Archive for March, 2012

While riding home from school today and cursing out the gypsy cab drivers who seem to delight in almost hitting me on my bike, or the geniuses who feel the need to double park as far from the side of the road as possible, I saw another one of them. It finally dawned on me today after living in NYC for 20 plus years that there is one in every neighborhood. What I am writing of are little old Latino men riding strange and decked out bicycles while playing loud music from a radio mounted somewhere on their tricked out mode of transportation and attention grasping. The guy today had a very new looking maroon Schwinn Sting Ray from the 1970s adorned with pin wheels and Puerto Rican flags. I envied his sparkling, candy apple red banana seat. If I had one of those I could ask pretty girls at school if they’d like a ride home, and look like “The Man” casually pedaling away with some cute mama on the back of the Gray Ghost. Other kids would stop and ask…”Man, how does he do it?”  Or they’d just give me the thumbs up sign to which I’d casually and coolly nod.

How do you NOT notice?

What fascinates me is that literally every New York City neighborhood I have ever lived in or visited has one of these odd little men gallivanting about. They seem to pedal south for the winter, as I never see them in inclement weather. They are generally all the same age, which to my best guess is in their mid 50s. They often wear strange little outfits to go along with their eclectic bikes. These outfits are often based on flags or the colors of their national flag whether it is Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or what have you. Perhaps the weird little men have a strong competitive nature and are trying not to let their countrymen down. The music they play is always upbeat and lively Latin music at a high volume…sometimes the volume is so high that it pops and crackles through their decorated boom boxes.

After having lived in major cities for most of my life I have come to learn a few things about Latino culture, but I don’t know much about the Bicycle Papi’s; which is what I have dubbed them. Are they the Latin equivalent of the Fiddlers on the Roof of the Jews? Pequeno y raro hombre sobre una bicicleta  Translation: ‘Weird little man on a bicycle’. It’s odd that I never noticed them before as a phenomena, because they all kind of scream “look at me!!!”. Maybe there is some weird annual Bicycle Papi competition every year that I am unaware of. Perhaps when they are riding around waving, it is their way of showcasing and being political.

Some of them ride around smiling brightly and benevolently waving to no one in particular, like a person elected to office. Others have lecherous and malevolent sneers and make unwanted commentary to women they find attractive. They never ride very fast, or with any directional purpose, and I can’t even begin to image where they get those odd and old bicycles that are always in pristine condition.

It also makes me wonder where they live. What does their domicile look like? I am picturing an immaculate and sparsely furnished room. Do they spend evenings accessorizing their bikes and polishing them up?  This would make sense as I said before their bicycles are always shiny and spotless. Is there some kind of apprenticeship program for the Bicycle Papis? They don’t seem to be gainfully employed as I have seen them at all hours pedaling along. Perhaps they aren’t so strange after all. Maybe the rest of us are off our rockers sweating out jobs and lives that are so stressful, while they decided long ago to spend their time riding along at a leisurely pace, waving at no one and everyone and listening to their manic-happy Latin music.

Their wardrobe and the condition of their bikes show that they seem to take something seriously. I suppose what they do is more constructive than say being the neighborhood or town drunk. I have also seen many Latino men here in NYC take tremendous, almost obsessive pride in things like their cars or their yards. Most of these men are very poor, and some don’t even work, but their car is of showroom quality at all times.

I am now tempted to try and capture one of them and ask them what gives. Maybe they are elusive when pursued and posses some rare wisdom or some other kind of prize that only gets bestowed if they are caught like a leprechaun. I have always been a fan of the concept of catching people with a big butterfly net. That would be a truly excellent New York moment to see a middle aged dork like me chasing a pre elderly Hispanic man on a goofy bicycle with a butterfly net. Maybe they have some weird built in defense like skunks or porcupines. I have written before about how I wish that people from the Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene would drive around in a converted ice cream truck and catch the semi harmless NYC crazies in a net while wearing bright and clean starched white uniforms and black bow ties. I have never captured or caught anything or anyone before, but my grandfather would delight in setting up anti-personnel traps for me and my cousin in his yard when we’d play guns or army. After we stumbled over his trip wires or got caught in one of his snares, he would say “You’re both dead. I went to commando school during the war y’know?  Now pick up that rope and your teeth and come inside. Yer grandma says dinner is ready”.

The Wonderful World of Words

Posted: March 1, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in General, Me & Mine
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“Words, Words, Words” – Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet’

“I love words. I want to thank you for hearing my words. Words are all we have really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid, so we assign a word to that thought and then we’re stuck with that word for that thought” – George Carlin, ‘The seven words you can’t say on television’

I love words too. I like the sound of many of them, and their power. I use words to make others laugh. I am fascinated at how words evolve. They can become popular, lose popularity and then regain favor. New words are created all the time. I have favorite words, and those that I try to fit in when and wherever possible. We take words for granted. I swear less and less these days, but I still remember the delight of uttering and writing no-no words during my childhood.I asked a friend today to help me think of words I use frequently, but it didn’t work out very well. They came up with a laundry list of words they liked. I suppose I am on my own to think of the words I try to use whenever possible. At the moment I can only think of three off the top of my head, but I’d be willing to bet that I think of a couple more during the various rewrites of this piece. In fact, while typing that sentence I thought of a couple. Here are the original three before I get too far ahead of myself.

