Acknowledgments

By:

It has been said that a book represents the efforts of not just its author, but of all who have supported that author during the mysterious process of creativity. While there is some built-in hyperbole and false humility to such claims, my legal representatives advise me that I nevertheless would be remiss in not acknowledging those persons who have made it possible for me to accomplish what I fully expect will be reckoned a significant — dare I say unprecedented? — work of creative genius.

To wit: let me begin by thanking my fourth and most recent ex-wife, Jane, who provided invaluable comments on early drafts, put up with my less than model behavior during the composition of some difficult portions of this work, and even clumsily soldered electronic components of my keyboard as quickly as I could smash them in my rages at her inability to fully appreciate my true genius.

I must also thank her for in the end allowing me the freedom to pursue other muses than herself for the sake of my art, and for enduring the verbal — and, finally, physical — attacks from one of those former muses, who, in the wake of our brief and turbulent relationship, proved far more fragile and much less generous than her target, my then-wife. Thanks, again, Jane. You’re the best.

I must also acknowledge the contributions made to this work by my third ex (also a Jane), who was somewhat tragically and quite unexpectedly carried away in a spring flash flood while fixing me a cup of tea just the way I like it, with extra lemon and prepared out of earshot so as not to disturb me. That the ancient riverbed where she had set up her campfire should so suddenly revert to its previous vigor was, I am convinced, just as surprising to her as it was to the gentlemen whom I eventually hired to fish her out while I completed the lyrical chapter which, had she survived, surely would have been her favorite. I also wish to thank her for humming my favorite childhood tunes the way Mommy — (okay, a Jane) used to.

I also here acknowledge my second ex — stout, capable Martha! — for her efforts on my behalf over the years. I wish especially to thank her for shingling our vast roof, and for — God bless her — deftly putting a bullet in the head of the neighbors’ distracting Weimeraner, allowing me to finish a chapbook of poems that today is still available in limited edition. I should also acknowledge publicly her touching willingness to settle an old score on my behalf by traveling to Chicago to moon a past president of PEN who had refused to return my phonecalls.

I also wish to thank her for shielding me from the burden of raising our three children — so successfully, in fact, that I was recently quite unable to identify my eldest youngster in a police lineup, nor to recognize his hoarse, plaintive cries for my head; and, when she could no longer afford to pay our lawyer, for working out a system of payment with the laywer she had hired to defend her in the lawsuit by the aforementioned dog-owning neighbor — pulling the lawyer’s children on a vintage sledge to their snowboarding lessons and, after proofreading my galleys, returning to his house to weed his charming, serpentine drive and to polish his whimsically impractical copper gutters and drainpipes. The prison matrons who now attend her know little of the depth of her character. Brava, plucky lady!

I should also be remiss in forgetting to mention my first wife (not a Jane), whose efforts on my behalf would beggar the description of a less talented author. There is so much to say, but let me at least here acknowledge her ultimate effort on my behalf, that of cycling to Iran to assassinate the Imam who had issued the fatwa against the writer who in the end turned out not to have been me after all. If her jailers allow her a copy of this book in the care packages her parents send her, and she chances upon this page, I should like her to know that, in the first moment that I am satisfied with the second draft of my poem-cycle-in-progress, I will trouble Holden, my current muse/caretaker, to turn her attentions to your plight. In the meantime I trust she has answered your letters. The several months’ delay has, I am told, mostly to do with Holden’s touching discomfort at handling the rough toilet paper — however unsullied — upon which you choose to compose your (also touching) requests for help.

It is a statement of pure, legal fact that without the help of these women the world would have been deprived of the work on the pages that follow. And so perhaps it is not so much I who ought to thank them, but rather you, the lucky reader of those pages, to which I humbly trust you will now turn with all alacrity.

*****

Eric Metaxas is the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask). His humorous essays have been published in The New York Times and The Atlantic — Woody Allen has called them “quite funny” — and during college he was the editor of The Yale Record (the nation’s oldest college humor magazine). He has written for VeggieTales and is the author of over 30 children’s books, including Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. Eric lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter and is the host and founder of Socrates in the City, a monthly speaker’s series on “life, God, and other small topics.” For more information or to contact him, go to: EricMetaxas.com

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Our Changing Language

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The question of how language came into being has always been among the great puzzles of history. Who spoke first? we ask ourselves.

However it was that language first came about, it is safe to assume that its very earliest beginnings were rather rocky. Brain sizes were not very large, and it is postulated that at first it may have required the efforts of three or four people to manage a simple sentence. The caveman’s daily life was, of course, communal and tribe-oriented. It would make sense that men probably handled subjects and objects — which were considered the “touch” or “macho” parts of speech — while women, who as a gender are more process-oriented, dealt with the predicates — which were seen as “ladylike” and “frilly.” This startling theory of language development is commonly known as the Huey, Dewey, and Louie Theory of Early Linguistics, proponents of which comprise the highly controversial Unka Donald School. Advocates of this theory believe it was probably many years before the first paragraphs were tackled, and then some time longer before early man had mastered scholarly essays and light verse.

