Spammers disguised as “Referrers”

Dear “Followers” and any other interested readers —

I had planned to interrupt my “sabbatical” next Sunday for a special “Mothers Day” piece. However, a recent problem with my blog stats page, and the steps a friend took to help me solve it, has engendered in me the impulse to share this solution with those who visit and read my posts.

The problem involves Search Engine Optimizations (SEOs). These are computer geeks around the world who seek to bring search engine entries up to earlier pages in a search engine. They can do this by pretending to be “referrers” on bloggers’ sites. When the blogger, curious about the strange referrer, clicks on the referrer to find out more about him/her, that click bounces back to the spammer’s site and counts as a “hit”, thus multiplying the spammer’s site’s activity record–thus edging it up closer to the search engine’s top page.

This problem occurred on my site a couple of years ago with a spammer called “Semalt”. I wrote a blog post condemning the SEO practice, and shortly thereafter the false referring by Semalt stopped.  Now, however, the wickedness has begun again; only, this time, the name “Semalt” is not used directly; rather, the new names are “key-words-monitoring” and “free-video-tool”. But from what I have learned through reading a few informative sites on Google, I sense that both are really just aliases for Semalt. The blocking methods I found either were too advanced for my blog program and/or were too technical for me to employ, so I called my friend Chris and asked for his help. As usual, he graciously complied.

Then, acting on the supposition that some of my “Followers” might be experiencing the same problem, I decided it might be helpful to forward Chris’ response to them. Here it is:

Hi Bob,

I’m sorry this upsets you so much, but unfortunately neither of these options are relevant for wordpress.com sites like yours.
You are getting your analytics directly through worpdress.com and not Google Analytics, so those instructions won’t help you.
And wordpress.com sites do not allow custom plugins like the one in the other link. Those only work if you have a custom installation of WordPress (often referred to aswordpress.org in contrast to wordpress.com), where you have to pay for web hosting and a domain name.
I found these instructions specifically for wordpress.com, telling you how to mark spammy referrers as such:
That’s the only recourse I’ve been able to discover for your situation.

Chris

 

As I stated above, I will return briefly next Sunday, Mothers Day in the USA.
For now, have a good week.
—BL

Another Sabbatical

Hi, Gentle Readers —

I have become too grumpy…even for me! Need to get away from this blog, this Internet, this writing. So, I’ve resolved to take another sabbatical — hopefully a long, long, long one. I have had poor luck keeping to such a resolve in the past; that’s why I am not declaring a loud and final “GOODBYE!”. So, it is entirely on your shoulders if you want to keep checking back in at The Vanity Mirror. Just don’t be surprised if there is nothing new here.

Your appreciative writer,
Bob Litton

More Shop Talk: Some Pet Peeves

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

It has been slightly more than a year (March 2015) since I wrote my last blog post about language and writing. The writing below differs from that earlier one in that it can be described as simply a column of pet peeves, while the older was an essay concerning problems I have with the nature of my native tongue. Of course, reading an essay is usually more fun than reading a list of gripes, but I hope you readers will continue on and gain something at least enlightening if not entertaining from your perusal.

— BL

* * * * * *

Last Tuesday I joined our “lame-duck” mayor at breakfast in the local diner. (For those who don’t know what “lame-duck” means, the term describes an elected official whose term is approaching its end and who will not be returning to office next term.) During our conversation the mayor mentioned how annoyed he is when someone uses the term “Obamacare” instead of “Affordable Care Act” or its abbreviation “ACA”.
“What are they thinking?” he asked. “Do they see it as a medical benefit set up especially for Obama?”
“I understand your point,” I replied. “Another problem with their phrasing is that it can appear like an edict establishing a healthcare program by fiat instead of a legislative act passed by Congress.”

That conversation got me to reflecting—for the umpteenth time—on all the irritating malapropisms, misplaced words, and nonsensical interpolations I hear over and over again.

