…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

caps off

OK, I'm just this geeky: One of my favorite discoveries of late is You Don't Say, the blog of John McIntyre, manager of the copy desk at The Baltimore Sun and former president of the American Copy Editors Society. Yup, we have our own society, one in which sensibly attired men and women meet annually to guffaw over misplaced modifiers and such. The society even runs an online discussion board, but I can't bring myself to post there for fear that I'll make a grammatical error and become the forum goat. I'm strictly a bush-leaguer in the copyediting ranks, and I can only aspire to the speed and grace with which ACES types can turn around flawless copy. I bow at their temple.

But I like McIntyre's take on copyediting precisely because he's damn near democratic in the exercise of his craft. He never insists upon a rule of usage simply because it's a rule, and he's given to a fair amount of flexibility when it comes to our evolving language and conventions. Sure, he wears a bow tie, but he's not a stuffed shirt: In a recent entry he says, “Copy editors tend to be strongly binary. Everything in usage should be reducible to a rule. But experience is messy, and language mirrors experience. In reaching for precision, it is easy to overreach.”

How great is that? It reminds me of the day I realized math could be creative: It's not like I then ran out and changed my major, but my worldview shifted slightly and resettled in a more pleasing manner.

An evolving language is necessary to keep up with the speed of invention. Our copy chief only recently gave over to "blog" as an acceptable, stand-alone term in place of Web log. “Web log” itself wasn't such a cumbersome term to use, but the outlawing of “blog” made “blogging” and “blogger” verboten as well. “The blogger blogged to her blog” became “The writer of the online journal added an entry to her Web log.” As ridiculous as the former sentence sounds, the latter is downright stiff. And we copy editors are always on the defensive about that s word.

I am pretty rigid, as my partner would no doubt attest, and the most difficult lesson I've had to learn and am still learning on my job is when to exercise restraint. I came to copyediting from a creative writing background, and despite that word creative, I had definite ideas about how words should “flow.” How to convince me, then, that a sentence that reads like an out-and-out dog's breakfast to me could seem positively poetic to its writer? That that could be the one sentence the author reads in the finished magazine that makes him say, “Hey, that's not the way I wrote it!”

(I've wanted to employ the phrase “dog's breakfast” ever since I first noticed its entry in my desk dictionary. I was intrigued enough then to stop and read its definition, and it's one of those words I always notice as I flip through the pages. It's evocative in the way British slang so often is—meaning “confused mess,” just as you might expect—and I'm pleased to have been able to deploy it here. Thank you for indulging me.)

Books and articles I edited early in my copyediting career were awash in red ink, and I was secretly pleased with myself for having made them bleed. If I were being paid by the correction, I could have taken an early retirement. But I'm mellowing with experience, even if to hear my partner tell it I'm an inky tyrant. This weekend she asked me to look over the c.v. and cover letter she's submitting to apply for the job she already has: She's hoping to get that pesky “interim” excised from her title. I was making my way through her pages of degrees, publications, and honors—the kind of academic cred I'd be hard-pressed to fill a single page with myself—when she looked over my shoulder and said, “Oh, my God! Is it that bad?”

I didn't think it was bad in the least, though when I looked at the page before me there were quite a few red marks. “That's just punctuation stuff,” I said.

“But I've been showing that to people!” she said, a little panicked.

“Believe me,” I assured her. “This is the kind of stuff only a copy editor would notice.”

That's the thing about copyediting: It must be a labor of love, because the work is invisible to all but a handful of people. A book I worked on about a year ago just won an award, and I had a quiet moment during which I patted myself on the back, but I don't expect to be thanked by the author. If I do my job well, the author won't see my footprints: When she reads the final draft she recognizes every word as her own, every sentence just as she arranged it, and that's as it should be.

So we fight the good fight quietly, because what it would take for copy editors to get noticed is unconscionable: putting our pens on strike and flooding the world with the typos, gaffes, and confusing punctuation of a nation too proud to proofread and too rushed to care. The horror…the horror…

Besides, you have only to read McIntyre's You Don't Say, or Capital Idea, by Nicole Stockdale of The Dallas Morning News, or Blogslot, by The Washington Post's Bill Walsh, to understand that these folks do what they like and like what they do, and is there really anything more life-affirming than that?

Hey, kids, want to make your own bogus newspaper clipping? Click here. It's way superfun!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the third rail

My driving privileges have been revoked. Again.