Every culture has its myths and legends about the birth of language. The ancient Greeks tell of Prometheus’ garrulous stepbrother, who scaled the snowy heights of Olympus in search of the language of the gods, which was believed to be kept in a glass of water on Zeus’ night table. American Indians often regaled pioneers on the Great Plains with stories of a renegade tribe that had escaped into what is now Missouri with a large, hairy consonant and a buckskin pouch of magical punctuation. Archaeologists digging an Indian mound in the Colorado River Basin in 1974 unearthed what they believed to be the remains of this lost consonant, but Carbon-14 test soon revealed the findings to be nothing more than some r’s dropped by a Bostonian couple on their way to San Francisco the previous year.

The question of how language actually arrived in North and South America has likewise been surrounded by controversy, although most scholars believe it came to North America over the Bering Strait landbridge, gradually fanning out over the continent as it was needed. As people migrated further south, language eventually trickled down past Mexico to the narrow Isthmus of Panama, causing a temporary bottleneck of long vowels. Most of the punctuation, however, got through. In fact, by the year 1700, twice as many exclamation points and question marks as were needed had slipped down into South America, which is believed to account for the twin presence of those objects in Spanish prose. Paraguay endured a puzzling shortage of commas is the 1840’s, and for ten terrible years the populace was quite out of breath.

But the most historically alarming evolutions were in Europe. Words were borrowed from one country to the other at such frenetic pace that Charles the Fat spoke of installing a revolving door at Antwerp. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Anglo-Saxon tribes of England began to borrow French words at a particularly alarming rate, and France marshaled all her forces to put a halt to it. In the end, however, her efforts proved futile, as people could always whisper. For years thereafter the French remained staunch in their opposition to “mixing with the harsh Germanic element,” but they were eventually persuaded to loosen up with seductive promises of a throatier, more guttural sound and a sinuous, well-developed sentence structure. In addition, they would receive two-thirds of all excess verbiage west of the Rhine, as well as an independent clause to be named later.

Many people remember from their high school English classes that around the year 1300 the English language underwent a traumatic vowel shift. Few people, however, know that this was preceded ten years earlier by a consonant leap — along with a subsequent glottal hop, skip, and jump — the deadly combination of which forced the young Chaucer to scrap everything he’d written up to that point. Likewise, massive changes in the Italian of his day obliged Dante to rewrite two cantos of his Inferno, causing temporary overcrowding in the fourth and fifth circles of hell. History also records a puzzling umlaut switch in Austria as late as 1586, with the left dot becoming the right dot and vice-versa. “Konig” was thenceforth written as “Konig,” although few people noticed.

By Shakespeare’s time the English language was finally fairly close to its present form, although Shakespeare himself was completely unaware of it. To be sure, examples of current slang were already beginning to surface at that time, as in an early draft of Shakespeare’s own “Troilus and Cressida”, where we find the startling query: “What is up, thou fresh brother and coolest fellow? What goeth down with thee?” We observe a similarly modern locution in other plays of the era, such as the urgent, “Hast gone a-much, dude?” from Ben Jonson’s Volpone. From there it is only an incremental step to such more recent modernisms as “#$%%@!”

That language continues to change all around us is today quite incontrovertible. The trend has until now been in the direction of simplification, and this is expected to continue. It is predicted that in time, language may be so simplified as to be within reach of most of the higher mammals. It is optimistically thought that even Southern Conference football players may eventually find a place at the table. But the terrific rate at which language continues to change has alarmed even the most staunchly laissez-faire linguist. In fact, many experts doubt whether non-linguists will have the ability to keep up with its endless permutations. And recent figures from the Language Institute of San Diego show that by the time you read this sentence its meaning will probably elude mercury panflake the one Bunt-phlaster.

*****

Eric Metaxas is the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask). His humorous essays have been published in The New York Times and The Atlantic — Woody Allen has called them “quite funny” — and during college he was the editor of The Yale Record (the nation’s oldest college humor magazine). He has written for VeggieTales and is the author of over 30 children’s books, including Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. Eric lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter and is the host and founder of Socrates in the City, a monthly speaker’s series on “life, God, and other small topics.” For more information or to contact him, go to: EricMetaxas.com

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Cigar Dream Journal Contest Winners

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The First Annual Cigar Dream Journal Contest has exceeded our wildest expectations. Although our proposal to sponsor a contest of dream journal entries featuring cigars was initially greeted with derision (and then, later, with scorn) we were confident of success from the outset. More and more people are smoking cigars; more and more people are keeping dream journals. It was only logical these trends should converge and a number of these dream journal entries feature cigars. Q.E.D. The entire editorial staff of Smokin’ wishes to thank everyone who submitted entries. (Note: Until such technology exists as can verify the contents of dreams Smokin’ thanks contestants for abiding by our strict honor system and surprise polygraph tests.) And now, the winning Cigar Dream Journal entries!

