Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on favorite films

      When listing my favorite films, those I watch over and  over, I forgot one: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
      The only singing is done by toons, but that Jessica Rabbit can really belt out a torch song, (not Kathleen Turner doing the singing I recently learned, ) and it's just as funny to me as it was 15 viewings ago.
      In fact it contains what I nominate for the funniest line ever in a movie, up there with, "Can't swim?  Hell, the fall will kill us." It goes something like this.
     "Delores , can the rabbit stay here a coupla hours?"
      "I don't know Eddie.  He's not gonna do anything crazy is he?"
     And I now have a new film on the list, the first since Mama Mia. I first watched Pirate Radio one day this summer, then watched it eight more times in the next two weeks (HBO).
    It has a splendid cast headed by Phillip Seymore Hoffman, (my pick, you may recall, as the best male performer in cinema today,) but Kenneth Brannaugh should have won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his protrayal of a tight-assed British bureaucrat.
     But what really makes the movie is the best sound track ever. All the songs are ones played on the radio in 1967, arguably the best year ever for rock and roll, and they're almost continuously playing.
     Also it has a just-keeps-getting-bigger lump in the throat ending worthy of It's A Wonderful Life.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


        (I had intended to get all literary with this piece and introduce it with a quote which, until I tried to find it, I was sure is from Robert Pean Warren in All The King’s Men, which I’ve read at least three times.  Anyway it’s essentially that drinking in excess is the only way that will do a man any good. [The author said “man” I’m sure.] if anybody can point me to the exact quote I'd appreciate it.)
        We recently learned that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning.  According to the coroner’s report, she had no other drugs in her system, but had a blood alcohol level of .40, the over the limit line for driving both here and in the U.K. being .08.  According to reports, a period of abstinence was followed by the discovery of her body surrounded by empty vodka bottles.
         A friend of mine in the mid 1970's went with her roommate to the roommate’s home in Tennessee.  There they went to visit some of the roommate’s friends.  At the house they visited there was a guy named Moe.  I don’t recall whether Moe did what he did on a dare or from pure exhibitionism, but I think it's safe to assume that Moe was already intoxicated when he opened the fifth of Jack Daniels, turned it up and downed the entire bottle.
      Shortly thereafter Moe passed out and was the subject of ridicule until someone realized he wasn't breathing.
           The punchline of this sad story is that Moe was no mo.
            I found some humor in Ms. Winehouse's demise as well.  It's in the British gift for wry understatement.  Her official cause of death was labeled "misadventure."
      Yes, consuming a gallon of vodka at one sitting is certainly an adventure gone awry.

Eye Of The Beholder

   You know everyone doesn't love Raymond.  Me for one.  He and his show might be very funny but I'll never know, because I can't stand the way Ray Ramano looks.  Everybody has actors who are like that for them.

    Another for me is Billy Crystal, but unlike Raymond, I'll watch some things with Billy Crystal because of the quality of the whole.  And if I dont have to look at him, I think he's great, as in his narration of some of the Ken Burns baseball series.

     I used to feel that way about the guy from Home Improvement, which I never watched, but he's won me over--largely with his part in the fantasic film Galaxy Quest-- and I'm now OK with how he looks.  I wouldn't want my daughter to marry him and produce grandkids with his weird face genes, but I don't have to change the channel when he comes on anymore.

      This is purely personal preference.  Jack Palance and Don Ameche were weird looking, and I don't think this is a minority opinion, but somebody must have found their looks appealing or they wouldn't have got those leading men roles.  ( You'd have to pay me to watch City Slickers, which has both Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. )

       Some people feel this way about entertainers I like. Jerry Seinfield, OK, I can see that, but I know people who don't like to look at Meryl Streep.  She doesn't have a classic movie star face,  but I think she's beautiful.

       I have a friend who doesn't like to look at Cameron Diaz, and her eyes are a little weird, but he also doesn't like the looks of Uma Thurman.  Can't see how anybody could think that.

       There's only one female who comes to mind that I feel that way about, Kerri Russell. I wanted to watch that show she broke out in, Felicity, because the story line appealed to me, but I couldn't get past my distaste with her looks.

        The most outstanding example of this in my life involves a TV commercial.  At my house we always mute the commercials, but there was one for which my friends and I had to kill the visual as well.

