Lexiconvenience*

(* lexiconvenience noun  lex·i·con- ve·nience  \ˈlek-sə-ˌkän- ˈvēn-yən(t)s
language made to fit personal preference) – editor’s note

I need a new word for euphemism.

As the world gets progressively weirder, and as I try to maintain some sense of dignity and self-control in my communications with others – both written and verbal – all the good euphemisms seem to be losing their luster from overuse – especially the ones people use euphemism-ed2to avoid to whole insensitivity-to-deity issue: gadgadzooksgosh; geejeepersjeez.

Aside from their overuse, they lack etymological ‘oomph’ – unless you are currently starring in a production of Grease.

Before you offer up new, non-offensive, not oblique suggestions, keep in mind that euphemisms are not exactly synonyms – although the major disparagements of our language are showing a fair amount of wear-and-tear as well; moron, idiot, nitwit, halfwit, imbecile, twit, dolt, nimrod, et al, are repetitively redundant in an accelerated manner as never before seen.

Personally, I blame Facebook and Twitter, though the case could certainly be made that we are living in different times – the Age of the Buffoons, perhaps.

Doesn’t have the same pleasing linguistic lilt to it as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ does it?  Since we seem to be living in a time that is just the opposite realm of intellectual renewal, 235bff49638c63dfa6d69b1a5bb587ab945db2d8maybe my first euphemistic recalculation can be something along the lines of ‘The Age of Fried Filaments-ment’.

Eh, rather clunky.  And too obscure – the younger folks used to curly bulbs will be as clueless as they are filamentless.

I do have a personal euphemism that I coined a few years back, but it hasn’t really caught on in any major way: “Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!” I find it a catchy little euphemism good for all sorts of occasions, and with a tweak to a syllabic inflection here-or-there, you can punch it up to convey a wide range of emphasis and meanings. Starting out with a hard, guttural “SON-OF-A…’” will get attention more quickly than a wistful, musing, ‘son of a…’ – the euphemistic equivalent of a Jimmy Stewart-ish “Whattaya know about that.”bisquick-4ed

‘Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!’ perfectly fits the definition of euphemism, too.  As is my wont, I turn to my friends at Merriam-Webster:

‘Euphemisms can take different forms, but they all involve substituting a word or phrase considered to be less offensive than another.

The substituted word might, for example, be viewed as a less coarse choice, as when dang or darn is used instead of damn or damned.’

“Damn, Skippy!”

That is another personal, flexible euphemism I like to use, and it usually hits its mark

skippy

because, as I have gleefully discovered, if you say it with a bit of a chuckle, it gets a laugh, but when you add in a disapproving look and an edgier inflection, not a lot of people find the applied moniker ‘Skippy’ to be one of subjective endearment.

“Damn, Skippy! Lighten up!”

As sometimes happens, though, doing my homework results in some different perspectives that don’t always fit my narrative thesis.  As the fine folks at M-W reminded me, ‘a euphemism may also consist of an indirect softening phrase that is substituted for the straightforward naming of something unpalatable: people being “let go” rather than “fired”; civilians killed in war described as “collateral damage…”

Ugh.

Damn, Skippy! That’s just watering stuff down to make things seems peachier than they really are, and I don’t think we need to go down that road, as the idea of making something all soft-and-sweet-and-vague in this age of chaos and uncertainty is already being expanded by the absurdity of ‘alternative facts’ – which is not a euphemism for alternative-facts‘opinion’ it is just plain wrong from a grammatical and practical standpoint.

And that is an English teacher fact, though this next one is my opinion: ‘alternative fact’ is the most pure and unspoiled of oxymoron, a complete and contradictory abomination of language and rational thought. Though not being totally comfortable with the medical origins of the word ‘moron’ maybe I should opt for something more neutral; oxyclod? Oxydolt? Oxydunce, perhaps.

This is the point where you, dear reader, gets to say to me, “Damn, Skippy! Step back!”