One of the chief malapropisms that has become so ingrained in our common discourse that even top echelon journalists run afoul of it is the use of “bathroom” where “restroom” is the accurate term. If it is not already obvious to you, “bathroom” literally refers to a room where a bath can be performed, such as in a tub or in a shower stall. A “restroom” is a place, often hardly larger than a closet (thus the British preference for saying “water closet”) where one can relieve oneself of urine and feces.

One misuse of terms which is not quite as objectionable as those is the substitution of “less” for “fewer”. “‘Fewer’ refers only to number and things that are counted: Fewer cars on the road. There were fewer than sixty present. In Formal usage ‘less’ refers only to amount or quantity and things measured: There was a good less tardiness in the second semester. There was even less hay than the summer before.  ‘Fewer’ seems to be declining in use and ‘less’ often takes its place.” Still, I am among those purists who find the substitution of “less” for “fewer” offensive because it reduces the exactitude and therefore clarity. (I should credit late Professor Porter G. Perrin for much of the above paragraph, including the examples, from whose Writer’s Guide and Index to English I borrowed it.)

Similar to those terms’ confusion is the phrase “one or two” and similar constructions. Particularly surprising instances of this fault are in Henry James’ novel Portrait of a Lady. In Chapter 22, Gilbert Osmond, while nervous in the company of his visitor Madame Merle, “…without looking at Madame Merle, pushed one or two chairs back into their places.” And in Chapter 28, I read where Lord Warburton goes to an opera house to find the “heroine”, Isabel Archer, and her friends; there, “(a)fter scanning two or three tiers of boxes, he perceived in one of the largest of these receptacles a lady whom he easily recognized.” When I see such phrasing in an article or a story or a novel, I almost pull my hair out in exasperation and utter aloud, “Can’t you count even to three, you numbskull?!”  I must be upfront here and acknowledge that I cannot stand Henry James; I think he is one of the most overrated authors and insufferable snobs in American literary history. And Portrait of a Lady is a ridiculously absurd novel filled with other types of flaws which I might elucidate some other time.

In the class of misplaced words I particularly note the word “only”. I remind you that English has evolved (or devolved?) into a mostly uninflected language. That is, we do not use multiple case endings on our nouns and adjectives to indicate their functions in a sentence; our pronouns alone retain that characteristic. Consequently, we determine and infer a word’s function by its place in the sentence; that includes the term “only”. I frequently see this word misplaced in a sentence and its intended meaning thus jeopardized. Disgusting! I could write some sentences to further explain the problem with “only”, but I found in the online Free Dictionary by Farlex as good or probably even better an explanation than I might render, so I copied part of it for use here. Hope they don’t mind; if they do, I will withdraw it and struggle through with my own examples:

Usage Note: The adverb only is notorious for its ability to change the meaning of
a sentence depending on its placement. Consider the difference in meaning in
the following examples: Dictators respect only force; they are not moved by words.  Dictators only respect force; they do not worship it. She picked up the phone only when he entered, not before. She only picked up the phone when he entered; she didn’t dial the number. The surest way to prevent readers from misinterpreting only is to place it next to the word or words it modifies.

The Free Dictionary’s entry for “only” has a few more interesting remarks which I recommend aspiring writers peruse.

Finally, under the heading nonsensical interpolations I include “you know”, the latest substitution for “uh” as a pause gap filler. I hear it frequently on one of my favorite NPR talk shows, On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. I believe it would be safe to claim that at least half of the people Ashbrook talks with on that program—special guests and call-in listeners alike—use “you know” in many of their sentences. It is irritating for three reasons: (1) No, Tom might not know it (whatever it is); (2) if he does know it, then why are they saying it? and (3) the constant repetition of “you know” soon begins to grate.

Well, gentle readers, I hope your eyes have not glazed over from reading this blog post about the more horrific writing…and speaking…crimes.

