"Jest" your way to success

There's a Chicago restaurant, Ed Debevic's, built around the theme of the diner with wisecracking waitresses. As one website review puts it on centerstage.net: "The servers are all well-trained in mock-rudeness, an act which sometimes seems to border on the truth. The customers know what to expect, however, and the insults are taken as comedy." This approach has made the restaurant successful for at least twenty years.

This year, the Chicago Transit Authority adopted the same theme for its employees. In years past, when passengers transferred between trains at Howard Street, a voice over the intercom would say, for example, "Red line train to 95th pulling out, please use all available doors." On a recent Saturday, however, as passengers made the same walk between trains, a woman's voice squawked out of the intercom, "That's right, take your time, we just waiting on your convenience."

Another time this year after I disembarked from a Red line train at Fullerton, the train's operator stuck her head out the window and yelled to me, "You stupid! Stupid!" for not getting off the train sooner. I had waited for the doors to open at Fullerton but they were stuck shut, so I had walked the length of the car in order to slip out through the other doors, which were just closing, so I was late in getting out.

O CTA, the tourists may not understand, but I get it, and more power to you in your efforts to increase revenue.

Ignorant no more

Well, excuse me for thinking that "friends with benefits" means they have a 401k plan.

I knew that an entomologist studies insects, but when I heard that a friend knew a forensic entomologist I thought he was a guy who has to figure out why an insect died, and what tiny tools he must use, and why would anyone care why a particular bug died? It turns out that a forensic entomologist aids legal investigations by knowing things like how certain insects feed on corpses.

People used to whisper and point when I said a pandowdy was the same as a crumble. Looking back, those were my innocent days. (Link)

Get me rewrite

And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.

"Uh, Luke, that's a tight squeeze. You might want to rewrite that line."
"What do you mean?"
"Mary and Joseph and the babe all lying in the manger? How uncomfortable."
"You know what I mean."
"Still, you should rephrase it. You know, for the ones who take everything literally."
"Okay, how's this?"


And they came with haste, and found the babe lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph.

"Same problem, you just rearranged it."
"Well fine, let's get wordy then."


And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph. The babe was there too, lying in a manger all by himself.

"Oh, that's poetic. It's starting to sound like a case of child neglect."
"You wanted the rewrite for clarity's sake. That's as clear as can be."
"Wait a minute, are we sure the shepherds saw just Jesus in the manger? How big was the manger? Maybe all three of them really were in there."
"Why would all three be in the manger? That's an excellent way to crush the kid."
"Right. But still, two lines later you say 'And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.' We're still wondering right here."
"Well, what would Strunk and White do?"
"Yeah, they'd cut it to the bone. Go with what you had in the first draft."

Stay for supper? No thank you

I really wanted to make a good impression when Y and I went to have a Sunday lunch with her mom and mom's boyfriend Rusty. This was around 1987, and Y's mom was living with Rusty at his small farm on the edge of town. Rusty raised pigs and chickens, and they had given us homemade bacon for Christmas the previous year.

It was a sunny summer afternoon, perfect weather. Y's mom had put out a big spread for lunch and we had just started eating outside at the picnic table set on a slight slope between the house and the barn. A big grey short-haired dog came out from behind the right side of the house, trotted past us, behind my back, and went back around the left side of the house. Rusty muttered something through his beard about the dog, and the animal came back from the left side of the house, pacing past us, and disappeared around the right side of the house.

The dog had looked skinny but with muscles, and Y's mom explained that it had been attacking Rusty's chickens over the past couple weeks. I don't know if anyone owned the dog. Rusty got up from the picnic table and went in the house, coming back with a shotgun. Y and I didn't say anything, but Y's mom said, "Rusty, you don't have to do that now, sit down and eat." Rusty strode around to the far side of the house, there were two shotgun blasts, and Rusty came back to put the shotgun in the house before rejoining us at the table.

I don't remember what we talked about for the rest of lunch. It may be a point of etiquette to assist your host when there's a proposal to shoot a dog during the midday meal, but I think Rusty understood that I wouldn't be much help, so I don't know that I ended up making that good an impression.