Paul Stories: Miss Little and the Tetherball Pole

In 1965, when I was in 7th Grade, Beaumont Elementary school still had tetherball poles on the blacktop. This was a 10-foot pole with a ball on a rope attached to it at the top. Two people stood on opposite sides and smacked the ball until one of them got it wound all the way around the pole.

For some reason, I found it amusing to hold the pole with one hand and run around it in circles. It rains in Oregon, so I should not have been surprised when my feet flew out from under me and I landed on my chin.

 I was bleeding. The playground supervisor was Miss Little, my 6th grade teacher. She told me to suck it up. I went to the office, bleeding the whole way. Mom came and got me. It took six stitches to close the wound, and I still have a scar on my chin, which can’t be seen because of my beard.

Mom and I already disliked Miss Little (and the feeling was mutual). This incident did nothing to smooth over those feelings.

Why Did I 2: Experience A Searing Breakup

I am unsure that everything happens for a reason, but I am sure that some events teach important and necessary lessons.

Why did one of my love affairs end horribly, leaving me damaged for a long time? The simple answer is we were riding a dead horse, and she dismounted. But in retrospect, once again, it appears that it was supposed to teach me forgiveness, empathy, understanding, and the ability to actually hear what someone else was telling me (not what I imagined they were telling me). These are all skills I have used ever since.

Look at the red big dog, no one said, ever/Grammar Rules

Recently I ran into the concept of adjective order. I was flabbergasted, and then instantly felt enormous empathy for people learning English. The rules are devilishly complicated, and are technically known as the Royal Order of Adjectives.  My MIT group includes Francophones and a Mandarin speaker; they tell me other languages have different rules about adjective order.

Turns out, according to science, the rules are not as dissimilar as they seem according to Investigating Cross-Linguistic Adjective Ordering Tendencies with a Latent-Variable Model (PDF download), summarized as:

We utilize this novel statistical model to provide strong converging evidence for the existence of universal, cross-linguistic, hierarchical adjective ordering tendencies.

Which put me in mind of all the grammar rules I carry inside my head. When I was 12, Kathy Neville, a neighbor who went on to have a lovely journalism career, told me “Never start a sentence with the word and.” I threw a little party in my head the first time I did that in a professional writing job, sometime in my 30s.

At AP and UPI, in the mid-70s, the joint stylebook forbade using “over” to mean “more than” as in “the project cost over a billion dollars.” Imagine my surprise when I read that usage in a recent New York Times article. Before firing off an angry letter to the editor, I looked at a copy of the Times’ stylebook, which now says the use of “over” for “more than” is acceptable. When did that happen?

Also, according to the wires, only buses are due. Not “due to” but “because of.”

Plus, in 1974-75, I was trained at both wires to relentlessly cut the word “that,” considered a space filler on the order of “like” and “you know” in spoken English.

“Police said he knew that the door was locked.”

“Police said he knew the door was locked,” means exactly the same, but shorter.

I think if you were to search this column in the years since 1975, you would find very few uses of the word “that.” That may will be the case. (this sentence could probably have been rewritten to avoid the use of the word that, but it would be more convoluted). After all, there are some things up with which I will not put.

  This and That

This is the single most important item you will click this week. Professional historian Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters From An American is always excellent, which is why I blogroll it. But she has reprinted an official government document from the end of World War II (check the footnotes: it’s posted on a U.S. Government website. THIS IS TRUE!) which defined facism and warned of it in America. It reads like the GOP Strategic Plan used since Nixon.

A Reason and a Season
I was recently reminded of the old saying, “Sometimes people come into our lives for a reason and a season.”

Profound Advice
A tip of the PSACOT hat to my long-time friend Michael Dortch, who posted this on Linked In:  "One of my favorite philosophical exchanges goes like this: What's more important: the journey or the destination? The company."

Canon 210 Ink Cartridge
Anyone want a Canon 210 ink cartridge?


My granddaughter

She was reached the stage where she laughs and smiles, and knows what those things mean. Her smile lights up a room, and her laughter is like music. It amuses her heartily if I imitate her laugh, which still sounds a bit like a growl. But it’s the effort that counts.

Paul Stories: String and Spoon

Read the explanation of this series here.

Influenced by Hugh Downs, Dave Garroway and Steve Allen, as a five-year-old, I tied a string to a spoon and pretended it was a microphone, which I used to interview friends, relatives and my brother, Steve, who ran the “camera” (it was a broom). I was always the host of the “Paaauullleee” something show. At my final staff meeting at KBPS, I was given a light bulb attached to a string because the staff misheard the story.

Why I Write

For those of you who don’t read comments, here is my response to a comment I received on last week’s edition. It came from Stephen Coquet, one of the very few regular readers who did not come to PSACOT by way of my personal acquaintance.

I responded, “Thank you for your kind words and continued interest. I appreciate the fact that you read the column, since, without readers, I'd just be talking to myself. I am humbled to hear you enjoy it as a letter from a friend; I have been a letter-writer all my life, and this is just a continuance of that habit. Bringing pleasure to others is a life goal. You are one of only a handful of readers who is not a life-long acquaintance. Thanks for that. It is nice to know I have obtained one reader on the merits of the column alone.

I have been writing essays since I was 12, and I expect to be writing one the day I die, many years from now. Other than music and family, writing is my life. I am grateful for so much in this life: my ability to express myself in this way is high on that list.”