WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?

There’s a meme I see often on the Internet—shown here on a T-shirt sold by www.spreadshirt.com.  WWLD–What Would Lombardi Do? It refers, of course, to Vince Lombardi, the late Green Bay Packers coach whose name is synonymous with winning.

I’ve had four days to reflect on the debacle in Seattle: the Packers’ 36-16 drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks. What rankles most—what really frosts me—is the Packers’ failure to throw a pass to All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman’s side of the field. That’s right, the offense operated on half the field. It just seemed so … how can I say it? … so un-Lombardi-esque.

I wrote of Lombardi in Incomplete Passes: “The main lesson I remember is that he didn’t focus on an opponent’s weakness. Instead, he looked for their strength and attacked them there. If the Packers executed perfectly, the opposition couldn’t beat them. We’d take away their best weapon and leave them nothing to use against us.”

Following this philosophy, Lombardi, rather than avoiding Sherman, would have engaged him immediately. It could have been a spectacular fail, in which case the Packers would be no worse off than they are now. But if the play had succeeded, it not only would have put points on the Packers’ side of the scoreboard, it might have taken the crowd, Seattle’s famed Twelfth Man, out of the game.

Did I just imagine that this was Lombardi’s credo, and if it indeed was, why didn’t the Packers’ current coach, Mike McCarthy, go along with it? Was this simply the fevered fancy of a smitten fan, a young girl in Lombardi’s day? Time for some research.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne confirmed my thinking. In an article headed “Packers played scared vs. Seahawks and it cost them,” Dunne quoted Sherman himself, saying via Twitter, “When you are great, you make your opponent adjust to you. You don’t adjust to suit them.”

That still didn’t address the issue of what Vince would have done. But I quickly found corroboration in Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi by Michael O’Brien (1987, William Morrow & Company, Inc.). O’Brien wrote: “Borrowing from Colonel Earl Blaik, Vince occasionally tried to destroy an opponent’s morale by attacking its strength. ‘If you can bring down their best men, it’s all over,’ he argued.” O’Brien qualified his statement by saying Vince sometimes took the easy route. But my theory was valid.

More proof comes from Run to Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership, by Donald T. Phillips (2007, St. Martin’s Press): “While the Packers devised separate game plans for each opponent, there also were a number of general strategies that were employed on a consistent and regular basis. One general strategy frequently employed, for instance, was to focus on whatever strong points their opponents had. ‘(His philosophy) was to attack a man at his strength,’ remembered seven-time All-Pro center Jim Ringo, ‘and once they were vulnerable the weaker points would come more readily. That’s the way we attacked as a team.’”

 

Statue of Vince Lombardi outside Lambeau Field

I get it, Coach McCarthy. This is 2014, not 1965. Tradition is glorious, but it also can be terrible to live up to. It can’t be easy to come to work every day at Lambeau Field on Lombardi Avenue, where the walls drip with memories and comparisons (even from people like me, who have never played the game) are not only inevitable but often unflattering. It’s unfair to make you operate in the shadow of a coach who died when you were not quite seven years old, and who probably seems as distant as George Washington to your players. But I believe my argument stands.

Richard Sherman is a talented performer, probably almost as good as he thinks he is, but he isn’t Superman. Coach, you’ve got Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game. Jarrett Boykin, who lined up on Sherman’s side, may be your #3 receiver, but he generally lives up to his Twitter handle, @BoyKinHeCatch. Couldn’t you have pitted them against Sherman even once? It might not have worked, but it would have sent a different message, not only to the Seahawks but also to the Packers’ underperforming defense.

Okay, I know this was only one game. The Packers can conceivably go 15-1 and meet the Seahawks again in the playoffs. With a few breaks, that may even take place at Lambeau instead of CenturyLink Field. I’ll be in Green Bay next Sunday, and I fully expect to see my Packers throttle the New York Jets …. on Alumni Weekend, with Lombardi-era legends Willie Davis, Bart Starr, Dave Robinson, and Boyd Dowler looking on.

