So, like, I think …….

Savannah Morning News

Jan. 7, 2018

“So. What do you think about the next election?”

“So. How were you affected by the hurricane?”

“So. What’s your next project?”

Have you noticed? Six out of eight sentences in today’s conversations start with the word “so,” between friends, at cocktail parties, on the radio.

There are still some holdouts.

“Why do you think there is so much disparity in the world?” asks the erudite, nuanced Robert Siegel, the last of the great interviewers, who is leaving his 4 p.m. post on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

“So,” the interviewee starts in response to Siegel’s carefully considered question, buying time, gathering thoughts, delaying a bit.

“So” has become the first cousin to the old Valley Girl standby – “like” – where sentences might start with “like” and end in a question.

“Like, I thought I might go to grad school?”

“So” and best friend “like” are stall words. They offer a pause until you can get back on your feet, until you can think of something articulate to say. “So” announces you do have something to say (if only you could remember what it was). The same with “like.” These shell words get people to look your way. They act to soften your opinion when you’re not really certain you have an opinion, when you’re beating around the bush. “The day was, like, perfect.” No, darn it, I think to myself. The day was perfect. It wasn’t like perfect. Why can’t you just say that? No one’s going to hold your feet to anything.

The perfectly meaningless phrase, “you know,” does the same thing. When someone is telling me something and stops to say, “you know,” about a dozen times, I want to say, “No, I really don’t. I really don’t ‘know.’”

Then there’s “I mean.” This is quickly edging toward “so” in the stall department, followed by, “I just feel.” The sentence starts with “I mean …” Yes, yes, I’m thinking; I’m on the edge of my seat. What exactly do you mean? But it doesn’t end there. It moves on to, “I just feel … “ By this time, I’m starting to lose it. I’m thinking how can I get out of this. Please, enlighten me. How exactly do you feel? And why should I care what you feel anyway? This isn’t about feeling. We were talking about the weather. I think. It was so long ago I forgot.

I blame it all on emoji’s. Don’t know what they are? A) I doubt it. B) You’re lucky. C) You don’t have a cellphone. D) You are so old-fashioned you don’t text. Someone – in Japan, I’m guessing since it is a Japanese word and the Japanese are the masters of graphics – decided we DON’T NEED WORDS anymore. We don’t need subtlety or shades of difference. Instead – to dovetail with the world of mobile devices they (can you say commerce?) came up with little facial expressions, little squiggle marks. Single handedly they brought back the smiley face – just when you thought that little yellow circle with the two black dots for eyes and the black curve for a mouth had left forever. Even the Oxford Dictionary took note. In 2015, that august body named the emoji the word of the year.

What would Thomas Wolfe or Charles Dickens think of an emoji? What would they think of texting?

Me? I’m trying to bring back the arch and awkward expression, “I never heard such,” as in, “Why, those girls are wearing their skirts above their knees! I never heard such.” Or, similarly, “I never heard tell.”

Robert Siegel, what do you think of all this?

“It’s the end of your show. You’re getting out unscathed (I think, I hope).  I wish you well. I thank you for your articulate sentences, your clarity, your precision, your exactitude, your intelligence, your words.”

Words: they’re a beautiful thing.




Squirrels, chit-chat, downtown savannah

Savannah Morning News

Dec. 31, 2018

While the subject of Airbnb’s is not limited to the historic district (witness the brouhaha in Ardsley Park that has gone to court numerous times and continues to be acrimonious), the short-term money-making online scheme also has its plus side. It introduces people to each other. Neighbors who may have lived side by side for years but never spoken, never invited the other person into their comfortable, well-appointed homes, never even knew one another’s names, now sit shoulder to shoulder on cushy couches offering another set of ears, another point of view, another piece of their heart – just when each party thinks they have enough friends, a crowded enough social calendar, a busy enough day.

No matter our age, we always need new people to laugh at our old jokes, to keep the questions coming. Alliances may start as bulwarks against insensitive weekend partiers who’ve paid a lot of money to rent a beautiful place in a beautiful city to celebrate a wedding, a birthday, a reunion – neighbors living 50 feet away be damned – but long-term coalitions can ripple out from there.

It was over a lime float that downtown neighbors Maxine Pinson and Marty Barnes started chatting, first about how to handle the never-ending Airbnb problem that the city can’t seem to get a handle on, and then what they are doing with their lives.

It was during one of these tete-a-tetes that Maxine started talking about a squirrel in her courtyard.

“We call him Sammy,” she said. “He likes to swing from an ear of corn I string from a limb and put on a show as if we weren’t there.”

Marty, an amateur historian the other side of 70 who has finished one chick-lit novel, has a few others down the pike and writes a blog about Savannah’s historic romance chapters, has had her own experience with a squirrel. “He devoured my kale. He’s a vegan. I’m sure of it.”

Maxine, aka Grammy to her grandchildren, shook her head but kept on talking. “I’m thinking about writing a book about that darn squirrel.”

“Well, what’s stopping you?” Marty said without missing a beat.

After that Maxine had no excuse – neither grief from a death in the family nor frustration from hooting and hollering weekend revelers nor knee replacement surgery. No stranger to wring or publishing, Maxine, who has put out several cookbooks and travel books, found an illustrator, started and finished her children’s book, “Sammy and Grammy in Downtown Savannah.”

Maxine was generous with her credit. “I owe it all to Marty. She’s my proofreader (“I can’t help myself,” Marty said. “It’s a sickness”). “She never stops. I know this because her car is never there. She’s a docent at the Davenport House and a tour guide. She’s a former journalist, a writing teacher, a freelance writer. It’s so crazy. You start doing one thing and you end of doing something else. After what’s happened the last few years I could have been sitting back and popping pain pills but Marty got me going.”

“That’s one thing about Savannah,” Marty said. “We are never bored. “The other day we were walking our greyhound when I saw a group of Girl Scouts and heard one of them say, “Look, it’s a pet deer.”

Then Maxine launched into her latest adventure.

“Someone had parked outside my house and left their car running for the longest time – and he was taking up two spaces,” she started. “Horrible. I walked outside to give him a talking to but I didn’t see anyone, so I got into the car – the key was in the ignition – and there was a wad of cash on the passenger seat, just sitting there. I started driving the car around the block. That’s when he popped out of the apartment building across the street and started yelling, ‘What are you doing in my car?’ I think he must have been delivering pizza. I stopped, got out and said started telling him a thing or two about being considerate of people who live here.”

Marty listened, as friends so. Then she had her own story –  about Sophie Meldrim Shonnard, a member of a renowned Savannah family and a fashion designer who owned a boutique in New York City.

“She’s the one who got Jackie Kennedy Onassis to wear that pink boucle suit the day her husband was killed in Dallas,” she said. “Did you know that, Maxine?”