All posts by HRJakes

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Book Murdering, Magic, and Female Orgasm

I recently read an article about someone named Alex who has been dubbed “Book Murderer.”[1]  Truth is, of course, this man is not a book murderer, per se, but rather merely a book mutilator.  Book murderers burn books, while book mutilators are those who do what Alex does: he cuts the big books in half to make the more portable, easier to take on the road.

Alex stands in a long and distinguished line of book mutilators.  Though we don’t know their names, in the middle ages there were probably thousands of such people holed up in monasteries, many of them head librarians.  All of them were religious and thought that by mutilating a book, for example shaving away the words written on its parchment with a razor—thus is the English word “eraser” etymologically related to “razor”—they could repurpose the vellum.  It is not quite the same thing as merely cutting a book in half to make it more portable, but it is nonetheless mutilation for a practical reason.

Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (5C AD palimpsest).[2]

Now, you may be thinking that, though at least as harmful to trees as the making of any paper book is, this process of book halving may not be that bad, provided the parts of the book are both kept safely together on the shelf.  And perhaps you’d be right. It is rather much like the magic trick that in 1809 a certain magician named Torrini is said to have performed for Pope Pius VII when he reportedly sawed a woman in half. Though we have no firm record of that event save a mention of it by Jean Robert-Houdin, who describes it in his memoirs, we do know that P. T. Selbit offered such a performance in London over a century later.  In each case the women’s two halves were reassembled, and she became one again, even though she purportedly had been sawed in half.  That same year (1921), another magician named Horace Goldin[3] did the same trick in America, improving it somewhat.  Of course, the women weren’t really sawed in half, but that’s off the topic: the point is that they were kept together, as the two parts of Alex’s books no doubt are meant to be.

Horace Goldin (ca. 1874-1939)[4]

Goldin himself, whose surname before emigrating was Goldstein, enjoyed a remarkably interesting life. He would seem to have garnered his penchant for magic from a gypsy performer in his hometown of Vilnius.  His family migrated to Tennessee when he was 16. By the turn of the century, Goldin found himself to be a rising Vaudevillian performer and, though he had many setbacks, within twenty years he would or so become one of the most famous magicians in the world, and he was known especially for his trick of cutting a woman in half.

The town from which he hailed, Vilnius, was then part of Russia.  It is now the capital of Lithuania and is said to be one of the most beautiful towns in Europe, though it is not visited as often as other beautiful cities. The reason, of course, is because Lithuania was once a part of the Soviet bloc countries that are only now starting to be visited by tourists more regularly.  To speed up the tourism trade, Vilnius (pronounced in Lithuanian as if rhyming with illness) has launched one of the most provocative advertising campaigns of all time, one based on a woman’s orgasm. (They recently seem to have extended it, probably in the name of inclusiveness, to include that of men, as well.)  Their basic advertising slogan is this: “Vilnius: The G-spot of Europe. Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing.”  Time will tell if there will be an uptick in visits, but admittedly this advertising campaign is catchier than, “Visit Vilnius, the City that Rhymes with Illness,” or the more cumbersome, “Come to Vilnius, the Birthplace of Horace Goldin, One of the First Magicians to Saw a Woman in Half.”

A screenshot of a screenshot of one of the advertising campaign posters.[5]  Even at such a remove the message comes through clearly enough, for in her ecstasy the woman is grasping the sheet precisely where Vilnius is located.

What’s the point?  If you’re going to split anything in half—a person or a book or anything else that belongs together—remember to put them back. Oh, and this, too: if you magically mutilate something or someone publicly, be aware that you are drawing a lot of attention to yourself. And in that case if your native city is associated with orgasm, chances are that eventually everyone will find out.

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/book-murderer-social-media-uproar-cutting-long-novels/story?id=68426215&cid=clicksource_4380645_17_film_strip_icymi_hed

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palimpsest#/media/File:Codex_ephremi.jpg

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Goldin

[4] Image courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Goldin#/media/File:Horace_Goldin_magician.png.