Son-of-a-Bisquick pancake. You really did.

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Still politicking me off

I originally wrote this back in 2010 – not a presidential year, but still rather volatile, politically. Stumbling across it again now, I wondered if my gripes then differed from today.  I’ll let you be the judge, though I have added a few more contemporary comments, in bold italics.

October, 2010

I recently had a firsthand experience that outlines just how acutely American politics has gotten to the vapid, too-partisan-for-words, what-about-us-in-the-mainstream, point that it is now at.

The other day, my phone rang; picking it up, I was not surprised to hear a chirpy-sounding pollster/political operative voice on the other end asking me if I “had a moment” to answer a quick question. Before I could get the “Sure” out of my mouth, the young woman (no personal identification, party phonebankor PAC affiliation given) just jumped right in:

“Good afternoon, sir, I am wondering if you plan to vote on November second?”
“Indeed I do.”
“Great! Could you please tell me then, do you plan on voting for the Republicans, the Democrats or are you undecided?”
“Well, I plan on voting for some Democrats and some Republicans.”

Pause.

“Soooo….then I should mark you down as ‘undecided’?” she asked as a statement, in a puzzled tone.
“Not at all! I know exactly who I am voting for.”
“O.K….but will you be voting for the Republicans or the Democrats?”
“Some of each, actually. I haven’t voted a straight party line ticket for many years.”

Pause.

“So, I should mark you down as ‘undecided’.” She was quite certain this was the correct answer.
“No,I am definitely not ‘undecided.’ I will be voting for some Democrats, some Republicans.”
“O.K. – so you’re not undecided.” Her tone reverted to bewilderment, but at least it was a statement, not a tentative question.
“Not at all. I know exactly who I’ll be voting for. . . I can tell you I will not be phonebank2voting for the Republican running for the senate.”

“O.K….well…” it seemed as though she was checking her notes seeking the proper response to my, uhhh…independent streak, “…you’re not undecided.”
“No, I ‘m definitely not undecided.”
Short pause.
“Thanks a lot, sir. Have a nice day.”
“Thanks. You too.”

Click.

Again, I don’t know what organization, party, PAC, coffee klatch or bridge club she was representing – but there were a few things about the call that concerned me.

The first is that my answer should not have been seen as such an oddity.

Surely I am not the only person in the country who will vote for – GASP! – the best candidate (as I see it) for the job, regardless of party affiliation – or am I truly the last of a dying breed? I wouldn’t think my answer should have led to such consternation; flustered the woman completely, I did.  2016: I believe I may indeed be the last of a dying breed, and should photo-5-copyprobably be protected in a game preserve somewhere to prevent my extinction.

Secondly, given the state of today’s political landscape, why was I only given the ol’ Repubs/Dems option – even in Louisiana? It’s 2010, for crying out loud – no Tea Party, Independence Party, Tupperware party – nothing? (Not that any of those entities have much to offer me– except I could use some new storage bowls.) It’s just the principle of the thing: only offering bunting2me ‘will you be voting for the Republicans or the Democrats’?  makes no sense, though I especially liked her old-school ‘THE Republicans’ and ‘THE Democrats’. then again, maybe having principles is too old school for the modern electorate.  In 2016, here in the deeply red state of Louisiana, the Republicans running do not identify as such in their advertising; they simply geaux (sic) with “x-and-o, CONSERVATIVE for (whatever office)”.  I have yet to see a commercial here identifying a candidate as ‘Republican.’

All in all, it was a very strange call to be getting but certainly not the most egregious political intrusion of the season. Some other election year pet peeves? Let me count the ways we can make this a much more comfortable process.

