Archive | December 2011

Lit meets life – Odd Couple edition

Perhaps my mood’s been rattled lately – we know how strange this time of year can be – but, I was a bit off today. After a couple of days manning the homefront with a computer and DVDs my big diversions, I went to the supermarket this afternoon. 

I was standing in line, and I’m not sure if I was thinking about grammar or if I just happened to notice the signs at the express check-out counters. I may well, indeed, have been scornfully reproaching the management about the whole ’12 items or less’ thing that you hear so many grammar nuts (disclaimer: I have tendencies toward such nuttiness) complain about. Suddenly, I realize the sign did not say less; it said “fewer.” Fewer?

This never happens: someone had created an express check-out sign on which the appropriate quantifier was used for count nouns. Well, strike me refreshingly surprised.

I looked at that sign and, in a rather cinematic first-person point of view fashion, my eyes flashed over the other express check-out signs. “Fewer.” “Fewer.”

Well, I’ll be…

Now, don’t blame me. Grammar has a strange way of seducing people into passionate defenses or attacks on dumb things like commas or capitals or count nouns. You know it’s happened to you. You don’t need to be a grammar nut to have really laid into someone about beginning a sentence with ‘but’ or to have fired back when they dared lay into you. For some strange reason, this instance of correctly-used grammar was so, so pleasant that, even though I felt making any praising comment to the teenage clerk might be going too far, I did just that.

Now, I’m pretty clearly articulated. But, today was one of those flub-the-point, leave-out-crucial-information-so-your-meaning-gets-lost days. My young cashier, a girl in high school, perhaps – boy, should I have known better! – was busy putting her all into scanning my ground beef and pork loin. All of a sudden, I burst out with, “May I compliment you on your sign.” At least I gestured to the ’12 items’ notice stuck on the register.

The cashier scrunched up her face, but didn’t miss a beat with the grocery-scanning, and said, “Huh?”

I tried to explain. “The sign,” I said. “It says ’12 items or -‘”

Damn it. This one said ’12 items or less.'” Obviously, the sign-maker had been grammatically confused.

“Ah, well,” I stammered, “well, usually it says ‘less, and this one says ‘less, but that one and that one say ‘fewer,’ which is right. It should say ‘fewer.’ That’s the right way to say it. And…ah…I just wanted to say well done.”

She looked puzzled. Clearly, this had not been a good idea.

“You’re supposed to say ’12 items or fewer,’ not less, and you do say it on those signs -well, not on this one – and that’s great because people who are grammar nuts – well, like me – care about these things and always complain about this.”

I doubt she’d ever heard anyone complain.

At this point, the neighboring cashier was finished with her own customers and listening to our conversation. Grinning. “Hee, hee. ‘Grammar nut like you,'”she echoed.

She seemed nice. This could so easily have gone wrong.

My own cashier had at some point cottoned on to the meaning of my mutterings and remarked, “I wonder why it’s right to say ‘less’ sometimes and ‘fewer’ other times.”

Good question. Respectful, logical, and not at all reflecting a there’s-a-crazy-lady-at-my-counter attitude. I appreciated it.

So, I explained succinctly about count nouns and how some quantifiers like ‘fewer’ must be used with them. All the while, I thought, Good grief, I’m giving a grammar lesson while I buy broccoli.

Really, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need to do that. Of course, I needed to. How does anyone in her right mind think that she can say, “May I compliment you on your sign,’ and not think that she’s going to have to explain herself?

Walking away from that surprisingly not altogether unpleasant experience, I realized this was another literature and life melding moment. I mean, if you consider a well-written situation comedy to be literature (I do) then this was classic Felix Unger. Only, Felix would have beamed with pride and boasted in Wagnerian tones that his neighborhood supermarket had not only well-refrigerated frozen vegetables but a good grammar sense, as well.

Meanwhile, I was a pile of gibberish, which, I suppose, is why I could leave the store feeling at least slightly confident that I wasn’t being laughed about as I walked through the parking lot. Felix would not be so lucky. But, then again, Felix wouldn’t care.


Why is it that I’m well into adulthood – and I mean well – and I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve?

Well, it doesn’t have to do with Santa Claus. It’s a very nice Christmas so far, but  brow-furrowing, nose-wrinkling, jaw-tightening, lip-pursing tension can apparently happen even when sugar plum fairies are supposed to be dancing in your head.


I’m watching a DVD of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and making a list, not bothering to check it too much, and just having some diverting fun.

While Sue Ann puts the moves on Lou, I’m going to peck out my reads from this year, at least thus far. (I’m thinking optimistically, you see. I might read more books yet!) Here they are in no particular order at all:

The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley

Into the Wilderness – Sara Donati

Avalon High – Meg Cabot

The Heroine’s Bookshelf – Erin Blakemore

Nocturne – Syrie James

The Book of Boston, Colonial Period – Marjorie Drake Ross

The Book of Boston, Federal Period – Marjorie Drake Ross

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf – Molly Harper

Dead Reckoning – Charlaine Harris

Overbite – Meg Cabot

Green Darkness – Anya Seton

Smouldering Fires – Anya Seton

Dragonwyck – Anya Seton

Eats, Shoots and Leaves – Lynne Truss

Mariana – Susanna Kearsley

The Secret of the Wooden Lady – Carolyn Keene (yeah, sure – wink, wink)

Images of America, Larz Anderson Park – Evan P. Ide (pictorial history)

The Wild Hunt – Elizabeth Chadwick

Annals and Reminiscinces of Jamaica Plain – Harriet Manning Whitcomb

(Mary just walked into Sue Ann’s bedroom for the first time. It’s puffy and pink, like a gaggle of flamingos decorated it.)