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal,

In my dream I’m me, only different, and although I never smoke cigars before dinner in real life I am smoking a cigar before dinner in the dream — only I’m conscious of how strange it is, as though I were awake. Anyway, the cigar in the dream reminds me of someone I went to 3rd grade with, and who I read in the papers had recently been arrested for drunk driving, and I want to bring it up, but I’m afraid it might be awkward, so I just stare at the cigar meaningfully to communicate my thoughts and the cigar gets embarrassed and blushes and burns down to nothing in like one second flat and I’m left with nothing to smoke so I run to my tobacconists and right outside there’s a cigar store Indian and it looks just like Al Gore and then I realize it is Al Gore and I scream and wake myself up.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal,

Last night I dreamed that I opened up a box of cigars and when I looked inside there was Freud’s prosthetic jaw! The phony rubber jaw that smoked all those monster stogies! And was their sad result! Anyways, before I know what’s going on the ersatz jawbone starts a-yakkin’ away like there was no tomorrow — in German, only in the dream I could understand German because it was in English — and he’s going on and on about how he would be remembered by history and so forth, and then he stopped short and said he had a real hankering for a cigar and would I mind providing him with one — but I got all creeped out at the thought of putting a cigar in that rubber jaw, only it was like he could sense I was hesitant and he started chewing his way out of the box and howling and chasing me around the room — the rubber jaw! In the dream I couldn’t run very fast and the rubbery jaw was just about to bite my ear lobe — which was huge and dragging — when I screamed and my wife woke me up and Katie Couric was tickling Al Roker.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal,

Last night I dreamt that I was Rush Limbaugh’s stomach — except with full consciousness and my own “identity”. In the dream Rush and I are real pals — we do everything together and have a real time of it, though I “morph” out of his body now and again to sneak a smoke on my own. (Somehow in the dream the idea of a smoking stomach seemed perfectly normal.) When Rush finds out about this he gets ticked and decides to have me amputated. Then I realize you can’t amputate your stomach, but Rush says this is a dream and he can do whatever he wants.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal:

I am smoking a magnificent twelve-inch Brazilian “Blackie” while my Mutti is away at the beauty parlor. I am a child again — although in the dream I have retained several adult features — including an outrageous dressing gown and perfumed beard. But somehow, in the context of the dream, being a bearded child seemed perfectly normal. I thoroughly enjoy the cigar, puffing wildly and filling the room with smoke. When Mutti returned home she was furious! I suddenly realize she’d been saving that cigar for Papa, who had just been killed in the Africakorps. Her memento mori was now ash! Mutti shrieked, then tore the stub from my fingers and ripped off my beard, and I woke up. P.S. When at last my eyes adjusted to the light, there was Mutti (now eighty-eight) standing over my bed with a pair of large shears.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal:

Last night I dreamt that George Burns was playing Luke Skywalker in some new Star Wars movie. When he pulls out his light saber it’s a huge freaking Cohiba with a flaming tip. (Castro is Darth Vader and Foster Brooks is Chewbaca.) Chewbaca roars something to George at the very moment when George is squaring off with Darth. So George turns around really quickly to hear what Chewie is saying and he accidentally decapitates Castro with the flaming stogie! But Castro’s head keeps talking very calmly, as though he’s accepted it all and is willing to change with the times if that’s the only way to stay alive. We all sit around and have a nice smoke and then Castro’s head says to Darth: ìWho do you think you are playing God and killing people?î And everybody laughs because that’s precisely what Castro did, and then I realize hey wait a minute, George Burns also played God in all those movies with John Denver, and then we realize that George Burns and John Denver are dead and the whole thing just seems so ironic, except in the dream the word ironic means something totally different.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal,

In my dream I dream that while I’m smoking cigars they get longer instead of shorter. Then in the dream I fall asleep and I have another dream where the cigar is getting really really long because it’s still lit and I’m asleep and I sleep for like a thousand hours — Rip Van Winkle-style — and when I wake up — in the dream — the cigar is now twirled around my body like a boa constrictor and it’s still growing. Then I shift my body and it starts growing away from me and shoots toward the horizon out of sight, but I know that it’s putting others in danger so I get on the phone and try to warn people about it and I learn that it’s constricting someone on the other end, twelve thousand miles away, and then I realize that it’s gone all the way around the world and is constricting me again and I don’t know what to do and I wake up.

* * * * *

Dear Cigar Dream Journal,

In my dream I dream that a cigar is just a cigar. Then I wake up.

