Can This Be Smoothed Out?

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We know that a baby teethes and a good bourbon soothes the nerves, but when your significant other finds out you spent almost $400 on a bottle of 23-year-old Evan Williams Kentucky bourbon, you might be looking for an expensive gift that smoothes things over with him or her.

Or do you need a gift that smooths things over?

Which is it, smoothes or smooths?

It depends on whom you ask, because the evidence is surprisingly inconclusive. I’ve written all about it over on, so learn more about this difficult little word over there.


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Word of the Day: Nudnik

The Word of the Day today is nudnik. I discovered this word while reading Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I quote:

But above and beyond everything else, he had originally been drawn by her screwball expression; for no reason, Juliana greeted strangers with a portentous, nudnik, Mona Lisa smile that hung them up between responses, whether to say hello or not.

Dick uses the word as an adjective, although it appears to be a noun. That is neither here nor there.

The Man in the High Castle

According to Merriam-Webster, nudnik means “a person who is a bore or nuisance.”

I would perhaps used the word nudnik in a sentence like this:

A group of brainy nudniks beat my friends and I head-to-head on trivia night at Books and Brews, a local bar and restaurant.

Baron Samedi

Baron Samedi figures in the Haitian Voodoo religion. He is often depicted as having a skull-like face (or an actual skull for a head). He usually wears a top hat, dark glasses, and a black tuxedo. He may have plugs of cotton in his nostrils in imitation of a recently deceased person prepared for burial in the Haitian tradition. He is usually seen smoking a cigar and drinking from a glass full of rum. He is boisterous and depraved, fond of obscene language, yet provocative and charming.

Baron Samedi is a Loa of the Voodoo religion. Loa are intermediaries between humanity and the great Voodoo god and Supreme Creator Bondye. Baron Samedi is the Loa of resurrection, and he is responsible for digging the graves of the recently departed and leading their souls to the underworld. As such, he also has the power to heal the sick.

Live and Let Die

I learned about Baron Samedi while reading the second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming. In it, Mr. Big subjugates his minions by convincing them that he is a zombie controlled by Baron Samedi, played by Geoffrey Holder. It should be noted that the movie is a very loose adaptation of the novel. The movie wasn’t really very good. Do yourself a favor and read the novel! It’s an excellent read!

A quote from Live and Let Die:

“You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy. Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs. Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world.”

Quote From Of Mice and Men

I recently read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I rather enjoyed this short novel about two farm hands, Lennie, a huge overgrown bear of a man with the brain of child, and George, his life-smart friend and caretaker, out to make a living on the farms of California during the Great Depression.

From Of Mice and Men:

Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.

As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.

Then gradually time awakened again and moved sluggishly on. The horses stamped on the other side of the feeding racks and the halter chains clinked. Outside, the men’s voices became louder and clearer.

At any rate, the preceding passage caught me. I think we’ve all experienced moments like these when time seems to slow to a stop. And then after a moment in eternity passes, the machinery of life seems to start back up again.

Interestingly, Steinbeck creates this moment when there is no living person in the scene. The POV is omniscient. It’s almost as if he’s directing a scene for a movie.

On Turning 40

I understand that very few people who have spent any time beyond the age of 40 have any interest in reading of the anxieties and introspections of someone who just now nears that milestone. I imagine it’s like hearing about someone else’s root canal after having had one yourself: you don’t want to hear about it because either a) you know it isn’t as horrible as people have made it out to be or b) your experience was so horrible that no one else’s could possibly match it.

I understand, too, that in a week or a month, after I have settled somewhat into my 40-ness, I too might have little patience for the angst of 39-year-olds bemoaning their entry into “oldness.”

But forget one-year-older me for now. I’m going to write about turning 40 because there is something important about it. Or at least there seems to be.

That 40 is just a number, I know. At least in my head. Creating a milestone solely because the number in that tens place ticks up a notch is ultimately an arbitrary choice based on our numbering system. If we had developed a binary system of counting, my big birthday would have occurred eight years ago, when I added a whole new digit to my age, from 11111 (31) to 100000 (32), something that won’t happen again until I turn 64, or 1000000. Similarly, if humans had evolved with twelve fingers and toes, our counting system might have been based on twelves, and my 40th birthday would still be 8 years away.

Time would not have passed any faster or slower, of course, and that is my point. Reaching one’s 40th year — or 480th month, or 14,610th day —is no more meaningful for one’s place in the universe than is turning 27 3/8. As an old friend on Facebook put it, on my 40th birthday, I’m still just a day older than I was yesterday.

Everyone who survived the last week has done exactly the same thing.

Over 35% of the population of the planet is 40 or older. About 97 million people will turn 40 this year — that’s over 265,000 every day.* So turning 40 isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence.