1. Keep yours/ours/their religion out of politics – and vice versa. Yeah, we may belong to the same faith – heck, even the same denomination – but just because we share a pew on Sunday morning doesn’t mean I share your political stance. And it really ticks me off when you start talking politics over coffee, and you assume we all agree – because we go to the same church – and you continually use the pronoun ‘we’ in your pronouncements. Let me tell ya, guys…you seem like basically decent fellows, but there is usually no pogo3‘me’ in your ‘we’.  Six years later, I am attending two different churches regularly, and this is not an issue at ether. Though at one, people do not discuss politics at all, and the other is a more social justice oriented congregation, where differences are discussed and celebrated.  A much more comfortable scenario in either case.

2. Along the same lines is this sidebar to candidates; stop telling me you’re a ‘family values’ kind of guy. Who’s family? Aadams? Manson? Swiss Robinsons? It’s especially galling when you talk of ‘family values’ and your background includes dalliances with hookers, DUI’s or past domestic disturbance calls to your home. I’m all for redemption, but don’t play the family-values‘family values’ card – stick with issues, give me your solutions to problems – ya know, the stuff I really want my politicians to do. This is more true than ever – at least in regards to the phrase ‘family values’ which now has the linguistic value of a three-dollar-bill.

3. Quit demonizing everyone you disagree with absurd labels: Socialist! Darwinist! Illegal immigrant supporter! Racist! Anti-business! Muslim! Not a real (fill-in-the-blank)! I know, I know – shock value gets attention…when you are in the sixth grade. Grow the hell up, people. Yes, please do – as individuals, and as a culture. 

4. Oh yeah, while you’re at it, please drop the use of the word ‘pro’ from your electioneering. Pro-life! Pro-choice! Pro-guns! Pro-business! Pro-environment! Pro being pro-whatever-you-want-me-to-be! Per the fine folks at Merriam-Webster:

  • pro (noun) \ˈprō\  1.an argument or evidence in affirmation  2: the affirmative side or one holding it.

‘Affirmative side or one holding it’. By definition, you are implying that anyone who is not ‘pro’ like you is automatically ‘anti’ whatever you are ‘pro’ of. That is absolute nonsense. On any issue you want to be ‘pro’ on, there is pros-and-consplenty of room on the spectrum of logical, rational thought before you get to ‘anti’. (see number 1, above)  Does this one still hold true?  Absolutely. ‘Pro’ may be the single most misused word in American political discourse. 

You get the idea. The whole black/white concept of American politics is ridiculous, dangerous and stupid – and the results are pretty obvious. Our national debate should be taking place in the gray areas where most of us live – somewhere between the I’m- pro-this-and-you’re-anti-that-so-go-to-hell extremists.

As Walt Kelley’s  famous comic strip character Pogo famously observed, way pogo1back in the 1950’s, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

In 2016 it remains true: we have, they are – and therein lies our greatest weakness as an American electorate:  we, they.  Very little ‘us’.

As in all of us.  As in U.S.  As in ‘We are all Americans’.

We need to start acting like it

Faith, law and compassion

This past Sunday I attended services at one of my favorite, regular church stops – a small United Methodist outpost in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The woman who gave the morning’s welcome was a lay person, not overly polished but very compelling as she relayed a personal story from the past week.

The middle-aged woman had been reading a devotional that asked her (I paraphrase) ‘what blessing would be of most use to (her) at this moment.’ She told the congregation her immediate response was to win the lottery, so she could set up a charitable foundation with the first grant going to the church.

She went on to say how she then posed the same question from the devotional to other family members, and that they gave roughly the same response as she had, until she asked her younger daughter. The daughter has struggled at times with being bullied, and other issues, and simply said, “Mom, the greatest blessing for me would be that people could just be nice to each other.” The woman then spoke about how her daughter’s answer made her proud, and how she began to rethink her own answer a bit.

Then she spoke of the rest of her week, and a real-life blessing: the announcement of the SCOTUS decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.

Her story was simple, and compelling; the ACA left standing the way it was meant that three of her children, all on their own but not making a lot of money, could now keep their affordable health care. The emotion in her voice was palpable as she related what a comfort that news was to both she and her husband, let alone the children. A simple court decision with a huge impact, upholding a law that actually plays to the narrative of America being a compassionate nation. To me it seems legally logical and socially appropriate, helping millions who could truly use it – what fair, just laws should ideally strive for. I could only imagine how many households across the country had experienced similar relief.

