.) Press “stop” on the tape now to ask some questions and then press “play” when you’re ready to hear more about bears.

*****

Thanks for coming back to the tour. And now that you know what the bears are doing let’s try and picture what they look like. First, take a second and touch your own face. See how your nose juts out of your head like that? Don’t worry, it’s normal! Ha ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA!!! Now. Picture your nose jutting out several more inches! Oh and by the way, an inch is approximately the size of half your thumb. And…sorry, but just so we’re clear, the thumb is that short fat finger on your hand. Now, did you picture a longer nose? Good. Now touch your teeth. See how pointy they are? Imagine they were much more pointy. This is what a bear looks like. Much more pointy teeth and a bigger, more extended nose. Now picture attaching a dinner roll to the bottom of your spine and you’ll have yourself a bear’s tail. Rowrrr! You’re a bear! You want to eat berries! You like fish! You will potentially maul and viciously murder campers! Ha ha ha! (Pause.) Now please stop the tape, walk fifty feet north-northwest, and press “play” again. Remember, if you get lost, just raise your hands and clap them together three times (sound of three claps) so one of our zoo tour guides will come and help you. Okay, and stop the tape…now!

*****

Welcome back! And congratulations on braving the walk across that rickety rope bridge over the extremely dangerous alligator pit!…Ha ha ha! Just kidding! You actually just walked through the Asian Pavilion themed food court. (Sound of a gong smash.) Go on. Take a whiff. (Sound of a nose sniffing.) You’re probably smelling soy sauce and chicken balls that someone spilled on the ground. Now, is your seeing-eye dog barking? If so, that’s unfortunately against zoo policy and you may be asked to leave. Also, it’s probably because we’re at the wolf pen! That’s right — dogs tend to know their own, and wolves — or Canis lupus — are actually an ancestor of today’s common domestic dog. What’s your dog’s name, anyway? (Pause.) Oh, that’s a nice name! I also have one called that.

One thing you probably haven’t noticed about the wolf pen is that there are wolves in it. That’s right — as you listen to this tape, a pack of wolves is undoubtedly performing incredibly wolflike activities, including making wolf noises, looking like a wolf, and walking in a wolflike fashion. Take your time to enjoy the wolves (sound of a nose sniffing) and then, when you’re ready, stop the tape and take seventy steps to your immediate right. Stop when you hit a metal rail and hear splashing.

Hello again! And welcome to the penguin area! Directly in front of you right now are penguins likely sunning themselves and waddling around looking for fish. Penguins, like you and me, walk. But unlike me, and potentially unlike you, they walk funny. Have you ever dropped your pants and then tried to walk around while they were still around your ankles? Pretty awkward, right? Well, guess what! This is how penguins walk around all day! Also, have you ever worn a tuxedo? Like to a wedding or something? It’s like clothes, but nicer? Some people say that it looks like penguins are wearing tuxedos due to the black and white color of their feathers. By the way, black is the color of your eyelids when you’re going to sleep and white is the color of your eyelids when you stare directly at the sun, the hot part of the sky. And … well, penguins are pretty weird, basically. And bears are, too. And so are wolves. For the most part, going to the zoo is like meeting all these weird versions of yourself, and instead of doing things like you, they do things unlike you. That’s what going to the zoo is all about! Meeting weird-yous.

Please stop the tape, turn around, and take sixty steps straight ahead.

*****

Welcome back to the zoo entrance. We hope you have enjoyed a brief tour of the Metropolitan Zoo and we hope you come back soon. By the way, we are requesting funds in our budget to put together a new tape each year, so we will introduce you to different animals and pavilions each time you come. If you’re listening to a really old tape right now, it means that we either didn’t get our budget approved, or the rental clerk was all out of the current tape and figured you wouldn’t notice. Either way, thanks!

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A Letter to Layla, My Paper Shredder

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Dearest Layla,

When I laid my eyes on you for the first time, as I crumpled and cast aside the slick and cheery Christmas wrapping paper, I doubted your significance. After all, you weren’t in my list of Christmas desires. Little did I know my list of Christmas desires would soon be in you.

I remember unsealing your box and gently parting your beautifully corrugated flaps. You didn’t make it easy, with the glue lines, packing tape, and industrial-sized staples, but I respected that deeply. I beheld your stark, matte nakedness and inhaled as if startled, so suddenly was the fullness of your utility, your power, thrust into my consciousness. Forgive me for such a vivid painting of our meeting, but I recall the precious memory of it in slow motion now, because I relish it so. Still, in those early hours, my plans for you and our relationship were mostly functional. How little I knew.