But, Coach Mike, as you prepare for that game, I hope you’ll think what I’ve been thinking: What would Lombardi do? And, whatever it is, for God’s Vince’s sake, do it.

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I NEED TO HEAR MY OWN VOICE

I never feel as grown up as when I’m embarking on a solo road trip.

“What?” you’re saying. “She’s almost sixty-seven years old. How could she feel anything but adult?”

But look at it this way: For the first twenty-one years of my life, I lived with my parents. In January 1969, I moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Fremont, Ohio, where I took possession of my first apartment, first job, and first cat. I was engaged then, but didn’t expect to be married for a year or two. Well, circumstances changed. I ended up leaving Fremont in late February and moving back into my parents’ home until Scott and I were married at the end of March.

 

 

So out of almost sixty-seven years—can you believe it?—I have lived on my own for only two months. All the rest of that time, I’ve been somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife. A lot of my decisions have been made for me by others, and the ones I made were skewed toward the needs of others. I haven’t been in control.

But in my car, out on the interstate, it’s different. I can stop when I choose, stay where I choose, and buy what I choose. If an emergency happens, it’s up to me to fix it. And I’m confident that I can.

I’m leaving tomorrow evening for a quick visit to Green Bay. I’m going simply because I want to, and that in itself is a departure. I’m not going for a wedding or a funeral, a class or family reunion, a theatrical performance, or even a football game. I’ll attend the Packers’ Family Night practice, but that’s not the main reason I’m going. I just want to connect with some old friends and meet some Facebook buddies in person.

I’m hoping this trip will facilitate a shift in my life. I haven’t done much writing for the past year and a half. I’ve never really had writer’s block before, but I guess that’s what this is. I don’t have much to say, and what I do write comes out flat. I thought I developed a distinctive voice when I wrote Incomplete Passes. I’m not hearing that voice right now. I’ve started a novel, but after a year and a half, my progress has stalled at 25,000 words. Some authors get that far in a weekend.

So I’m going home, back to where it all started, back to where I first learned to string words together. I’m going to get my feet on flat ground and my head on straight. I need to hear my own voice again. And I think I will hear it when I visit my familiar haunts: Lambeau Field; the rocky, windswept shore of the bay; the downtown nestled on the Fox River.

I hope to come back with a new sense of myself—and, if things work out, something wonderful for you. At least I know I’m trying, and that should help. Watch this space.

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I’M NOT DEAD YET!

It’s been two weeks since the incident, but I’m still getting an occasional funny look at my health club.

On Tuesdays I often attend a water aerobics class, but I missed that one to wait at home for a repairman. Once he’d completed his job, I still needed to work out, so I went to the club. As I approached the entrance, I met my classmate Connie, coming out. She looked at me, did a double take, and gasped.

I looked down at myself.  Was I having a wardrobe malfunction?  But, no, Connie quickly explained. Someone had said in class that they’d heard one of our members, Linda, had passed away. No one knew this Linda’s last name, and Connie had thought of me. Now that she could see I was alive, she was concerned about a close friend of hers, also named Linda and also absent from class. She was heading to the other Linda’s home to check on her.

Now, Linda happens to be a very popular name for women born in the 1940s. One of my BFFs, three months younger than I am, is a Linda. President Lyndon Johnson had a daughter named Lynda, born in 1944. There are actually Linda/Lynda conventions held around the United States, and I bet most of the participants were born in the ‘40s or early ‘50s. I’ve read that 1948 was the peak year for Lindas. Arriving in October ’47, I just missed it.

It’s logical that my water aerobics class, which is geared to women of a certain age, could include several Lindas. Frankly, we don’t all know each other’s names. Water aerobics isn’t particularly conducive to conversation, and besides, people our age don’t remember things as well as they used to. Then there’s the bathing suit factor. For example, most of us know that the lady in the red suit is Carol. If Carol shows up in a blue suit, we may not recognize her. But enough people knew my name to raise concern about me.

It turned out that Connie’s friend Linda isn’t the late Linda, either. We’re still trying to figure out who she is … uh, was. And that’s why I’m still getting funny looks.

