Unfineable

When I was in grade school, I remember people accusing each other of being “prejudice”. None of us knew what the word meant, which was perfect, because if you denied or didn’t deny it, that was reason to be mocked. Children are especially good at using any word to insult their peers. Adults have the advantage of many years of experience, though, so we don’t want to declare a winner too soon.

Today’s word is pretty insulting, at least in one sense. We can use it to mean “incapable of being refined, clarified, or purified”, which might normally be used to describe really bad wine. But if someone called you unfineable, then it would mean you not only have no class and will never have class but you couldn’t have class if you tried. Pretty harsh. Anyone who remembers “Ma and Pa Kettle” from the days of black and white TV and movies might agree that they were unfineable. Not that they were unkind or rude, but just the type of people who insist that you sit down in the kitchen, even though you have to shoo away the barnyard animals to free up the seat.

Not unfineable. A fine tree destroyed in a storm was cut into lumber used to make this fine table found in the Cinder Bar restaurant in Clarksboro, NJ, where our food was definitely fine.

There are other meanings, which hang on “fine” as a financial penalty. So either an offense or a person may not be fineable. An unfineable offense could be something that is too minor to be punished. Maybe in a library, where there is a fine for keeping a book longer than prescribed has no fine if something other than a book is borrowed, such as a newspaper from weeks ago. Just bring it back when you remember. Or never. We won’t even notice.

Celebrities would be the first folks I’d describe as unfineable in this sense, and I can’t imagine how many celebrities get by with a mild warning for speeding, running a red light, and even DUI. We only hear about the ones that don’t get away with it, but they always act surprised, as though not getting away with it is a totally new experience. Or athletes who are given a free pass because the team is winning, and when they finally get to college or even the pros, somebody decides to end the string of unpaid sins. Again, there is a sense of injustice from the (alleged) criminal athlete, and you can almost hear their lawyer whispering, “please don’t say you’ve done this for years without a problem”…

But I think the example I have seen the most would be girls getting away with a warning for speeding. It doesn’t happen every time, but I guarantee that my wife and daughters have a huge advantage over myself and my sons when it comes to speeding tickets. Often, just a smile or a few tears from them is all that is needed. But I had a friend who claimed to have dated most of the NJ State Troopers. According to her, once they know that you’d trade a date to get a warning, you get stopped all the time. So, clearly not an option (or issue) for me. I just get the ticket and pay the fine. In this sense, I am about 90% fineable.

As for the first meaning I mentioned, I remember an experience while substitute teaching in my own high school. I knew many of the teachers, and had a mostly pleasant experience with the ones I’d had for classes. But in the teachers’ lunch room, they are not always the same as in the classroom. One teacher that was mostly liked by his students spent the entire lunch period talking about every kid who did anything wrong. In contrast, there was a teacher who was not one of my favorites who was gracious and kind in the lunchroom, and who never joined in any criticism or negative talk. My opinion of her changed drastically from that experience, and I wonder if I’d have found her less annoying as a teacher if I’d known how gracious she was as a person back when I was in her class.

We all have our issues, and some more than others, and some bigger than others. But there is the saying that “while there is life, there is hope”, and I think that applies here. We may not be the best we can be, but we can keep improving. We may lack in one area but excel in another. We may even be horrible in every way, but then there’s no where to go but up! I just don’t want to declare someone a loser too soon. I don’t want to think of anyone as unfineable. It’s harsh. It’s too harsh.

Courtesan

“All the times I watched ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ and I never realized she was an escort!” Someone said this to me recently. I’ve only seen the movie once. Audrey Hepburn is superb playing the role of a delightful young woman: pretty and a bit flighty. She can barely complete a sentence before changing the subject. Everything amazes her. She believes everyone.

But she is an escort. Or, as the book’s author, Truman Capote put it, she’s a “modern day geisha”. A modern day courtesan might be a better description. Courtesans were paid for their companionship, you might say. The payment could have been primarily money, but generally it involved moving in the higher social circles. Like Holly Golightly (how’s that for a “hooker name”?), the character Hepburn plays in the movie, the courtesan entertained and amused her benefactor and well, sometimes satisfied other needs.