        Said commercial came on during  Braves games a few years back.  I guess it was for some exercise program, because its spokesman was a large bare-chested man with a buldging torso on which sat a tiny head.  His image was so repulsive it was as if we were vampires and he  was a crucifix. Shouts of "Agh! Agh! Man tits!" were heard as we tried to find the remote with our hands over our eyes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Lost Boys and the Last Days off Wiffleball

     Boys come to my house in the middle of the night. I call them boys. They're in their mid-twenties. They were boys when I met them, and boys they remain.
      They come in my bedroom at 2:00 A.M. exhorting Da to get up and play with them. Sometimes I do when I don't need to be up early. They consume everything consumable that they don't have to cook. When they leave it's as if a swarm of locusts has passed through, empty husks strewn everywhere.

       But to understand about the lost boys and why I call them such, you first need to know about.
                      THE LAST DAYS OF WIFFLEBALL:
                                      A LOVE STORY
         We played wiffleball at least once a week for three or four years. We started as soon as it was warm enough and continued until it was too cold. It was never too hot and it took a lot of rain to stop us.
        The players were me, my son and from three to twenty boys in their early twenties, occasionally a female or two.
       Some of them had spent a lot of time at my house; most I had known since they were little; all were and are my friends. I could bore you to tears explaining our game and its elaborate rules-- how to turn a double play, (Base runners were all imaginary. There was diving by intrepid defenders, but no base running in our game.) how the cedar tree in left center (the green monster) came into play, but suffice it to say that we kept meticulous statistics and published them weekly on the interweb.
         And we lived from one wiffleball day to the next.
         People regularly drove from Athens and Atlanta to play our game. I remember Daniel Lanford saying more than once that wiffleball was the only thing he looked forward to. He usually followed by saying how this showed that he had no life, but I knew at the time he meant he loved us and there was no place he'd rather be.
           We all felt that way.
           Until the very end, almost all the boys who played this game had grown up together, gone to school together, played rec ball together, climbed the water tower together. The last summer of wiffleball the game had grown by word of mouth to include boys some of us had never met, so many that no one got to play that much.
         We all thought, the original wiffleball "core" that is, that the next year we'd politely rid ourselves of the new kids and resume our old game. That was two years ago. There's been no game since. What happened was that most of them got jobs, went off to graduate school, got wives or demanding girlfriends that weren't of our circle, in short, grew up.
          We didn't realize then that that last summer was the end of childhood, that that summer was the last time this circle of friends would be together. Oh, a lot of them will still get together at Christmas holidays, but it will never be the same as the summers of wiffleball, more like a class reunion.
          They all grew up except the few who were left behind, the lost boys who raid my refrigerator in the night. They roam the Newton County night looking for what has been lost, and although I stay home and go to bed on time, I’m not blind to the fact that I’m also one of the lost and left behind.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More to follow

             Hello fans,
   As you can see, I've pretty much taken the summer off  from writing. I've been busy with other things and until lately without reliable help. (I don't type these things myself , short e-mails and texts constitute all my typing ).

          Look again next week,  there will be at least one new post.

                 THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE...... 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Come Saturday Morning, I'm Going Away With My Friend"

     Jesus is coming Saturday. I know this to be true because I've read it in the newspaper, on the internet and even in "Doonesbury." Some preacher in California who's had people all packed to go before says his math was off last time but he's sure he's got it right this time.

     So what does that mean for you? Well kids you can stop doing your homework and skip school. For that matter, you can stop heeding those commercials warning you not to try meth even once.

     And your parents? Drop that plan to quit smoking. Take the rent money and spend it on crack.

     This advice is only good if, like me, you're a Baptist. Because, you see, we Baptists believe "once in grace, always in grace" and that's a wonderful doctrine.

      Methodists, Catholics and some other sects believe in "falling from grace." Thus they need to be on their really best behavior, get right with God if they're not real soon and go out and start proselytizing.

     Sample conversation between a Methodist and Baptist this week:

     Methodist: Brother, are you walking in grace? Would you like to kneel down and pray with me? The hour of his coming is nigh.

     Baptist: Don't think so. Want some crack?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Same Old Song

     Songs get recycled. Sometimes an artist will release a hit song and try to follow it with something that sounds much the same hoping to recapture that success. This was especially true when the recording company essentially owned the artist and called the shots.

     The Four Tops had a smash hit, the wonderful “Can’t Help Myself,” and followed it with the self-mockingly titled “Same Old Song,” which sounded a lot like the earlier song but not as good.

