- Another Q&A session – send your questions in!
- The inside scoop on future projects
- More Adventures in Space and Time in the Joe-ma-Tron
Language is constantly evolving. Words that once were common fall from grace. The accepted definition of a word can change over time. Words that once meant “up” might now mean “down,” and heaven only knows what “objective” means these days. New words enter the language every day, in many cases in a stealthy if not downright cunning manner. Lexicographers bemoan the swelling ranks of undocumented words.
Evolving language helps explain why, for example, to a baby boomer’s ears, a millennial can sound like a Martian. (I personally believe many of them came from the Andromeda galaxy.) Teenagers, of course, are another matter entirely, and in some cases, anti-matter entirely.
This evolution also readily explains why Shakespeare is Greek, or possibly Latin, or maybe Ye Olde English, to modern ears. People don’t talk the way Will did. I’m not convinced they ever did, but that was a long time ago, and in England to boot, so who knows? (England is well known for doing strange things to the English language, as well as breakfast.) Of course, one need not go back as far as Shakespeare to encounter befuddling language in literature. Defoe, Hawthorne, Dickens, and Melville can all be tough sledding (or Nantucket sleigh riding, in Melville’s case).
Which quite logically brings us around to “hark.” (And it’s about time, too. Even I was wondering if I’d ever get around to it.) Harks used to be thrown around like rice at a twentieth century wedding. You could hardly sauntereth down ye olde street without being harked at left and right, and sometimes from behind. People were wistfully harkening back to something all the time in those days. I suspect dogs of old harked instead of barked. Cats, on the other hand, were apathetic about it. As far as I know, they still haven’t weighed in on the subject.
Like many good little words, though, “hark” began to wheeze and gasp like a poorly-trained marathon runner, and eventually staggered around a bit before collapsing by the wayside. If you look hard, you can still occasionally see it there, particularly near Christmas. That’s when “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” can be heard. In fact, just try to avoid it – it’s impossible. I say if harking was good enough for angels, though, it should be good enough for us, but then most people would not describe today’s world as angelic.
Shakespeare wrote “Hark, Hark! The lark!” and wasn’t stoned for it, but that was when such mutterings were popular. Ogden Nash wrote a bit of a takeoff on Will’s harking lark, but ended it with, “Now we see him stop, take one small hop, and suddenly keel over dead.”
Of course, this was ‘way back in the 20th century, when hark was already on life support, and that was the last straw. People had had enough of all this harking, and weren’t going to take it anymore, particularly if it was killing birds. Mr. Nash drove the stake through hark’s heart, if not the lark’s. Some scholars think it was already dead, and therefore Mr. Nash committed no crime, except possibly abuse of a corpse. However, our modern American philosophy is to blame as many people as possible, particularly if they’re not around to defend themselves, so let’s pile on. I think there’s also a reasonable chance that Ogden Nash may be to blame for the death of the Nash automobile, so let’s pin that on him, too. Which is the greater loss, the hark or the Nash, is left to the reader.
The moral of all this is to be careful in your choice of words. You don’t want to appear outdated, as that is a capital offense in our society. I used the word “cool” a while back (as in, “that car is really cool”) only to discover that cool isn’t cool any more. I was mocked and ridiculed for it, and it wasn’t even on social media.
So, here’s my suggestion: let’s change “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” to “Hey, Listen up! Angels are Singin’n’at.” This has a more contemporary feel to it, as well as a Pittsburgh vibe, which is never a bad thing, except outside of Pittsburgh.
In unexpected bovine news, a wandering band of rogue cows has been sighted in various areas around Murrysville, PA, over the last few weeks. No farmer has come forward to admit his cows have become vagrants. Whether this means he hasn’t noticed, or he just never developed a deep relationship with his cows, is open to interpretation. Speculation is rampant as to their origin, including the possibility of aliens, at least in some circles (crop circles, I suppose). Aliens, as everyone knows, love to abduct cows. So maybe some poor, confused aliens returned the cows to the wrong coordinates.