Breakfast at my house.

“Pretty Woman” Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts (also superb) was a prostitute turned courtesan/escort. Pretty and a bit flighty, she surely prepared for the role by studying Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, as well as Hepburn’s performance of Eliza Doolittle (these names!) in “My Fair Lady”, where she was not really a courtesan, but there is a striking similarity between these films, in any case.

Interesting note regarding Hepburn playing the lead in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, which was actually tailored for Marilyn Monroe, but Monroe rejected the role as bad for her image, of all things. And when Hepburn played the lead in “My Fair Lady”, it caused quite a stir because the lead in the play had been Julie Andrews, who had been nominated for a Tony award for her performance. Although Andrews didn’t get to be in the movie version of “My Fair Lady”, she did get to play in a different movie that year (1964), as Mary Poppins. That performance won her the Oscar, and Hepburn had to settle for a nomination.

The director of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was Blake Edwards, who is also known for creating, writing and directing the Pink Panther movies and TV show, writing and directing “10”, and dozens of other movies. And being married to Julie Andrews.

Tropophyte

There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt like I could not perform at an optimal level (or maybe even a functional level) due to one thing or another. Thinking back to yesterday, for example, when my work computer was getting some overdue patches and required several reboots. During that time, someone came to the door. And someone else called. But I was also using my phone to get ready for a meeting, since my laptop was unavailable. Or the time, years ago, when I was feeling so overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in moving out of our house that I could barely do anything.

It’s probably safe to say that everyone has had some experience with this sort of thing, whether it’s a health issue, or relationship issue, financial stress… I could go on. It makes me think that any given interaction could be with someone who’s in the middle of one thing or another that is keeping them from their best. It’s good to consider this, as it helps me give a little grace when the clerk is struggling with a price check. Or when the server brings the wrong entree. I once got a bit heated with a gas station attendant (in NJ, of course), who kept trying to top off the tank, which caused a series of small “bangs” inside the car where we had a sleeping baby. The poor guy was a gas station attendant; you might not get lots of good days in that job; I’m sure he could have used a kinder word from me.

Hibiscus blossom
The hibiscus is an example of a tropophyte, though I’m not sure about this particular one…

Right now, much of the world is working from home while the rest of the family/household is working/playing/schooling/whatever in the same homes. Also there are dogs. And babies. I know this because there are conference calls and we hear them. Or we ask questions of someone who is on mute because there are dogs barking and babies crying because UPS is ringing the doorbell, and possibly also because they didn’t hear the question anyway, for the same reasons. Lots of folks are working under sub-optimal conditions, and their performance suffers to some degree. Whole companies and even countries could be impacted. But in the meantime, it seems that the same Internet that makes working from home possible has also helped us give less grace just when more is needed. I’m not the first to note the anti-social behavior on social media.

Some folks are pretty resilient, though, and that’s great. They are like the plants that can live perfectly well in the heavy rains of the rainy season, and the heavy drought of the dry season. Those plants are called tropophytes, by the way. But many plants have similar characteristics, since most of them can’t really get up and move to a better location or fly south for the winter. Trees have rings because they hardly grow in the winter and grow fast in the summer. Bulbs like tulips and daffodils grow in the spring and summer and look like they’ve died or disappeared when it gets cold. But when it starts to warm up (even if there’s still snow on the ground!), they pop out of the ground even more than they did the year before. It reminds me of a gravestone that I saw hundreds of times in the graveyard behind the church where I grew up. It said, “Not dead, but sleepeth.”

So, not only do I need to be gracious with the folks who are not at the top of their game (or anybody’s game, for that matter), but keep my cool when I catch some criticism on my own off days. The “success coaches” would say that we should not give others the power over us by getting triggered. But if you’re already not at your peak, it’s a little harder to also keep your head on straight. It’s a worthy goal, though. Better than having a goal to crash and burn every time somebody looks at you funny. I need to be a tropophyte: suck up the rain when it pours, and just relax when everything else dries up. And be generous with the grace, including with my own self.