Finis

 

 

 

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
When a person reaches the 76th year he can develop the notion that, because he has lived through — even studied — much history, he has accumulated a dense patina of knowledge in his brain; yet he also feels afflicted by the suspicion that he does not know how to apply it. I recall in my youth enduring various puzzling illnesses and mechanical problems which, after healing or correcting by learning the causes and applying the proper treatments or techniques, I have said to myself, “There now, in the future when I come across this situation again, I will know what to do!” The only problem with that assumption is that the illness or mechanical failure  seems never to repeat itself. There is always a new puzzle to ponder. Because of a few such episodes in my recent past, the idea of composing this essay flowered in my brain.

Past:

Einstein said that time and space are the same. I take that remark to mean that if I get up from this chair and walk over to my bookcase, about fifteen feet away, I will be walking into the future; and that if I turn around and walk back to my chair, I will be walking into the past, because I am going the same distance, over the same area, over the same period of time, only in reverse — just like the “rewind” device on my VCR. But I don’t feel that to be the case, for I have aged infinitesimally during both transits. (I wonder, to render this example valid, would it be necessary for me to retrace my steps backward rather than doing an about-face and proceeding forward again but in the opposite direction?)

I’m a very time-sensitive person, and the only place I feel that I am delving into the past is in the memory sections of the brain (the pre-frontal lobe [short-term] and the hippocampus [long-term]). Of course there are extant, exterior entities, such as an old photo or a “golden oldie” sound recording, even a scent, that can stir and augment memories.

A strange aspect of some memories is that they have made me imagine that the events which they relate still exist. Those particularly vivid memories, though very transient, are so palpable as to make their events’ extinction seem improbable. When I had such a memory unfold in my mind one day recently, I wondered where I would have to search to recover the event itself; but I quickly shook off that notion after realizing that every event has preceding and subsequent events, and I could not bring back that singular, desirable scene without also summoning its past and future. That enterprise would require a time machine.

Before you summon the guys in white coats, consider a few sentences from an article in last January’s Harper’s magazine. Titled “WHAT CAME BEFORE THE BIG BANG?”, the essay was written by MIT physicist and novelist (what a combination) Alan Lightman. Actually, in the sentences I will quote here, Lightman is referring not to his own cosmological theory but to one being investigated by another MIT scientist, Alan Guth, and California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll. Their hypothesis, known as the “Two-Headed time theory”, according to Lightman, proposes that the order of our universe, then much smaller than an atom, “was at a maximum at the Big Bang; disorder increased both before and after…. (T)he forward direction of time is determined by the movement of order to disorder. Thus the future points away from the Big Bang in two directions. A person living in the contracting phase of the universe sees the Big Bang in her past, just as we do. When she dies, the universe is larger than when she was born, just as it will be for us. ‘When I come to understand that the reason I can remember the past but not the future is ultimately related to conditions at the Big Bang, that was a startling epiphany,’ said Carroll.

Lightman compares the expansion and contraction phases of the universe to that children’s toy, the “Slinky”, which, as he points out, “reaches maximum compression on impact, and then bounces back to larger dimensions. Because of the unavoidable fluctuations required by quantum physics, the contracting universe would not be an exact mirror image of the expanding universe; a physicist named Alan Guth probably did not exist in the contracting phase of our universe.” Still, there is always that wiggle room left by “probably”.

Lightman describes a few of other theories of the “origin” of the universe, none of which allow for the notion of time and therefore do not consider “before” and “after” and therefore are outside the province of my essay here. However, I do want to bring in one more analogy that Lightman uses to characterize the expanding/contracting phases of the universe: a movie of a glass dropped on a tile floor, shattering, then recombining and flying back up to the table top from which it fell. If I think of the glass shards as events in my life, and of the possibility that they are scattered now out there in the vastness of space/time, and that they might someday in the far-off future recombine to become those events again, then my dream, as I related above, of summoning memories is not so absurd as you readers might have judged earlier. Heh?

Present:

We are frequently advised by gurus of various varieties to “live in the moment” in order to be happy. Who am I to argue with that formula? Only it doesn’t work for me. Why?