But for all its commonness, we all know people who will never be able to do it. Birthdays are a time for looking back, and part of that, especially on a milestone birthday, is remembering the people who will never do the common thing you’ve done.

Like David Lowe, who was hit by a car when we were both in the fifth grade.

Or my wonderful aunt Liz, who wasted away into oblivion from cervical cancer when I was still in middle school.

Or my friend Jasper Carter, who fell asleep driving home from a church lock-in the summer before our senior year of high school and drove into a tree.

Or my summer-camp brother Charles Hass, who was stabbed outside an Oakland liquor store while he was looking forward celebrating a move and a new job.

Or my real brother Jay.

Milestone birthdays are also reminders of our own mortality. If our lives were place on a graph, these major markers would loom taller, like gravestones rising above the grass. Milestone birthdays remind us in a big way of the unceasing and uncontrollable passage of time, every new day, hour, or second bringing us that much closer to our inevitable nothingness.

It’s about at this age, too, that we begin to notice that the magnitude of the tragedy of one’s death is inversely proportional to one’s age. The death of a 40-year-old is, on the whole, merely tragic. Not horrific. Not unbearable.

Marking our 40th birthday is, for most of us, I think, bittersweet. On the one hand, we have lived (one hopes), and there is the possibility that the years that have passed could be doubled and then some in our future. As if, given everything we’ve been through so far, we could plausibly start over and do it all again and have enough time to do it.

But we wouldn’t want to. For all the experiences, both painful and joyous, that we have in our first four decades, we know that they represent only a minuscule ort in the vast buffet of experiences that are in a life.


I admit it. This post has derailed. I had intended to write about my personal feelings about turning 40, and instead I’ve veered into larger, more philosophical issues about life and death and aging. Sorry.

I think it’s safe to say that the thought of turning 40 hasn’t made me nearly as anxious and introspective as choosing to write about turning 40. But therein lies an important element of what it means to be human. We focus on the things that are important to us. But the effect works both ways: By focusing on something, we make it important.

Turning 40 has become a big deal because I have focused on it. I’ve made it a big deal.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that 40 is the new 30. Trite though I recognize that statement to be, I’d like to believe it. I certainly don’t feel like what I thought “being in my 40s” would feel like. I still feel like I’m in my mid-30s, if I’m being honest. (And I’ve surprised more than one person with my true age; people who meet me seem to think I’m in my early 30s, so thanks for that, genetics.)

These are the things that I’ll try to remember, that I’ll try to focus on. After a few days into actually being 40, I’m sure I’ll look back at my current anxiety and laugh. Turning 40 is, after all, the easiest thing to do for someone my age.

Still, if 40 is the new 30, I’d like to start talking now about how we can make 50 the new 30 in, oh, say, about ten years?

*These numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and my sometimes fuzzy grasp of mathematics.


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Jane Eyre Vocab & Quotes: Installment Five

This is the fifth installment of my longstanding series Jane Eyre Vocabulary & Quotes. So without further ado, let us begin!

halcyon: Of or relating to the halcyon (a bird identified with the kingfisher and held in ancient legend to nest at sea about the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during incubation) or its nesting period. Calm, peaceful, happy, golden.

I remember the halcyon days of my youth, when life was replete with love and romance.

appanage: A grant (as of land or revenue) made by a sovereign or a legislative body to a dependent member of the royal family or a principal vassal. A rightful endowment or adjunct.

The dilapidated tree-house was my sole appanage.

fillip: A blow or gesture made by the sudden forcible straightening of a finger curled up against the thumb. To strike or tap with a fillip.

Charley filliped his younger sister, Mary, which caused her to cry out and beseech her parents for redress.

lachrymose: Tending to cause tears. Tending to cry often.

Of late, Daniel was lachrymose, perhaps because of the sudden and unforeseen demise of his pet gerbil, Ivan.

incubus: An evil spirit that lies on persons in their sleep, especially one that has sexual intercourse with women while they are sleeping. One that oppresses or burdens like a nightmare.

Elizabeth accused Bartholomew of being an incubus, which caused him to smile wryly and lick his lips.

Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to comment on this post with your own sentences from the words above. I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Eyre:

“… Do you never laugh, Miss Eyre? Don’t trouble yourself to answer—I see, you laugh rarely; but you can laugh very merrily: believe me, you are not naturally austere, any more than I am naturally vicious. The Lowood constraint still clings to you somewhat; controlling your features, muffling your voice, and restricting your limbs; and you fear in the presence of a man and a brother—or father, or master, or what you will—to smile too gaily, speak too freely, or move too quickly: but, in time, I think you will learn to be natural with me, as I find it impossible to be conventional with you; and then your looks and movements will have more vivacity and variety than they dare offer now.”

