Footnotes Are Fun!

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WHO SAYS footnotes can’t be fun? There are footnotes aplenty in MARVIN PLOTNIK AND THE SANDY RIVERS HILLTOP RANCH FOR WAYWARD YOUTH, JUVENILES, AND YOUNG ADULTS. Here are just a few…

Sure-Fire Ways to Get Out of Gym

“Tooth and Nail”

What the Hell is Déjà Vu, Anyway?

Where Socks Really Go

The True Origins of Shakespearean English

Time Management


Sure-Fire Ways to Get Out of Gym

• Declare you are a member of Puumanji, a remote Sumatran sect that believes in keeping perfectly still from, say, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (or whenever your particular gym class meets), which is “Puumanji Sacred Hour.”

• Claim an acute medical condition such as personal injury. While holding the appropriate body part, say, “It hurts when I move my arm/neck/leg/groin/spleen.” (Warning: this can backfire if your gym teacher feels a need to call the paramedics or, worse, your mother.)

• Claim a chronic medical condition such as an allergy. Make sure you tell them you’re allergic to something involved in the workout (leather, sneakers, gym mats, or, as Marvin did in the seventh grade — in a stroke of genius — his own sweat).

• Assert future plans. “No thanks, I’m training for a sedentary career in computer science.”

• Cry out, “For the love of God, not the rope!”

Note: These same excuses can be used once you have entered the workforce and are required to attend endless meetings about endless uninteresting subjects, and team-building retreats where they make you wear matching T-shirts designed by the receptionist and climb rock walls and fall backward into your awaiting co-workers’ arms. Simply rephrase as, “Paintball gives me hives,” or, “My therapist says I can’t be around human pyramids,” or, should you already have a career in computer science, try, “Sorry, I’m in the middle of a quad-core modification test and if I walk away now, you’ll all lose your hard drives.”



“Tooth and Nail”

When I first came across the phrase “tooth and nail,” I thought it was a play on the Klaztonian phrase “shooth and knayell” before I remembered that Earthlings don’t speak Klaztonian. But after some investigation (and not much), I learned the phrase was literal. As in saber tooth tiger literal. As in saber tooth tigers had big teeth and big nails, so fighting one was dangerous in the extreme, and, I’m sure, frustrating to boot. BTW, “Tooth and nail” can be found somewhere between “Take a Powder” and “Whoa, Nelly” in Reginald T. Foggbottom’s Dictionary of Peculiar Expressions, Adages, Idioms and Other Figures of Speech (English), coming soon to a bookstore or handy ebook site near you.



What the Hell is Déjà Vu, Anyway?

“Déjà vu,” from the Greek, literally meaning, “This again?” is the feeling one gets when events presently being experienced feel as though they had been experienced before. This phenomenon can occur at any moment — while biting into a piece of pizza, while waiting for a bus, while sculpting dryer lint into life-size celebrity busts, etc. This eerie and bizarre feeling of reliving a moment is often accompanied by the phrase, “Holy crap, this happened before. And this. And this. Wait up, guys, I’m serious! It’s still going on. This is too weird. It’s … crap, never mind, it stopped.”

Not to be confused with the all-too-familiar feeling one gets when asking someone out on a date (just after that ridiculous belly laugh) (which is another thing entirely) (but one that I’m sure we are all familiar), déjà vu is experienced by almost everyone, in every culture, throughout the world. Make that “throughout the galaxy.” If you haven’t experienced déjà vu, it is only — as will become clear in the next paragraph — a matter of time.

Now you can take this with a grain of salt, but believe me when I say This is Going to Matter, So Listen Up: The feeling of déjà vu in truth is nothing more than “temporal transmigration displacement,” or, more simply and with a lot fewer letters, time travel. Or, if you want even fewer letters, TTD. Granted, it’s time travel on a very small scale, but it is time travel.

Some neuro-physiologists would scoff at such a notion, arguing that TTD is the stuff of science fiction, that déjà vu is merely a chemical reaction in the brain, wherein neurons are triggered in such a way as to mimic memory.

I say: Poppycock and pig twaddle. If it quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it feels like memory, it is memory.

How, you might ask, does it work?