And yet, many of my fellow Christians remain adamantly opposed to the ACA.

The woman’s story continued with a retelling of how her excitement was compounded later in the week by the second SCOTUS ruling striking down prohibitions on gay marriage. To hear the woman speak, it didn’t seem as if this particular ruling had a deeply personal impact on her, but that she was elated “for friends, for all of us.” It was, she noted, a ‘wonderful week.’

One might say extraordinary.

Many of my fellow Christians remain adamantly opposed to this second decision, and the idea of gay marriage itself, but on this issue the Chicken Little Faithful approach (proclaiming churches will be sued, forced to do things against their beliefs) goes overboard. Truth is, every Christian denomination I have ever been around has their own will/won’t marry someone in their church reasoning, and certain things that are/are not acceptable practice in that particular congregation. They have always, and will remain free to exercise those beliefs.

Fact: the Supreme Court is not now, nor have they ever been in charge of, ruling on G-d’s law. SCOTUS rules on American civil law – the U.S. Constitution. The key part of both those entities in the ‘U.S’ for United States. We are a pluralistic nation: different states, different peoples, different ideas, one country, one set of laws. Not biblical law, not Sharia law, not Talmudic law.

American civil law. The U.S. constitution.

It is striking to me that in both the case of the ACA and marriage ruling, the laws being dealt with are based in large part on not just law, but concern and consideration for all American citizens. As Christians, it seems to me that we should be rejoicing in the (sadly rare) convergence of American civil law and compassion.

Jesus calls us to be compassionate.

When discussing faith, people will sometimes get frustrated with me, as I don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses to back up my point of view, as I believe it is far too easy to take most any singular line or two of the Bible and use it in a way that fits some point we as humans are trying to make. This is mostly because people will take singular verses out of any reasonable context: the speaker, the setting, the situation at hand. Part of that is the discomfort with a lack of context is the English teacher part of me, but it is also something that disturbs me more the older and deeper into my faith I get.

My challenge to you as a Christian: grab your Bible and find a favorite verse – look for the highlighting and underlining, the pages you dog-eared. Look at where that verse lies in the chapter it is from, and see if reading the entire chapter, or passage, doesn’t at the very least give you a different perspective on what the verse you like really Finch 06 30 15says or means. Try it for three or four more verses.

You may be more than a little surprised.

Personally, I cannot boil my faith down to a solitary verse; I could when I was younger, not so much now. For the record, and for example, I try to use the book of Matthew as a life roadmap – the whole book, not just a this-verse-to-this-verse excerpt. You have to read the whole thing to get my point; there is so much more to Matthew than ‘feed my sheep.’

Hence my consternation at stray lines from the Bible used to condemn or condone much of anything. Especially the past week or so. There are a lot of strange things being said these days in the name of Christianity.

In reading and hearing all the vitriol spewed toward recent court rulings by prominent and not-so-prominent Christians, I am disquieted. As Christians, we are called to be compassionate – not called to be judgmental – that is not our job. I am trying to follow my own advice and simply point out a few things that disturb me about much of the Christian rhetoric surrounding the past week.

While not biblical, the seven deadly sins are certainly part of the Christian canon, and there are numerous takes on them, with some differences to be sure, but also with some decidedly pointed overlaps.

In Proverbs, King Solomon takes his crack at numbering and classifying sins; among the two that stand out as applicable to much of the faith-based discourse on SCOTUS and the law, Solomon’s admonitions against ‘a lying tongue’ and ‘Him that soweth discord among brethren.’ The latter is pretty obvious, as any quick perusal of a Facebook wall or various blogs will show. The former? All the nonsense about churches being forced to participate in things they don’t believe in. Again, G-d’s law, as opposed to American civil law. A number of outright lies are being told in the name of Christianity. The recent arguments from both public figures and private citizens calling themselves Christian seem rooted in one or more of the sins greed, wrath, and pride.

