Friday, November 15, 2013

Pavlovian Phrases

Our household runs on catchphrases.

At the mention of a specific word -- or set of words -- one of us is bound to respond in a manner that is 100% predictable, based on some inside joke that a visitor would find utterly confusing.

Or downright weird.

For example:
  • During a meal in our home, if you accidentally bite your lip and produce a droplet of blood and then comment on it, you'll get in response: "My mouth's bleeding Bert! My mouth's bleeding!" The quote is from the climax to It's a Wonderful Life, my favorite film of all time.
  • From the same movie, a greeting in our home of "Merry Christmas" might well prompt a full-bore Jimmy Stewart-accented cheer: "Merry Christmas, emporium! Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan!" Again, as George Bailey, Stewart bellows these phrases while trotting down the snowy streets of Bedford Falls, reveling in his resurrection.
  • Ask "Are we having soup?" You'll get a question back: "Soupy soup?" This exchange isn't exactly traceable, but we suspect it took hold when the girls were younger. When in the grips of a cold, Eileen or I would prescribe soup for either lunch or dinner later in the day. But of course, parental patience ebbs when kids are sick, so when the toddler question was tossed back -- "What kind of soup?" -- out of frustration, one of us (probably me) came back with "Soupy soup." The delivery of this catchphrase is now always a question, with an upward rising pitch. Probably mimicking the response we got when naming that particular flavor: "Soupy soup????"
  • Let the word "people" fall from your lips. You may very well get a squeaky quote from Singin' in the Rain. In the film, when prissy platinum blonde Lena Lamont is chastised, "People just don't do that," she responds: "People?!?! I ain't people! I am a 'shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament!"
  • Same film. Express disdain for someone and one of us will chime in: "...and I kan't stan'em." Response: "Cahn't." Second response: "kan't." Third response: "Caaaaahn't." Forth response: "kaaaaaaan't." 
  • If a story told around the dinner table involves someone's exclusion from something, my voice will rise to its upper wobbly register and make the Misfit Toy observation: "Nobody wants to play with a Charlie-in-the-Box!" 
  • Also Christmas related: "Calendar book with the name of my insurance man." That's here. Love Allan Sherman.
  • A casual mention of snow elicits the response, in a stilted accent: "I do not believe in snow!" This is from The King and I, where the children of Siam, having never heard of this frozen precipitation, express doubt that it even exists. Not sure how this has caught on in our home -- my doing for sure -- but it's a guaranteed response.
  • "Ouch, Charlie!" Internet meme. This will probably fizzle out in our house soon, but for now, it's getting plenty of air-time. Charlie Bit Me! 
  •  Elf: "Bye, Mr. Narwhal." "Bye, Buddy. Good luck finding your dad!" In a deep Narwhally voice. Weird. But we say it.
Some of our notable quotables are short-lived and die off after over-use. I was in a rut of quoting Despicable Me's lead character Gru, using Steve Carrell's unidentified western-European accent: "Dat's how I roll!"

We also got a good run out of the Minions from the same movies: The incredulous "WHAAA?" from DM1 and the alarmist "Bee-do, Bee-do, Bee-do" from DM2. From the same franchise, we were also known to observe, in a southern twang: "Somebody's got a frowny face!" and with kid-like glee "It's so fluffy, I'm going to die!" And high-pitched excitement: "Oooh! Stuffed crust!"

But none of these have reached classic status.

They've played out.

Leaving none of us saying: "Play it again, Sam."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Literary Lachrymose

I've written before about crying in the movies.

Rarer, I think is crying while reading a book.

There's something about the enveloping scope of film that, at least for me, encompasses my emotions to the extent that I can give myself over to tears.

It's imagery, yes, but also music and tone and performances and color and movement.

Words on a page are captivating, make no mistake. And I've certainly been taken to another place and time while in the pages of a book.

But there's something about reading that makes me less likely to cry while doing it.

Now laughter, that seems to come easier. I remember receiving a copy of David Sedaris book Holiday on Ice at a work-related Pollyanna one Christmas. I opened it down in the bowels of the SEPTA train station on my way home that evening and dove into The Santaland Diaries. And before I had turned even a half-dozen pages, I was stifling a smile.

And then a short chuckle.

And before long, I was stuffing my fist in my mouth, trying not to appear like a lunatic in public.

It was a tough battle, I can tell you.

But when it comes to shedding tears, I can honestly think of exactly two books that have sent me over.

The first one might seem strange considering the author is horror-meister Stephen King.

But that one was The Green Mile.

For those of you who don't recall its literary beginnings, The Green Mile was a serial novel, in the style of Charles Dickens, who wrote and released chapters in tandem, over time. The Green Mile came out in a chain of short books, as King doled out his story piecemeal.

The conclusion came out while we were on a family beach vacation, and I can remember dashing to a bookstore on the boardwalk to snag a copy and find out the fate of hulking inmate John Coffey and sympathetic warden Paul Edgecomb.

And when I placed my hand once again in King's and read where he took me... my eyes just overflowed.

In a setting that could not have been less conducive to crying: At a crowded New Jersey beach with hundreds of sunbathers, swimmers, families, ice cream hawkers, walkers, talkers and gawkers.

The other book to push me to tears was, not surprisingly, Marley and Me. John Grogan's account of his goofy and loveable Lab was a must-read for someone with his own goofy and loveable Lab. But the ending was gut-wrenching.

That's it. Over a lifetime of reading, exactly two books have caused me to cry with emotion.

Now if we want to talk books that bored me to tears, that's another conversation...