We’ve had so much fun together, Layla. Remember our courtship? I just couldn’t stop using you when we first got acquainted. Again, I can’t find the words — I am smitten, yes, fascinated, intoxicated, addicted, but these words seem so inadequate. Something so alluring, so strong, so satisfying, you, my feelings for you, this mesmerizing infatuation. I have given you everything, my old file contents, paid bills, mail, new file contents, unpaid bills, drafts of my work, current magazines, my comic book and baseball card collections, the family photos, even that twenty I found in my wife’s purse. I wanted to share it all with you, Layla. I did share it all with you, Layla.

Your only flaw is that you tire sometimes, only physically, I know, and not emotionally. So I let you rest, tenderly disconnecting power (for three minutes, per your manual, which I have since fed to you along with the instructions to everything else I own). And I suppose I get annoyed when you jam up, requiring that I pick things out of your cute little teeth (which is rather unflattering for both of us). But then I realize I want to care for you in this way. I want you to need me. I want to know what’s inside of you. Of course, your sharp, rotating jaws remind me to temper my passion when my fingers stray to the buttons on my clothing and I grow feverish for your sensual touch.

I have a surprise for you, Layla. Bet you thought I forgot what you told
me the other night in my dreams. No, I didn’t forget. Not for a second. And
you’re absolutely right. You’re twice the woman she is, and you’re not even
a woman. Hope you saved room for dessert, Layla darling, ’cause I have the
marriage certificate right here.

My love always,

Your Danny

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A Cannibal’s Wine Cellar

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“The trial of [Armin] Meiwes…offered a lurid glimpse into the dark side of cyberspace. It took the public into the mind of a man who built a death chamber in his half-timbered farmhouse and dined on parts of [Bernd] Brandes while sipping South African red wine.”

— Los Angeles Times – January 31, 2004

Excerpts from the first draft of “A Cannibal’s Wine Cellar,” a work in progress by Armin Meiwes:

Apart from a mandatory metal autopsy table and meat-hanging hooks, every cannibal’s basement should include a good wine cellar. May I recommend these vintages from my own personal collection:

Château Puyfromage 1999


You won’t pay an arm and a leg for this ruby-colored, aromatic red, although you may want to serve it with an arm and a leg. A hearty Bordeaux with hints of raspberry and oak, it goes well with almost any roast limb.

Pol Roger Brut 2001


What better way to celebrate the first meeting with your new victim than with French champagne? Whether or not you manage to ingest his severed member, this dry, medium-bodied bubbly is definitely a great way to say “thank you for being you.”

Beaujolais Villages 2000


The light, fruity bouquet of this well-known Burgundy complements a pan-fried rib steak garnished with garlic and mushrooms. Remember, if your “friend” was over 40, be sure that any excess fat is trimmed before cooking.

Black Opal Shiraz 1998


It’s always difficult to know what to serve with organ meats. But the deep purple color and hearty flavor of this Australian wine underscore the stronger tastes associated with heart, kidneys and liver. For a really tender treat, slow cook the organ meat in a Shiraz-based marinade.

Niersteiner 1999


A touch of sweetness in this classic German white bodes well for any lighter cuts. Whether it’s a breaded slice of breast or a serving of braised sweetbreads, a Rhine Valley white like Niersteiner will never overpower these delicate-tasting meals.

Valpolicella 2002


When those odds and ends become ground round, there’s no better low-budget hamburger wine than Valpolicella. Break out the barbecue and enjoy your grilled manburger with a big, bold Italian red. Goes great with a homemade pasta sauce as well.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1997


This is a special-occasion wine and the special occasion may well be an entire roast thigh turned on your barbecue spit. Invite a few flesh-eating friends over to enjoy a “runner’s roast” washed down with a couple of bottles of France’s best.

Sauterne


Any of the semisweet golden offerings will go great with everyone’s favorite dessert — mincemeat tarts. The tangy taste of this fruit-flesh pastry confection is accentuated by the smooth sweetness of the Sauterne.

Port


When you’re having a friend for dinner and you’ve invited others to join you, it’s always nice to finish the evening with cigars and port. Any of the Portuguese brands of this fortified sweet wine will go well with after-dinner noshes like finger foods or man jerky.

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