Not Gay pride, but Biblical, sinful pride.

Pride (hubris) as a sin is ‘believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, excessive admiration of personal self.’ Want to rant and rave about how you, as a Christian, are being persecuted by recent SCOTUS actions?  Think about where your pride comes into play in your viewpoint more than a specific Bible verse does. Present yourself as being above others, proclaim as a public official that you will not follow the law of the land because it is ‘against your faith’ and we can talk about where your pride fits in. Much the same goes for greed; think about what is it that makes you want to deny to others (civil rights, health care) things that you may have without question. What is it that makes you want to tell others ‘no’ besides greed. Wrath? It is hard to not see anger and rage in much of the discourse about these (and most other social and political issues). Jesus does not call us to wrath.

He calls us to compassion, with little equivocation room.

To be abundantly clear, my faith drives my political beliefs – not vice versa, and while last week’s SCOTUS rulings may not affect me directly, they did have a powerful impact on many people I know and love. It was a good week, topped off by another extraordinary event: hearing our President sing my favorite hymn at a funeral service. It was a quite a topper to a five-day stretch.

Oh, and sorry to disappoint my more conservative Christian friends here; while Mr. Obama is our president, his singing from a pulpit was not a matter of an endorsement of faith over and above anything or anyone else, he was simply exercising his faith, just in a very public setting. His personal prerogative, not a point of law.

Amazing grace, indeed.

There are these stray scraps of paper with blog ideas just laying on my desk…

First, a couple of baseball notes from my hometown stomping grounds of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

midwaystadiumsaintsI found this tidbit the other day in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where the very popular, minor league St. Paul Saints will soon be building a new ballpark downtown, leaving behind their current home – venerable Midway Stadium, which will then be transformed into an industrial park. I quote from the paper: “The stadium authority will demolish Midway Stadium, a job estimated to cost about $700,000, and then spend millions to clean up pollution and prepare the soil”.

Interesting. What sort of pollution would there be to clean up from an old ballpark? Are there toxic levels of brown mustard and ketchup sediment to be removed via end loader and sealed lead-lined tubs? Two decades of peanut shells and players spit morphing into radon gas needing to be vented by guys in woolen, pin-striped hazmat suits? What is the acceptable level of pickle relish PPM in topsoil, anyway?

It’s probably just ground water contamination from all those years of spilled beer.

Prediction: At least 100 people who read that last line and live near a ballpark will now try to dig makeshift wells in their yards.  Trust me.

brewatmidway
Then there was this little nugget in an interview with Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins, who grew up just outside of St. Paul and is now living the dream playing for his hometown team.

“I grew up here, and I grew up cheering for the Twins and you idolize them. You always think you can’t talk to the players, you can’t approach them. You think that person is untouchable. I think that’s why I like Twitter so much. You can interact with them. What I hate more than anything is when I go eat lunch at Chipotle or I go to Target, and an hour later I get a tweet that says, “Hey, were you at Chipotle?” Or, “Were you at Target?” I always think, “You should just come up and say, ‘Hi.’ ” What I strive to do is relate to the fans because, hell, 10 years ago I was a fan”.

“Hell, ten years ago I was a fan”. A throwback kinda guy in the modern world of Twitter. What’s not to love here? Rock on, Mr. Perkins.

glenperkins
My current linguistic pet peeve might get a rise out of you, too.

Three years ago, I taught a summer school program for ‘rising eighth graders’ – a phrase that simply made me roll my eyes. The class was an English enrichment program for young men who had just completed the seventh grade, and the school wanted to give these risingwhateversseventh graders a leg-up on what they would be dealing with in the fall as eighth graders – rising eighth graders. Whatever that means.

