Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Literary Dinner Party

Literary Dinner Party
by Connie Keller

Several months ago I was invited to the Great Fiction Literary Banquet held every two years by the Canon of Literature. Now, of course, you may be wondering why I was invited; after all, I haven’t contributed anything to the canon—in fact, not a single novel I’ve written has even been published. I could argue that some of the greatest works of fiction remain unpublished and that my work belongs to that category. But, the truth of the matter is that I stole an invitation that had been addressed to Emily Bront—Ď. And I don’t feel too bad about it—who in their right mind thinks that Wuthering Heights should belong to the Canon? If it hadn’t been written a few decades too soon, it would have belonged to the Harlequin romance genre.

In any case, I arrived at the banquet clutching Emily’s invitation. A butler met me in the foyer, and I handed him my invitation. He read it, nearly raised an eyebrow and said, “Good Evening, Madame.”
I would know that “Good Evening, Madame,” anywhere. “Jeeves,” I asked, “is that you?”

“Mr. Woodhouse was good enough to allow me to assist in the festivities,” he answered.

“Is he here—Mr. Woodhouse, I mean,” I asked.

“I regret not. He is currently being pursued by a bevy of aunts.”

“’Like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps,’” I quoted.

“Precisely, Madame,” he said and escorted me to the drawing room.
After we arrived, he asked, “And next to whom would you prefer to dine?”
I scanned the cavernous room. In one corner was Will Shakespeare. Surely, he’d make a superb dinner companion. I could ask him how he learned to write in iambic pentameter. Or, I could tell him how much I loved Much Ado about Nothing and ask him what he thought about Emma Thompson in the role of Beatrice. I was just about to tell Jeeves that my choice was Will, but then I saw him guffaw wildly and slosh his cosmopolitan all over George Elliot (she was none too happy and ticked Will off). It occurred to me that Will was a bit too in love with himself and would probably spill a glass of cabernet on my silk blouse during dinner. Will was out.

I was about to ask Jeeves for a recommendation when he said, “Please excuse me. I see the Misters Hemmingway and Joyce trying to break in through a window—they try every year.”

“But don’t you invite them?” I asked and watched two giddy faces pressed against the window.

He shook his head, sadly. “We did, once—they imbibed all the port, pinched Madame Bradstreet on the backside, and purloined the silver. Besides, their table manners are appalling. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Joyce was unable to keep his personal pronouns straight; he kept referring to himself as “he” and “you.” Unfortunately, it gave Signore Dante a migraine, and he threatened to include us all in the third circle if those gentlemen were ever allowed sup with us again. Needless to say, Misters Joyce and Hemmingway have not received an invitation since,” Jeeves finished as he straightened his gloves and stiffened his spine.

“Wise decision,” I murmured as he hurried away, and I made a mental note not to sit next to Mr. Alighieri. I wondered how long I had to come up with a dinner partner. I saw Dorothy Sayers walk by. She’d be great, but the truth was that it wasn’t Dorothy I wanted to sit with, it was Lord Peter Wimsey. She might lecture me on Roman Catholic theology. She was out too.

“Hello, my dear,” I heard whispered into my ear. “Loved your last book, truly set the standard, don’t you know.” I turned to find out who the liar was. He pressed a double olive martini into my hand. “Drink up—it’s all free. I’ll keep you well-supplied. I’m looking for a dinner companion and I think you’ll do.”

“Thank you, Lord Byron,” I answered and took a sip. His eyes lingered on the neckline of my blouse. I buttoned the top button and didn’t care if it made me look like a librarian. The thought of dinner with the Lord of Learing made me finish the martini in one big gulp.

“Well done. Let me get you another.”

“Oh, Lord Byron,” I said, “by the way, I heard there’s a women’s reading group waiting for you in the carriage house.”

“Modern women?” he asked.

I nodded and added, too quietly for him to hear, “from a women’s study program at Wellesley.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and tossed back the last of his martini. “I love modern women, literally. Ha Ha.”

He swept away, but I figured I’d laugh last.

But then I saw the butler coming toward me. I needed a dinner choice, now. I skimmed the crowd and dismissed Poe, too weird, Dickenson, ditto, and Thoreau—a grown man who brings his laundry home for his mother to wash is not a good dinner companion. Then I saw a dear friend. She wore a modest gown and had mousy brown hair. I walked over to her as she asked the bartender for a small glass of sherry.

“Ah, Bacchus, make that two. Anyone who rids us not only of Emily but also of Byron deserves a sherry.”

“Well, thank you,” I answered and took a sip.

“Anytime, dear,” she replied. “Come now, let’s hurry to the table. Jeeves always saves the best seat for me—he has five nieces and I’ve promised to find husbands for them all. After all, I took care of the Bennetts’ daughters.”