I feel sort of like the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Remember the scene where a cart makes its rounds in a plague-ridden village? “Bring out your dead!” the driver calls. A villager carries an elderly man out to the cart and tries to put him aboard. “I’m not dead,” the old fellow keeps insisting. (Eventually the driver conks him on the head and throws him onto the cart. I hope that isn’t going to happen to me.)

What if we never identify the Linda who died? Maybe she wasn’t really in our class. Maybe she’s just an urban legend, like the Beatles with “Paul is dead.”  Do you suppose, if you play, let’s say, the Green Bay Packers’ fight song backward, it will tell you that I’m gone?

As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” And that beats the alternative, after all. Except for the funny looks. At least people aren’t crossing themselves at the sight of me. Not yet, anyway.

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SCARY GOOD

“That’s Katie?” 

Recently our niece posted a link to an audio track of her daughter singing “Let It Go,” the Idina Menzel number from Frozen. Katie is eight and has never had voice lessons. But you wouldn’t know that from listening. Katie is … scary good. Hear for yourself.  http://www.scottburkett.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Let-It-Go.mp3

My family has had its share of performers, but no one’s hit the big time. My father dreamed of an acting career. He was lucky enough to land a “real job” during the Depression and opted instead for security. He ended up as a small-town retailer who got his kicks from community theatre. He was a fine actor, though. Once I happened upon him getting into character before a show, and for a moment I didn’t recognize my own dad.

My sister-in-law, Katie’s grandmother, also possesses acting talent. As a girl, she auditioned for a role that could have launched her career. When the call came, her parents politely told the director that their daughter was not available. For years, she didn’t know she’d been chosen. She’s had the good life her parents wanted for her—as the wife of a prosperous attorney—but surely she wonders what might have been.

My husband, a talented percussionist, passed up music studies in college, seeking a more stable profession. He cites intense competition and drug use in the world of popular music, and says that if he’d become a professional drummer, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.

With my father’s blessing, I went off to Northwestern University to study theatre. My professors quickly pointed out flaws in my stage presence. I didn’t have the passion to try to fix them, knowing the slim chance of employment even if I prevailed.

And then came our son, who gets his gift from both sides. As a child, he acted in local commercials and industrial films, and when he was a little older than Katie, he too gave a performance that was scary good. He taped an audition for a feature film called Little Man Tate, scheduled to shoot here in Cincinnati. When he finished reading for the title role of Fred Tate, the adults in the room looked at each other and said, “Oooohh.”  Unfortunately we never learned what the casting director thought, because the project got shelved for four years. By the time it was revived, our son was too old to play Fred.

We couldn’t argue when our son wanted to major in theatre performance. He got his degree, but never had the chutzpah to storm New York or Hollywood. Instead he lives in Seattle, where once again he does the occasional commercial, industrial, or improv show. His most notable gig was a part in one episode of NBC’s Grimm, filmed in Portland. Like so many other professional actors, he makes his living from food service. His agent says he’s still growing into his character type. He could be one of the fortunate few whose careers take off at forty. We’re hoping.

And now … now we have Katie, beautiful Katie who sings with a strangely adult timbre and a natural vibrato. Of course, Katie is only eight. She may announce in a few years that she’s bored with singing and wants to become a veterinarian or a preschool teacher. But in the meantime, we can’t help wondering.

Will Katie be the family member who goes to the top? And what demons will she have to fight to get there? Will she become a star—or just one more person to whom life throws … incomplete passes?

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THE NFL HATES ME

The NFL must hate me. Every year, as I wait for the Green Bay Packers’ schedule to come out, I think they won’t screw up my life as badly as they did last year. Every year they kick me in the face.

It’s my job to arrange the annual pilgrimage to Wisconsin with my friends Pam, Del, and Carla—the trip that provided the basis for my book, Incomplete Passes. “How hard can that be?” you ask. “You pick out a game, pick up the phone, and there you are.”

Well, it’s not that easy. Which game should we see? Should we catch a division rival—Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota? Should we stand by as Tom Brady leads the New England Patriots into town? Frankly, we pick our games by the weather.

