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Category: Opinion

Purple prose and vile puns

The 2011 Bulwer-Lytton prizes have been announced! This is something to which I look forward every year because 1) they are hilarious, and 2) they allow me to fill this space other people’s wretched writing instead of my own.
The awards, launched in 1982, are sponsored by San Jose (Calif.) State University and are named for 19th century British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who was the first to pen the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Contest entrants compose an atrocious opening line for an imaginary novel.   The grand prize winner for 2011 is  . . . Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wisc., who wrote:
“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”
Runner-up, from Rodney Reed of Ooltewah, Tenn., is:
“As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.”
And my personal favorites, in no particular order:
“As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.” – Mike Pedersen, North Berwick, Maine
“Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler – who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne – or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses.” – Mark Wisnewski,
Flanders, N.J.
“The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog,’ though in L.A. the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.” – Jack Barry, Shelby, N.C.
“Monroe Mills’ innovative new fabric-dyeing technique was a huge improvement over stone-washing: denim apparel was soaked in color and cured in an 800-degree oven, and the company’s valued young dye department supervisor was as skilled as they came; yes, no one could say Marilyn was a normal jean baker.” – Marvin Veto, Greensboro, N.C.
And my very favorite:
“Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den.” – Joe Wyatt, Amarillo, Texas

The rest can be found at www.bulwer-lytton.com

— Karen Zautyk

We’ve Got Mail

To the Publisher:
A week before Christmas I received a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends Frankie Ferriero.  When I heard his voice, I knew something wasn’t right.  He said, “Jack, our Friend Mickey D passed away.” We both cried a little but laughed a lot thinking about our times with Mickey when we were kids and later coaching with him in the Harrison Little League and Harrison/ East Newark Junior Football League. I’m writing this letter now as I remember Mickey’s  birthday in July.
Mickey was my first soccer coach when I was 7 and he continued to watch out for me (and many others) as we grew up.  Mickey was a very generous man who gave freely to the kids without asking anything in return.  He was basically like a father to me for a long time.
As I grew into adulthood, Mickey and I remained friends. I would call him or stop by the high school at a game and sit and talk to him and catch up on life.
I just want to thank Mickey for his almost 40 years of service to the children of Harrison.  Mickey loved the kids like they were his own.  To his children, Deirdre, Michael, Catrina and Nicholas,  I want you to know I miss and loved your Dad very much. As a former Harrison Little League president, and on behalf of all the players and coaches who worked with or played against you, Mickey,  I want to thank you for all that you did for the children of Harrison.  I love and miss you!

Jack Thompson
Former Harrisonian and East Newarker!

At cross purposes with nonbelievers

What is it with atheists and symbols of faith—particularly, it seems, symbols of Christianity?
Not content with their ongoing crusade — one abetted by the ACLU — to ban Nativity scenes from every piece of public property, some atheists last December spent good money, money that could have been used to feed the hungry or, for some other act of Christian or non-Christian charity, to post a huge billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel.
“You know it’s a myth,” read the sign, referring to Christmas.
If we already know that, why the need to tell us?
In fact, why the need to continually confront people of faith? If we are as misguided as the atheists say, they should have pity on us and leave us alone to stumble blindly through our lives of delusion.
But no. They’re always looking for a fight.
The latest is over the Ground Zero cross.
Last week, that cross, formed by two steel beams of the World Trade Center, was returned to the site of the 9/11 attacks to become part of the 9/11 Museum.
The beams in the shape of a cross had been found in the mountain of wreckage during recovery operations and stood for months at Ground Zero as a symbol of hope to those who labored there. Not all of whom were Christian.
It was, and is, one of the iconic images of the tragedy and the aftermath, and as such deserves its place in the museum.
But a group called American Athiests is suing to have it removed. Apparently, their sensitivities are offended.
According to a statement issued by the organization’s president: “The World Trade Center cross has become a Christian [our capitalization] icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their God, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross.”
Don’t know about you, but I feel sorry for a guy who thinks like that. I will say a prayer for him.
In any case, American Atheists say the inclusion of the cross in the museum is unconstitutional. If the cross stays, then all faiths, and no faith, must be equally represented.
I have no problem with that. But it does present a quandary.
Atheists don’t believe in anything, so how to represent them in the 9/11 museum?
Obviously, by absolutely NOTHING.
— Karen Zautyk