Well, I think it’s partly a function of Fate: I don’t have any choice but to live in the moment, yet the present seldom smiles on me, definitely not for more than a few hours. The present, in fact, seems like the target on a dart board where missiles are continually bombarding. I keep looking for that day when I can proceed from arising to retiring without some, at the least, irksome or, at the most, catastrophic encounter. I can’t recall the last time I gamboled through such a day, although I feel certain there have been some, quite likely many such. They were just too long ago. (And here, I see, I can’t even write about the present without bringing in the past and the future: depending on one’s definition of “the present”, it seems impossible to separate it from those periods. Is the present this day, this experience, or really just this “moment”? )

Another problem with the “live in the moment” prescription, not just for me but for every adult, I believe, is that even in our most positive moments we have to consider future events: college, career, possibly marriage, elections, and retirement funding. A host of other, smaller concerns requiring decisions are scattered through our lives. As one old humorist expressed it, “Why does any man examine the teeth of a horse he is thinking of buying and yet forgo checking out his prospective bride’s teeth?”

Laying all that aside, just how do I confront the present? That is too big a question. I mean, in this time I cannot ignore the fact that many of the problems I have to face also stand before almost everybody else: crazy politicians rattling their sabers, oncoming weird weather disasters and famines, fanatical gun toters, out-of-control medical and housing prices, etc. I can’t limit all those problems to myself. The conundrum, then, for me is: How can I separate out what affects only me from what affects everybody else? I cannot totally and sensibly demarcate those boundaries. Yes, there are a few somewhat private health issues which I have, but even they, as types, also afflict at least some small portions of the population; how I weary of hearing a “comforting” friend utter, “Oh, that’s just part of getting old!” or “Yeah, that stuff has been going around lately!” Why cannot my current problem be mine…individual…alone?

Future:   

My, how the calendar has shrunk! It used to be the case that when someone reminded me that some event took place last year, I could imagine an expanse of time with body to it. Now “last year” seems like what we once-upon-a-time called “last month”. I’m not sure whether this change is due to aging in me or to a more encompassing phenomenon which Alvin Toffler described as the perception of “too much change in too short a period of time” in his book Future Shock back in 1970. If the latter, then it is really weird how external events can cause one’s notion of a calendar period to shrink. There is now a whole “scientific” field of people — called “futurists” — who gather data from a large array of sources to predict what the future holds. Simple crystal balls and astronomical charts are passé.

When one reaches an age as advanced as my own, he or she is confronted with the reality that their options have greatly shrunk. There is no point in our seeking another academic field or degree, although we might have fun and benefit from taking a “continuing education” course occasionally. And we might look at our overloaded bookshelves, count the books we haven’t read, and resolve for the nth time never again to enter that bookstore a few blocks away. I swear! I must have bought all those books just because they are so decorative! Oh me, oh my!

Nor are we to get married…not sensibly anyway. Oh, if we are very wealthy and are seduced by a beautiful, young “honey-pot” into being her “sugar-daddy”, we might find ourselves wandering down that church aisle or into that Las Vegas drive-thru wedding chapel. Or, if we are much less affluent, we might marry someone nearer our own age just because we each anticipate the other will at least nurse us through our final days. The latter case is a little less contaminated by folly or predatoriness but does retain some of the strategical about it: no hot romantic blood there certainly.

But there are other issues that affect not just me and my ilk but many, many other Americans. The news media daily reminds us that we have several potential, horrifying fates lying in wait for us — climate change disasters; the threat of religious and political radicalisms; dissolution of welfare programs, including Social Security; Alzheimer’s disease; and Donald Trump as president. And those are just the severest ones. Although we should not let them overwhelm us to the extent that we can prevent them from doing so, we still have to pay attention to them in order to prevent, or at least defend ourselves against, them. So, in that very deep sense we are attached to the future.