My BFF Pam is sixty-seven years old, and she’s spent about forty of those years in Louisiana. That’s a long way and a long time removed from our Wisconsin girlhood. These days, she considers fifty degrees frigid. It’s not just Pam—none of us can take the cold the way we used to. But the NFL is into this “frozen tundra” mystique. They pack the schedule with November and December games at Lambeau Field. Brrrrr.

I survey September. The Packers have only one home game, on the fourteenth against the Jets. The Jets from the AFC? Who wants to see the Jets? It might have been fun to watch our old quarterback Brett Favre play for the Jets, but he hasn’t been with them since 2008. Looks like we’re stuck with them. At least it’s a 3:25 start. The Packer Fan Tours tailgate party begins three hours before the game, so we can eat bratwurst at lunchtime, not 9:00. “You’d eat breakfast sausage at 9:00 AM, wouldn’t you?” I’ve asked. “What’s the difference?” My friends shook their heads and made faces.

The 3:25 start also means I can transport Pam to and from mass before they start closing streets. Atheist driver thanks God!

Can we snag hotel rooms within walking distance of the stadium? After a two-and-a-half hour bus ride a few years ago, over a distance we’d have covered in ten minutes any other day, we’ve decided that’s essential. We’ve stayed at the Springhill Suites for several years now. The pool is tiny—Del takes three strokes one way, three back—but the rooms are big. Hope they’ll have rooms left with two beds. I won’t name names, but one of us snores. We’d save money by booking a room for four, but four boomer women and one bathroom? Forget it. We’d never get out of the room.

Now I just have to wait until Packer Fan Tours posts the prices on their website. I’ve probably checked the website thirty times today, but the prices aren’t there yet. At least this is easier since the advent of e-mail and on-line booking. I used to make phone call after phone call—and I hate making phone calls.

I’d hoped to see a second game this year. The Packers go to Seattle, and my son lives there. But the NFL made Packers-Seahawks the Thursday night opener, the premier game of the season. Not only will there be super hype for the defending Super Bowl champions with their record as yet untarnished, prices for this game and everything around it will be super high. And it’s the week before I go to Green Bay; I’d have to neglect everything else in my life. There’s no way I can do it. See? The NFL hates me.

Time to check the website again. Nope, still no prices. They’ll probably put them up tomorrow when I’m busy volunteering at the animal shelter. Then other people will grab all those rooms with two beds.

Hmm … home opener is traditionally the Alumni Game. I can’t help wondering if Mr. A will be back in town. The player I carried a torch for, the year I turned seventeen—and the object of my unusual midlife crisis. I’m not sure what I’d say, but I’d still like to run into him. I think about it every year. I haven’t talked to him since 1965, and I’m still looking for closure. It’s stupid, yeah, I know.

Wonder if those prices are up yet. … Nope.

But with all the frustrations, this is the time I wait for. In spring, a season of renewal, I look forward to renewing ties with my hometown and three of my dearest friends. Every trip has been fun, but maybe, just maybe, this one will be the best ever. How many more of these reunions will we all be able to attend? How can I make this one special?

Wonder if those prices are up yet …

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STRANGE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WWF KIND

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m addicted to Words with Friends. I’ve blown entire days on Zynga’s electronic, Scrabble-style game. I have three friends with whom I play regularly, but sometimes I crave more action.

I was home the other day, nursing a cold and taking it easy. About the only thing I felt like doing was playing WWF. My friends weren’t on line, so I asked the game to match me with a random partner. Soon I was playing with a man called James (not his true screen name). James evidently didn’t have much to do besides play WWF. As soon as I’d post a word, he’d retaliate. After a few moves, he invited me to play a second, simultaneous game. We were beautifully matched. We split our first two games and then played two more. He won both, but all four games were close.

I didn’t use the chat feature with James, but I wondered why he had so much time for WWF. I pictured him as an older man, retired. Or maybe he lived in an earlier time zone. Maybe he was British—finished with his day’s work and relaxing with his telly, his cuppa, and Words.

