Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Why I'm a Grammar Snob and Other Stuff

A fellow sexagenarian and one time classmate, my friend Greg has been a trusted confidante for many years and we share numbers of emails back and forth each week, writing to each other about just about any topic under the sun that’s interesting at the time.  Like many old timers, we look to the past for sweet memories of times that seemed to be simpler, easier, and better in some ways than living in a present when there doesn’t seem to be a lot of civility and getting along as there seemed to be back then.  To be certain, though, we're both quite glad still to be ticking some forty-three years out of high school, and while it seems most of the time that we know just about everything there is to know about each other, now and then one of us manages to pose a question to the other that isn't immediately answerable without giving it some thought.  So it was a few days ago when Greg asked me why I’m probably the biggest snob about education (regarding syntax and grammar specifically) that he knows and I found myself scrambling for a quick answer, which there didn’t seem to be.

Greg was corresponding with a retired gentleman who’s well educated and who had enjoyed respectable status in the community, having had been a federal judge for a number of years, regarding a cycling event in which both were planning to ride, and mentioned to me that the guy writes emails like E. E. Cummings did poetry with no capitalizations and neither punctuation marks to separate his phrases and sentences.  I, naturally had to make mention of how little I think of persons who do that when Greg posed the question about my being a snob regarding such things.  I never thought of myself that way simply for expecting others to use English skills that were taught at least in rudimentary form in kindergarten, so to answer his question I knew that some quality introspection needed to be done.  That’s where the scooter comes in; I do my best thinking, especially about myself, when I’m out riding.

 I got my trusty steed ready to roll, but didn’t make it a mile from home when I realized that I was under dressed for the occasion because, as usual, I underestimated how cold it actually was and would be once I was in motion.  I made it around the long block only to park in front of the house for a minute or two while I ran in to bundle up.  Naturally I had no idea of where I even planned to go because ending up somewhere wasn’t important in the least.  I just needed the relatively distraction free environment on the scooter to hammer out my thoughts and forge them so they’d make sense, most of all to me. 
If that last sentence threw you because of how hyper vigilant somebody needs to be while riding on city streets on two wheels with many distractions, don’t over think it.  Being able to pay attention for potholes, dumb pedestrian moves, and dip wads driving cars as if they’d never driven before isn't the kind of thinking that interferes with the important stuff like, “Why do I feel the need to be hung up on how the English language is used?”

It has been a very unseasonably cold April this year so the Piaggio hasn’t gotten a single decent washing yet as I’ve not yet restored water service to the outdoor spigots.  Yes, it bothers me a little for the bike to look so dirty, but I can’t bring myself to wash it and get myself all wet and cold, a combination I particularly deplore.

After I dressed more sensibly I got back on the scooter and headed one community over from here to the top of a hill where there’s a municipal park that, as I suspected, would be deserted because the kids are still in school.  As I rode I began thinking about why I insist on good English to the extent that I will not typically even accept a Facebook friendship from somebody who writes like a baboon.  (Exceptions are made for pretty women, though.  Dumb doesn’t make them any less attractive to the eyes.)

I’m sure that part of the reason for my snobbery is simply that I was a teacher for 30+ years and that many of my assignments had me teaching middle school English, (and the grammar side, not Literature usually), and it was my job to fix bad English.  That compulsion to “red pen” grammar mistakes is ingrained and it’s not so simple to just "turn it off” now that I'm retired.

(I have no idea why Blogger changed the font for the following paragraph, nor can I figure out how to fix it.)

There’s more to it too, though, that’s also related to my career as a teacher, and it has to do with respect.  As a teacher one will not survive in any classroom from pre-school through graduate school without commanding respect.  Yes, a good teacher will eventually earn the respect of a classroom full of “kids" if he's worth his salt, but even before it can be earned, respect must be demanded from day one if one is to keep control of a classroom in order to do the day’s lessons without all hell breaking loose.  I was proud of being well respected by about 99.9% of the students I taught through the years, and I detested having to demand at least the overt respect of the .1% who had for various reasons never been taught by their parents to show respect even to them, but when I called for quiet, an observer would have been able to hear a pin drop in my classroom, and a very fine, light, small pin at that.

Using correct English in correspondence is a sign of respect.  It implies a respect for someone for whom the “extra effort" of holding down that shift key to make a capital letter, spelling out a word like “you” in full, and pressing that period at the end of a sentence is worth it.  Correspondingly, writing something like, “how r u today,” suggests a disdain for the person to whom one is writing.  It says, “I don't think you're worth all that hard work of writing correctly,” to me regardless of the writer’s actual intent.  My ultimate answer to Greg, why I’m a grammar snob, is about that - respect or the consequences when there is a lack of it.