     Similarly, The Drifters’ “On the Boardwalk” was followed by “Up on the Roof.” I can just see the record company calling Tin Pan Alley and telling young Carole King, “Honey, we need you to write something for The Drifters which sounds like ‘On the Boardwalk.’”

     Jim Morrison kicked and screamed about it, but he was forced to follow The Doors’ single “Light My Fire” with “Love Me Two Times.”

     But what I really want to talk about is when people just copy an earlier tune and change the lyrics. Sometimes this is OK because it’s so obvious. Everybody has a “Bo Diddley.” Buddy Holly quickly followed it with “Not Fade Away.” The same song, but you can’t really sing “Bo Diddley” if you’re not Bo Diddley anyway. And just to cite one of many others: Springstein’s “She’s The One.”

     Other times songwriters just lift tunes and claim them as their own. Those bobbysoxers in the fifties had no idea Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” (the only of his hits I know of that he “wrote”) is the Civil War ballad “Aura Lee” with substituted lyrics, but Elvis wasn’t trying to con anybody and the song was public domain.

     Not so with Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver.” We’re not supposed to notice that the verses are Neil Young’s “Helpless”? This riles me. Neil only has about a dozen tunes which he recycles into hundreds of songs and this guy just rips one of them off?

      But Neil’s too nice a guy to sue.

     Not so the guy who wrote “He’s So Fine” for the Chiffons and sued George Harrison for “My Sweet Lord.” I must confess that I and nobody else I knew or heard of who grew up with “He’s So Fine” and walked around campus singing “My Sweet Lord” caught it. Maybe it was changing “doolang doolang” to “hare krishna” that threw us off, but once you know, it’s straight “He’s So Fine.”

     Sometimes, as with “My Sweet Lord,” the masking of the earlier tune is quite an accomplishment in itself. Have you ever noticed that the Indigo Girls only hit, “Closer to Fine,” is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” slightly speeded up with some interesting harmonies? Beck’s “Loser” is sung over the “Midnight Rider” backbeat riff. And Gary Wright gets some measure of his due with Springstein’s “The Rising.” Sing the chorus of that song then the chorus of “My Love is Alive.” Where’s the difference?

(Readers are invited to cite similar instances in the “comments” section.)

Flip Side

     And then there are those who refuse to keep doing the same old song. I imagine one of the reasons the Beatles started Apple was to get out from under Capital Records pressure to keep producing songs that make you feel happy (clap, clap) inside.

     On the other hand, they were probably so big by then they could have called the shots anyway, like, say, Bob Dylan. The record companies were happy to get whatever Mr. Zimmerman had to offer, but he at now famous times infuriated nearsighted fans by producing radically different sounds. (I must admit I fell into that group when he went on the Jesus binge)

     Springstein had his first big selling LP with “Born to Run”—itself a major departure from the style of his earlier albums—but “The Promise,” a video/cd box set I highly recommend, shows him going to great lengths to produce an album that would sound distinctly different from “Born to Run.”

     Some others with the gumption to keep changing their sound: Beck, never the same thing twice; Elvis Costello and Paul Simon going from folk to salsa to gospel to Afro-beat.

     It’s not coincidence that the artists just listed are or were at some time at the head of the pack.


     For a couple of years, while I watched T.V. I played guitar and wrote songs. One day it started to seem like work and I stopped. Now I play solitaire.

     I’m something of a manic-depressive. They don’t use that term anymore. Now it’s bipolar. People seem to be proud of being diagnosed bipolar but nobody liked manic depression. Being bipolar, you have a condition, an excuse, but if you’re manic depressive there’s something wrong with you dude.

     Anyway, I go through streaks of giddy creativity interspersed with periods of lethargy. This solitaire phase corresponds with one of the latter.

     But even playing solitaire for hours on end can be rewarding. You have to shuffle cards a lot, and I find that soothing. “Fl-l-i-i-c-k-k-k, fl-u-u-u-m-m-m-p-p-p” a magical seven times.

     I’m developing a philosophy of life based on solitaire. First of all, obviously, you face it alone. That and the playing of the game are in a way like Zen meditation, something that’s always there, like your breath, on which you can focus attention and maybe free your mind.

     As with life, if you can pay attention in solitaire, see what’s coming and have a plan for dealing with it, your odds of success are much better. Of course you can just automatically play whatever card you can and sometimes win by dumb luck, but if the cards are stacked against you, if it’s not in the cards, your best just won’t be good enough.

