Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Best Laid Schemes

When my lovely wife Darla and I had some plans derailed recently, I was reminded of the words of Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.”  What he meant was, they get messed up.  Take that verse, for example.  Burns started off well: “The best laid schemes of mice and men…”  That phrase showed promise.  We weren’t sure where he was going with it, but juxtaposing the mice with the men was enough to generate interest, and spin off a novel or two. Then his verse got sidetracked with gangs and gleys.  I suppose his gang reference shouldn’t surprise us; he wouldn’t be the first poet involved in gang activity (Longfellow’s Gitche Gumee Boys spring to mind).  But what’s this business of afting a-gley?  “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.” 

I’ve concluded he intentionally messed up the line to prove his point.  The verse didn’t just pronounce that the best-laid schemes tend to go awry, it demonstrated it, by going awry.  It’s kind of like onomatopoeia---you remember: the word used to identify the noise bees make actually sounds like the noise bees make.  I think Burns was handing future generations a fresh figure of speech---let’s call it “gang-afting,” to add to metaphor, simile, alliteration, personification, etc. (If you’ve ever had to create a Match the Figure of Speech to its Name Quiz for an English class, you know that you can always use another figure of speech; if possible, you’d rather not resort to the use of Metonymy and Synecdoche).  Burns gifted us with gang-afting: to start out with a good plan that gets royally messed up.  I suspect there are other examples of it out there. We just didn’t know it because we weren’t looking for them, and we wouldn’t have known what to call them if we’d seen them.  I could do a search of English literature and maybe come up with a few examples, but that would require time and effort, and alter my normal pattern.  However, any reader who performs such a search will receive extra credit.

I’m more curious about how Burns determined that the best-laid schemes of mice go astray. We won’t give him any argument about men’s schemes, having watched a number of botched rocket launches (which were presumably planned by rocket scientists), but there seems to me to be no good reason to impugn the best-laid plans of mice.  Granted, some schemes of mice go astray, unless those particular mice schemed to have their backs suddenly broken while they nibbled on a tiny glob of peanut butter or cheese.  But I suspect that, among all the schemes those mice may have entertained for that particular evening---chewing into the box of rice in the pantry, eating the crumbs around the toaster, making the humans jump and scream, encouraging the Mrs. to try to make more mice---the plan to eat the food on that odd looking wooden contraption under the kitchen sink was not among the “best laid.”  I would not want to be the reporter, interviewing the grieving mouse spouse on the following day, who suggested to her that the unfortunate events of the previous evening were the results of her hubby’s “best laid” scheme. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Colonoscopy Games

Since I revealed my shocking medical condition in the article, Hospital Cat Scams, scores of Wry Bread readers on various continents have written to inquire about the present status of my health.  Well, maybe not scores, but several of you.  Okay, the word several may give the wrong impression, let’s just say that some of you have---well, you haven’t actually written---you’ve been busy with other things, I’m sure, but I have no doubt you’ve been anxious about my current condition, perhaps subconsciously. Yes, that’s it.  There’s been a lot of subconscious anxiety going on.  So to ease your mind, and to permit you to focus on your daily tasks undistracted, I will bring you up to date on my progress. 

As you may recall, I was driven to an emergency room by severe stomach pain (and for a pain, it drove surprisingly well), where a cat scan revealed that although my intestinal tract was completely cat-free (as I kept insisting), there were diverse ticks in my litis (a segment of the colon, I presume).  The technical name is Diverticulitis.  I was told to follow up with the doctor who had conducted my last colonoscopy.  This seemed an odd choice, because in that procedure, just months before, this “expert” had detected no signs of ticks.  The question before us was a simple one; in light of the new diagnosis, should I schedule another colonoscopy?  I argued for the opposition. 

In case you haven’t yet had the experience, the colonoscopy, as one might guess, involves a colon and a scope.  As the patient reclines face down in a poor-excuse for a robe, the doctor, having previously chosen a convenient point of access, drives a remote-controlled camera through the hairpin turns of the patient’s digestive tract, all the while trying not to collide with the intestinal wall.  If he touches the wall, a buzzer sounds and he loses his turn.  Then the next doctor steps in, but he can’t begin where the first doctor left off.  He has to begin at Start (also called Home). 

In the Sorry™ version of the colonoscopy, before he can enter the colon with his scope, each doctor has to draw either a one or a two from the deck of cards which the nurse has provided.  Furthermore, if while Doctor A is probing the colon, Doctor B draws a Sorry™ card, Doctor A has to go all the way back to start, even if he was almost at the end (you’re right, Pretty Boy, one might say these doctors are always at the end).  This version can take a bit longer than the classic version, but it has the advantage of suspense, in that one can never tell which doctor will complete it first. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Car from the Future

We recently bought a Prius.  It’s from the future.  Like cars from the past, it has a gasoline engine, but it also has a mid-twenty-first century energy generator that, even if I understood, I’m legally forbidden to describe until the year 2050, when the car was built, which happens to be long after my prospective departure date.  Exactly how we bought a car from the future will be explained below.  You need to learn to be patient. 