It was the first time I had heard the phrase ‘rising eighth graders’ and at the time I just found it pretentious. Now, my youngest son has completed eighth grade, is headed on to high school, and here comes the phrase variation: ‘rising freshmen’. The more I heard it used at graduation the more I’m thinking the term ‘rising’ for anything grade-advancement related is just…silly. AND pretentious. But it. Is. Everywhere.

Especially here in New Orleans.

I have heard educators at all levels referring to kids who have passed their 4th grade testing as ‘rising fifth graders’ and I have even heard pre-school children described as ‘rising kindergarteners’ . A quick Google of the phrase ‘rising ___ graders’ shows that the term has spread like an insidious etymological virus. Everybody is rising to something…odd because while they are all ‘rising’ their test scores and other metrics are remaining generally stagnant.

Sigh.

To me, if you are a fourth grader headed to fifth, a sixth grader headed to seventh, or a group of teenagers who have completed eighth grade and are now headed to high school – fantastic. Congratulations and kudos. Good luck and keep up the good work. Carry on, do what you need to do.

And keep in mind you are doing simply what is expected of you; clouds will not part with sunshine and harp music raining down upon you. You are not a flock of Phoenixes arising from some middle school ash heap.

Though a few of you sure look like it.

End of rant. Blood pressure no longer rising.

phoenixlinedrawing

Spolier alert! Nifty segue here, if you try not to think about it…

I had some paperwork to fill out for something, and I was asked to identify my ethnicity. I asked my wife if it would be okay to check Vikingfuneral‘indigenous’ as she frequently refers to my ‘various diatribes.’

Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.

Not to be outdone, eldest son Will is entering his senior year in high school and our mailbox is awash in mailings from colleges and universities prestigious and obscure. Most of the stuff gets tossed, as he has a pretty good idea of what he does/doesn’t want in prospective schools. One school he is interested in sent him a mailing  seeking some more involved demographic information. He immediately sat down to submit his info.

“These guys at least are asking about my ‘ethnicity’ instead of my ‘race’” he stated, adding dryly, “But do I still put ‘white’”? After we briefly recapped family genetics he filled out the post-paid card listing his ethnicity as ‘Nordic’.

That’ll skew somebody’s demographic breakdown.

Vikingtribe
And finally…

During the last week of school, one of my sophomore students was standing next to me in the hallway asking a question about something, when a pair of classmates walked by, loudly singing, generally acting ridiculous, throwing around a few choice profanities. In other words, a bit over-the-top, but certainly not unprecedented high school hallway behavior. The kid who was speaking to me stopped, watched the pair go by, then looked at me, frowning, sadly shaking his head. “Mr. Lucker…that makes me wanna change my race”.

I’m just glad it’s summer.

Photo1824

Columbus Dazed

Mattress Firm Columbus Day sale!

15-to-50 percent savings store wide at Sears!

I can also get (This weekend only!) used cars at cost and deals on new tires, flat screen TVs and home improvement materials – presumably so I can get into the spirit of the holiday by building a settlement somewhere in Chris’ honor. The more upscale Macy’s also has a Columbus Day sale, though at least they are trying to be moderately authentic: this weekend only, the perfume ladies will spray you with your choice of Caribbean spices.

I even received a personal email offer for a Columbus Day mystery offer where you could either shop on-line or use a supplied coupon code to take to a real store. I’ll admit the online aspect was clever: ‘Mystery sail (sic) – You could save up to 75% off this weekend only!’ Click on the animated (ship) compass to find your savings at checkout!

Pretty involved (and dignified) way of selling underwear, methinks.

On the more obscure end of American marketing scale for C-Day are grocery stores: great timing for those ubiquitous Columbus-themed holiday gatherings. (“I know Columbus was big into genocide, but he brought back lots of new spices and stuff that we still use today. Hey! Pass me some more of those ribs, will ya”?) And, of course, liquor stores.

The booze sales I can see as having some sort of actual relationship to ’celebrating’ Columbus as he had to have been heavy into some bad ale to get as off-course and lost as he was, then still thinking he was where he definitely wasn’t when he arrived.