(And here's that font nonsense once again!) 

 Honestly I’m very tired of hearing, “It’s not important as long as the message gets across.”  It’s not that simple.  Ours is increasingly a society of “It doesn’t matter."  The big news services are constantly putting into the spotlight idiotic circumstances where proper authorities try to enforce rules that are being broken with impunity.”  As an example, consider a private school with a dress code that requires specified hair lengths for boys in which there is one boy who gets his head shaved bald to ‘support my friend who has cancer.’”  He’s suspended for a clear and concentrated breaking of the rules.  It should end there.  He should serve his suspension and that should be the end of it.  But, no.  A day later there on CNN the local story is appears as national news decrying the school’s administration for being so heartless in expecting compliance with a simple rule.  There’s no respect left, not even for the Office of the President of the United States.  After decades in the classroom where, as I noted, respect determines the tone of every aspect of the interactions between a group of students with one person in charge, I'm not just going to kick the concept to the curb because I’m now retired.

There is more to the story.  I happen to like a rich vocabulary.  Meanings, which are more concise because of the choices of certain words, are communicated better when using the “correct" words.  "Big" and "enormous" more or less mean the same thing, but they don’t connote exactly the same concept.  On the other hand, I deplore the creations of portmanteau words such as, “humongous,” and, “ginormous,” that are created by persons who think they're way more clever than they actually are in making new words that do not add anything to the meanings of already existing words.  So, in addition to folks who can use proper punctuation and such, I like to engage in correspondence with persons who don’t write like dolts who seem like they never made it past the fourth grade.

 I suppose it was all that thinking of things school related that led me to where I ended up atop that hill where is the colorful gazebo by which I used to measure the starts and the endings of my academic years.  Each year, right about now there would be perhaps six or seven weeks of school left and I'd head to that gazebo with a light heart already anticipating that last day of school soon to come and the precious freedom it would bring with it.  On occasion during each summer I’d venture back there simply to nail home that feeling of relative irresponsibility I enjoyed when school was out.  With a heavy heart I’d go there too as August wound down realizing that my time of fun was coming to an end, just as I'd venture there sometimes in early autumn when school was already back in session trying to squeeze out an extra minute or two of pretending that I was still free to come and go as I pleased regardless of what day of the week or time of day it might be.

Being on the hill also presented me with the opportunity to put my new Sony camera through some of its paces.  I needed to replace the beloved Nikon that served me well for a number of years in nearly constant residence in the pouch attached to my belt, and for the cost and features, the Sony HX80 was the perfect replacement.  Unless I’m going to the gym, when I travel light, I always carry a full point and shoot camera with me instead of just using my phone to document my experiences.

 The hills in the Back Mountain form the western wall of the Wyoming Valley.

The available 30x optical zoom of the Sony brings the hills much closer, even with some numbers to spare.  A tripod would have made the scene much clearer, but it’s not bad for a hand held shot.

  The three Xs in a row say I’m a winner for introspecting and enjoying myself on a great scooter ride.  I kept the baseball (actually hockey) cap on under the helmet on the ride home.  It was still a little chillier than I’d hoped the ride would be.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Staying warm on the scooter is something I ought to be an expert at by now, having been riding for a dozen years now since the spring of 2007, but every year I'm dumb enough to leave the house at least a few times with less than adequate padding to freeze my ass off in no time flat.  Today marked my first such stupid move for the year!

My home is well Googlized and Alexafied with multiple units placed throughout the house to pick up and execute whatever I command them to do, but if I lower a volume and forget to raise it back up later I’m often too lazy to ask it to repeat something if I’m not certain I heard a response clearly.  So it was that I asked the kitchen Google Mini for the outside temperature and misheard what was apparently 59 degrees spoken very quietly as 69.  Did I bother then to look at the thermometer on the deck before suiting up for my ride to the bank?  Nah!  After all it was only about a mile to town and another back.  How cold could I get?

“Okay, Google, what’s the temperature?”

“The temperature in Wilkes-Barre is too cold for you to go out on your scooter,” is what I wish it might say.

