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


  1. It's spelled "keester." Happy Birthday.

  2. Oh boy, oh boy! I can hardly wait for the next installment. Thanks, John!

  3. Not -- not Calvert Street! Don't do it!

  4. Ooh, this'll be fun. I check every day anyway, but I'll be looking forward especially to these!

  5. I simply don't trust "official" spellings and definitions of slang. In New York State, land of the ever-higher deficits, it's "keester."

  6. Nope. It's spelled keister, pronounced /keester/.

  7. I'm with Patricia the Terse about official spellings of slang.

    "Keister" would be pronounced "kay-ster" as in "neigh" or "sleigh." It's "keester."

  8. Do you pronounce "neither" as "nayther"?

  9. I'm pretty amused by the idea that people who "don't trust" official spellings of slang nevertheless believe that their own spelling must be the only correct one. I can see making an argument that there is no "correct" spelling for slang (though I'm not sure I'd agree), but what is the basis for arguing that a spelling one has seen or used is clearly right and a dictionary spelling is wrong?

    As for "keister," I'm not from NY, but I have seen that spelling many times, and I have never seen "keester." Maybe it's a regional variant, like some of the expressions I grew up with in Pittsburgh (where we used gumbands, not rubber bands, and scrubbed our teeth instead of brushing them).