We’ve Got Mail

To the Publisher,
As a Kearny resident since 1986, and avid Observer reader, I would like to make a couple of suggestions to both the Kearny Police Department and The Observer.
These suggestions will lower crime, and improve the quality of life for all residents.  They will also send an important message to the criminal element that the residents and police in Kearny will work together to prevent crime, and to locate and apprehend wanted persons.
1. All arrests of criminals occurring in Kearny and published by The Observer shall include a photograph of the subject, along with his name, street address and pedigree.
2. The KPD will furnish The Observer with “Wanted” posters of individuals currently being sought by the KPD.
All of the above is public information. The Observer can print a disclaimer indicating these individuals are all presumed innocent until convicted.
How will this help?  As we travel around Kearny, we see people walking up and down the various streets and avenues.  We pay attention to strangers we see near our homes and our neighbors’ homes.  If we see a stranger walking around our neighborhood, and realize that this individual was recently arrested for criminal activity by the KPD, we could contact the KPD.
A large part of (former New York) Mayor Giuliani’s crime-fighting strategy centered on outstanding warrants.  These people were already wanted by the police for criminal offenses, and until apprehended would continue committing crimes.  Publishing “Wanted” posters of  offenders would add several thousand sets of eyes looking for such individuals.
I believe both suggestions are doable with very little cost.
Brian Gaven

’Scuse me while I kiss this guy

Today’s column is about mondegreens. These are not vegetables. “Mondegreen” is the term for a misheard lyric.
The other day, I bought a CD of  ’60s hits and found myself singing along in the car with Percy Sledge: “When a maaaan loves a wal-nut . . . .”
I never actually thought that’s what Sledge was saying (I didn’t!).   But “When a Man Loves a Walnut” is the title of a favorite book, a hilarious collection of misheard lyrics compiled by author Gavin Edwards.
I used to have one of the book’s illustrations posted over my desk. It showed a covey of cute little owls upchucking on a mattress, this, to portray a mondegreen from “Help Me, Rhonda.”
What the Beach Boys sang was, “Well since she put me down, I’ve been out doin’ in my head….”
What some people heard was: “Well since she put me down, there’ve been owls pukin’ in my bed.”
Hey. I didn’t say the mondegreen had to make sense. Although some do.

On a website devoted to misheard lyrics,  www.kissthisguy.com, there’s a post from a Canadian woman who notes that her 4-year-old son thought their national anthem ended not with “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” but “Oh Canada, we stand on cars and freeze.”

Not that farfetched.
As for our own anthem, consider “. . . Pilgrims bursting in air.”
Then we have classic Dylan: “The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind, the ants are a-blowin’ in the wind.”
Or Simon and Garfunkel: “Captain Picard’s on the New Jersey Turnpike.”
Patsy Cline: “I call for pizzas.”
Johnny Cash: “I’m stuck in a wholesome prison.”
Or U2, “Where the sheeps have lo mein.”
Titles can also be misheard.

I was in a NYC pub where someone asked that the band play Paul McCartney’s “Mulligan’s Tired.”
As for why “mondegreen,” here’s the story: The term dates to the 1950s and was coined in an essay by author Sylvia Wright, who told of how, as a child, she had misheard a line in an old Scottish ballad, “The Bonny Earl o’ Murray.”
The song begins:

Ye highlands and ye lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray,
And laid him on the green.
She thought it referred to a double murder: “They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”
Considering that the ballad is written partially in Scottish dialect, I’m surprised that’s all she misheard.

— Karen Zautyk

P.S. One free copy of The Observer to the first person (NOT from the Woodstock generation) who can identify the headline on this column. No googling!
P.P.S. On another matter entirely: During this sultry weather, please provide a dish of water for the wild birds. The poor things are hopping around with their beaks open. Birds get thirsty, too.

