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(Another vintage essay, friends [1990?], but such car rants are, I hope, timeless.)


(This is an oldie, folks, but I hope it is still a goodie.)

Writing Right

There is a wonderful scene in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run where the hopelessly inept Virgil Starkwell tries to rob a bank. He sidles up to the teller’s window and slides a note across. The note reads, “Give me all the money. I’ve got a gun.” Or so he thinks it reads. The teller studies the note, looks at him quizzically, and says, “You’ve got a gum?”

“No,” Virgil hisses, “I’ve got a gun…a gun!”

“No,” says the teller patiently, “Look right here: It says, ‘I’ve got a gum.’”

Cursive Writing

I suppose because I am a teacher, a friend sent me an article last week which noted the decline of cursive writing practice in our schools (“Penmanship Losing to Computers”). Had I noticed a change over the years? My first response was that I hardly ever see my students’ handwriting, cursive or otherwise: all the work that I grade, they do on computers (and if someone used a “cursive” font, I’m afraid the irony would be wasted on me: don’t get cute, I’d say). Then I remembered that I am treated to page after page of handwriting every year, when I grade those Advanced Placement essays.

Shea, Inc.

Yes, “Shea, Inc.” as in “incorporated,” even as you are incorporated, which is to say that our souls or spirits or anima are the guests of our bodies, our corpora, those hard-working if sometime treacherous flesh and blood and bone contrivances that bear us through life until they final give up, as we say, the ghost. For good or ill we are all incarnate. We spend our lives peeking out of the eyeholes of this body that shelters us and pulls in signals from the world. It is a prison, albeit a prison from which we are loath to escape.


I was going to call this wonk “Cash for Clunkers,” a salute to the very popular government program just concluded. But I thought I deserved better. I am not, after all, a Buick (rumors that I might be an Edsel are just that and no more). Because we all sometimes fantasize about trading up to a younger, fitter self—“He’s got the body of a twenty-year-old [runs the quip]…and, boy, is that kid ticked off!”—I began to imagine myself, my body, getting the once-over by a gimlet-eyed car salesman.


I teach a course here at UNM in classical rhetorical tropes, have for years. But the first question I have to engage for my students—who are, after all, paying good money—is “What is a trope?” And it’s not just my students. Acquaintances both close and casual are curious about the term. And now word has reached me that my in-laws have asked their daughter exactly what it is that Jerome teaches. Well, that is rather too close to home for comfort, so I thought I would address the question right here in a wonk, once and for all.

Birth Order

The Sheas are having a kitchen renovation done. The new countertop, sink, and dishwasher are eagerly anticipated. But all the countertop people do is install the countertop and the new sink. So the Long Suffering Diana and your faithful Wonker are having a…uh…spirited discussion about who is going to hook up the dishwasher and re-install the drain pipes under the sink. She wants me to do it, to save money and perhaps to bolster my self-esteem (that latter is a guess).

A Decade in Daytona

Like nomads—a very large contingent of nomads—the Advanced Placement essay graders strike their tents every few years and move on. We move on because we have outgrown the accommodations or because the Educational Testing Service was able to strike a better deal somewhere else or out of a perverse need for discipline (see below). For whatever reason, this was our last sojourn in Daytona Beach, Florida. With something between bemusement and amazement, most of us finally realized that we would miss the place.

Tilbury Town

Another wonk about a poet. But unlike William Topaz McGonagall or Julia Ann Moore, I am talking about a very good poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, who seems to have dropped off the radar, and that’s a pity. The man won the Pulitzer Prize three times. His long poem, Tristram (part of his trilogy on the Arthurian cycle), was a best seller in 1927. But by mid-century all that kept his reputation bumping along were two or three poems—“Richard Cory,” “Mr.

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