Beaminess

Missouri. The “show me” state. That’s where we are right now, trying to find a place to live as we move into the next stage of our life’s adventure. For us, it’s more of a “look for me” state, as that describes our experience a little better. We started out planning to simply rent an apartment close to the office. By the time we came into town, we knew that the office would probably be closed for at least the rest of the year. So an apartment with plenty of space for working from home. Or a house. We could buy one. Forget renting.

We drove to a cute little town by the river, where my wife found a modest castle that was only double our budget or so. But interest in that home waned, as new locations and options needed exploring. Today, as we drove through a town farther south, we wandered up a road (it was even paved–not all of them are), and found a lake community. My wife was beaming. Even though we’ve “been there, done that” with the lake house thing, she didn’t get it out of her system. Opposite of that, in fact. And there was a sign indicating that a house in the neighborhood was on the market. We drove all around the lake (interesting and attractive houses, well kept), until we finally found a very large, very obviously out of our price range house with a three car garage and possibly four stories. It was listed for under one million dollars. One dollar under. Literally. The beaminess suffered a major setback.

Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City.
Missouri capitol building, in the midst of a $4 million facelift. And night time.

A bit later, we drove to Jefferson City, which is the capital of Missouri, for those who were unaware, which is 30 minutes or less from the office. Many cute neighborhoods with homes in our range, as well as other interesting features. As we drove south from Columbia, approaching “Jeff City”, we came upon a relatively large hill, and my wife commented on its size. As we came around the bend and headed down the hill, it provides a sudden, excellent view of the Capitol building. And then the incredibly flat area for much of the distance to it. In truth, the Capitol is on the other side of the river, and that side is pretty hilly.

For being the capital city, it’s not that big, which is fine. We were in St. Louis over the weekend, and that’s more than big enough to make me appreciate the smaller options. But there is something to be said for a city large enough to support dozens of restaurant choices. Columbia is not a large city, but it is a college town, with Missouri University, Columbia College, and several others. All those students have amazing dining budgets, so the restaurant scene is thriving. We looked at houses in a very small town, today, where they don’t even have a grocery store. If we move there, I hope we really like that one restaurant.

Unwig

Defrock. Disbar. Unwig. What are we talking about? Removing someone’s frock, bar, or wig? Not really. Removing someone from office. Removing someone’s license to practice. Punishing someone who abused his title so offensively to have it taken away. But what is the frock, bar, and wig, and who has them to be taken away?

So glad you asked. Defrock references removing someone from the priesthood or other clergy position. The frock, in this instance, would be the robe or habit that is traditional for clergy to wear in many faiths. The bar referenced in the word, disbar, is that little fence that separates the viewers from the business end of the courtroom where the lawyers, judge, and other professionals operate. And unwig references the wigs that certain lawyers and judges wear in Great Britain and the many countries still tied to it or to its customs. Those wigs may be cartoonish to some of us, but they’re a symbol of honor in the locations where they are used.

Modern mannequins have been unwigged. And unfaced, for that matter. These two were standing in the display windows at the local Maurice store.

But wait, there’s more! It just seemed necessary to add that, since I could sense some readers were zoning out at the mention of judges in wigs. Hey, unwig also simply means to take off a wig. You may have even heard of the movie, “This is Spinal Tap” (featuring the fictional band, Spinal Tap), and its sequel called “Unwigged & Unplugged”. The later title makes reference to acoustic music played by uncostumed musicians. So there’s that.

And finally, there is the tale of Alger Hiss. Alger graduated from Johns Hopkins only to follow up with a law degree from Harvard. Lots of similar amazing things followed, like starting the United Nations. Then he was accused and eventually convicted of spying for the Soviets, because why not? And, of course, he was disbarred. But the evidence might not have been as strong as the fear of the Soviets, and he was readmitted to the bar. His disbarment was reversed. He was rebarred. Refrocked. Rewigged. His undoing was undone. Unlike me, because I am done doing.