Finis

 

 

Phobias Revisited

© 2013, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Dear Readers:  Due to several current physical and financial stresses (might as well include “political” in that group), I haven’t the inclination to write up a fresh blog post right now. Yet it has been a week since my last one; and, lest you develop a panic, I thought of resurrecting one of my very early posts (from November 2013). And, since most of my current “followers” were not even reading this blog back then, I believe the piece can actually be seen as a “fresh refresher”.  Moreover, considering the heavy nature of some of my recent posts, it might even be a welcome relief in tone, because it is humorous…mostly. The original title was “A Cornucopia of Phobias”.
Enjoy!
                                                                ◊ ◊ ◊  ◊ ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

In the small town (Pop. 5,972) where I reside, we have a senior center, where old folks like me can enjoy a generally well-balanced lunch five days a week — excepting federal holidays.

For a few months, a couple of ladies dressed as clowns came to the center’s lunch room once a month to hand out balloon sculptures and josh with the diners. After sitting through a couple of those experiences I quit going to the center on the day the clowns were scheduled to appear.

I stayed away for two reasons: one, I do not like to see elderly folks treated or spoken to as though they are the same as children; and, two, I have had, since early childhood, an aversion to clowns and to absurd appearances or speech in general. When I was six years old, I contracted measles and the small apartment where my mother and I resided was quarantined. Mother bought some 78rpm record albums to entertain me during my isolation. Most of them were very enjoyable, but one — a “Bozo the Clown” album — I could not stand; yet, I did not reveal my distaste to Mother because I knew she had meant only to amuse me.

At the time, naturally, my cognitive powers were not developed enough to connect my aversion to that album with a congenital aversion to clowns as a genus. As the years passed, however, and I showed a similar dislike of stories such as Alice in Wonderland, I began to suspect that my aversion practically amounted to a phobia. My recent emotional experience of clowns at the senior center caused me to face that reality in my psyche.

I characterized my reaction to clowns as “clownphobia” (the psychiatrists’ term for it is “Coulrophobia”); and I also realized that I have perhaps an excessive sensitivity to others touching me (Chiraptophobia, also Haphephobia), whether they are clowns or not: I have a very narrowly circumscribed “comfort zone”.

I wondered if everyone has at least one phobia, so I researched the matter. What I discovered was that the scientists prefer to restrict the term “phobia” and all its combined forms to perceptions that cause a disabling of the body, a paralysis; for the less affecting reactions, the scientists prefer the less clinical terms  “fear” and “aversion”. Also, I read where other persons had asked the same question about how universal phobias could be: the answer was that it is impossible to know absolutely because there are too many people in the world who live in inaccessible places, but that many people, if they do have phobias, do not admit as much. Do they really not have phobias, or do they suffer from fear of phobias (Phobophobia) and therefore deny any phobia’s presence?

Further into my research, I found that there are long lists of phobias, valid or not, on the Internet, and I was astounded at the extreme plenitude and variety of these reactions. I photocopied thirteen pages from one list so that I could study them easier. I did not try to count them, however, because one “phobia” could be denoted by more than one term; for instance, Domatophobia – fear of houses or of being in a house – is also referenced as Eicophobia and Oikophobia.

One of the most surprising aspects of the list I saw was that so many of the phobias related to such basic elements of civilization, Nature, and our own bodies that I could not imagine how people who suffered from them could continue through their daily lives. Consider, as examples, these: Agyrophobia – fear of streets or crossing the street;    Asymmetriphobia – fear of asymmetrical things; Bibliophobia – fear of books;  Chronophobia– fear of time; Dendrophobia– fear of trees; Eosophobia – fear of dawn or daylight; Epistemophobia (and Gnosiophobia) – fear of knowledge; Ergophobia – fear of work;  Heliophobia – fear of the sun; Kathisophobia– fear of sitting down; Lachanophobia – fear of vegetables; Microphobia – fear of small things; Noctiphobia – fear of the night;  Nomatophobia – fear of names; Ombrophobia – fear of rain or being rained on; Phronemophobia – fear of thinking; Euphobia – fear of good news;  Selenophobia – fear of the moon; Sitophobia (also, Cibophobia) – fear of food or eating; Somniphobia – fear of sleeping; Trichopathophobia (also, Chaetophobia, Hypertrichophobia) – fear of hair; Cardiophobia – fear of the heart; Geniophobia – fear of chins; Genuphobia – fear of knees; Ommetaphobia – fear of eyes; and Omphalophobia – fear of belly buttons.