Jane Eyre Vocab & Quotes: Installment Four

This is the fourth installment of my longstanding series Jane Eyre Vocabulary & Quotes. So without further ado, let us begin!

lugubrious: Full of sadness or sorrow, especially in an exaggerated or insincere way.

Mr. Underwood lugubriously recounted the passing of his pet Guinea Pig, Fluffums.

etiolate: To bleach and alter the natural development of (a green plant) by excluding sunlight. To make pale.

She stood motionless, like a marble statue, her etiolated limbs drained of blood despite the furious pumping of her heart, as the Tarantula inched its way across her foot.

habergeon: A medieval jacket of mail shorter than a hauberk.

Todd donned the Habergeon of Virginal Perpetuity before embarking upon his quest to claim the Throne of Nerdia.

subjoin: Annex or append.

Subjoining caramel frosting to the chocolate cakes was the confectioner’s secret.

welkin: The vault of the sky (firmament). The celestial abode of God or the gods.

Herman walked alone and desolated under the city’s foreboding welkin of clouded chrome.

Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to comment on this post with your own sentences from the words above. I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Eyre:

Know, that in the course of your future life you will often find yourself elected the involuntary confidant of your acquaintances’ secrets: people will instinctively find out, as I have done, that it is not your forte to tell of yourself, but to listen while others talk of themselves; they will feel, too, that you listen with no malevolent scorn of their indiscretion, but with a kind of innate sympathy; not the less comforting and encouraging because it is very unobtrusive in its manifestations.

Me: This passage reminds me very much of the beginning of The Great Gatsby when Fitzgerald made Nick ruminate thusly: “…I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

Jane Eyre Vocab & Quotes (3rd Post)

This is the third installment of my longstanding series Jane Eyre Vocabulary & Quotes. So without further ado, let us begin!

merino: any of a breed of fine-wooled white sheep originating in Spain and producing a heavy fleece of exceptional quality. A soft wool or wool and cotton clothing fabric resembling cashmere. [I suppose the wool from a Merino sheep might be assumed.]

Betty’s merino coat was ruined when a hapless construction worker accidentally spilled upon it a quart of crimson dye.

hoary: very old. Having gray or white hair.

The malodor of the hoary homeless gentleman accosted Wilbur’s nose as he ambled passed the park bench.

sere: being dried and withered.

Matthew crawled upon his hands and knees, exhausted and close to death, surrounded on all sides by the sere and unforgiving landscape.

rookery: the nests or breeding place of a colony of rooks [a type of crow]; also, a colony of rooks. A crowded dilapidated tenement or group of dwellings.

The birds fluttered about Mrs. Fairfax’ head amidst her futile flailing and her repeated oaths never to enter the rookery again.

cuirass: a piece of armor covering the body from neck to waist; also, the breastplate of such a piece .

Bob donned the medieval cuirass and thought himself a valiant knight in front of his full-length closet mirror.

Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to comment on this post with your own sentences from the words above. I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Eyre:

It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it … Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Me: It’s amazing that Bronte’s sentiment has yet still to be embraced by the whole of humanity. How long have we yet to travel along the winding road of evolution.

Jane Eyre Vocab & Quotes (2nd Post)

This is the second installment of my longstanding series Jane Eyre Vocabulary & Quotes. So without further ado, let us begin!

moiety: one of two equal parts. HALF. One of the portions into which something is divided. COMPONENT. PART.

Jim Bob demanded a liberal moiety of the remaining contents of the whiskey bottle, lest the situation devolve to fisticuffs.

officious: used to describe an annoying person who tries to tell other people what to do in a way that is not wanted or needed.

The officious secretary announced through a critically designated e-mail that the length of all lunches for the remainder of the week should be kept to under an hour.

ireful: the quality or state of intense and usually openly displayed anger.

Gary’s ireful remonstrance of the absence of a wireless connection to the Internet in his hotel room was met with bored ambivalence.

sough: to make a moaning or sighing sound.

The low, plaintive soughing of a doleful lover could be heard from the drawing-room.

cachinnate: to laugh loudly or immoderately.

Upon observing Todd slipping on the icy pavement and falling flat on his face, Sally cachinnated remorselessly.

Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to comment on this post with your own sentences from the words above. I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Eyre:

I did not like re-entering Thornfield … to slip again over my faculties the viewless fetters of an uniform and too still existence; of an existence whose very privileges of security and ease I was becoming incapable of appreciating. What good it would have done me at this time to have been tossed in the storms of an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience to long for the calm amidst which I now repined!