I enjoyed the rapid-fire competition, but there was one problem. Too many of James’s words were suggestive. He must have played “tit” four or five times. Okay, that can refer to a bird, and maybe it was all he could do with a plethora of T’s and I’s. But he also played “boobs” and “sex.”

I’m no prude, and I’d never ban sex words. (After all, I can score big points with “pubic” or “vulva”.) But I don’t play those words constantly. His doing so seemed creepy. Having pictured James as elderly, I thought about my late father. Dad was always a ladies’ man, but as his brain aged, he lost some of the governors that controlled his conduct. Dad was good at crossword puzzles and would have enjoyed WWF. Like James, he might have tested his partner with bawdy words.

I wondered if there was a way James could acquire my personal information. I didn’t want to find out. I declined his request for a fifth game.

Last month, I connected with another random partner—I’ll call this one Alex—who chatted throughout our game. What did I look like? Where did I live? It was mid-afternoon in Cincinnati, but Alex was in Wales and had just gotten the baby down for the night. I pictured a young mother. When my partner texted, “I’m six feet tall and play American football,” I pictured a tall, athletic, young mother and posted back enthusiastically about sports opportunities for twenty-first-century women. After a few hours, I rethought the conversation, researched the football team, and realized I owed Alex an apology.

He came on line again as I was preparing for bed. “Wow, you’re up early,” I commented. Of course, the baby had awakened him at 4:00 AM.

“You’re a good dad,” I told him.

“I try,” he texted back. “But it’s hard.”

Interesting glimpses of people I’ll never meet. Fodder for a writer’s imagination. What a strange place technology has taken us!

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KINDLING A LOVE AFFAIR

I never thought I’d want an e-reader.

I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. One of the things I liked about those books was the variety in design—the heft of the Oz books, the slim elegance of Alice in Wonderland. I savored classic drawings by Tenniel and Shepard, end papers with exotic maps, and the occasional volume with deckle-edged pages. All my life, I have loved the feel—and smell—of a book in my hands.

So why would I trade that for a tiny screen?

Economic necessity, for starters. As an independent author, I network with other authors. Many, like me, are not well known. My local library doesn’t stock their books. I wanted to read and discuss those books, but the cost of buying them all was prohibitive. Enter the e-reader—and a world of freebies and low-cost promotions.

I chose an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite because it’s a well-established brand and touted as easiest on the eyes. (No, Amazon didn’t ask me to say that!) A friend recommended the Kindle Fire, but I wanted a dedicated reader, not another mini-computer that needs to be charged every night like my smartphone. Amazon claims the Paperwhite can run eight weeks on a single charge. That hasn’t been true for me—my usage is probably above average, and I keep Wi-Fi turned on to facilitate downloading. But I still charge it weekly, not nightly.

I requested the Kindle as a gift for my sixty-sixth birthday. My husband bought the reader, my son supplied the case, and I solicited gift certificates from others—to buy books, of course!

I love the convenience. I read in bed without another light source. My reader slips into my purse for a solitary luncheon or a stint in my doctor’s waiting room, and I can’t wait to travel with it. I have the Kindle app on my smartphone, and I switch between e-reader and phone. The system “knows” how far I’ve read and takes me to the latest page.

I heartily recommend e-readers to my contemporaries. Best-selling author Anne R. Allen wrote a blog post in December, Why Your Grandma Wants an E-Reader for the Holidays (Even Though She Doesn’t Know It). Ms. Allen cited three physical reasons why e-readers are ideal for older people: adjustable font sizes, lighter weight, and the ability to download books instantly without traveling to the bookstore or library. You can read her entire post at http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/12/why-your-grandma-wants-e-reader-for.html.

Another thought: For boomers who are downsizing their homes, an e-reader is an alternative to a library of bulky books.

One of the best parts is discovering a myriad of websites that provide links to free and discounted e-books. Here are just a few:

http://www.bookbub.com/

http://freebooksy.com/

http://www.fkbooksandtips.com/

In addition, I purchased an Amazon Prime subscription. One of its many benefits is a free, not yet released, Kindle book every month. I can borrow a second book monthly.