“But they weren’t all good marriages,” I pointed out.

She winked at me. “They weren’t all good girls, were they?”

“No,” I smiled and knew I’d found my dinner companion.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Grammatical Concerns

Dear Grammar Police,

I want to express grave concern regarding the recent conduct and behavior of apostrophes. Lately, I’ve noticed their arrogant behavior. It is as though they believe themselves to be commas, and we cannot allow this to go unchallenged!

Anyone who has tried to teach punctuation to children can understand the inherent fear with which those small semi-circles are viewed. For example, just when children have mastered items in a series and complex sentences, the use of commas for apposition, opposition, and parentheticals is taught. It’s enough to make someone want to become an accountant—at least their commas know how to behave!

I implore you, Grammar Police, one gang of semi-circular punctuation marks swaggering and threatening is enough. But now, apostrophes, whose use in possessive nouns and contractions has been easy (okay the it’s/its thing is a bit tricky), are beginning to swagger. They’ve produced so much fear in the hearts of English writers that I’ve seen letters addressed to The Keller’s! Is it the physical home of the family that is being addressed? If so, be warned the door cannot read!

But, I suspect that these impish apostrophes have noticed their corporeal similarities to commas and are using these resemblances to intimidate writers into thinking they are difficult. I urge the grammar police to crack down on these imposters and spread the word that semi-circles above the line are harmless, easily tamed creatures and not the nasty, shiftless brutes known as commas. It is imperative that this be done soon, or it will be too late.

Sincerely,
A Concerned Punctuationist, aka Connie

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Baseball Season

It’s baseball season. Again. Now, honestly, when I got married and discovered that my husband liked baseball I thought it was cute. After all, he played some in college, and it was nice knowing he’d been an athlete. So, we watched some games together. Yeah, it was boring. Even when he explained to me, “Look the pitcher going to throw a strike but the hitter’s not going to swing.” That seemed stupid to me—why not swing at a good pitch, isn’t that the point of baseball? I was told, “Oh, but he’s got three balls, so chances are that the pitcher’s shot and he could get a walk.” But didn’t he just say that it was going to be a strike? Then my husband explained that baseball was “a thinking man’s game.” Oh, right, silly me.

And though this should have been a sign to me, I ignored it. A few years passed, and we had three sons. Once again, it was all very cute to see them with their little bats, balls, and gloves. Then, Little League began. And our three boys all played on different teams. So, that meant two games per week per boy, not to mention all the practices. Of course, there were also the issues of keeping track of uniforms, mitts, batting gloves, cleats, and cups (when the youngest was little he once used his brother’s cup as a boat for his playmobile characters, but that’s another story). Oh, and did I mention that we lived in New England where there’s still snow on the fields in April and you had to bring your parka and gloves even at the end of May, just in case. But, I persevered through that and patted myself on the back—I was a good mother. Then one year, my oldest wanted to make extra money. What a great idea, I thought. But the catch? Well, he wasn’t sixteen yet and there weren’t a lot of jobs he could do, except…umpiring. In case you aren’t aware of it, umpiring is a job where people pay you money to wear a lot of expensive pads, throw balls at you, and yell at you for fun. My role is this? To sit quietly in the stands as wild pitchers whomped my son in the chest and thighs while parents, coaches, and interested bystanders screamed at him like raving lunatics. But they’re not the only lunatics—my son thinks this is fun.

So, I had eight games a week (six the boys played in and two the oldest umped). Thankfully, they didn’t play on Saturday—a day to catch up on the housework/schoolwork/laundry that hadn’t gotten done. Or on Sunday, a day to rest. But that did mean eight games and incalculable practices in five days all at different times, at different fields on opposite sides of town. As you can imagine, the days were now scheduled with the meticulous organization of tactical military movements.

This year is slightly better, only two boys are playing and the oldest isn’t umpiring, at least he hasn’t mentioned it yet. But he did make the high school team. I just found out that they practice three hours, three times a week, not to mention games… And so, I’ve discovered that baseball is not a game and it is not a sport. It is a disease. But, I’m hoping that a vaccine is discovered soon, even though it’s too late for us. So I’ll see ya at the field. I’ll be the one in jeans, ponytail, and baseball cap. If you don’t spot me, look for the woman with glazed eyes, rooting for her kids and commenting about the eyesight of the umpire. That’s me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Worse than Toilet Water

All the family has been sick with cold after cold. So, we decided to run the vaporizer and added an inhalant oil to help open up swollen sinuses. However, our black lab Jill got in the bedroom and decided to lap up the mineral oil--maybe she thought it was water. At any rate, after her first lap, she began to gag and choke. But the taste wouldn't go away. So, she let her tongue hang out of her mouth until it evaporated. Needless to say, she's been more careful about drinking any standing liquid.