My Life In Definitions.

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd 1
The only thing harder than defining "existential crisis" is doing it in Pictionary.
The only thing harder than defining “existential crisis” is doing it in Pictionary.

Define “reality.” Define “said.” Define “jump.” So hard, right?

Defining object nouns is easier. “Mozzarella” isn’t too bad; “Denmark” is doable. But the verbs and the gerunds and past participles are crazy-making. By the way, one of the five definitions of “jump” is “to push oneself off a surface and into the air by using the muscles in one’s legs and feet.” The definition of “said” as an adjective is “used in legal language or humorously to refer to someone or something already mentioned or named.”

Definitions are so hard to do (for me, anyway) that looking them up for even common words is one of my favorite activities. And now, I present to you definitions that are shaping my life these days, each edited for length. All definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary, except where noted.

peripatetic (adj.): traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods

breakup (n): an end to a relationship, typically a marriage

moving (adj.): relating to the process of changing one’s residence

existential (adj): of or relating to existence

crisis (n): a time when a difficult or important decision must be made

work (n): activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result; mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment

yo (exclam.): a slang way of saying hello, usually friendly and casual [Urban Dictionary]

hustler (n.): an aggressively enterprising person; a go-getter

Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

posted in: Family, Food, Word Nerd 11
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.

Incidentally, that Thiebaud painting lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum. I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.

My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, Auntie.

It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a suboptimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.

We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.

Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.

I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:

estranged |iˈstrānjd|
(of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.

My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.

“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.

“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.

My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.

“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”

I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”

I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.

I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.

Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.

I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.


“Do You Have Poison On?”

Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.
Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.

Weird stuff happens in New York City. For example, yesterday morning I opened the door of the apartment and littered on the two flights of stairs down were dozens of Mini Twix wrappers. Dozens of them, tossed like so much confetti! It was as though all the Mini Twix in the East Village were like, “Yo! Party at [REDACTED] and 1st Ave!” and I was seeing the aftermath. I’m happy to report they were very, very quiet. I didn’t hear a peep. (‘Cause Peeps weren’t invited — hey-o!)

Today, something even stranger happened — stranger, even, than a candy party in the hallway. I was walking near Thompkins Square Park when a young woman came up behind me and asked me one of the more disorienting questions I’ve ever been asked:

“Excuse me, do you have poison on?”

You know that search box feature in the upper righthand corner of your computer screen? When you need a file or a word or an image from your hard drive, you type it into the box and bloop! there you can make your selection. Our brains work similarly. When you’re out a date and your date orders the branzino, you might not instantly know what she’s having for dinner. You do the search box and in .0000003 seconds you come up with some old file with a weird filetype that has something to do with…fish! It’s a fish, right? Yes. Branzino is fish. Thank you, search box.

When that girl asked me if I “had poison on,” I could practically hear my little search box whirring into overdrive. Poison? Poison. Poison ivy. Poison the band. Poison the deadly substance. Hamlet. Poison on. Poison on…what?? What is poison on? Poison drips, poison oozes — poison does not go “on” anything. Are there headphones somewhere? Playing Poison? It would be impossible that “Cherry Pie” would be coming from my iTunes, but perhaps someone’s nearby? Is “poison” a new drug the kids are doing and she’s asking me if I’m either selling or interested in buying? Also: no? There were also data rejections of the “Poison Ivy” character from Batman and poisson.

I looked at the girl harder, my search box wheezing and puffing, shuffling through great stacks of data. “Get context clues!” it shouted, “I’m gettin’ nothin’ in here!” Pipes were bursting, coal was being shoveled into the furnaces within my gray matter. The girl was kempt and pretty. Mid-twenties, black, nicely dressed. This was no help. If she was clearly insane, I could just shake my head and keep walking. The search box could be satisfied with “she crazy.” No dice.

“I’m sorry,” I said, searching her. “Uh, poison?”

“The perfume. Poison. Do you have it on?”

It was almost orgasmic.

“Oh!” I cried, way too happy to give her an answer at this point. “No! No, I don’t! But man, that is such a great perfume! I love that perfume! No, no. Not wearing Poison. No Poison on.”

“Thanks — have a good one,” she mumbled, giving me a slight “Sorry I asked” look. Hey, lady, you’re the one who’s talking to strangers about poison.