With minimal cost and maximum convenience, I’ve stacked up hundreds of books on my Kindle. Some are efforts from newbie authors who hope I’ll review their books favorably on Amazon and Goodreads. But others are classics and best-sellers. I’ve downloaded Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, and the Anne of Green Gables books I loved as a child.

The only problem now is finding time to cook, do laundry, or keep up with my own writing—anything but sneaking off to download and read books. This feels like an illicit love affair.

Have I changed your thinking about e-readers?

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YOU JUST NEVER KNOW

Note:  I’ve changed the names of my family members in the piece that follows.
I feel like someone who missed a plane, only to learn that it crashed.

Armed with a semi-automatic handgun and a knife, Shawn Walter Bair fatally shot two women Wednesday night in a supermarket in Elkhart, Indiana. He was pointing his weapon at the manager when Elkhart police arrived on the scene. Bair aimed at the officers; they shot and killed him. Bair reportedly had a history of drug and legal problems, and his Facebook page indicated that he was fascinated by serial killers.

While incidents like this still make the national news, they’re increasingly common these days. What makes this one stand out for me and my family is that Martin’s Super Market in Cobblestone Crossing was my cousin Elaine’s neighborhood grocery until she moved out of the state and into assisted living in 2012. Elaine’s memory was failing, but she always recalled the way to Martin’s, and she shopped there regularly. The Cobblestone Crossing shopping center was also home to a couple of restaurants where Elaine met her friends for lunch.

I know that Martin’s store myself. I used to drive up to see my cousins when Elaine’s son Michael came to visit. Mike likes to start his morning with a banana. Elaine doesn’t care for bananas, and she always forgot to buy them. It became a ritual to stop by Martin’s on my first day in Elkhart and grab a bunch of the yellow fruit for Mike. And when our family cleaned out Elaine’s house and prepared it for sale, Martin’s is where we picked up extra packing boxes and other supplies.

This Martin’s is a good-sized grocery with a nice deli section. It’s on one of the main drags, out on the east side of this small Northern Indiana town. It serves single-family homes and apartment complexes, most fairly new. The neighborhood seems quiet, and I think you’d call it normal. It’s certainly not a “bad neighborhood” that people would warn you to stay away from. This kind of thing can happen anywhere these days. You just never know.

Area residents, including Elaine’s daughter Rachel, used Facebook to share their shock and disbelief. Commenters praised the Elkhart police for their quick response. Many sent prayers to the victims’ families. Some excoriated the shooter, but others asked why his obvious cries for help were ignored. One of Rachel’s friends knew one of the victims. That’s how close this tragedy comes.

I’m glad Elaine no longer lives in Elkhart. I don’t think she follows the media anymore, and I doubt her children will relay this upsetting news. I can imagine her being in the store when the shootings happened–even though she was unlikely to shop at 10 p.m.–and I don’t want her to picture that herself. In her eighties, heavyset, and crippled by arthritis, she would not have escaped the gunman if he’d come toward her.

I guess we’ve all heard the quotation, “Live each day as if it were to be your last.” Sources attribute it to Og Mandino, an American essayist and psychologist who died in 1996, but I suspect someone else said it much earlier.

I see the truth of it this week. You just never know.

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PLEONASMS, OR PASS THE TUNA FISH

“I had tuna fish for lunch,” I told my husband.

“That’s redundant!” Scott exclaimed. “Tuna is a fish. You don’t have to say ‘tuna fish’.” Scott and I have both written copy at various points in our careers, so we have actual conversations about grammar and punctuation. In fact, Scott likes to flaunt the term “redundundant”—the extra syllable his own coinage and, we believe, self-explanatory.

“But everybody says ‘tuna fish,’” I countered. “You hear it all the time.”

I mentioned our discussion to my friend Joyce, who further clouded the issue. “If it comes in a can, it’s tuna fish,” she said with certainty. “But if you’re eating it fresh, it’s just tuna. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order the wood-grilled ahi tuna fish.”