The designated navigator was not en vogue in Columbus’ day.

The reality is, Columbus never even set foot in what is now the United States. Yet, we celebrate him – though to be honest, nobody I know still gets Columbus Day off. To my knowledge, no local schools are off, all banks are open. Mail will still be delivered and the sun will continue to rise in the east.

What was, when I was a kid, a day off from school in commemoration of the guy who ‘discovered’ America is now devoted to big savings on a plethora of consumer goodies. Apropos, in a way, as Christopher Columbus has turned out to be little more than a lost, greedy merchant who would probably be right at home in today’s consumer driven culture. (“Hey, Chris! Great deals at Best Buy on GPS units!”)

Nowadays, it seems like Columbus ‘Discover carded’ America.

I know, we do the same commercialize-it-because-its-what-we-do thing for President’s Day, though in that case, we still, on some level, actually attempt to honor people who had some value to/in American history and culture. Though even that has been diminished. While we used to celebrate the B-days of Washington and Lincoln separately, since the Nixon administration, we have but one holiday that goes by the moniker ‘President’s Day’ and is, technically, ‘to commemorate all past presidents’ which is a lot like the entire senior class as co-valedictorians because none of them got suspended during the year.

Personally, I could never sleep easy on a new mattress I got at a Millard Fillmore sale.

Aside from the Columbus Day orgy of illogical, misplaced retailing I do have a more personal axe to grind here.  Why we ‘honor’ Christopher Columbus, a guy who ‘discovered’ something that was in no need of being discovered (per the peoples that had been there for centuries before white European guys with poofy pants and ill-tempered cruise directors landed on their shores) and not the true first European explorer to show up and say, “Hey, this place is cool. How are you indigenous folks doing?”

I am of course, referring to Leif Erikson.

(In the interest of full disclosure here, I am myself, proudly of Nordic blood and heritage. Am I completely without bias? Yeah, mostly.) So Leif and his band of roaming Scandinavians (‘Vikings’ if you prefer) showed up in North America around the year 1000 – nearly a full half-millennium  before Columbus – in present-day Newfoundland. There, he and his posse poked around a bit in the name of exploration and interacted peacefully with the locals, apparently preferring just hangin’ with his new-found homeys over conquering them and grabbing all their stuff.

Leif is described as a strong man of striking appearance, who was wise and considerate.

Leif was a cool dude. After he chilled for a while in Newfoundland (catch name, eh?) he went back to his home base in Greenland, and then his homeland of Iceland, where his folks settled after leaving Norway, the ancestral land of some of my forefathers. Leif eventually roamed back toward Canada, may or may not have been there again, but he did end up evangelizing, bringing Christianity to Greenland, probably on a hut-to-hut basis, sans fliers.

Subsequent Scandinavian forays into the ‘New World’ by Leif’s son and others did result in some skirmishes with the indigenous folk of the region, but they enslaved nobody and left pretty quietly.

And yet, we have no sales in Leif’s honor, no discounts to be had at haberdasheries or hotels, no deals to be made in his name on electronics or vehicles. Which is probably as it should be. While Leif and the boys certainly engaged in trade, their primary purposes appear to have been simply exploration and subsistence, with no grandiose plans of empire and enslavement. There is no small irony in celebrating Christopher Columbus the way we do, and in remembering Leif Ericson the way we really don’t.

Tuesday, October 9, is Leif Ericson Day. I’ll probably commemorate the day by quaffing a glass of grog in his honor, and I won’t be buying a damn thing.

Even Spongebob Squarepants gets it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBrQ6qNdpKg

An Editorial Condimentary

For the past few years, Taco Bell hot sauce packets have been covered with witty, conversational phrases; ‘Dibs on the taco’ “I see how you look at other sauces’ ‘Saying goodbye is the hardest part of this job’ and ‘Has catsup been talking smack about me?’ are among the current crop.