     There are parallels between playing solitaire and being a criminal defense attorney, the most obvious being that you have to play the hand you’re dealt and the cards are usually stacked so that you cannot win. But if you pay attention to the way the cards are falling, occasionally there’s an opening to pull victory from defeat---if you can see it. And of course you can occasionally win by pure dumb luck.

     So, Da, isn’t this just a rationalization for spending a big chunk of your life doing nothing more productive than playing with yourself?

     Well yeah.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More on Movies

     It seems to me we’re in a golden age of cinema today which rivals the studio glory days of the 1930’s. The nominees for best picture this year were largely outstanding, although I thought Inception was just too full of itself and I’m not about to watch the movie where the guy cuts his arm off.

     I attribute this in part to the wealth of independent producers who’ve largely replaced the studio system, and of course to technical innovations which the computer age has brought, but I think the biggest reason is the wealth of acting talent that has lately erupted.

     In the generations of actors immediately preceding the young crop, three, to my mind were preeminent: Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. The best actors of the current crop are Johnny Depp, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn.

     Coincidentally or not, these three align in talent with the three older actors, Sean Penn with De Niro, for the kinds of in-your-face realism roles that made them famous, and Depp with Dustin Hoffman. They both have that chameleon ability to assume a wide variety of roles.

     Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom I consider to be the best of the latter three, also shares with his Hoffman namesake the chameleon thing, unlike Jack Nicholson, but in addition to that, as with Nicholson, he has a personality that one can see underlining all his roles with which one feels an affinity.

     Although I appreciate their acting—Penn in Milk and Dead Man Walking is brilliant—in contrast to Nicholson and Philip Seymour, neither De Niro nor Penn strike me as someone to whom I could relate well. You may recall from a recent post that I mention two brilliant films I don’t care to see again and both star Robert De Niro.

     I see six actors as being almost on that top three level: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Casey Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio. Clooney is old school Clark Gable and Carey Grant rolled into one, and DiCaprio has gone miraculously from pretty boy to James Cagney.

     Very Honorable Mentions I give to Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Bridges, Geoffrey Rush, Alan Rickman, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Terrence Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Matt Dillon, Stanley Tucci, Liam Neeson, Billy Bob Thornton, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Buscemi and the sublime Kevin Spacey.

     And the women are better than the men. Meryl Streep is the best actor in the history of cinema, period.*

     In the top three tier with her are Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. There isn’t a generation-before these three women trio who could compare. Who would the outstanding actresses of the 70’s be? Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Barbara Streisand? Not in the league with the current three. One has to go back another generation for three of this caliber, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, I’d say.

     Almost there on the level of Moore and Kidman I’d put Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Joan Allen, Laura Linny, Annette Bening and Kate Winslet. Then there’s Natalie Portman, Jodie Foster, Julie Roberts, Judy Davis, Joan Cusack, Dianne Lane, Naomi Watts, Selma Hayek, Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Catherine Keener, Amy Ryan, Patricia Clarkston and probably at least a dozen others whose names don’t come to mind presently.

     Finally, note from the list presented the infusion of Australian talent that’s occurred only with this generation. It’s on a smaller scale like the influx of German talent which produced the first golden age.

     *That’s my opinion limited by my lesser knowledge of foreign actors whose work I couldn’t fully appreciate anyway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dude Abides

     My favorite movies are not the best movies I’ve ever seen, but they must be my favorites since I watch them over and over. They are The Big Lebowski, That Thing You Do, The Wizard of Oz, Mars Attacks, It’s a Wonderful Life, Bad Santa and Mama Mia. (I didn’t realize I was a closet Abba fan until I saw the movie.)

     Except for possibly Mama Mia, the most recent release, I’ve seen all of these films at least ten times. Unless there’s some serious sports on T.V., I’ll watch any of these films whenever I see they’re on. It doesn’t matter if there’s only 10 minutes left. For three of these—It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz and The Big Lebowski—if you say a line of dialogue I can tell you the next one.

     With the exception of The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life, I’d rate none of these films in the best 100 ever made. I’ve seen Casablanca, Gone With the Wind and North by Northwest, films that would be on that list, probably at least ten times each, but I wouldn’t watch either of them several times in the same week the way I do The Big Lebowski. (And there are other films in that top 100 I don’t care to ever see again, e.g. Raging Bull and The Deer Hunter.)

     So what is it about these films that hooks me so? Except for the Christmas films and Mars Attacks, these films are full of music. Two are out and out musicals.