Advice about (and for) carjackers

In light of the report of two “bump and run” carjackings in Kearny within 24 hours [see p. 1 story), I decided to do a little research on the crime. Like, what do you do if you get “bumped” yourself?
One officer we spoke to suggested that, rather than getting out of your vehicle,  you drive slowly to a gas station or some other well-lit place where there are plenty of people.
And call 911.
Surfing the web, we found an abundance of info on the Pittsburgh Police Department site, which notes: “Most carjackings happen in as little as 15 seconds, when the thief (generally armed) suddenly appears and demands that the driver surrender the car.”
Fifteen seconds!
It also notes: “The FBI reports that the primary motives for carjacking are to secure transportation . . . to commit another crime, such as drug trafficking.”  Which likely explains why the two Kearny vehicles were so quickly abandoned: The culprits may have  used them for  some other felony and then dumped them.
The Pittsburgh cops warn that carjackers “attack motorists at traffic lights  [and stop signs], gas stations, parking lots, fast food drive-thrus and in other areas where they are stopped or exiting their vehicles.”
And, as happened in Kearny: “. . . thieves in one car pull up behind an unsuspecting driver and bump the driver’s car. When the driver gets out to inspect the damage, the thieves forcibly take control of the car.”
The Pa. police advise always locking your car doors and suggest driving in the center lane on highways to reduce  chances of becoming a bump-and-run victim. But I wonder: In the dead of night, when traffic is light, would that really matter?
In any case, we need to note that the Internet offers advice not merely to potential victims. We also found: What to Do If You Are Caught Carjacking. This is, of course, from the website of a lawyer.
He begins a July 4 blog post by noting that “some people have not had such a good weekend so far” and details a gunpoint carjacking/abduction in his neck of the woods. He then offers: “If you have ever been charged with robbery, burglary, or theft (especially carjacking), you need a criminal defense lawyer who’s going to be aggressive when fighting for your legal rights. [Yada, yada, yada.] Have a fun and safe holiday.”
No, you can’t make this stuff up.
— Karen Zautyk

P.S.  At the bottom of the blog is a comment  from a woman who calls the lawyer’s post “opportunistic and despicable” and who asks, “Why don’t you just say, ‘Go ahead and rob and terrorize victims to your heart’s content. I’m here to defend you’?”
Her name is Karen.
It wasn’t me. Although …

Sitting in judgment

Some years ago, I was a juror on a criminal case in New York City. There were heated arguments during deliberations. Every vote we took was 10 to 2. We ended up being sequestered overnight, continued the debate in the morning, and finally reached a unanimous verdict.
“Not guilty.”
This, even though some of us figured the defendant was guilty of something.
The problem was, the prosecution presented a lousy case. The state left us with more questions than answers, and no answers at all that added up to a conviction. It did not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In good conscience, we could not convict on the charges before us.
A few of us figured the guy would end up incarcerated sooner or later. He had an odd and unforgettable name, and last week I Googled it and discovered that, sure enough, he was later found guilty in another criminal case and landed in prison.  Justice delayed is not always justice denied.
I’m recalling all this, of course, because of the Casey Anthony verdict, and you are by now probably thinking I agree with it.
No. I do not.
Unlike the case on which I sat, the prosecution in  Florida did, to my mind, a superb job.
“But it was all circumstantial,” is the argument. And so? Consider that it could hardly have been otherwise. Because of the delay in learning that Caylee Anthony was, indeed, missing. (And just what/who deliberately caused that delay?) And then all the time to find the by-then-disintegrated remains.
Cases can be decided on circumstantial evidence, and in this one I believe the evidence was powerful. Trials do not always involve unchallengeable forensics, despite what our TV-crime-show culture would have us believe.
Every time I hear the “circumstantial” comment, I think of the quote from Thoreau: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
In Orlando, there was an overwhelming odor of trout.
There’s another quote, one which I have heard often (and in various versions) in the last few days: “It is better that 10 guilty men go free than to incarcerate one innocent man.”
A pronouncement by 18th century British jurist Sir William Blackstone, the concept is one of the cornerstones of our American system of justice.
Reading up on this, I came across an intriguing response to Blackstone: “Better for whom?”
That got me thinking, and I have a modest proposal: If we so venerate Blackstone’s viewpoint, if that is truly how we balance the scales of justice, why bother to have criminal trials at all?  Just let everyone go. Why even risk a mistake in judgment?  Besides, since all suspects are innocent until proven guilty, the system would be freeing only innocent people, right?
Think of the money the government could save.
Talk amongst yourselves.
— Karen Zautyk