There is a bunch more of those. However, let’s move on to phobias that I would not classify absolutely as “phobias” but, depending on the occasion, as justifiable fears or aversions. Under this heading, we can list: Arsonphobia – fear of fire; Atomosophobia – fear of atomic explosions; Ballistophobia – fear of missiles or bullets; Cnidophobia – fear of stings; Cynophobia –  fear of dogs or rabies; Herpetophobia – fear of reptiles or creepy, crawly things. Hoplophobia – fear of firearms; Iophobia – fear of poison; Lilapsophobia – fear of hurricanes and tornadoes; Acrophobia (also Altophobia) – fear of heights; and let’s not leave out Ephebiphobia – fear of teenagers; and Gynephobia (also Gynophobia) – fear of women.

A few phobias on the list puzzle me because I cannot fathom how anyone could comprehend them enough to feel threatened by them. In this category I include Amnesiphobia – fear of amnesia; Apeirophobia – fear of infinity; Astrophobia – fear of stars or celestial space; Barophobia – fear of gravity; Cometophobia – fear of comets; Dikephobia – fear of justice; Eleutherophobia – fear of freedom; and Kosmikophobia – fear of cosmic phenomena.

There is even a diagnostic for fear of everything: Panophobia (or Pantophobia). O Brother! If you suffered from that one, you’d want to dig a hole in the ground and have some friend cover you….But then you’d go berserk from Bathophobia (fear of depth) and Molysomophobia (fear of dirt) or from both together. That’s a “no win” situation. Let’s hope you don’t contract Panophobia.

Fortunately for me, it is not often that I encounter clowns, and they are usually easy enough to remain clear of. The Chiraptophobia (fear of touch by other people) is a bit more problematic; I don’t even like to shake hands. (Does anybody?) Many people think I am antisocial, which is not the case at all; I just have my “comfort zone” which I allow only adorable women to enter.

Adorable women. Of course.

Finis

How a childhood trait became an adult habit

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I believe I have written elsewhere in this blog’s archives that major reasons for engaging in it were to analyze my own personality and to obliquely write my autobiography. What I mean by “obliquely” here is that, although the primary topic of any particular essay might seemingly be far removed from the notion of personality traits, some of the illustrative experiences as well as the attitude revealed therein could add tone, form, color and dimension to the hidden autobiographical theme of the blog site as a whole. (I want any future biographer to have access to the most reliable resource imaginable: this blog.)

Some traits, however, cannot be easily presented in such a camouflaged manner. The trait of which I am thinking here is parenthetical remarks, i.e., comments inserted into a scene or conversation that have nothing directly to do with that scene or conversation. Some, in my case, were naïve remarks I made as a child, and some were “zingers” I made as an adult. The only real difference between them was that the youthful ones were simply expressions of curiosity without any intent to be hurtful, while the adult ones were simply attempts to be comical in a stinging way but still not really hurt. Zingers are, I lamentably admit, a regrettable, deeply ingrained aspect of my personality; for laughter-inducing humor usually comes at the expense of somebody’s self-image. My only partial defense here is that I often try to pull the joke out of my own hat, i.e., at my own expense.

What brought this topic to mind at the present is that I have done a lot of reminiscing about Mother lately, particularly of my childhood years when we were closer to each other than during later years. Much of the youthful time, I was what has become classified as a “latch-key kid”. Mother worked as a silk-finisher at a Dallas dress factory called Lorch’s, so, when school was not in session, I was often left to mind myself. However, she did occasionally find someone to keep me in tow.