Lucre

This is not something I expected to say at this point in my life, but I’m moving to a different state for my job. Again. This time, not my idea. Also, not my choice of locations. But it’s all good, as the saying goes. I’ll still be employed; I know not everyone can say that. And, we’ll be kinda close to close friends we’ve hardly seen in the last dozen or so years. It will be an adventure.

The new location is the middle of Missouri, which will be a first for me; I’ve always lived on the east coast. All of our children and grandchildren are on the east coast, and most of our siblings and our parents. We are expecting this to be a temporary location for us, so we will just rent a place. While we’re there, we plan to enjoy the sights and activities, and especially the visits with our friends. It really was the visits with friends that convinced us. Plus, the whole keeping the salary thing was important, too.

Actually, maybe the salary thing was really important. That little nest-egg we were growing in the stock market is a bit smaller than it was when we discussed retirement options back in the Fall. We haven’t had to tap into it, though; again, not everyone can say that. But we were pretty happy with the numbers we had when 2020 began. Less so, now that it’s half way through. Every year, July comes along and feels like the first half of the year went so fast and yet so slowly. But this year really takes the cake. And smashes it in your face.

Just some regular lucre, saving for a rainy day.

In any case, it’s really all about lucre. Money. Dinero. Benjamins. Dough. Why would anybody just up and sell a house they love, move away from family and friends to a town they’ve never even been to before, 10+ hours from their grandchildren? And at what point is it no longer lucre, but filthy lucre? Really, we all need money to pay the bills, whether it’s for needs or wants, and whether we get it from trust funds or government programs or the old fashioned will-work-for-pay kind of arrangement. So, at some point, it’s simply lucre. But there’s a line that can be crossed, and it’s filthy on the other side.

Is it a dollar amount? I mean, your favorite NFL quarterback will earn between $610,000 and $53,000,000 this year. Because that’s the salary range for all NFL quarterbacks in 2020 (not just the starters). Is that filthy? Are they all greedy so-and-sos? Or only the top 10%? What about the guy who would kill you for the cash in your pocket? It’s probably a whole lot less, and the quarterbacks aren’t killing anyone. Some other crimes, maybe, but not usually murder…. Calm down; it’s just a joke. Mostly.

If you go through the self-help section of the bookstores and libraries, you’ll find lots of books by millionaires telling you the secrets to become a millionaire. That doesn’t seem very greedy. Of course, they’re making money selling the books, so maybe a little greedy. Are the wealthiest 1% the ones who have crossed into filthy territory? or only if they support the wrong political candidate? or is it the business that they’re in? Is selling pot in states where it is legal just lucre, but where it is illegal, it’s filthy? Alright, I don’t think I’m narrowing this down very well. For now, I think I’ll be fine as long as I have a legal, legitimate job with a salary that doesn’t exceed $53 million. Unless my agent can get me more. Or at least a signing bonus that’s not big enough to be filthy, but maybe just a little scuffed up…

Consecrated

When I see or hear this week’s word, I always think of the hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be”, by Frances Ridley Havergal (1874). The first verse is:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Something or someone set apart or dedicated to the service of a deity is how the word is defined, and that’s the way it’s used in the hymn. This verse is really about the author dedicating her time to God, and in the verses that follow, she dedicates her body, mind, will, words, wealth and love. It’s one of those hymns where you really have to sing all the verses, since you wouldn’t want to give your body to God, but not your mind. Or to give your wealth but not your will.

From the sacred/semi-sacred section of the shelves.

Among the books in the accompanying photo is Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot. It is the now familiar story of five missionaries who were killed in 1955 in the Amazon jungle by the very people they were trying to reach with God’s word. They had made contact and received encouraging responses, and landed their small plane on a sandbar in the river near the settlement. After some days, there were no more radio updates to their wives and families. Concern grew, hope faded. They had all been killed. Two or three of the women (and children!) were able to actually continue the missionary work to the very people who had killed their husbands or brothers. The last hymn the five men sang before going off to their death was “We Rest on Thee”, by Edith G. Cherry (1895), which includes:

When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with thee, through endless days.