Let me first admit that I know almost nothing about livestock. The local newspaper published photos of the cows, from which I have shrewdly deduced they are black. Therefore, I might jump to the conclusion they are of the Black Angus denomination, but I don’t really know that. It may be that not all black cows are Angus. It may be that they’re not Scottish at all – as far as I know, they haven’t played any golf in their travels, or even shown up on a putting green. I don’t know that all Angus are black, either. There might be white Angus or tan Angus or mottled Angus or salted caramel Angus, or other colors and flavors that I’m not aware of – grillmasters can chime in here.
My story “The Barking Cat” is the first episode of the new series “Zero Hour,” on WAOB Audio Theatre. Listen to this audio drama as performed and recorded at the Audio Theatre.
Here’s a link to WAOB Audio Theatre’s YouTube channel. You can copy and paste it into your browser.
Many Joe Zone readers already know that my fiction stories are available as audio recordings on WAOB Audio Theatre. A new series, entitled “Zero Hour,” is launching Wednesday on Audio Theatre, and my story “The Barking Cat” is the premiere episode.
The story will be performed by talented voice actors, and has been recorded binaurally, for a stereo effect. If you have headphones or earbuds, put them on, for the best listening experience.
The Zero Hour stories are reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone,” often having an element of science fiction or unusual or unexplainable happenings. It’s going to be a fun and interesting program, and I have more stories lined up for it. Also, more of my “Electron Jones” Teslatown stories are slated for the fall.
You can listen to any Audio Theatre recording at their website https://waobaudiotheatre.org/.
You can also listen on their YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtbt17jL8wRu2eKFXbvcJpw.
#Twilightzone #zerohour #audiotheatre #electronjones
Everyone has deep-seated fears. Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. However, most of us have a list of fears that goes far beyond that. Some typical fears include heights, snakes, spiders, and having a water balloon explode on your head in the middle of the night. Public speaking is feared by many people. Fear of failure is rampant. So is fear of flying, and, as exploited by Hollywood, flying in a plane filled with snakes, which is more likely than the scenarios presented in most Hollywood movies.
Some people, like Charlie Brown, fear everything. I’m pretty close to that. I thought of something last week that I’m not afraid of, but I can’t remember what it is. I’m sure that’s just as well. If I thought about it long enough, I’d probably talk myself into being afraid of it, and that would ruin my day. And one of my biggest fears is having my day ruined, so you can see the dilemma.
It’s a tradition here in the Joe Zone to welcome the December solstice, when the winter invades the Northern Hemisphere. Yesterday, December 21, was that day. Excuse me while I cover my ears to protect me from the shrieking – mine, I mean.
Many people love to complain about the weather. I know I do; in fact, it’s one of my best talents. I could even say I’m gifted in the area of weather grumping. So let’s objectively examine the hated season of winter, that abysmal time of year when death would be welcome relief. I can feel myself curling up like one of the dry, lifeless leaves shriveling and shivering on my lawn, under six inches of ice.
Of course, winter isn’t all bad. Some people actually like winter, and in fact look forward to it. They enjoy the cold, the snow, the lack of light, the misery, the depression, the soul-sucking numbness that winter brings. It’s an acquired taste.
Most of us have cherished childhood memories of receiving a particularly special Christmas gift. When I was nine, my parents gave me a Flexible Flyer sled for Christmas. What a great gift! It was better than getting a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun with a compass in the stock. Parents can be tone-deaf to the cool brands that kids crave, but in this case, they hit the ball out of the park – what kid didn’t want a Flexible Flyer? They were sleek, they were cool, if you owned a Flyer, you were nobody’s fool.
We lived about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh, near my mother’s childhood home. I look back on that time as some of the most wonderful days of my childhood, unfettered by concrete and asphalt, free to roam the fields and woods and creek beds. And definitely free to ride a Flexible Flyer without crossing the paths of cars annoyingly using sledding roads for their own selfish purpose.