First, some rudimentary physics: No doubt you have seen graphic depictions of how large objects such as planets and stars, because of their size and mass, bend the three dimensions of space, and with them the fourth dimension of time, referred en toto as the “space-time continuum,” yes? This is usually depicted as a ball nestled in a grid, like a basketball resting on a trampoline, the trampoline representing space-time, and the ball representing a much bigger ball. Of course you’d have to be an astrophysicist or at least have a good grasp of Euclidian geometry or “Futurama” to get the mathematics of it, but that’s it in a nutshell.

But let us imagine for a moment that the space-time continuum is affected not only by massive planet- and star-sized objects, but by all objects, no matter their size. Let us imagine that, just as large objects fold space-time on a large scale, smaller objects fold space-time on a lesser (relative) scale. The smaller the object, the lesser the scale; ergo, the less the space-time bending.

Let us now imagine one of those lesser scales is the human scale. Naturally vis-à-vis the great expanse of the universe this would seem infinitesimal in comparison, but this is what we mean by “lesser scale” so do me a solid and go with it a minute here.

The next time you experience déjà vu, take a look around. Undoubtedly you will be caught up in the fact things seem eerily familiar and you will be tempted to go into your usual “Holy-crap-this-happened-before” spiel, but try to ignore that and take note of the larger things, like that Taco Bell or that Hummer H3X or, say, your lard-butt porko sister. If you don’t have a lard-butt porko sister, see if there is some other lard-butt person around the house. If you happen to be a lard-butt, stand back, will ya? You’re upsetting the balance of the universe! (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Won’t happen again.)

Seriously, things of greater mass (your lard-butt sister), near something of lesser mass (let’s say, your brain), affects, on a teeny-weeny scale, the lesser mass. Thus, your lard-butt sister affects your brain. Which, I’m sure you are saying to yourself, might explain a few things. (If it helps you to picture this better, feel free to replace the item of larger mass with any of the following: “iceberg,” “dumpster,” “M1 Battle Tank,” “mother-in-law,” “The Brooklyn Bridge,” “Stephen Colbert’s ego,” or “Greenland.”)

So where does this time travel thing come in? Let me explain: One object’s mass affects another object’s position in space-time, right? Your brain, therefore, or at least portions of it, thus affected by the mass of a larger thing (or things) around you, makes the journey through bent space-time on an infinitesimal scale into the not-too-distant future, and, logically, sometimes on an infinitesimal scale into the not-too-distant past, which is why you can’t resist that second helping of ice cream. This is by nanoseconds mind you — fractions of fractions of a second. In this manner, when TTD causes you to leap into the not-too-distant future, because you are looking back at yourself in time, in nanoseconds, you are remembering what you just experienced, which, in truth, is actually happening in the present.

And if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.



Where Socks Really Go

Ever wonder where your socks disappear to when you put them in the dryer? Well you probably don’t, but whoever does the laundry around your house does. You may have been told that socks never make it to the dryer in the first place, that they go down the drain. Well I am here to tell you this is in fact true. But I am also here to tell you that this is only part of the story.

After it goes down the drain, your errant sock is retrieved by your local sewer authority and mixed with other errant socks. They are then sold to a company out of Hogswallow, Arkansas, who pass them on to another company, and so on, until they have gone through so many companies in so many parts of the world they can no longer be traced. (Which is where the word “laundering” comes from.)

Now you may have known all of that, but what you might not know is that eventually, all these tons of mismatched socks are taken aboard Fomlian star-cruisers, from which, for reasons only the Fomlians understand, the socks are released throughout the galaxy into the Great Nothingness of Space. Take a look at the rings of Saturn. You think that happens all by itself?



The True Origins of Shakespearean English

[A character had just said “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”]

Did you know that people in Shakespeare’s day didn’t really talk like that? (I mean, c’mon — “methinks”?) In point of fact, all those goeths and harks and whithers and betwixts were in actuality just the Great Bard — or “GB” as they called him in those days — having a little go at a bit of novelty. [See: “Creative License.”] Fact is, no matter what they tell you on The Discover Science Channel, people in William Shakespeare’s day in reality talked just like you and I, give or take a doth or two.

You’ll have to take my word on this one. The truth seems to have been buried along with all the worldly possessions of Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnall and no amount of letter writing on my part seems to do any good. (“Again with zeh letters!” Jean-Claude tells me. “The people have a right to know,” I say. And he gives me that French-steeped eye roll of his again.)