[5] Image from https://news.yahoo.com/lithuania-capital-launches-provocative-g-spot-tourism-ads-154157272.html

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: If You’re Living Life Well…

In a parking lot I ran into someone the other day and we chatted about the issue of what one might call quality of life. He was a bon vivant, an acquaintance, not a friend exactly, who was telling me, even admonishing me that at my age I should be enjoying a high quality of life.  He told me that I should join his country club and play golf. He also said that he had a certain favorite spa where he regularly has his chest hair removed. He was recommending it to me.

Now I just had my chest hair removed, and it was rather painful, not something I would like to repeat. My removal was not at a spa or a country club but at the cardiologist, where a nurse took a dry razor and shaved my hair away.  No shaving cream, nothing, just a rhythmical “rip, rip, rip,” and voila, no chest hair. But pain? Yes, and the pain lingers even now, two weeks after the fact. 

I did not tell him, however, that I like my chest hair just where it is. Rather, I merely listened, taking mental notes, as writers are wont to do, and wondering if this fellow couldn’t make for a good character in a book.

Of course, I could hardly fail to contrast this experience with two things. First, I thought of a candle that has been in the news recently: it is supposedly scented like a woman’s private parts.[1]  On the one hand, this fellow’s instruction to grasp for the highlife seemed to me rather like that candle: it may smell a certain way, but it is in fact a deception.  The candle is obviously not a woman’s privy parts and its smell is likely to be but a poor imitation; (I here admit that I haven’t smelled it, but I have smelled strawberry-scented candles that don’t smell like strawberries). But even if it does have an authentic odor, it would likely be a bit embarrassing to have it burning, especially when someone shows up at your door who can recognize its imitative scent.  Not easy to explain, I imagine.  I mean if it were scented like hot cocoa, the neighbor might say, “Making cocoa?” and you could respond, “No, I just got a cocoa scented candle for Christmas,” or the like, and no one would bat an eye.  But the other candle would be, well, harder to explain.

The second thing that I contrasted this fellow’s quality-of-life advice was with the situation of a dear friend who is going through the decline of his mother. She now resides in a nursing home where he visits her daily for rather lengthy stays, and loves on her, hugs her, arranges her affairs, and cares for her as best he can and as much as time permits.  She herself has, one could say, a rather poor quality of life, as she is in a wheelchair now and is also showing signs of dementia. But her quality of life, however poor, is made better, much better, because of his sustained care and love. 

And my friend, the caregiver? My friend has a very high quality of life, in my opinion. Why? Well, it’s no doubt because of something that he and I were talking about the other day: we agreed that if you’re living life correctly, if you’re living life well, you’re probably looking after the needs of others over and above your own needs. Love, you see, has a sacrificial quality to it, which of course is what Christmas is all about, and, in an even deeper way, Easter, as well.

So, I leave you with this thought: if you’re living life well, if we are living life well, we are probably caring for others around us much of the time, trying to give them as high a quality of life as possible.  And that, in turn, paradoxically, will smell better than any cocoa- or strawberry- (or otherwise-) scented candle and in fact give us a high quality of life, one surely less painful that having one’s chest hair plucked or rhythmically shaved.


[1] https://shop.goop.com/shop/products/this-smells-like-my-vagina-candle?country=USA

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Christmas and X-rays

I don’t know if it’s an everyday event for Northumbria University and the Bowes Museum to X-ray painted wooden panels of the beheading of John the Baptist.  The panel itself is a bit different than most of renditions of John the Baptist being beheaded, for in it he has not yet be decapitated but depicted as piously praying to God.  This is, for many people, Christian or otherwise, a sad scene, one emblematic of a highwater mark of humankind’s barbarous incivility toward one another. It evokes Herod’s mockery of that religious figure, the triviality with which human life is often treated, and the rapidity with which evil designs can be carried out. 

Yet by that X-ray the experts at the Bowes Museum together with those at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne revealed that beneath this painted version of that tale is a much older painted version of another event: the nativity.[1]  Now this, too, is rather unremarkable: the notion of painting or even writing over useful  material is not new and in fact happened quite frequently in the Middle Ages.  Manuscripts so reused are known as palimpsests.  And here we have, courtesy of the X-ray machine, the equivalent in painting.