As you can see, I include picture books and children’s chapter books on my books-read list. I’m shameless that way.

This year I…

… re-discovered Nancy Drew and found that it holds up exceedingly well – a complete surprise.

… made a few new finds – some brilliant, some good, but all great to have discovered.

… took a chance on Outlander. Thank goodness!!

… happened upon Into the Wilderness. Thank goodness, again!

… finally looked into Anya Seton’s works. She’s really quite something else. (a good thing)

… discovered the soft-spoken text of Susanna Kearsley’s works. (Looking forward to much more!)

… found out werewolves are as fun as vampires.

… finally came into my dormant interest in Colonial Boston. It was gestating for a long time and now it’s a healthy, bouncing baby hobby-ette. Let’s hope it stays that way; I’m trying to write a novel. Hmmm.

Well, I’m finished. Mary Tyler Moore is long over. I’m happy with my mini-review of the year’s reading. And my sinuses still feel clenched. Oh well.

NB: I know sinuses don’t clench. It’s a metaphor.

Who needs shelves?

I knocked out the wooden thingy that was in the middle of an old wine rack and decided that the nice resulting box actually really doesn’t need shelves. Standing on end, there’s enough room for 3 levels of mass market paperbacks. A little unusual, but on the bright side: No shelves, less dusting….

Lit Meets Life 2: When life is like bad Bridget Jones-y fan fiction

It’s less time consuming and cheaper than therapy, so I’ve decided to try some life writing from a when-life-is-like-a-story angle. I’ll see how it goes.

Today’s story concerns breakfast and a burnt frying pan.

It might help if you picture a small kitchen neighboring a bedroom. In the bedroom sits my person. I call her my person because it seems like a nice thing to do to be vague. From now on, though, she’s my “foil.”Anyway, my person, or foil, is wearing a red robe, pinched tight over her thin self as she hunches over her breakfast tray. She never gains weight no matter what she eats. This is beside the point, but I thought I’d mention it.

My foil and I have a history: I say something, and she misunderstands. It’s been a long life.

So, I’m rummaging through the kitchen cabinets making the kitchen noise that alerts everyone in the house that I’m about to fry an egg. I don’t feel well this morning, and I’m trying to avoid too much movement that might set my stomach to more queasiness. But, I end up doing a short portion of an aerobic routine as I bend down and reach way into the lower cabinets several times and always come up with nothing. Where’s the stupid pan? I think.

This is the classic moment that epitomizes my relationship with my foil.

“Where’s the pan?” I call into the bedroom after a period of noisy kitchen-rummaging?

“What pan?” My foil calls back. The sifting pan we brought back after our gold-digging adventures in 1848, I answer silently through my pursed lips.

I don’t answer. There’s no energy. After years of conversations that include some exchange like this, (picture my foil and me in a car):

“So, what did you do then?”


“After that happened?”

“After what happened?”

“The thing we’ve been talking about for five minutes.”

“Oh. I thought we were finished talking about that.”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Well, we passed by that gas station and you said, ‘Boy, gas is expensive now.’ And, I thought, we’d started a new conversation.”

…well, I just don’t have the reserves necessary to specify what I mean by ‘pan.’

And, you know, the thing is that when I’m looking at the proverbial forest, she’s staring at the trees, and vice versa. I’m inclined toward emotions, moods, the big picture, and she’s inclined toward semantics and particulars. Combine my foil and me and we’d have the whole package.

But, as it is, she drives me crazy.

For me, “Where’s the pan?” is pretty straightforward. For her, it could mean “Where’s the pan with the teflon coating?” Or, it could mean, “Where’s the red pan?” It could mean, “Where’s the pan we made yesterday’s Italian sausages in?” It could even mean, “Pan? I thought you said ‘pants.'”

And, it can just be too much. Really, really. Really too much.

So, I said nothing, picked up an old aluminum pan, burnt the oil (but not the eggs or I’d be really annoyed). And, now someone will have to wash the big brown spots away.

It will not be me.

Those moments when lit meets life – This one delivered to you by Jane Austen.

When I saw this bookmark, I thought, What frothy truth! It’s a familiar quote that I liked, and the combo of it and the joie de vivre expressed in the picture was, as an Austen character might say, excessively pleasing.

Austen has a way of seeming light and delivering great, and disturbing, meaning. Okay, her novels end in love matches and happy ever afters, but the point – at least one of the points – is that for most women it didn’t and what a b**** it was that her sex had the personal freedom of a chain gang.

You get the idea: Just because the beach water looks so pleasing doesn’t mean it wouldn’t taste yucky.

So, this weekend a man who’d kind of led me on during an eight-month overseas correspondence broke off our acquaintance (in the nicest way possible, but it hurt). And I’m thinking back on this quote and it’s so true, isn’t it? I’d started cautiously dreaming, and then – reality. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or whatever, I’m not faulting myself – and only faulting him a little(ish).

There it is, then. Sweet, but yucky. Delivered with great elegance by my  pen friend and Jane Austen.