When we moved to the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, sledding was still on the agenda, as our house was conveniently located at the end of a “sled run.” Well, technically, it was a dead-end steep alley that intersected with a short branch of Duncan Street, then turned 90 degrees left for a short run to 54th street. All downhill, of course, and another right turn onto 54th led downhill for several blocks to Butler Street, but that would be a suicide run on a sled. Sounds great, huh?
My family recently went on our annual catastrophic vacation to Presque Isle on Lake Erie. Our usual practice is to wait till the end of the season, when our shattered nerves are just about to shove us off the precipice into an abyss of despair. The purpose of the vacation is to vanquish the summer blahs, or at least exchange them for a different set of blahs. However, on our trips, disasters customarily abound.
This year’s excursion was better than most – disasters were held at bay, or at least at Misery Bay, with only a few calamities ambushing us. Other years have featured opening ceremonies involving thunderstorms, gale-force winds, and 62 degree afternoons. In a particularly memorable breezy year, the youngest curly-haired granddaughter gleefully tossed sand in the air, directly into her eyes. As it turns out, that’s the perfect beach buzzkill.
Ma Nature was agreeable this year, with warm temps and partly sunny skies. It was one of those rare lulls this season between stifling humidity and flooding downpours, which are the only two phrases modern meteorologists need.
With the country in such a state of crankiness and tension that it seems ready to spontaneously combust, we must beware of adding any further incendiary material. In fact, we all should be trying, as some are encouraging, to emulate the amiable, if unfortunately late, Fred Rogers. We certainly wouldn’t want to use harsh, condemning language of the type used by so many politicians, and even some segments of the news/opinion media.
Our National Crabby Quotient is at too high a level to condone such irresponsible tirades and harangues. (By the way, does the word “harangue” make you hungry? It always reminds me of “meringue,” and then I think of lemon meringue pie, and the thought of the tart lemon starts my mouth watering.) We don’t want to abrogate our duty to make the world a Fredlier place, but I’m afraid there’s a topic that’s too important to leave unsaid. So I’m going to say it. We must unite, and let the world know that we will no longer put up with, tolerate, or otherwise stand for, the behavior so often exhibited by restaurant hostesses.
I’m referring, of course, to the hostess seating you, or me, or anyone, right next to the only other dining party within a quarter mile. Yes, the room is almost empty. Space abounds. Empty tables as far as my admittedly nearsighted eyes can see. You could detonate a paint bomb and not hit anyone, although that goes against emulating Fred Rogers. But if you did it anyway, just in your mind, or maybe on the Enterprise holodeck, you wouldn’t hit anyone, because almost all of the tables are empty. And yet THE HOSTESS STILL SEATS YOU NEXT TO THE TABLE WITH FOUR LOUD ADULTS, THREE WHINING KIDS, TWO CRYING BABIES, AND A BARKING DOG.
Creedence Clearwater asked who’ll stop the rain, several decades ago. I’ve never heard the answer to that question, but I sure wish I knew. Somebody needs to step up and stop this nonsense of constant precipitation.
The problem is, the weather has been squirrely the last few years. Some people attribute that to global warming, which I suppose may or may not be the case. I can encapsulate my feelings on the matter succinctly: Mother Nature is off her meds.
Old Ma Nature doesn’t know how to do anything in moderation anymore. Take rainfall, for example. Most people consider it to be beneficial, at least in reasonable amounts. The rain we get in the Joe Zone is no longer reasonable. I remember when, in the weather forecast, the word “rain” wasn’t always preceded by “heavy,” “flooding,” or “Biblical.” I think this is partly due to the “Whether-casters” (they don’t know whether it’s going to do this or do that) being melodramatic to boost ratings, but weather psychosis is definitely on the rise.
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