We’ve Got Mail

To the Publisher:
I am writing this letter in total disgust.
Like many of you, I live on a tight budget, so tight at the end of the month, I don’t meet my obligations. On the morning of July 8, 2011, I was driving down Kearny Avenue when a man stepped out into a crosswalk. And I got stopped like many others that morning and got a $200 ticket for not stopping – clearly a trap by the Kearny Police Department.
I find the entrapment insulting to the people of Kearny. If our police department has nothing more to do than give the hard-working people of Kearny tickets that were clearly set-up, then, maybe they need to concentrate more on the honest side of ticketing, like wrongfully overnight parking, double-parking, meter parking, etc. But to set ridiculous traps is just the bottom of the barrel for police work.
Just maybe our police department is over-staffed – time to cut the fat and stop picking on the good citizens of Kearny.

Anthony Zullo

The voice of the turtle is heard in the land

By now, you likely have heard about the great turtle invasion at JFK Airport, but if you are in the dark, let me enlighten you.
Last week, a herd (flock? pack? pod?) of diamondback turtles caused flight delays when they crawled out of Jamaica Bay and crept across the runways, heading for nesting grounds on a beach on the other side.
On Wednesday alone, about 150 of the reptiles had to be retrieved from the tarmac and relocated by Port Authority workers, who rounded them up and eventually chauffeured them to the sands, where they (the turtles, not the PA workers) could lay their eggs. This apparently happens every summer.
My favorite description of the incident came from George Stephanopoulos, who called it a “sort of a slow-motion stampede.”
Personally, I am glad the PA is a quasi-autonomous agency, because if  Mayor Bloomberg had his way, I am certain he’d have ordered the creatures killed, as he did the Canada geese living near the airport. The geese reportedly will be served to the homeless. At least terrapin stew is not yet on the menu.
However, there is a bit more to this turtle saga.
Remember last week when told you about alien visitors living among us in human or animal form? I addressed the human-form variety, but not the other. I can now reveal that the turtles-heading-for-nests is just a cover story.
My sources tell me that what actually happened is this: A charter-flight UFO landed in the swamps near Jamaica Bay and all the passengers, disguised for their earthly visit as diamondbacks, got sick of waiting on line at customs and broke free, heading for the beach.
It’s understandable. Most of them were on 10-day discount packages (all-inclusive: meals, nest, turtle costume) and they didn’t want to waste time hanging around an airport.
These were just tourists, but other animal-form extraterrestrials have extended visas, or even permanent residency. Some have even become celebrities. Just about any night, you can see one on Craig Ferguson’s show: Secretariat. Trust me. The horse is an alien.
So is the rodent that lives on Donald Trump’s head.
And the Aflac duck.
And the little piggy that cries “Wee, wee, wee!” all the way home.
And Snuggle, the fabric-softener bear.
I’m sure you could name some others about which you have had suspicions.
Of course. What ordinary dog is smart enough to memorize a script? And in a foreign language, no less?
—Karen Zautyk

P.S. In response to last week’s column, a friend emailed me a story about UFOs being sighted the other day over central London. Her comment: “Hey, it looks like they got themselves a better travel agent!”

We’ve got mail

To the Publisher:
Who would have thunk? Meat and potatoes — basic staple of the American diet, now held responsible for our growing obesity epidemic.
A federally funded Harvard University analysis of data collected over 20 years from more than 120,000 Americans found that meat and potatoes were the main culprits in weight gain, while fruits, vegetables, and nuts prevented weight gain. The analysis was published in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
So much for the meat industry’s claim of high-nutrient density for their product. It’s more like high weight density.
So, the next time the fast food clerk asks if “you want fries with that,” tell him to hold the greasy hamburger and give you a nice salad instead.

Kenneth Miller