     But what really links them is that they’re all “feel good” films with happy endings. True, Donny does die, Martians incinerate thousands and perform grotesque medical experiments, and Bad Santa disappoints children, but in the end, George really does have a wonderful life, Dorothy gets back to Kansas, Bad Santa turns out to have a heart of gold and the Dude abides.


     There was a time in my life, not that long ago in geological time, when I would have said I didn’t care for musicals, that I couldn’t watch a movie where someone just up and started singing out of the blue. I’ve changed my attitude about that.

     Part of the reason is that during the heyday of the musical, 1930-1970, there were so many bad ones made. Films with maybe one good song and a bunch of really bad songwriting. But if pressed on the issue, I’d have had to concede that some of my favorite films were musicals: The Wizard of Oz, My Fair Lady, Cabaret and Funny Girl.

     You’ll note that two of those films “cheat” at being musicals. In Cabaret, and for the most part in Funny Girl, people don’t just up and start singing, they’re singers on stage.

     So why are Cabaret and Chicago musicals (they definitely are) and not That Thing You Do or The Buddy Holly Story? I think the answer is that the songs relate to and advance the plot.

    Which, along with the quality of the songwriting, is what separates good musicals from bad ones, The Music Man from those Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald atrocities.

     So while I can’t watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, An American in Paris or West Side Story, all considered to be excellent musicals, because they are just too corny, I think that Mary Poppins and Funny Girl are wonderful entertainment.

     I now wouldn’t say I don’t like musicals generally, because the new generation of musicals is mostly so good. Chicago, All That Jazz, Moulin Rouge and Mama Mia are all excellent.

     (Also you might observe that I think sexy women in garter belts and stockings are a definite plus.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rhymes with Blinker

                              Football Stinker

     I’ve been thinking about Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. For those of you who might not follow sports, he’s the guy who was suspended at the beginning of last season over allegations that he sexually assaulted a female college student in Milledgeville, GA last winter, after, I believe, previously settling a law suit filed by another young woman.

     What kind of disturbed creep is this guy? The short answer is, “not one that I would call that to his face,” but why is he sexually assaulting college girls in bathroom stalls?

     I mean, he’s rich and famous and he’s won a Super Bowl ring. Haven’t seen his picture lately, but he’s probably handsome. The QB is usually one of the handsomest players on a team, and usually one of the most intelligent, intelligent enough in this case to learn a complicated offense, read defenses and make lightning speed decisions under pressure.

     So why doesn’t he have a girlfriend who’s a Hollywood star or cover-girl model? And if he’s currently between supermodels and somehow finds himself in Milledgeville for the evening, why can’t he secure the hottest woman in Milledgeville?

     He has to be such a demented asshole he can’t conceal that fact long enough to have consensual sex with admiring groupies. The man needs to attend the Keith Richards’ School of Social Grace.

                            Roundball Sinkers

     A few weeks ago my friends T.J. and John played in the Newton County Recreation Department Church League Championship. Of the several hundred or so churches in the county, four fielded teams.

     T.J. and John played for St. Augustine, the county’s only, I think, Catholic Church. I’m not saying St. Augustine recruited non-Catholics for its team, I’m just saying at least there were no overt Klansmen on the roster.

     Their opponents were The Church at Covington, the oh-so-nineties name of which will someday look like a tattoo on some embarrassed child’s grandmother.

     I attended the game and sat with the other three St. Augustine rooters, a turnout which doubled the team’s previous fan base. The Now had called for their fans--I’d estimate around a hundred--to wear all black. Covering my bets, I wore a black velvet sports coat lest a fight break out.

     T.J. sent me a message before the game asking for ideas for an ESPN poster. That’s where fans at an ESPN televised game hold up a poster with a four word slogan exhorting their team, the capitals ESPN written in vertical descending order and their slogan horizontally, i.e., Entering SMU Power Node, hoping for their, in this case, three seconds of fame.

     I sent back slogans exhorting St. A. (Every St. Augustinian Plays Nasty), self denigrating (Entire Squad Perceives Nothing) and provocative (Eradicate Some Pious Nerds), but my favorite was the theologically themed “Eat Sacrament. Pray Nightly.” Ideally (we were too lazy to actually make a placard anyway) it would be wired to subliminally flash “Embrace Superior Papist Notions.”

                               Oddball Thinkers

     I’ve recently seen video clips of Ron Paul and his son Raul (and his name isn’t Raul, but wouldn’t it be cool if it were?) speaking before the Nothing To The Left of Limbaugh Convention. (One speaker, Pawlenty I think, was in fact attacked by Rush for suggesting Republicans might need somebody left of Limbaugh in their camp to win a national election.) Not having to address people centered in reality, they set out their vision of life in a Paul and son America.