But there is, perhaps, something remarkable about this after all. Something to think about.  A few months ago a friend and I were talking, and he said he couldn’t believe in God because the church has done so many cruel things throughout history. Quite cogently he rattled off an entirely correct list.  My only response to him was to agree that these things did happen, but then to suggest that perhaps one should look beyond the abuses of religion to the source of inspiration himself. In other words, perhaps it is better to look to possibilities inherent in the underlying message and the ultimate bearer of that message rather than the those who are patently evil or even mere latter-day screwups, like me, who manage to obfuscate, in one way or another, by their own bad behavior the beauty of the message.  We all make mistakes, some more than others.  No one’s perfect, and, to put it more honestly, many throughout history, like Herod, have been intentionally evil. And often in the name of religion.

But lurking beneath the sadness of history, just as beneath the sad message of this painting’s visible scene, is another story, the truest essence of which is often covered over and forgotten. It’s one of hope, pathos, mirth, and joy.  Birth, not death, redemption, not condemnation, love, not hate.  That’s the nativity in a nutshell, and I think I will just leave it at that.  Merry Christmas, my friends, especially if you’re that particular friend with whom I had that conversation!  I hope that this nutty blog can be like a Northumbrian X-ray for you this Christmas day!


[1] See: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/news-events/news/nativity/.  The story has been carried in various news media outlets. For example, cf. https://www.foxnews.com/science/in-christmas-miracle-hidden-nativity-scene-found-beneath-medieval-painting.

Common Place Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Death

No, it’s not Halloween, when a blog on death would make more sense.  Rather, it’s Advent season. Not the time to think about death. For the religious, and maybe even some secular folks, perhaps it’s a time to think about birth. Not new birth, but just birth—the birth of a child in Bethlehem. But death, no, not that. Unless it’s the anniversary of someone’s death, someone very special to you—your brother, your best friend, maybe your dad or your mom. Then you think about death this time of year, and even more so on Christmas Day, for if you celebrate Christmas even in the most pedestrian, secular way, you still are likely to have certain associations of that missing person with the holiday, certain memories emblazoned into your mind.  And recalling them can hurt a lot, not because you necessarily have a bad or negative association with the holiday and the person, but actually for the opposite reason, because you have a sweet memory. And they are no longer here to share anything with you, not a memory, not a meal, not even a smile.

How can there be any merry making now on Christmas, in the shadow of such a cutting loss, such pain to the soul?  The answer can only be found in the deeper meaning of the holiday.  In the book the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan comments at one point about the White Witch not understanding the “Deeper Magic.”  That Deeper Magic is what I am referring to here, and it begins with the birth of a child in Bethlehem.  It’s a strange story, but not because stories about miraculous births are strange by nature, and relatively common in mythology, but because of what the implications of this particularly strange story are. Those implications are redemption and life. 

A professor of mine at college once said to me when he was standing in a stairwell—you see, it’s very simple, pal: either there is a God or there is not.  Christmas’ deeper magic suggests there is, and more than that it even suggests that that God cares a great deal, to put it mildly.  And that he detests death as much as we do, and that He and He alone can redeem something as vile as death and, for us in this dark world and wide, for now at least give us hope. That’s the beginning of the tale of the Deeper Magic, a tale that opens in a manger in a stable in a tiny town called Bethlehem. If you’re that friend of mine, perhaps far away, for whom I have written this blog on this dark day, please know that the Deeper Magic gives me hope—and it should give you hope, too. And may it begin for you now, this very advent season. 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: My Greek Barber, Jimmy

It is a strange thing to be in Greece and there to get your hair cut.  I might have simply stopped with Greece. Of course, it is strange even simply to be in Greece.  My dear childhood friend, John, recently texted me, “You sure do a lot of interesting travel.” Which explains the opening statement: it is a strange thing to be in Greece.  Not that it’s a bad thing, just a strange thing; I mean it is a bit strange for most Americans, or should I say Texans, among whom I, a Philly boy, dwell, and whom I now consider my tribe.

