Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

German? A Funny Language? Make me laugh.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Review reminded me of my fascination with the German ability to form long compound words that are impossible to express in English.

Is there any synonym for Schadenfreude, the joy we feel at seeing someone else’s pain? Or Zeitgeist and Doppelgänger?

The Times suggests Dornschőenschlaf (dorn-hoos-sh’yen-shlaf) meaning to pretend you’re asleep to avoid having sex. Fetenlauschangriff, for tuning in and out of numerous conversations at a cocktail party. And Tantalusqualerlősung, for the relief that comes from slaking your thirst with the first martini (or drink of your choice).

I confess that I run across these neologisms and then try to find a way to sneak them into a story. Bildschirmbräune refers to screen suntan, for the pasty faces of computer geeks. That appeared in “Who Dares Call It Murder.” (Odd how I remember our bathing nude on the beaches of St. Martin, when Schiller laughed and pointed. “Bildschirmbräune,” he said. “Screen suntan,” referring to the hours you spent on computers, because your unblemished skin remained pale while I — more advanced — colored like a potted lobster.)

And in my as-yet-unpublished novel, Gerde the dental hygienist is made to say to her lover, “We have a word — Vergangenheitsbewaltigun. It means ‘coming to terms with your past.’ Have you come to terms?”

Now, if I can only find a way to shoehorn Verfremdungseffekt . A wonderful word meaning distancing oneself from a suspended disbelief.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If We’re All Heroes, Then Who’s Left?

Every dead soldier is a hero, according to news reporters. A helicopter crashes, a truck blows up, school bus careens over a cliff. “Heroic” and "tragic" are adjectives that have lost their meanings against the press of a deadline.

More disgraceful are the Army’s PR stunts, dressing up a Dad being rotated (alive) from Afghanistan to show up at his child’s (a) ballgame as the catcher (b) school play as a clown or (c) party as Santa Claus. The mask is ripped off, the child screams “Daddy” and rushes tearfully toward the hero parent.

These tricks have simultaneously reduced the meaning of heroism — acting willfully in disregard to personal danger—and masked the horror and tedium of military action. It's a tragedy.

My skin crawls at the manipulation these Army public relations practitioners resort to. It’s almost as bad as the Lassie movies I saw as a child. Invariably, the child says something like, “Lassie, I’ve fallen down the well and the water’s rising. Run and tell Dad to bring a rope.” These are two handkerchief moments.

Similarly, the news media — predictably — sees every drunken teenager who drives into a tree at 3:00 a.m. as a “tragedy. Isn’t it just possible that the youngster acted stupidly, as many young people do with great regularity? (I prefer to believe they should be given Darwin Awards for removing their DNA from the collective gene pool, thereby strengthening our future generations.) Sentimentality in the face of stupidity is lazy thinking.

In response to affected writing, cynicism grows like e. Coli on poultry left on a porch in Texas. It’s not easy to restate a situation to avoid triteness, to break through the platitudes of supermarket tabloid writing and reject the mundane, banal and trite responses to the world around us. The cynicism rises in our gorge because we all have a hardwired response to tragedy, nostalgia and sentimentality. That’s how scriptwriters made Lassie a star. They put the dog through tricks to pull our heartstrings, and the audience responded like puppets.

Stop the next time you see or hear bad writing — or change channels or put down the magazine or paper. Insist on inventing unexpected and serendipitous results as you go along. Take an independent direction, Robert Frost’s “road less taken.” It’s a chaotic and muddled process. A rocky road. But it leads to clearer thinking.