This is the challenge of the idea of being set aside for a sacred purpose, as these men were. Do we accept that their deaths were the intended purpose? Or do we shake our fists to heaven, shouting, “How could you do this?!” It’s okay to be set aside for a sacred purpose in our hometown, where it’s safe. But to be sent thousands of miles from home to be killed by those you have come to serve, well that’s not as easy to accept. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Unfortunately, we can only prove that once.

Though I quoted only a small amount of two hymns by two different authors, I do see a similarities in what is quoted. Both reference time and eternity twisted together. The first refers to moments and days and “ceaseless praise”. The second actually uses the oxymoron, “endless days”. The second adds another twist in that it is speaking of victory in death, which is not just the proof that we were fit to live, but also the chance to rest with God forever, just on the other side of death.

Kogai

The Japanese have a word for a hairdressing tool which is probably also a dagger which is part of a sword mount. It also means protege. This blog has considered some words with odd combinations of meanings before, but with kogai, we may have a winner.

Fancy knife which is neither kogai nor even Japanese. But it posed nicely.


There’s the often repeated “fact” that Eskimos have 23 different words for snow. Or 50. Or more. The point is that words can represent what is important to a culture. It would be unlikely that a language used only by a people living near the equator had even a single word for snow. But maybe they have a few words for hot. Something for dry heat, for example, like you would find in Arizona, or your oven. And another for humid heat, so no one would say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” because there’d be a special word for that kind of heat.

So somebody, or maybe a bunch of folks, started designing and making sword mounts with integrated dagger-like hairdressing tools so they had to make up a new word for it, right? Nope; they used a word they already had. They called it a protege, because that basically means a child being mentored by an adult, which is kinda like a dagger on a sword mount, right? I’m no Japanese language scholar, but that’s probably as good a theory as any other.

But wait; there’s more! Masamichi Kogai is the former CEO of Mazda; he is now the Chairman of the Board. And kogai also means small shellfish. You might think that would translate directly into English as “shrimp”. But you’d be wrong. An Asian island country must have dozens of words for shrimp. But apparently, kogai is not one of them.

In closing, some of us may remember that during the early 90’s, the Mazda 323 was called the Protege. Coincidence, Mr. Kogai?

Unusurped

There is certainly diversity when it comes to taste in Art. My own opinions may be relatively strong, but that’s not what this post is about. Okay, other than to say that the Birmingham Art Museum is my favorite, and Dallas is probably my least favorite. But that’s all I have to say about that. And there are forms of Art that I don’t even know about. One that was new to me, at least as a style or genre, is “Assemblage”. This is basically the obvious word meaning.

An example which is pertinent to today’s post is by artist Jimmy Descant, and it is called “Yah-Ta-Hey, Unusurped”. And while “assemblage” may perfectly describe the style, the name of this piece is, well, opposite of that. It is a swastika-like shape made from crutches screwed onto a small piece of plywood. Once the main shape was created during a live event, audience members placed scraps of cloth on the piece, representing problems they were releasing from their lives.

A piece of my own art, created by improving someone else’s art (hopefully unusurped).
“Into Beauty” Photography c. 2017



Unusurped, meaning something that has not been illegally seized or taken (yes, a bit of a double-negative), is an odd choice to include in the name of such a piece, but you might not notice that after the “Yah-Ta-Hey” part. In any case, I’ll post the URL to the video, if you want to watch the process/performance. My favorite part is when he begins by tossing the crutches up and they come down on his head. Perhaps he had not thought that out as thoroughly as he should have.