Aside from the archaic ‘catsup’ spelling, I have found these hot sauce packets to be moderately amusing, and good conversation starters – something needed when at Taco Bell.

While traveling in Minnesota over Christmas, we had dinner one night at Famous Dave’s Barbeque, a favorite road trip stop,and I picked up a few of their large sauce packets to go with our leftover ribs. Only when I got back to our hotel room did I discover that they, too, were ‘speaking’ to me.

The Dave’s basic Rich and Sassy sauce packets I got say ‘Best when eaten, not worn’ and ‘Whole hand lickin’ good’ while the packets of (the really hot) Devil’s Spit variety state ‘Ketchup’s evil twin’ and ‘Smoke. Ears. You get the picture’ and, my personal favorite, ‘Dave didn’t make a deal with the Devil, just a licensing agreement.’

I don’t mind witticism’s (I, in fact, enjoy them) coming from my condiments, but I am concerned that mayonnaise and mustard have, to date, been silent.

Why is that?

Sixteen year old son Will thinks he knows: “It’s a campaign by ‘The Man’(a.k.a. Ronald McDonald) to keep mayonnaise and mustard down. Maybe it’s time for an ‘Occupy McDonald’s’ movement.”

As he uses neither mayonnaise nor mustard, I’ll chalk that one up to youthful but well placed radical thought.

While I don’t think it is a vast conspiracy against non-reddish food accoutrements, I’d also hate to think it is some sort of condimental inferiority complex going on here; that would be wholly unjustified. Maybe mayonnaise and mustard could join forces to state their case to the general public. They work so well together in certain instances (think corned beef sandwich on pumpernickel, ham and Swiss on caraway rye, pastrami on a Kaiser Roll, etc.) it’s hard to believe they couldn’t state their case for condimental equality convincingly, or form some sort of comedy team.

Somebody needs to take up the cause of the voiceless.

We have a couple of small plastic tubs in our pantry filled with a wide array of condiments in packet form picked up from various locales; they’re great to toss in with school and work lunches or into picnic baskets. Of all the plastic and foil pouches of honey, ketchup, crushed red peppers, hot sauce, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salad dressing and wet wipes hanging out in there, none of them try to be funny – they just go about their business. Effective, pedestrian, dull.

(For the record, the soy sauce and duck sauce in our condiment tubs have extraneous stuff written in Chinese, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t trying to be funny. Conversely, the folks at K.F.C. have some rather pretentious honey on their hands; ‘Honey Sauce’? Seriously?)

But mustard and mayonnaise have something special going on, and they deserve to be heard.

My experience with both tells me their conversational tone would be interesting. There is diversity in the mustard community; regular yellow mustard, brown mustard, spicy brown mustard, coarse ground mustard, even Cajun mustard – all would be delightful to hear from.

While there is less variety in the mayonnaise family, this is still a full-bodied condiment with a story to tell. (One might even grudgingly allow Miracle Whip to have a say here, though I personally consider Miracle Whip more  bathroom caulk than mayonnaise.)

Maybe mustard and mayo (M&M) could go a different route than the taco and barbecue sauces; perhaps something along the lines of Nietzsche quotations or song lyric lines form the 60’s – something hip, but staying away from any ‘fortune cookie’ like clichés. Just a thought.

I just think that mustard and mayonnaise need more respect, and anything they can do to get it for themselves I’ll get behind.

Keep this all in mind the next time you are at the condiment island of a fast food place, mall food court or a cafeteria – or while strolling the hallways of a hotel looking at used room service trays set outside of rooms for pickup (that’s usually where you get the big packets of unopened good stuff like salad dressings/vinaigrettes and cocktail sauce. Shelf stable sour cream, exotic jellies, salt-and-pepper shakers and half-and-half are a whole different post) and ask yourself, ‘what condiment really speaks to me, and what exactly, is it saying?’

This oversight needs to be corrected; mustard and mayonnaise deserve their due, need to be heard.

Please spread the word.