     I was immediately struck by the similarity to John Lennon’s “Imagine” in that they’re speaking of a place that never existed and never will, a utopia existing only in the mind.

     Leaving aside that one utopia is based on ultimate giving and the other on ultimate greed, it’s easy for one to advocate either position when you know there’s no way in hell a sensible populace would adopt either form of (non?) government and the anarchic nightmare that would ensue.

     NEW RULE: The Prince Avenue Baptist Church (of Athens, GA) is no longer on Prince Avenue and, as far as I can see, in Athens, GA. It has to change its name to a symbol meaning “The Church Formerly Known As Prince Avenue Baptist.”

     Terrible song lyric: “The first cut is the deepest” (in fact the title and repeated refrain) Oh yeah, why? Who says? Butchers? Sword Swallowers? No, Cat Stevens actually, always my go-to-guy for conventional wisdom.

     The fact that so many have covered this tripe astounds me. I mean no one I much respect (Rod Stewart, brain-dead since 1971, Sheryl Crow, wasn’t she married to a biker on steroids?), but still, lots.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


     Since mid-October I’ve been learning Spanish, mostly while I drive my car. I’m using the Pimsleur Method, of which I highly approve. I can now speak Spanish far better than I could after taking three quarters at Emory.

     I can speak, but not read or write it very well. That’ll come later. They don’t want me doing that yet.

     The Pimsleur Method is based on the recognition that most people on the planet who’ve learned a language, i.e., children, learn to speak it pretty dang well before they can read anything. They learn by speaking and hearing, a little bit at a time, and figure out on their own verb tenses and conjugations.

     I spend about 45 minutes a day speaking and hearing Spanish. What I’ve learned is mostly tourista Spanish. We talk about making reservations, ordering food, make small talk about the weather and people’s families.

     After finishing the first 86 of 120 lessons, I can now order Mexican food and converse with my servers in Spanish about it. I can make small talk with lovely senoritas at the bar. That goes something like this:

     Me: Vienes aqui con frequencia?* (Do you come here often)

     And the senorita generally says something which in context sounds something like, “I think you’re a creepy old man.” (There seems to be intercultural consensus on this point.)

     But I’m also learning basic conversational structure and a reasonably good ability to be understood that I think will serve me well in a variety of situations.

     Let’s say I’m in Mexico and am confronted after dinner by a bandito in a dark alley who says, “Hey gringo, I want your lunch money muthafucka.”

    Now, if the guy looks stoned, I might take this tack: “Lo siento, no hablo ingles. Entiendo “muthafucka,” pero que quere decir “lunch money” in espanol?” (I’m sorry. I don’t speak Spanish. I understand “muthafucka,” but what does “lunch money” mean in Spanish?). And then, while he’s trying to parse that out (“Quere decir su dinero para comprar su almuerzo”), I run away.

     But let’s say he doesn’t appear likely to fall for that one, then I go with the in-your-face assault. I say, “Acabo de terminar comer mi madre,” which I believe to mean, “I just finished eating my mother.”

     To which he might reply, “Lo siento, no es el hombre pense. Quizas prodria comprar le una cervesa.” (I'm sorry, you are not the man I thought. Maybe I could buy you a beer)

     But let’s say he presses the issue, that he’s one of those desperate hombres about whom one hears so much, and he says, “No creo que a comido su madre.” (I don’t believe that you have eaten your mother)

     I then say, “Mide! Mide aqui entre mis dientes. Hay mi madre.” (Look! Look here between my teeth. There’s my mother)

     At this point he’s looking worried, unable to tell your common carne from mama meat, and I press the advantage.

     “Quere que debo comer su madre. No hace me hacer lo. Donde esta su madre? Creo que va a sere muy deliciosa.” (Do you want that I should eat your mother? Don’t make me do it. Where is your mother? I think she’s going to be very tasty)

     But now he’s impressed that I’ve remembered to use “deliciosa” instead of “delicioso” since I’m still referring to his mother, a feminine noun, and he says. “Por favor senor, podria ayudar me con mi ingles?” (Please sir, could you help me with my English)

     “Compra mi muchas cervesas, entonses podemos hablar.” (You buy me many beers, then we can talk)

     *A note on spelling. No lo sais. I’m just making my best guess from the way it sounds.