Wednesday, February 20, 2008


“They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there's always magic in the air.” Ian and I got to experience George Benson’s Broadway magic in New York City over President’s Day weekend, twice.

The first was a college improv show at 116th and Broadway, which is about eighty blocks north of the theatre district, but on Broadway, and magical for the parents of the performers, just the same. Our son was both the emcee and a performer in this year’s “Fruit Paunch Formal Show,” and he did a great job. In one of his sketches he played a young schoolboy with an exaggerated lisp giving an oral report on walruses (walrutheth). He described how they had three tusks (tuthkth) that were so (tho) long that if they were laid out end to end they could stretch (thtretth) all the way to Buffalo. The college audience loved it, but I loved it more than they did. I actually remember when Colin was that earnest, bespectacled schoolboy giving oral reports with a slight speech impediment.

On our second night, the three of us had dinner at a great little Italian restaurant near campus and then took the subway to Times Square. On the train, I sat next to an artist who frenetically sketched three portraits of other passengers and a quick profile of me in our half-hour ride down Broadway. Our destination was the Broadhurst Theatre, the same stage where Joel Grey gave his Tony Award winning performance in Cabaret some forty years ago.

We had tickets to see the Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with a star-studded all-Black cast. I had never read the Tennessee Williams play or seen it performed, so I am not familiar with the Elizabeth Taylor-Paul Newman version, or any other version, for that matter. The play we saw was directed by Debbie Allen (“Fame”) and starred a foul-mouthed James Earl Jones (“The Great White Hope” and the voices of Mufasa and Darth Vader), an overweight, unkempt Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”), an alcoholic Terrence Howard (“Crash”), and a very hot Anika Noni Rose (the “Dream Girls” star who takes a back seat to Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles in the movie). Also very recognizable is a henpecked Giancarlo Esposito (“Homicide: Life on the Streets” and “Law and Order”). I can’t imagine any way in which Taylor, Newman, Burl Ives or any of their cast mates could have been superior to any of the actors we saw.

In the play, Terrence Howard’s character, Brick, is disgusted with his family’s mendacity. The word, which is new to me, describes the primary motivation for his behavior. He blames his struggles with honesty and his escape into alcoholism on his family’s mendacity, or untruthfulness and tendency to lie. He doesn’t call his family members prevaricators or outright liars, but mendacious, a term which refers to much more clandestine behavior. He accuses them of lives filled with secrecy, concealment and attempts at deception.

I like Tennessee Williams’ choice of word. Years of subtle mendacity in the lives of his characters have destroyed any good that may have once existed in their relationships, and make it very difficult for each character to recognize the truth. Keeping secrets, brushing small annoyances under the rug, keeping up appearances and refusing to face hard truths are not in the best interest of family harmony or personal satisfaction, although they may seem to be at the time. I am grateful for the new word and all that it illuminates in my own life.

Bravo to Broadway magic and neon lights!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In my search for useful two-letter Scrabble words, I have found another good one: ai. This is not the AI of Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Insemination or American Idol. This is the ai that is the three-toed sloth of Central and South America. The plural of the word is ais. It is pronounced “eye” or “ah-EE,” which is similar to the sound made by the sloth and how the mammal got its name.

There are at least three species of ais, including the Maned Three-toed Sloth of South America. These ais have a coarse outer coat with hairs that apparently angle up so that they will hang down when the sloth is in its normal position, hanging from forest trees. Even a good dose of Frontline wouldn’t eradicate the critters that supposedly live in ai fur: algae, mites, ticks, beetles and moths.

The Maned Three-toed Sloth eats from the trees where it hangs. It is rarely seen on the ground because it cannot stand or walk and is reduced to dragging itself by its front legs and claws when it is on the forest floor.

One of the seven deadly sins that was the subject of many lessons at St. Margaret Mary and St. Margaret’s Academy has the same name as the sloth, which is considered to be a sluggish and lazy creature, although I’m not sure that the description is completely fair.

Human to sloth: “Excuse me. Why are you so sluggish and lazy?”

Sloth to human: “Excuse ME! Why don’t you try hanging in trees all day and night; moving to a new residence every time you run out of food; providing reliable, rent-free housing to numerous undesirable pests that you cannot evict; and dragging yourself around on the ground by your arms every time you to need to use the privy?”

No thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll stick to finding places on the Scrabble board where I can rack up points with my ai, which appears to be a whole lot easier than being a sloth.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


AE: American Eagle Outfitters
A&E: Arts and Entertainment Television Network
AE: The United Arab Emirates
æ (the letters “a” and ”e” stuck together with no space in between them): a letter in some languages and the representation of a vowel sound in other languages. In the International Phonetic Alphabet æ represents the “a” sound in the word cat.
ae.: (ae followed by a period): at the age of; aged

Surprisingly, ae is also a word. It’s new to me, but it’s been in Scrabble Dictionaries for at least thirty years. It is an adjective and it means “one.” I don’t know how to pronounce it because Scrabble dictionaries don’t give pronunciations and I can’t find it anywhere else. I may not be able to use it to improve my vocabulary, but I will definitely be able to use it to improve my Scrabble game.

P.S. ae is not the only two-vowel, no consonant word in the Scrabble Dictionary. More later.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Somer did a report for biology this weekend on moose. She learned that the moose are able to adapt to the harsh winters of northern climates because they have very thick fur, which keeps them warm in the winter; and because they have very long, thin legs, which help them travel through heavy winter snow. No wonder I have so much trouble adapting to Minnesota winters. I have thin skin and short, thick legs.

Somer also learned something about the word moose, which, of course, interests me. The plural of moose is moose. The plural of goose is geese. The plural of mongoose is mongooses. English, such a fascinating language!

The word plural, of course, means more than one. As we all know, plural nouns are usually nouns ending in the letter “s,” such as the word mongooses, but there are exceptions such as the words moose and geese. There is also another, much more disturbing, use of the word plural.

I recently read Escape, Carolyn Jessop’s memoir of her life in a polygamist cult, where she was given in marriage at the age of eighteen to a fifty-year old man living with his three previous wives and their many children. I am currently reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which is a scholarly history of the Mormon faith and its fundamentalist offshoots, often polygamist cults or polygamist extremists. I am also a fan of the HBO television series Big Love, which is a fictional account of a polygamous family. In each of these stories the word polygamy is interchangeable with the phrase plural marriage.

Actually, there is some appeal to plural marriage for most women, including me. It would be very nice to have sister-wives as confidantes and partners in cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. The appeal, however, ends there. The attractiveness of the arrangement is also based on the assumption that the wives are companionable and cooperative, which is usually the case in the fictional Big Love, but rarely evident in Jessop’s real-life narrative.

It is not uncommon for polygamist groups to force 14-year old girls into plural marriage with older men and to drive out 14-year old boys before they become competition for the established male hierarchy. Forcing young girls into marriage and forcing young boys to fend for themselves on the street are child abuse. The man who kidnapped 14-year old Elizabeth Smart in Utah 5 1/2 years ago believed the Lord had asked him to take her as his second wife. He abducted her from her bedroom at knifepoint, raped her and claimed her as his own. The fact that she was eventually rescued and is said to be doing well is miraculous. The fact that some version of what happened to Elizabeth is still happening today in polygamist cults in the United States is unspeakably sad.

More than 10,000 polygamists are now living in one such cult in Colorado City on the Arizona-Utah border. They are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormons (LDS) who believe that the Latter Day Saints erred when they gave up polygamy as espoused by founder Joseph Smith and his successor Brigham Young.

The lives of Colorado City residents are funded by American taxes. American laws, which should protect the children living there. are rarely enforced. According to Krakauer members of the FLDS in Colorado City consider the governments of Utah, Arizona and the United States to be “Satanic forces intent on destroying them.”

From these “Satanic forces” Colorado City polygamists received over six million dollars in aid in 2002. The government paid for their school, which employed FLDS teachers and taught FLDS doctrine. The government paved their streets, improved their fire department and upgraded their water system. The government built an airport outside of the city, which is used by few people other than Colorado City residents. In 2002, 78% of the town’s Arizona residents received food stamps. In fact, each resident received an average of eight dollars in government services for every dollar paid in taxes. Members of the FLDS are told by their leaders that this assistance is coming from the Lord, that defrauding the government is “bleeding the beast” and therefore virtuous.

Manipulating words to make plurals is fun for word nuts like me. Manipulating people into plural marriages and a government into supporting them is criminal and pathetic.