“Huh? It’s the same animal,” I said, thinking that Joyce’s logic reminded me of my mother’s when she served bacon and ham, but banned pork chops from our home. If it had “pork” in its name, you see, it was treyf. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

The conversation made me curious about common, but redundant, expressions, so I Googled redundant phrases and learned a new word. Those overloaded sayings are called pleonasms, derived from the Greek “to be excessive.” There are several websites devoted to collecting pleonasms. They all list terms like actual experience, basic fundamentals, close proximity, and free gift, but most omit a couple of expressions that particularly bug me.

One phrase I encounter frequently is safe haven. It’s even the title of a best-selling book by Nicholas Sparks and a movie based on the book. Merriam-Webster defines haven as a place where you are protected from danger, trouble, etc.  How could that place be anything but safe? Pleonasm!

But the one that really gets me is cheese quesadilla. Queso is the Spanish word for cheese. So if it’s a quesadilla, it’s made with cheese. If it doesn’t include cheese, it’s a tortilla panini or something like that, but it’s not a quesadilla. When you order that item, you should be asking for a plain quesadilla, not a cheese quesadilla.

“One … cheese … quesadilla,” the server—oblivious to pleonasms—will undoubtedly note as she scribbles your order.

Of course, there’s a way to keep that from happening. You could always order a tuna fish quesadilla.

What redundant expressions bother you?  Let’s share!  Put ’em in the comments, please.

 

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THE YEAR WE WERE REALLY THANKFUL

Yes, this is an edited version of my 2012 Thanksgiving post.  So what?  I’m serving turkey again this year, too. 

When our son was small, my husband, Scott, and I tried to teach him the meaning of Thanksgiving by having everyone at the table name something they were thankful for. By the time he reached his teens, our son thought this was corny.  But the custom went on.

In 2001, when our son was 24, there was no question about why we were thankful.

In the midst of all the other tumult that autumn, our son (who goes nameless in my blog) injured his knee. He was living in Chicago, taking a course in improvisational acting at Second City and serving pizza at Gino’s East. The knee got bad enough to hamper these activities, so he scheduled arthroscopic surgery for mid-November.

I should mention that this young man was having a run of bad luck. A couple of years earlier, he’d parked his car at a curb where someone threw a lighted cigarette butt into a trash can. The trash went up in flames, and so did his car. This was the sort of thing that happened to him. We used to call him “Joe Btfsplk,” after the character in Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip who walked around with a black cloud over his head.

I came up from Cincinnati for the surgery. The procedure seemed to go well.  He could walk right away, but complained of a sore throat. “That sounds normal,” I said. “You had a tube down there.” 

The next day I drove home and Scott replaced me. He called to say that our son’s throat had not improved. It had swollen enough to make breathing difficult, so Scott took him back to the hospital.  He’d apparently had a reaction to the tube. The doctor gave him intravenous antibiotics and steroids and sent him home. 

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, our son had his post-op checkup. “My knee and my throat feel okay,” he reported.  “But I have this funny pain in my arm.” 

The doctor immediately admitted him to the hospital with a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis), a complication of either the surgery or the subsequent IV. He was given a blood thinner and hospitalized for two days.  When he was released Wednesday morning, he said, “I’m supposed to drive to Cincinnati and spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Can I go?”  The doctor agreed.

By the time he was ready to leave, it was rush hour in Chicago. He waited that out and got a late start.

The phone call came at 1:30 a.m.  Just outside of Greensburg, Indiana, about seventy miles from our home, a deer had gotten the urge to cross Interstate 74.  All our son saw was a brown blur. He had no time to react. 

The big buck’s antlers penetrated our son’s windshield. Fortunately, they did not penetrate his skin.  Full of anticoagulant, he surely would have bled out before help arrived. 

Scott drove to Greensburg to retrieve our son, who was merely shaken and bruised. That night at dinner, I said, “We know what we’re thankful for. There’s no need to go around and say it.”

Our son isn’t coming home for Thanksgiving this year. He lives in Seattle now; it’s too far to travel. Instead he’ll spend the weekend moving because the inconsiderate neighbor who flooded our son’s apartment—twice—moved out and an excruciatingly noisy neighbor moved in.  Yeah, some folks’ luck doesn’t change. 

But we’re very thankful that he’s around to do it.

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