Not confirming the actual temperature outdoors was only my first boneheaded move.  The second was to put on a fleece jacket that I thought would be just right for nearly 70 degrees of warmth that I’d expected it to be outside.  After too many years of proving it to myself multiple times, fleece is fantastic for keeping warm when one is on the couch with a fleece blankie draped over himself; the fleece holds the heat of one’s body beautifully and makes a toasty warm environment that’s perfect for watching TV.

 Fleece made into a throw is perfect for when Jeopardy is coming on.

On the scooter, however, fleece is absolutely worthless!  The wind (or ambient breeze created by the scooter moving through the air) blasts right through the fabric of a fleece jacket.  I might as well have been riding downtown bare chested through the chilly air and couldn’t get down there and back fast enough.  Of course part of that problem is that going faster just makes it feel all that much colder than a slower speed would.  To be certain when I got outside the door with the fleece jacket on and walked right into a bright enough sunbeam it felt much warmer it was.  But again, I should know much better after riding through a dozen Aprils and probably freezing my butt in every one of them.

Fleece is NOT what an experienced rider should reach for when contemplating a ride.

I don’t really know what it is.  Is it just wishful thinking for warmer temperatures on my part that makes me ignore the signs of what’s going to end up being a cold ride?  Or am I really getting that much dumber as I get older?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

First Ride of 2019 - Later Than Usual for Spring

It’s almost mid April and I took my inaugural ride of 2019 just this morning not only because of the weather but with street “destruction" tossed in for good measure as well.  In early December a contractor for the water company began digging up our street to install a new water main and by mid month they were in front of my house.  Things were okay until a few days later when I was awakened at 3 AM by a call from the water company asking me to move my car because the old main which was still in use had burst beneath the street.  Crews worked until halfway through the next day but when they’d capped the leak they filled in their dirty work (literally) with just dirt and golf ball sized rocks.  A few days later it snowed and when the plows came, the street looked like a war zone in their wake.  For weeks I’d feared that my car was going to be hit by people driving up the street and not seeing the huge craters in the road next to my car until the last minute.  I called the water company and they sent more dirt and rocks to fill the holes, but again it snowed, again the plows came, and again the street looked as if it had been bombed.

 In mid December the digging began to put in a new water main on our street.

A few days later the old main (still in use) blew right in front of the house.

After their excavation, the water company left the road like this.

And this.

And when it was wet from rain and snow, the road was just a bed of mud leaving the car splattered all the time.
January was damned cold and I’d not have taken the scooter out if I could have, but when February arrived with a few nice days I longed to get it out just for the hell of it but wouldn't dare because of the condition of the street.  There was no way I’d have been able to ride over the loose dirt and rocks to get back to the house without dropping the bike and myself as well.

With nothing but dirt and rocks, the scooter's front tire would have had no safe purchase for me to get back home.

With March came the thaw, though to me it seemed that the month was much, much colder than in years past; I have to admit that it might just have been my old bones perceiving it that way but either way I wasn’t taking the scooter out of the yard.  It was rainy as often as snowy and the street was a sea of mud.  I had to wash my car every few days and when there were a few days of dry weather the mud would dry out and every car that went by kicked up a dust cloud that then settled on the car and on the front of the house.  My repeated calls to the water company from December through April got me some really sincere sounding lip service that accomplished nothing.  It wasn’t until Friday just past (April 12th) that a crew finally arrived to clean up the dirt and large chunks of rock and to put some asphalt patch down.  That made today, the 13th with temperatures in the mid 70s my very first viable day for a ride and I certainly took advantage of it!

 The contractors finally came back yesterday after my talking to the water company and them repeatedly while the daily mess went on.

When my front wheel rolled out of the alleyway and toward the street, as usual, I had no idea at all where I was going to end up.  My rides are always more about going than being so when I’m off for a ride for the sake of a ride, it doesn't much matter in which direction I turn at any particular intersection.  As it turned out I rode about 14 miles today going nowhere special, yet every rotation of the tires was special because I was finally out and about for the first time since November and I was enjoying every single second of being out there.

 One of the selfies I'd been dying to take for months

Because my left hip and right knee are both in need of replacement and I’m too stubborn to book the surgeries, mounting the scooter isn't as easy as it was some years back.  I could really use a bike with a true step through design at this point but having retired early because of my increasingly poor health it wouldn’t be practical to go shopping for another one so I’ll get by for as long as the Piaggio lasts me and after that it’ll probably be the end of my two wheeling days.

 Here's hoping for days that keep getting warmer one after another!

Wondering what the numbers will look like when November rolls around again.