Anyway, here’s how what we today know as “the Shakespearean form” came about:

It’s 1588, right? Smallpox, the plague, leprosy and any other disgusting disease you can think of is rampant, the Anglo-Spanish war is afoot, and people are regularly throwing garbage out of windows right in front of you when you’re trying to get to work. If you could get work. Which you couldn’t. Because there wasn’t any. And because of that, things weren’t going so well in the playwright biz. Mr. Shakespeare’s first two plays, Waiting for Gruel and Horatio, Have You Seen My Tights? had already bombed — or, as “GB” put it, “suffered a horrible eye-gouging death.” And let’s face it, the man had bills to pay. He had to come up with something.

Which, in fact, he did, one night at the local pub …

“It’ll be like a code!” he suddenly blurted out after a long series of overly-warm ales. “They’ll need footnotes and marginal explanations and cross-referenced dictionaries just to know what the characters are talking about! People will eat it up!”

And he was right. Once the public got a taste of all those harks and goeths and whithers and betwixts, they really took to them. Pretty soon everyone was using the words Mr. Shakespeare had pulled out of thin-and-most-probably-pipe-smoke-laden air. In practically no time you could hear it everywhere — anon this, and anon that; methought this and methought that; accursed this’s and naked villainous that’s. It was all the rage. Even the king was into it. (And, as kings often do, he took credit for it, decreeing thereafter it be called “the King’s English.” They do that, kings.)

Suffice it to say, it was Shakespeare’s idea, that smoke-filled night in 1588 in the neighborhood pub, of simply inventing new words. None of this glacier-paced language evolution. I mean, c’mon — who’s got the time? Not with the plague around.

He even made up the word for it.

“Slang?” his wife later asked in the parlor. “Isn’t that some sort of sludge or something?”

“’Tis true, ’tis true,” her husband replied, “but nay, ’tis now much more.” (To which for some reason he added, “I am constant as the northern star,” and then, “Why then tonight let us assay our plot,” which made his wife realize he’d had way too much to drink, so she put him to bed, shaking her head and tsking judgmental 16th-century tsks.)

Let us, then, give credit where credit is due. It was William Shakespeare, and William Shakespeare alone, who can be credited with turning the English language on its ear, making it as varied and ever-changing — and difficult to parse — as it is.

Thanks to Shakespeare, himself responsible for more words than we can count, by the 20th-century there were so many new words invented, every year whole forests succumbed to the paper mills so that the dictionaries could be reprinted. (Someday, when you have a lot of patience, sit down with your grandparents and ask them about words. They will tell you how legs became gams; coffee became joe; swell became cool became boss became groovy became cool again became bitchin’ became rad became awesome became the bomb became off da hizzle fo‑shizzle, and Uncle Henry became Aunt Genevieve when he had that operation).

Watch. I’ll prove it. Schmookah. There, I just made one up. Pulled it right from between the ol’ literary butt-cheeks. That took like a millisecond! That’ll mean, from now on … uh, let’s see … house. How easy was that?

If you really want to change the world — and why wouldn’t you — forget about coming up with a cure for cancer and other boring stuff that requires, at the most, advanced degrees, and at the least, a lot of homework you’ll forget later anyway. Spend your day making up words. You can even do what many writers do (not, of course, I) and make up people who say them. Or you can go into government and pretend a word — like, hmmm, “torture” — means something else entirely.

Which brings up another concept we can add to the ever-changing language discussion. Why make up a new word when already there were gobs of them just sitting around doing nothing? Why not simply change what they mean? That would be even easier, wouldn’t it?

See, up until the twentieth century, when the terms “jeepers creepers” and “rock ’n’ roll” and “gay Paree” made their way into the lexicon, once a word was created, it stayed that way for eons until, when there was no more use for it, they wrapped it up in newspapers and threw it out the window with old cantaloupe rinds and potato peelings and moldy fruitcake. Which wasn’t only disgusting but was wasteful. Why not be ahead of the curve, so the logic went, and save all that unnecessary window-tossing? Why not just change a word you never really liked in the first place?

Today, people are so used to a word meaning one thing on a Monday and something else entirely by Friday afternoon, they don’t even notice when “Ha!” becomes “LOL” in a record-breaking .32-seconds. (And doesn’t even save a keystroke).

