John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pulp Diction: 15 items or trouble

You get ’em in the checkout at Safeway — harried mothers with kids clamoring for candy, bleary-eyed old guys pushing a cartload into the fifteen-items line, kids with green hair buying exotic produce. Some chat with the cashier, but nobody talks to the bag boy. Fine with me. I liked anonymity when I was a copy editor. I like it better now.

I was pushing a train of carts back toward the store when she grabbed my arm. I turned. “You,” I said. It wasn’t friendly.

“Mr. McIntyre, I really need to talk with you,” she said. Mostly, she was a pert little thing, but this time her voice trembled.

“I don’t have anything to say to you, Fogarty.” That’s Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Dame, Grammar Girl, something like that. Big-time blogger, raking in big bucks from rubes who couldn’t tell the present from the preterite if it jabbed them in the keister.

“Please, it’s urgent. I’ve heard from Martha Brockenbrough.”

More female trouble. The last time I saw the Brockenbrough skirt, I was in the witness stand, and she was at the defense table, trying — not convincingly — to look innocent. I’d turned her in for a homicide. I didn’t stay for the rest of the trial, but I’d heard she copped a plea to manslaughter while the jury was still out. Now she’s in the Big House for a good long while. You know the story.

“Sister, I’ve still got nothing to say to you. How the hell did you know to look for me here, anyhow?”

“I asked about you at the Intelligencer-Argus, and they said you’d been let go. Somebody said you might be here.”

“Let go? Let go? Toots, I was unceremoniously dumped, made redundant, sacked, eighty-sixed, kicked to the curb, reduced in force, right-sized. A year ago I was a minor-league copy desk tsar, and today I’m wearing a cardboard belt. The big boys got this idea that editors were interposing too many touches between the writer and the reader, and they sacked the lot of us. Just as well. They were talking about touching more than the staff at a day care center that’s hired a pedophile. I’m well rid of ’em.”

“I’m really sorry about that. I know you were well thought of. But I’m in trouble, and I really need your help.”

“Why? Caught with counterfeit gerunds again?”

“It’s not like that. Ever since I heard from Martha, I’ve been followed. I think my phone is tapped. My mail is being tampered with. My car is making a funny noise. I think it needs an oil change.”

She was getting rattled. Nothing new there. “So who cares about you?” I asked. “You’re just some two-bit grammar fancier who made it big on the Internet. There’re dozens like you — scores.”

“It’s not over,” she said, her voice breaking. “That plot you stopped last time, the one to sabotage National Grammar Day, that’s not over. They just got some of the little fish.”

“And now that you’ve been seen talking to me, they’ll come after me. Thanks a heap, lady.”

“I know where to go to find out more, but I can’t go myself. I thought you might.”

“Where is it that you can’t go that you want me to?”

She looked at me. Something cold enveloped my whole body.

“Calvert Street.”


NEXT: The last copy editor

Snow day 7

At seven o’clock yesterday morning the snow had stopped briefly, with about three inches or so of new snow topping the old accumulation. By eight the storm had resumed, and it kept going for another eleven hours. Heavy snow, whipped horizontally by high winds.

At times during the day I just sat, looking out the window and marveling. We are used to the idea of making plans and taking action; there is, we think, always something we can do. Not yesterday. Most of the state simply shut down. Travel on the roads was forbidden, you couldn’t get anywhere, and there was nothing much to go to anyhow. Noting to do but wait until the storm had spent itself.

J.P. did go out in the morning to clear the walks, and I did a turn in late afternoon. Today we’ll finish up the walks and see what, if anything, can be done about the street. But no plow ever appeared on Plymouth or Roselawn, and there are places where the snow has drifted three feet deep on the street. Our cars are not leaving the garage for some time, and we’ll have to see what kind of bus service will be restored. And when.

Fortunately, the power did not fail, so I was able to pass the first day of my sixtieth year — sounds worse than fifty-nine, doesn’t it? — comfortably.

I blogged a bit and got a good start on David Nokes’s biography of Jonathan Swift. I indulged in a wee dram or two of the good bourbon.

I tinkered some with this year’s grammarnoir series, “Pulp Diction.” The first installment will go up later today, followed by weekly installments and concluding on March 4, National Grammar Day.

I spent some time on Facebook, reading a steady stream of birthday greetings and good wishes from far-flung friends and fans, for which I am touched and deeply grateful.

Kathleen and J.P. collaborated on the birthday dinner. J.P. put together a casserole from available materials: ham, rice, peas, asparagus, cheddar cheese, and an improvised sauce tinged with horseradish. Kathleen labored over an apple-cranberry pie, a remnant of which I am about to tuck into for breakfast. We toasted the day with prosecco and afterward settled down to a quiet evening, grateful that the snow had finally come to a halt.

Today, the digging out begins again.