They were revoked last year as well, after my first blackout (a.k.a. “the precipitating event”), though only for a few days. “Standard protocol,” my neurologist said. Doctors are required to instruct patients not to drive and to report them to the DMV after any unexplained loss of consciousness—pending diagnosis. Happily an EEG was scheduled lickety-split and I received my results the following day, after which I was free to drive all the way to China if I so chose. Sure, the loss of consciousness remained unexplained, but the EEG pronounced my brain sound, so…

I went almost a year without another loss of consciousness, then I had a minor lapse in February. No big whoop. I was hungry, I thought, and tired. Then one morning a few weeks ago I entered a kind of catatonic state, eyes wide open, muscles tensed—or so I'm told. My partner reported that I seemed to startle awake then lapse back to my lights-on-nobody-home status. I remember dreaming, but I don’t know what about, nor do I recall coming to at any time during the episode. I fell asleep afterward and slept hard for hours; when I awoke I felt as heavy as I’ve ever felt, as though I were sewn to the mattress.

My GP thought this last episode sounded more seizure-like than the blackouts I’d previously described to him, prompting him to think the other episodes were also seizures. So off I was sent to the neurologist, another one this time. My GP thought I was entitled to a fresh perspective after having spent the better part of last year visiting with a neurologist who did his level best to convince me I’m a head case.

I saw a lovely doctor last Wednesday who put me through the neurological paces then said she was referring me for a 24-hour EEG.

The first EEG I had was the regular snapshot variety, with only about 30 minutes of monitoring. They tried to provoke my brain into doing loopy things by making me stay awake for 30 hours prior to my appointment, but, resentful at having its integrity called into question, my despotic encephalon saw right through their tricks and held steady, bitterly asserting its soundness.

This time they’ll check me into the hospital and get a 24-hour reading, which I at first took to mean that I would be hooked up for 24 hours then discharged, but when I Googled “24-hour EEG” I was alarmed to discover that the “24-hour” part merely connotes continuous monitoring, with average hospital stays in the three-day zone. Oh. Sounds like something I’ll want to clarify when we set up my appointment.

I haven’t been scheduled yet, and if I don’t hear from someone soon, I’ll start agitating, ’cause, you know, I can’t drive in the meantime, which is inconvenient for a person with a full-time job and such, especially in Los Angeles. You’ll remember Dale Bozzio singing “Nobody walks in L.A.” That’s not strictly true. Mentally ill homeless folks—thank you, Ronald Reagan—they walk in L.A. As do recent immigrants, seniors whose declining eyesight or mental faculties have triggered their delicensure, truant gang-kids-in-training, repeat DUI offenders, and I: We all walk in L.A. Later in the song the lyric becomes “Only a nobody walks in L.A.,” and we’re all pretty much nobodies, my aforementioned pedestrian friends and I, at least through the eyes of those who would oppositionally define themselves as somebodies.

I’ve been taking advantage of L.A.’s limited subway system and its “improving” bus system. I’ve also been taking advantage of my partner, whose shuttle services are timely, friendly, and free. As I waited for her on Wednesday night to pick me up at the Universal City subway station a coworker came up behind me. “I didn’t know you rode the train to work,” he said. “I don’t normally,” I said, “but my driving privileges have been temporarily revoked.” He grinned and asked conspiratorially, “Wow, what’d ya do?”

While riding public transportation has its advantages—I’m catching up on unread back issues of The New Yorker and arriving at work in a state that’s downright Zen compared to the defensive stance required of morning commuters—its disadvantages are many and loud. A day or two of bus riding supplies colorful stories with which to entertain my partner, “The Moaning Man” and “The California Hater” being two recent favorites. But the genres wear thin, so a story about a man who from the origin of the subway line to my stop relentlessly shout-performs an extended profanity-laced monologue about, say, his dislike of police officers, well, it just seems tiredly derivative of my California-hater story.

So I’m hoping for an end to my public-transportation adventure before my stories become stale, and I know that my partner would appreciate same. I mean, she loves me and means it, but a tiny part of her must fear that I can collect only so many anecdotes about Metro Rail lunatics before my stories resemble the very rants I lampoon. And that fear is prudent. Crazed Metro passengers are not born—they are made.

Friday, May 05, 2006

rhodas, meet your mary

We met a neighbor!