For a while there was a next door neighbor named Mrs. Woodruff (family and friends called her “Woody”). I don’t remember much about her other than I loved her, that she liked to listen to soap operas on the radio, that she described for me a road that wound around a mountain, and that she had false teeth which she would suddenly stick out at me: it was one of those tricks that kids love, the kind that both scares and makes them giggle.

Also, for a while I stayed at Mrs. Lybrand’s house a couple of blocks away. Mrs. Lybrand and her husband had a large back yard that was a very pleasant place to play. She also was a great cook and she liked to listen to gospel songs on the radio much of the day. I didn’t appreciate gospel music and one day asked her, “Why do you listen to those ol’ god songs instead of Gene Autry or Bing Crosby?”  I don’t recall her answer, if there was one. I liked Mrs. Lybrand and certainly did not mean to offend her; and I do not believe she was offended. She most likely viewed the incident as a child being innocently too curious and too honest.

Last May 9, I published here an essay for “Mother’s Day” in which I discussed attending a kindergarten in Dallas and how a cab came to pick me up and carry me downtown to Lorch’s, where Mother was still at work. I did not mention in that post an interesting incident at Lorch’s which I don’t recall personally but which Mother related to me many years later. “My supervisor,” said Mother, “was a very tall German woman of whom I was afraid. You looked up at her and asked, ‘Are you a giant?’” Mother said she was “scared to death” because she didn’t know how the big supervisor would respond, but there was no reaction.

Another episode Mother had to relate to me many years later happened on a streetcar. (Many readers won’t know what a streetcar was: it was a vehicle about as long as a modern bus but more strictly rectangular in appearance and it was powered by a wire strung above the roadway that fed electricity to the streetcar by movable antennas extending upward from each end of the vehicle.) Now, back to the incident. One day while Mother and I were on board a streetcar bound for downtown (she told me) I noticed a very old lady across the aisle, with deep wrinkles; I turned to Mother and asked, “Mama, why is that lady’s face all wadded up?” I have no memory of the incident nor any recorded continuation of Mother’s anecdote to regain the consequence of that comment.

So, you can see how early my bad habit of spouting “zingers” began. As an adult, the tendency became more conscious and pronounced. Most targets know me well enough to realize I am just trying to be funny…in a fairly blood-thirsty way. A local bar-maid and a waitress here have put up with me long enough now that they have practically developed rhinoceros hides. And, like I said above, I try to balance the cajolery out by occasionally making myself the target, usually uttered in a manner that hints they should reply by saying, “Oh no, you shouldn’t say or even think that way about yourself!” They don’t swallow the bait.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall many of the adult zingers, I guess because there have been so many. There is one, however, that I do recall only too clearly and which I wish I could go back in time to expunge. One noon-day, I was sitting in a “blue-plate-special” café in Dallas that I had recently begun to frequent when I heard the main waitress relate to another regular customer how she needed new tires on her car and that she didn’t know how she would cope if she had a flat someday. “Don’t worry about it, Jane,” I called out. “You’ve got a spare around your waist.”

Jane looked over at me kind of sad-like and, after a few seconds of bewildered silence, replied, “I can’t believe you said that, Bob.”

I should have apologized then and there, but I didn’t. And to this day I don’t know why I didn’t apologize. Perhaps the additional stress that an admission of impropriety added to the impropriety itself was too much for me. I don’t know. But Jane, although she was indeed slightly plump around the waist, was not obese, and she was pretty and one of the most pleasant people I have ever known. Oh, how I wish I had an operable time machine!

So, you can see how a childhood capacity for curiosity can develop into an adult habit of zingering.

Finis

Goodbye, Tooth Fairy!