The idea of the scraps of cloth representing problems being released reminds me of some New Years’ Eve church services I’ve been to, where the problems/sins/struggles of the outgoing year are written on a paper and destroyed, so that they are not carried into the new year. It’s an excellent concept, no matter how it is represented. I’m a big fan of leaving last year’s troubles behind. Or yesterday’s. Having a separation between days (called “night”) is a great way to get a new start. Every new day is a second chance or, maybe a second ten thousandth chance. The point is to start over, but not at the beginning. Starting with pretty much all the good things, but leaving the bad ones behind. What is there not to love about that plan?

They say that art imitates life, and that life imitates art. And even though I said I wasn’t going to express more about my taste in art, I’m going to say that I would not want “Yah-Ta-Hey, Unusurped” in my house, or even make a trip to a museum to see it. But I like the way it ends: with a fresh start. Which is also odd, since it’s at the end.

Jimmy Descant Live Assemblage “Yah-Ta-Hey, Unusurped”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi3IM179N3Y

Jowl

If you were to google the word, “jowl”, you would likely find the first page or 20 to be filled with information on reducing the saggy skin that hangs down on the side of some folks jaws. You’d also see a definition or two, a reference to dog jowls, and maybe some recipes involving hog jowl, a/k/a “jowl bacon”. What?! They make bacon out of pig faces? Why haven’t I heard of this before?

Having grown up outside of Philly, I only know one food made from pig faces: scrapple. Unfortunately, some scrapple includes liver, which makes it taste way to much like, well, liver. And I mean that in the most not-a-good-thing way. Additionally, it is often eaten by Eagles fans with ketchup, which is not my preference. Scrapple is pork scraps (face meat, at least in part), cooked with cornmeal and spices, then cooled in a loaf shape, then sliced and fried like bacon. The surface is crispy, and the inside is still soft. I eat it with a little maple syrup, while most everybody else at the table is reaching for the ketchup.

My wife and I visiting Sonny’s, my favorite BBQ restaurant chain (headquarters in FL).

Having lived in Georgia for about 14 years, and another 14 in Virginia, I don’t think I’ve ever had jowl bacon. Apparently, it’s an ingredient in a popular New Year’s Day special dish in the South, called Hoppin’ John. Primarily made with jowl bacon or ham hocks, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, served on/with/in rice. Eating pork on New Year’s Day represents hope of an abundant year ahead, while the peas are to bring good luck and the greens bring the money. Unfortunately for me, black-eyed peas and greens also bring distinctive flavors I usually try to avoid.

When we first moved to Georgia, there were several culinary differences that were pretty noticeable.

  1. Sweet tea/unsweet tea, and plenty of it: this is not as big a deal anymore, as many chain restaurants serve sweet tea. But in most of the world back then, if you asked for sweet tea, you might get a genius answer like, “we have tea, and we have sugar, so….”.
  2. BBQ: there was barbecue everywhere. And it’s not just sliced meat with Arby’s sauce or burgers on the grill, for you uncultured swines. It would be smoked pork (or beef brisket, if you’re from Texas), with a secret recipe sauce (ie. not Kraft). The pork would most likely be pulled, chopped, or ribs. And everybody else does it wrong.
  3. Mexican: almost as many Mexican restaurants as BBQ restaurants, and they all had dedicated servers that only went around refilling tea glasses (“Sweet or Unsweet?”) and chips and salsa bowls.
  4. Southern: Cracker Barrel didn’t go further north than Virginia, back then, and I still haven’t seen a restaurant in the North serving “one meat, two vegetables” in cafeteria style. When my sister came to visit, she thought she was supposed to get one of everything. The cashier had to call over the manager to work that out.
  5. Hot sauce: any kind, every kind, no such thing as too much.
Here I am in front of Virgil’s in NYC. Don’t be fooled by the entrance: it’s huge and wonderful.

Back then, it was harder to get good cheese steaks or even pizza in Georgia. Not so much anymore. People like good food, and they like the food they grew up with. So good, regional food tends to find its way into new places. One of my favorite BBQ restaurants is actually Virgil’s, in New York City. And guess what you can buy in Georgia, now: scrapple. But the locals wouldn’t eat it with ketchup, so just pass the jug of hot sauce.

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