My sister Nan used to wear that every day in high school, by the way.



Word Nerd: Boo

posted in: Word Nerd 1

Blame it on Halloween last week: I got “boo” on the brain. Not the go-to ghost word “Boo!” but the slang term for a quasi-girlfriend/boyfriend, as in “I love my boo” or “It’s just me and my boo. I think boo is the best thing to happen to the English language since chortle.**

Doing research on the Internet is great and all, but from time to time it reveals its limitations. To truly get to the bottom of the etymology of boo, I would need to speak to a linguistics professor or a cultural anthropologist — the web didn’t help much. I found the following possibilities for the existence of boo:

– it’s from the French beau (pronounced “bo”) meaning “boyfriend or male admirer,” which found its way into Afro-Caribbean language through French colonization
– it’s a Southern-bred, derivative term of endearment, lineage going something like this:
poppet –> poopsie –> boopsie –> boo
– it’s just short for “booty”

Who can say? Well, Yahoo question boards can try (boy do they) but I’m not sure about any of these answers and that last one is straight up dubious. I feel confident that boo is a word born in black culture, though. The first time I ever heard it used was in that song “Dilemma,” by Nelly and former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland. The chorus went: No matter what I do/All I think about is you/Even when I’m with my boo/You know I’m crazy over you. Tsk-tsk, children. But until I meet a cultural anthropologist at a cocktail party whose studies include American Ebonics, it could be a long time before I know the true origins. I can still love the word, though, and I sure do.

I love boo because it names a real thing and it’s phonetically perfect for what that thing is. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I have a boo. You and I are having lunch and you ask me what I did over the weekend. I say, “It was me and my boo, just hanging out.” You could infer that my boo was male, because I am straight. You would know that this fellow is involved with me romantically, but you also know I don’t have a boyfriend. So is this person just a random, um, date? (We’re speaking hypothetically, remember.) No, boo implies a tenderness and a familiarity that elevates the subject into something more special than a frivolous fling. I mean, I wanted to hang out with him all weekend, so he must be worth hanging out with.

So I like the word because there do exist these kinds of relationships in the world: something not official, but not pointless. Something important, but not call-your-mother about it. My boo, my boo, my boo.

And then there’s the darlingness of it, the baby-like sound that the word is. It’s close to “goo,” as in “goo-goo, ga-ga” and close to “baby” and it’s also slang, which means you feel pretty street when you say it. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t respond positively if their partner, spouse, lover, etc., affectionately put their arm around them, pulled them close, and said, “Hey, boo.”

Try it. Don’t try it on someone you don’t have genuinely tender, romantic feelings toward, though, because it would be way too familiar. Kinda like calling your 60-year-old Spanish teacher in high school “senorita,” it just makes everyone a little antsy. And to all the boos who had good weekends together, hats off to you.

(But put your pants back on.)

** The word “chortle” did not exist in the English language before Lewis Carroll wrote Jabberwocky in 1871. A hybrid of “chuckle” and “snort,” it is but one of almost two dozen entirely new words introduced in that legendary poem. Now that’s a writer who can write. Check it out. 

Word Nerd: Quaintrelle

posted in: Word Nerd 0
Lempicka's "The Blue Scarf," dahhhhling.
Lempicka’s “The Blue Scarf,” dahhhhling.

Just when language pleases me from the top of my capo to the tip of my tarsals, it goes and does it all over again. Ladies and germs, I present “quaintrelle,” a word I discovered yesterday when I wasn’t looking for it.

A woman who emphasizes a life of passion, expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, and cultivation of life’s pleasures.

I’m signed up for that one. The leisurely pastimes part is the only part that I can’t get 100% on board with. In my head, “leisurely pastimes” translates to “strolling” or “a spot of tea with Freddy and the Rumsfordshire sisters after a pleasant game of squash on the lawn.” I’m a long way from squash on the lawn.

The rest of it, though, has pretty much been my M.O. since ’95. They say relationships take work. It’s true; but we have a relationship with ourselves, as well. This relationship takes just as much work, maybe more. Today, I shall set a goal: I will take a pleasure in life and cultivate it one step further than usual. I will be a quaintrelle I can be proud of.