Either way, change a word or make one up; you, too, can change how we communicate. Just think: one day, you could crank out new words by the hundreds, live in a big lavish schmookah, and have people argue endlessly over what the hell you meant.

And you can thank Mr. William “GB” Shakespeare for that.



Time Management

This is as good a place as any to put in a word about something I’d meant to mention earlier had I only had a moment to think about it: Time management. As anyone knows — student, office worker, miniature-railway enthusiast — time management is the key to a full, happy and productive life. That and a good thin-crust pizza, but that is not the point of this note.

If, for instance, instead of working on your calculus homework you were to spend your evenings mixing episodes of “Two Guys, a Girl and An Annoying Neighbor” with, say, “Lost in Space,” so you could post it on ViewTube, you’d soon watch that easy B+ slide right down the alphabet into slingin’-fries range. Of course, if you end up transferred to Remedial Math you’d have more time to devote to such things, but let’s face it, you’d be sore at yourself for giving the boneheads on the math team something to tease you about.

Fun Fact: On the planet Merssenthurlia in what you know as the Andromeda Galaxy, the notion of time management is nonexistent. There, because of the massive gravitational pull of the planet, time and space have so folded upon themselves, school kids often finish their homework before it’s even assigned. Then again, all that space folding means most Merssenthurlians are twenty-inches high and fifty inches wide; so there’s that.

One is not so lucky in this corner of the Milky Way. On Earth, students must start and finish their work assignments in that order, with all that middle-work stuff in between. Here, one must rely on good time management skills so one does not end up wide awake at 4 a.m. forcing oneself to read Pride and Prejudice. (“Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam…” Aaaaah!)

Here, then, are some things you can do to make sure your time is well spent:

• Never make your own meals. That’s what parents, and friends’ parents, and the good folks down at Burger Barn are for. If you must make a meal, make it in a microwave and always always stick to a single digit on the keypad. This will avoid wasting valuable time while moving from one digit to another. One minute, of course, can be entered as 1-0-0 or as 6-0 — how a microwave knows you mean a single minute is a subject to be taken up by minds far more studied than mine — but how about 6‑6? How about 5-5? Better yet, if your parents had splurged on the 1100-watt model, “Add a minute” is much quicker than any of them, and no one’s going to come arrest you if you open the microwave door at 57 seconds.

• Schedule your tasks. Since that itself takes minutes away from your day, consider scheduling scheduling your tasks. This way, you will be sure to fit it in.

• Multi-task. Combining two tasks into one time-frame can shave hours off a typical day. These hours can be spent infiltrating chat-rooms, trolling a scrapbooking forum (“Are those your children in the camping photo? And you decided not to leave them in the woods?”), or putting your mother’s underwear under your little brother’s pillow. So you won’t miss out on quality time like this, combine tasks that are easy to do together, such as walking to the bus stop with brushing your teeth. Or sleep in, miss the bus and the teeth brushing, let your mother get good and teed off and she’ll drive you in half the time. Warning: Do this too often and you’ll be walking all the way to school for a year, and that is a big time sucker. Which brings me to …

• Do away with time-sucking tasks. Shower? Why?

• Break down tasks into mini-tasks. Large tasks do not have to become overwhelming. For example, this morning I happened upon the following to-do list in the men’s room. Under the heading, “Take Over Planet,” could be found the following bulleted items: “Secure local air space,” “Control the media,” “Instill fear,” “Enslave populace,” etc. The writer of this note clearly has a good faculty for time management.

• Set realistic goals. For example, on the above-mentioned list, the final item, “By Friday, January 12, the Earth will be ours!” the author has set an achievable goal within a reasonable time frame.

• Never touch the same item twice (girlfriend parts exempted).

• Eschew cutlery. Saves on needless dishwashing time.

• Remove unnecessary distractions from your work area. Television, MP3 players, buxom blondes, etc., have no place cluttering up your surroundings when you are trying to work. Wait … the blonde can stay.

• Cut out unnecessary steps. Know how Xiaochang Bicycle Works outsells its top U.S. competitor 2:1? Stream­lining, that’s how! Less parts in box: less overhead; poorly tooled parts: future parts sales; untightened bolts: replacement bike! And skipping all those extra words like “Insert Rod A into Slot C” saves paper and ink! C’mon! Is every step necessary? Streamlining your process just might be your key to success.

• Skip using the letter D. It’s a crutch.