Facetious – Here’s the dictionary definition.

1. not meant to be taken seriously or literally: a facetious remark.
2. amusing; humorous.
3. lacking serious intent; concerned with something nonessential, amusing, or frivolous: a facetious person.

I first fell in love with facetious when my former employer would misuse it. Perhaps misuse is the incorrect term. He used it correctly, but he was lying as he did so. Let me explain. My former employer is one of those award winning turds who never sees anything wrong with their behavior and sees apologizing as something that only the weak partake in. He would routinely fly off the handle at me or various co-workers. His meltdowns were unnecessarily harsh and cruel and he was smart enough to realize it soon after. However, rather than apologizing, he’d say “I was being facetious.” when he got called on his crap. He was not being facetious. He was being a raging nutbar flying off the handle with an inability to apologize or to admit he was wrong. So, he’d dismiss his uncalled for, and harsh meltdown with a $10 word. Interesting that he had to be just a little smug in addition to denying the offended party the apology they deserved (i.e. me. I seemed to care much less when he flipped out on my co-workers because I’m kind of a selfish prick like that). I liked the sound of facetious and after being screamed at by him for minor infractions a few times, only to be told he was being “facetious” I had to go home and look it up. It is interesting to note that I have had to look up most of my favorite words. When I was young and I’d ask my mother how to spell a word or it’s definition, she’d tell me to “look it up”. I hated that. I especially hated that when I didn’t know the spelling! “OK, how do you spell it?” My 7 year old logic was often lost on my mother…this is OK as my 41 year old’s logic is also often lost on my mother. Now I like looking up words. The classical conditioning of my youth has backfired on my mother. I now run for the big book when she and I are having an argument on semantics, and I read the definition out in obnoxiously pompous voiced dictionary speak. My moms will inevitably point out that her definition was there also. “Yeah, but it’s number two.”  I will say gloating. She will stare at me for a moment with her patented  “I really should have hit you more as a child” expression before moving on to our next argument.

Facetious was a great word for me, as I have found myself on more than a dozen occasions having to explain or defend my comedy to people who have taken issue with it. I am being facetious. I am not to be taken seriously. I thought that I was generally over the top enough that it would be obvious, but apparently I am not all the time. I struggled with this issue.

On one hand I am too hypersensitive myself to justifiably get angry with people who take offense at something harsh I have written. I am perhaps the most easily slighted person in North America. I’ll sulk for months if I don’t get an

Sadly, sometimes it's actually necessary to point out the obvious.

Sadly, sometimes it's actually necessary to point out the obvious.

enthusiastic enough “excuse me” or “good morning” from someone. I am the poster child for being able to dish it out,but not being able to take it. So, I had a long hard inner debate. I finally decided that I am not a mean spirited person. I don’t wish ill on many people. My defense mechanism is humor, and sure, sometimes I take it too far, and when that happens, I feel bad and will apologize. But as far as defense mechanisms go, I’ll take humor over bell tower shooting sprees any time. People I admire and have tried to emulate in style were and are often harsh, while making us laugh. So, I am going to write like the perpetually angry little man that I am, and if a few people take it the wrong way, well…that’s too bad. If they want an explanation, I’ll give it to them. So if you don’t find grumpy observations on how irritating screaming babies in public are, or my poking fun at old people to be chucklicious, then don’t read my writing. I’m here for laughs. I’m not mean spirited. I don’t go to hospital burn wards and had out cigars, I don’t make homeless beggars name the best costume nominees for the 2006 Tony awards with the promise of a quarter, I’m being facetious. I should be taken as seriously as a five year old boy who writes “Ca-Ca” in brown crayon on a wall…I’m probably about as funny too.

Another favorite word…Pedantic. Again here is the definition.

1. ostentatious in one’s learning.
2. overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.

This was another one I had to look up. There is a short story behind this and I have to thank my former professor Louie. It was day one of a new class and I had to go to the bathroom…badly. Come to think of it, I wasn’t having an intestinal rumbling or a bladder red alert; I was having a panic attack. Now, panic attacks hit the “fight or flight” section of the brain like a ton of lead. Since there was no one appropriate nearby to fight, I was choosing the flight option. I suppose I could have punched the little 18 year old girl next to me, and then scream “She started it!” which worked about half the time in first grade. After careful consideration, I decided this wouldn’t go over so well, and who knows…maybe the 96 lb girl next to me was packing pepper spray and had been taking kick boxing lessons. Yes, it had to be flight.

Could have done without the trip back in time, thanks.