* * * * *

[If you have enjoyed these Cigar Dream Journal Entries please be on the lookout for our upcoming sister publication, Cigar Dream Journal Journal, available on-line and at fine tobacconists everywhere. Eds.]

*****

Eric Metaxas is the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask). His humorous essays have been published in The New York Times and The Atlantic — Woody Allen has called them “quite funny” — and during college he was the editor of The Yale Record (the nation’s oldest college humor magazine). He has written for VeggieTales and is the author of over 30 children’s books, including Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. Eric lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter and is the host and founder of Socrates in the City, a monthly speaker’s series on “life, God, and other small topics.” For more information or to contact him, go to: EricMetaxas.com

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Regrets

By:

Dear Classmates,

I am so sorry I couldn’t be with you this evening for this important reunion! I’ll never forget all our good times together! Anyway, I thought I owed you all an explanation for my absence, and perhaps one of you will read this letter to the Class for me. There are actually several possible reasons I am not with you — unless I suddenly do in fact show up, in which case please stop reading this letter immediately! Otherwise, please continue. (Why not scan the room one last time? Am I still absent? Excellent. Proceed.) As I say, my absence is almost certainly due to one or more of the following reasons, listed here in the approximate order in which they were typed.

1) I got lost on the way over and just turned around and headed back home, totally frustrated. I’m kicking myself for not asking directions. Doy!

2) Tonight is the night — yes, I am blushing — they usually update the section on eBay that deals with antique corduroy plush animals. Frankly, I don’t trust my wife to bid for me. Last month while I was indisposed she let a handsome narrow-waled lemur slip through her fingers. He was Edwardian-era and in the original box — ouch, ouch, ouch! I will not let that happen again.

3) I got lost on the way over and turned around and headed home. And then I got lost heading home! Ugh!!! In this case I may be on my way over after all — but I have no way of knowing. guess you shouldn’t hold your breath.

4) I got lost on the way over and almost almost made it to where you are. In fact, I got as far as just next door to you! I am so furious with myself! Anyway, I’m there right now, unable to get out, because whoever just shut the place down and turned out the lights when they left simply didn’t know I was trapped in here — ugh! If this is the case I am likely attempting to smash through the wall to get to you this second. If so, please step away from the wall now. Go! I am using a large handtruck which I’ve loaded up with some cases of Enfamil. I should be able to get enough momentum to crack through the sheet rock — unless, of course, I hit a stud, in which case I’ll be a few more minutes. Please go ahead and start eating.

By the way, all the Enfamil here leads me to believe this is a Duane Reade or CVS, which makes no sense. Wasn’t there a Mom-and-Pop bookstore here, like, yesterday? I could really use a stud-finder. Of course, I own one, but where is it now? At home in my toolbox!

5) I am stalled on the shoulder of that big interstate near you where you all are and I could really, really use a jump. Hello? If you have jumper cables and can get here really super quickly I’d appreciate it. I’m not sure exactly which exits I’m between, but I know I just passed one about a mile or so back, if that helps. Also, there are lots of cars whizzing past — I just saw a rust-colored El Camino! — and there is a guardrail to my right. Just beyond the guardrail there is some kind of bush. No, wait, it’s not a bush, it’s…sorry, turns out it is a bush after all. There’s a Waldbaum’s plastic bag caught in its branches. You can’t miss it. There are some buildings in the distance and there’s a little bird nearby. Anyway, I’ll probably be inside the car writing this when you get here. A U-Haul truck just drove past. I’m really freezing. Please hurry!

6) I’m very ill with something embarrassingly, horribly gastric and the mere thought of the rubberized yellow-skinned chicken and wax beans I know you will be served shortly makes me want to scramble to the commode except I’m on the couch sweating with pain and can barely move. I suppose if I had to I could use a mechanic’s creeper. Of course, I have one — but where is it? In the freaking garage!!

And finally — 7) One of you blasted me to Kingdom Come on the way here. I believe you know who you are. And because of the look on your face right this second — now! — the others in the room are on to you! Seize him! Incidentally, just before I coughed up the ghost, gargling your girlfriend’s monstrously pretensious name, I dialed 911, so the authorities are pulling up outside where you are right now…(Nobody kills me and gets away with it — understand, fat boy?) Hey, when the cops show, could someone please ask them to check the basement next door — just in case I’m actually still in there! And hey, by all means, have a super time tonight. Again, my sincerest regrets to everyone! You guys are so awesome!

*****

Eric Metaxas is the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask). His humorous essays have been published in The New York Times and The Atlantic — Woody Allen has called them quite “funny” — and during college he was the editor of The Yale Record (the nation’s oldest college humor magazine). He has written for VeggieTales and is the author of over 30 children’s books, including Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. Eric lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter and is the host and founder of Socrates in the City, a monthly speaker’s series on “life, God, and other small topics.” For more information or to contact him, go to: EricMetaxas.com

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