Tooth Fairy

©2004, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: The article below was written back in 2004.  At that time, I submitted it to one of our local weeklies. The publisher/editor never printed it. I did not ask him why, but I supposed, with substantial grounds, that his reason was that it was “soft news”; i.e. material that had no immediate relevance for the populace but was a rather small matter that yet could in fact disturb them— they might avoid their local barbers and dentists. Also, while he puts out the best chronicle in the three-county area in the sense that his reporters cover ”hard news” (governmental, political and social events) more fully and accurately, he doesn’t have much appreciation for feature articles or what used to be called “familiar essays” (a common element in the “Talk of the Town” section of New Yorker magazine), which are my forte. So, this article has been stuck in my files all those years, yet I believe it still makes engrossing matter for the intellectually curious reader.

     I have altered the names somewhat, reducing them to initials, because I did not have permission from the subjects to include their full names, although they knew I would publish the article sometime, somewhere. Also, the barber retired half a dozen years ago.

    Enjoy!
—BL

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

There’s new news and there’s old news—but they are not always so simply distinguishable.

Take for example a recent trip to the barbershop for my monthly trim. I went to K. N.’s barbershop. Usually, one of the other barbers cuts my hair, but on this day I had the honor of K. N. himself shearing my mane. After he had done the basic work, he pressed out a palmful of lather and smeared it on my neck. It had been I don’t know how many years since anyone had done that.

“Since when did you start shaving the neck?” I asked. “I thought shaving was out ever since the AIDS scare happened.”

“Oh, we’ve got these stainless steel razors now,” he said. “I used to use Solingen steel blades from Germany. Other barbers used Sheffield steel from England. But they both had pores in them that retained blood. Now I use stainless steel. And I use it only one time.” The stainless steel blades, we discovered after looking at a box, are made in the U.S.

The State of Texas Barber Board, K.N. told me, sent out new regulations about ten years ago ordering barbers to quit using the porous razor blades. They also had to get rid of their strops and hones.

K.N. said he doesn’t offer shaves, even though they would be allowable with the stainless steel blade. He quit shaving years ago, he said, “because people have skin blemishes—like moles. And when you lather a customer up you can’t see the moles.”

About ten years ago was also when the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, sent out regulations telling dentists to modify their practices in the interest of reducing the potential for transmission of HIV, according to local dentist J.F.

The regulations were a response to the case of a dentist in Florida who a decade ago allegedly infected five patients with the AIDS virus, J.F. told me. However, he said, all five cases involved different strains of the virus.

My conversation with the doctor about AIDS developed when I went to see him about tender gums. As I sat in the chair I noticed that the ordinary chairside spittoon was missing.

“Where’s the spittoon?” I asked the dentist’s hygienist as she was sticking a tube in my mouth.

“Oh, we can’t use those anymore,” she said, “because of AIDS.”

What she had stuck in my mouth, J.F. later told me, is called a high-speed suction tube. It removes all that saliva and blood we used to spit into the spittoon. Also, J.F. said he has a line separator in his alley so that there is no possibility of backflow.

The doctor told me the amount of regulations controlling dental practice these days is voluminous. And some of them are ridiculous, he added.  “The virus lives only minutes—some people say less than a minute—out of its moist environment,” he said. “But the regulations are so stringent; we can’t even give a kid his tooth to leave for the Tooth Fairy*. That tooth has to be treated as ‘medical waste’.”

While I was still there, J.F. called up the CDC to get a more definite fix on how long the HIV can live outside its fluid environment. However, they refused to give him a specific time period and said only that when the virus dries out it dies. They added that the hepatitis A virus could live several weeks in the open air before dying. (They obviously didn’t want to give the Tooth Fairy any wiggle room.)

So you see how a news story that began back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president, continues to ripple into the 21st century. And how our daily lives are continually and probably forever changed in the minutest of ways by the event that created the story.


*Fairy: I don’t know how widely the folklore of the “Tooth Fairy” extends, so perhaps I should relate it briefly here. Children’s “baby teeth” begin to drop out at about age six. Generous, loving parents sometimes tell their child to put a dropped tooth under their pillow so that the Tooth Fairy can remove it and replace it with a small coin, such as a dime.

                                                                            Finis

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