It was Wednesday night, “garb night”—which is short for “Ugh, we have to gather all our little trash receptacles and empty them into the big trash receptacles, then lug it all out to the curb for pickup tomorrow morning.” It’s really not such a trial, but we whine about it anyway because it robs us of valuable TV-viewing time, which is in short supply on Wednesday night, what with The Amazing Race, America’s Next Top Model, Top Chef, and Lost all vying for our attention. Before anyone starts tsking, I know that my television taste is pedestrian, but I learn things from reality television, valuable things. Just this week I learned, courtesy of Jade on America’s Next Top Model, that elephants are descended from dinosaurs. I also learned, courtesy of Top Chef, what the hell truffles are. Actually, Top Chef didn’t teach me anything, but because the delicacy was the subject of a culinary showdown I finally asked my partner, six short years after truffles first entered my consciousness at a friend’s cocktail party—what is that in the cheese?—where they come from. She was kind enough to look it up on something called the Internet and tell me that they’re “round, warty fungi” that grow underground adjacent to the roots of specific trees. Yum!

So we were wheeling our color-coded city trashcans out to the curb when a woman called out to me from across the street. I’m in the habit of pretending I don’t hear such things since in general nothing good comes of being yelled at by strangers, but she seemed in some distress, and we had only moments before ignored some loud violent noises, so I acknowledged her and she scurried over.

“Did you hear those noises?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “They were pretty loud.”

“Did it sound like gunfire to you?” she asked, petting her pregnant tummy.

“No,” my partner said. “Just some guy having a temper tantrum.”

“Yeah,” I said. “He was shouting and hitting something, but not someone. It sounded like he was whaling on his car…or maybe his girlfriend’s car.”

She introduced herself and told us she lived across the street and that she was home alone. And that she was pregnant, which we had gathered. We introduced ourselves and remarked that we liked her house, after which she told us how she and her husband came to choose red as its exterior color, then she made a joke about neighbors maybe thinking she was either running an elementary school or a whorehouse.

“I work from home,” she said. “I saw the boys who tagged your fence and I ran after them, but then I thought, I’m pregnant. I shouldn’t be doing this.

“Oh, thanks,” my partner said. “The fence gets tagged a lot. But the city paints it, so don’t worry too much about it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t put yourself at risk on our fence’s account.”

“I know,” she said. “But it just makes me so mad.”

I wanted to tell her to attack with vigor if someone tagged our garage door again, to weaponize her pregnant belly if need be, but instead I said, “It’s nice to know you’re home and looking out for us. Feel free to knock on our door whenever you need some company.”

Just like that, after over three years in our house, we made a neighbor friend. Over the tops of our trashcans, no less. I’m glad we didn’t have stinky trash, like the time we threw away a dead possum that had been left—in a box, with a dirty diaper—in our front yard. (The dirty diaper wasn’t on the dead possum, which would have been extra extraordinary.) In the absence of stinky trash, and presumably anything else that would have struck her as offensive—suggesting that lesbians in their pseudo-jammies are inoffensive enough—she offered that she and her husband should have us over, and we countered that we should have them over, and while nothing was hammered out on the spot, I think we all meant it.

To be fair, we have met a couple of other neighbors. We’re not shut-ins, for chrissake. There was a woman who introduced herself as Linda Rose, and reintroduced herself to me every time she saw me as if we had never met, who dropped by shortly after we moved in to tell us she was the neighborhood watch captain and that her husband was an electrician should we ever need work of that nature—like, for instance, if we wanted to install lights in our front yard so that more people like herself might drop by. At one point she noticed some trash in our yard and mused that in Mexico there are no trashcans, the implication being, if I understand her correctly, that recent immigrants are to blame for any instances of littering. (Or maybe it was simply an unfortunately timed non sequitur.) Then she regaled us with the news that our overachieving oleander around the side of the house is a favored tryst site for gay hustlers turning tricks. If Linda Rose was right, the boys are either not playing safe or they’re the tidiest hustlers ever: While the oleander sees its fair share of garbage, I’ve never seen a shred of telltale condom detritus lying about.

Linda Rose moved about a year ago, presumably to a neighborhood populated entirely by people who grew up knowing what trashcans are and how to use them.

There’s also this Swedish woman. While we haven’t properly met, she certainly knows who I am. She thinks I'm gunning for her and her dog. I was backing out of the garage one morning when she strode across our driveway like she owned it. (That’s something we’ve had to accept in our hearts, that since we live on a corner lot, lazy Americans—including immigrants from lands with and without trashcans—will cut across our property to save the three extra steps it would take to navigate its perimeter.) I hit my brakes as she scooped up her little yippy dog, glaring at me and muttering something in her native tongue. Another time I backed out and stopped in the driveway to mess with a CD or something. Then, admittedly without looking, I hit the remote to close the garage door. I glanced up just in time to see her rear away from the garage. She had been rounding the corner via the sex oleander and apparently felt in danger of being crushed by the descending door. I rolled down my window to say I was sorry, that I hadn’t seen her, to which she replied, “Every time!” OK, (a) twice does not qualify as “every time,” (b) when a car is idling in a driveway, the closing of a garage door is imminent, and (c) if you’re cutting across my property such that you’re walking within crushing distance of my garage door, you’re so on my property in such an uninvited and annoying way.