Could have done without the trip back in time, thanks.

As I said, it was the first day of class, and the fussy little queen of a teacher was waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. It was now 10 minutes after class had begun. I said to him “Please mark me ‘present’, I just need to dash to the bathroom”. I didn’t add that I’d be in a stall hyperventilating until the panic attack wore off to a manageable level. He actually refused to let me go. I was reconsidering the “fight” option once again, except I have found that kneeing a professor in the crotch followed by a left hook isn’t so conducive to making the Dean’s List. So I sat down fuming. I am 41 years old. I haven’t been asking to go potty for over 6 months now. I was on time for class, and yet being denied because of the people who couldn’t bother being on time on day ONE??? I instantly disliked this man, but I acted like a well adjusted adult, sat back down and spent that first day in class drawing Sherman tanks firing upon Professor Rodriguez’s house instead of taking notes. I showed these artistic expressions to the young girl next to me, and she rolled her eyes. Maybe I should kick her ass.

I went home after class and wrote to a professor I liked; the aforementioned Louie. I wanted him to confirm that I was indeed a stellar student and that this professor was a big meany, and maybe to see if Louie would forge a doctors note explaining that I have severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder coupled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and that my bathroom forays should not be impeded. (See, I love big fancy words.) Louie just chuckled and explained that “some teachers are just a trifle pedantic”. I agreed wholeheartedly with Lou and then I looked up the word, not wanting to appear stupid. Yes, Louie had hit the nail on the head. Professor Potty-Block was most certainly pedantic. I dropped his class after a week, and now make it a point of honor to visit the bathroom twice during every class I have had since.

Pedantic is slightly similar to another word I love but didn’t have to look up. “Officious”. Officiousness and pedantry are wonderful qualities for ridicule, and ridicule is a major hobby of mine.

Rounding out the big three is Smug

      adjective, smug=ger, smug-gest.
1. contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.
2. trim; spruce; smooth; sleek.

I am not thrilled by these definitions. I also feel it can be used contextually in other manners. One example of this is a bagel shop in my neighborhood that is always hiring. They have a sign out front advertising the available position or positions and it states that they are seeking a hardworking, experienced person with total availability, willing to work weekends, nights, holidays etc. The sign goes on and on about what they expect, and the only thing they offer is a “competitive salary” which is American business slang for minimum wage with rigidly timed 10 minute breaks…in other words, you’re going to hate the company, get screwed front, right and center and you better smile about it. To me, that is smug.

Smug is another favorite word because it is a wonderful quality or condition to ridicule or to gripe about. I might add a third definition to “smug”

3. Possessing testicles that require a forklift to move.

I think it’s a great definition, but has asked me politely to stop sending them suggestions.

Smug reminds me of the Yiddish word Chutzpah even though they are not interchangeable. Chutzpah has more to do with audacity. Yiddish is a wonderful dialect. It is a rare mixture of Germanic and Hebrew so the words don’t always roll off the tongue. I also feel a little awkward using Yiddish as it makes people think I’m Jewish. I have spoken with many of my Jewish friends and they too feel awkward using Yiddish for the very same reason.

The beauty of Yiddish is that it has very specific expressions for types of people, qualities of the human condition and things that should have a single English word assigned to them, but do not. It’s an incredibly clever language. There are so many English words that originated in Yiddish that I adore.

Drek or Dreck is a wonderful expression that I mean to use, but often forget in lieu of dook, dookie, boom boom, crap, shit, and poo.

A more pleasant blast from the past

A more pleasant blast from the past

Schlemiel and Schlimazel : The polite standard definition of these are “A schlemiel is a person who spills soup at a dinner party, and a schlimazel is the one he spilled it on”. My favorite definition comes from Louie DePalma in the hit TV show Taxi . He was calling Alex Rieger a schlimazel. “You know the difference between a schlemiel and a schlamazel Rieger? A schlemiel comes home early from work to find his wife in bed with his boss…a schlamazel gets fired for leaving work early.”

Compared to Yiddish; English is a decidedly boring language…this is why potty-mouth idiot savant Rain Men like myself make others laugh.

Urban Dictionary has become another favorite website of mine. Whenever I am feeling blue, I just scan through the various words and terms and within 45 seconds I will be rolling with laughter. I’m just not crazy about the term “Urban Dictionary”…somewhere along the way, the Political Correctness Gestapo made “Urban” synonymous with poor black inner city people. Black people have had some amazing contributions to language, but “Urban” is simply inaccurate in pigeon holing black people and the Dictionary. The best part of UD is that after every word there is an advertisement for coffee mugs, t-shirts and other merchandise with that word on it. I love that I live in an age and in a country where with the click of a button I can order 3 dozen t-shirts and coffee mugs of varying colors that say “Feltch” or “Twat” on them. They make great gifts for those difficult to buy for folks on your Christmas list.

More on this subject as it is too broad to be covered in one entry.