When we mention to people that we’re averaging between 55 and 61 miles per gallon (and that seems to come up a lot) they usually say, “But you have to plug it in, right?”  I think what they’re saying is:

“You doofus!  It’s not such a bargain if you have to pay the electric company for the juice you use---plus you have the hassle of having to remember to plug in the car every night, and you have to find charging stations when you’re traveling.  Don’t call me when you’re stranded on I-95.”   

But I respond, “That’s not the way it works (in other words, I see your doofus, and raise you one).”  It’s not a plug-in car.  It generates some of its own energy.  The whole scheme is displayed in animation on a magic 3D monitor in the cockpit (apparently they no longer use written language in 2050).  The 3D image depicts energy flowing from brakes to batteries to motors and back again.  I’m sure it makes perfect sense to the young engineer who designed it, who probably won’t be born for several years. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hospital Cat Scams

I had to have a Cat Scan this week.  It’s no wonder health care costs are crazy high, when invariably, the first thing that’s recommended, when you’re sick, is an expensive test to scan you for cats.  The statistics are not readily available (surprise), but I suspect that fewer than one in ten thousand Cat Scans comes back positive.  Just because there’s a machine that can do it doesn’t mean it should be done.  This is a perfect example of big medical corporations marketing products that hospitals don’t really need.  All an aggressive salesperson had to do was convince one hospital administrator to invest a few hundred grand (which, I understand, a hospital can make from one day’s mark-up on Acetaminophen) for the “latest technology,” and every other hospital had to follow suit.  No hospital wanted to be the only one in town without a fancy new Cat Scanning device.  Did any administrator pause to ask, “How in the world would the cat get in there in the first place?”---Evidently not.  Now that universities have cracked down on fraternity cat-gulping parties, abdominal cat diagnoses are actually relatively rare.  Are we supposed to believe that thousands of kittens are wandering into their owner’s open mouths at night, attracted by their snoring?   I know kittens are curious, but that sounds a bit far-fetched.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Foxes and Beavers and Owls, Oh My.

We’ve been told since we were children that foxes are sly.  But I’ve seen quite a few of them dead in the road recently.  I can only assume they’re having some unpleasant interactions with fast moving vehicles.  I don’t know about you, but it strikes me as not particularly sly to run directly across the path of a car or truck hurtling down a highway.  

“Hey, Ralph.  How much you wanna bet I can get to the other side of the smooth trail before that next giant monster runs by?” 

“You mean that big one with the round black feet and the fire-eyes that’s coming incredibly fast?  I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Sly. Why don’t you just wait until he goes by?  Remember Cousin Wily tried the same thing last week and—Sly?  SLY!

Even people generally regarded as, shall we say—not particularly sly—seldom try to outrun cars and trucks.  If they did, there would be a severe pastor shortage, and perhaps Pretty Boy would be known as Pretty-Banged-up-Humphrey. 

Now someone may respond (let’s call him Melvin),

“This is simply nature’s way of weeding out the foxes that don’t deserve the sly label—in other words, a way of protecting the brand.  The vast majority of foxes are clever enough to wait until the monster passes before crossing the street.  The ones you see flattened are the few, the proud, the non-sly.”  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Though it be Madness

My watch battery died.  Now I have to advance the minute hand manually.  It pretty much takes up my whole day.  This has given me a greater appreciation for people in the old days, before there were time-savers like batteries.  It’s no wonder it took them forever to get anything done, like, inventing batteries.  For example, it has taken me twenty-two minutes just to write the above, taking a break every fifty-five seconds to advance my watch.  Of course moving the minute hand only takes about five seconds.  The time-consuming part is counting “one Mississippi,” “two Mississippi,” etc., until I get to “fifty-five Mississippi,” over and over again.  (The only thing worse might be typingone Mississippi,” “two Mississippi,” etc.  By the way, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to Mississippi, but the scuttlebutt seems to be, one Mississippi is more than enough, and fifty-five Mississippies would be way too many---But this is getting us off track, or it would be if we had some sort of track, and if we were on it.)  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dead Men Walking

According to God's Word, there are people who have died who are now walking around on earth. In fact, you might have one or two in your home right now. What's that sound in the basement? Some might call them zombies, and some might call them other scary names, like Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists or scariest of all, Presbyterians.  Listen to this 6 minute segment of a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5, if you dare.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cryptic Sayings

Living next door to a funeral home tends to remind one of his mortality.  So it’s going to be embarrassing if, after over nine years of such reminders, I kick the proverbial bucket without clarifying some things regarding my departure.  First, as I’ve mentioned to my lovely wife Darla numerous times, and in my previous article, Between the Quick and the Dead, I don’t want to be exhibited, as if I were a science project, or a blue fin tuna.   My body never looked especially good when I was alive; I have no reason to think it will look better when I’m dead.  Why would I want my friends and family gawking at my carcass?  I never gawked at theirs.  Who came up with the open casket idea anyway?  How much do you want to bet it was a self-satisfied embalmer?   If one of you Wry Bread readers should happen to find me displayed in such a manner, I hope you will have the decency to close the box, or at least flip me over.  If people must gawk at me, I’d rather they do it behind my back.