There’s also a high school kid and her mom who walk a little white dog so often that my partner and I suspect the dog has psychic power over them. The girl is really nice and always says hello. Her mom doesn’t speak English but often smiles at us. Meanwhile the dog looks at us in a knowing way, warning us with his eyes not to meddle in his business lest he teach our dog his supersecret mind-control tricks.

Those being the neighbors we know, you can understand our delight at meeting a friendly woman who paints her house red and chases taggers—while pregnant! And she owns this amazing company that sells hand-stitched greeting cards made by women in her native Armenia.

Pretty cool, huh? Makes me want to have a great big gay wedding so that I can order up a custom batch. And register for gifts.

In the meantime, it’s just nice to know there’s someone we can wave to when we catch each other outside, maybe even trot across the street to visit with. We could borrow a cup of sugar from her should the need arise, watch each other’s houses for suspicious activity, or just chitchat over the garbage. Do they have trashcans in Armenia?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

it is english we speak here

Images of yesterday’s Day Without Immigrants demonstrations in Los Angeles made me proud to be a human being, though commentary I’ve read this morning on the Internet threatens to make me ashamed of same. It’s alarming sometimes to realize just how out of touch I am with national sentiment.

I was positively giddy at the idea that half a million people turned out to voice their presence and flex their economic muscle, and that they did so peacefully in a city that was paralyzed by rioting less than 15 years ago. Hell, a Lakers championship causes more upset in this city than yesterday’s demonstrations did. According to the Los Angeles Times, the LAPD, a force often beset by controversy, reported few problems, and I would argue that the officers can count themselves among those who made a powerful May Day statement: It would have taken only a handful of reactionary boys in blue to incite pockets of violence and generate arrests.

Successes aside, never underestimate the propensity of the populace to feel, well, put upon. Before I unleash the concerns of an insane nation, I’d like to quote a “typical” Angeleno cited in today’s Times: "Are we supposed to see what it's like without immigrants?" asked Kim Kelly of Porter Ranch [a suburban district on the edge of Los Angeles populated almost entirely by gated communities of million-dollar-plus single-family homes]. "Because nothing seems different today for me." The city picked up her trash on schedule in the morning, she said. "But," she added. "I'm wondering if the gardeners will come."

And now, my tribute to “the people,” those salt-of-the-earth honest-to-god legal born-here Americans who make our country great. The following essay is made up entirely of single sentences—no more than one from each patriot—culled from responses to the front-page Times article regarding the aforementioned peaceful demonstrations. I have resisted the urge to copyedit for grammer, speling, and puncturation.

Who the hell are these people come in to our country illegally, breaks rules and now what?? raising there voice? Causing problems? THEY HAVE NO RIGHTS UNDER OUR CONSTITUATION! We need to secure our boarders and get these people in line (back of the line). Stop letting these people in. The Irish , Italians, Polish, Russian, French, etc. plus the "Indian" have an important stake in this country. It is English we speak here and pay taxes and do not expect free medical and education.

While we do need some immigrants to do jobs that dont pay very well, do we really need all of the immigrants that we have? NO! What will happen when the current group of illegals get their papers and no longer will work for cash or low wages? Then the next group of illegals will come to take their place!

They're just like the Borg- Resistance Is Futile, and they refuse to assimilate to US ways and customs. Even if you do conquer us as you say you'll destroy it and turn it into a third world cesspool. For once in your lives..learn to speak english..and clean your front yard. and please dont park on your lawn..u make the neighborhood look like crap. I'm appalled at the gaul of these people.

All you guys do is pay are store taxes, not property taxes, income tax etc. Drugs like the meth that the illegals brought up have addicted our kids and it will only get worse now that Mexico has legalized cocaine and heroin. Then, to get a job, they need to use a Social Security # that doesn't belong to them, committing identity theft, the fastest-growing CRIME in America today. Also the anchor baby scam needs to be stopped.

The terrorists can learn a thing or two about infiltrating the borders from fact, the terrorists mind as well hire them cause they always looking for jobs anyways.

America, she is a beautiful country.

Special thanks to aerotheque for the beautiful photo of the march as it approached City Hall in downtown L.A.