But let me get back to the strangeness of not Greece but, from my point of view, the haircut. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. The barber, “Jimmy,” (probably Yakoumis, in transliterated Greek) was fine, even more than fine. He paid a great deal of attention to every stroke of his comb, every snip of his scissors and did not doubt me when I told him (the truth) that I am allergic to most perfumed products.  He even went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that my hair was combed in the direction that it naturally falls.  The elder Jimmy of Jimmy’s Barber Shop should be proud.  I liked (the younger) Jimmy very much.  While we chatted a bit, he told me that he planned to get a sense of America by visiting his cousin in San Francisco.  I told him that San Francisco is a great town, with exquisite cuisine and marvelous views, but it might not be the city most typical of American culture.  We left it at that.

Unlike being at the dentist where the conversation is necessarily one-sided—I hate it when a dentist asks more than an “yes-or-no” question, and indeed rhetorical “n’est-ce pas?” questions are the best in the dentist’s office—a conversation with the barber can, of course, involve more give-and-take.  So, when it came to politics, which word I am here using in a rather loose sense, give-and-take was certainly in order.  Of course, with a president as active on Twitter as the current one, one expects some kind of political dimension to a conversation about the United States to come up. But what shocked me, in a good way, was Jimmy’s patriotism.  Greek patriotism, and that from a rather young man: Jimmy is probably all of 28 years old, give or take a year.

“Do you love your country?” he asked me.  I was a bit shocked by the question. Now before you can ask, “How can one be ‘a bit’ shocked?” let me explain.  The stove of my Airbnb had a short that produced a mild shock if your hands should be wet when you used it. That’s “a bit” shocking. So were my thoughts about Jimmy’s question.

“Yes,” I said. “And I especially love Texas.”

“You know, if someone here says they love their country, their called a fascist,” he replied.

“How odd,” I said, trying not to move, lest he should nip a piece of my ear by accident with his clipper.

“No, seriously,” he added. “No one here loves Greece like you say you love America, or at least Texas.” 

“You do, I think.”

“Yes, I do,” Jimmy said.

“You guys taught us everything,” I said, wittingly leaving the Romans out of it for a moment, albeit we owe the Romans a great debt, too.

He finished his clippings, and I gave him a sizeable tip. The haircut was nice. I mean, I don’t look any younger, but at least I don’t look any older.  But what was great about it was Jimmy himself.  We admired each other’s cultures, and we correctly, I think, traced them both back to the Greek idea of eleutheria, “freedom.”  For the Athenians, the inhabitants of the city where I am as I write this, eleutheria was everything.  It was what made them different from the other Greek city states.  So was parrhesia, or freedom of speech.  Again, freedom was the central idea.

I suppose the point of this blog is that.  A young Greek barber knows it.  An aging Texan philologist from Philadelphia does, too. I pray our countries—Jimmy’s and mine—never forget it, for once it’s lost, it’s damn hard to recover.  That’s where the Texan comes out: “damn.” Someone from Philly might have preferred a stronger expletive starting with the same fricative sound as Philadelphia. 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Essence of Forgiveness

So, a good friend of mine asked me to write about the essence of forgiveness.   It’s interesting that he asked me for its essence.  Had he just asked me to write something on forgiveness, that would have been pretty easy.  I might have said that it is simply a necessity, that people cannot function in society well if they don’t forgive.  And I could have cited an abundance of examples.  People who hold grudges—i.e. they don’t forgive—have to carry those grudges around with them.  Hold enough of them—hold enough of anything, and it will weigh you down. 

Or maybe grudges are the opposite of heavy things.  Maybe they are more like helium balloons.  One or two, even three or four tied around your wrist are annoyances but won’t substantially change your interactions.  I mean, people will notice, of course, that you have balloon strings tied to your wrists and helium balloons annoyingly bobbing over your head, just as they notice that you hold grudges, but they won’t think much about it. Well, yes, they might think you’re a little weird, as an adult, to be bringing helium balloons with you every where you go, as if you were a little kid. But, given how weird the world is nowadays, they probably won’t say much about it. They’ll just think what they think when they see you got a henna tattoo or died your hair pink and green—they’ll think, “whatever,” and the generous ones will add “floats your boat.”

But as you keep adding to your collection of those balloons—well, that will make getting in and out of an elevator really challenging.  And you can forget going through a revolving door at the entrance to a fancy hotel.  You’ll have too many balloons for that.  And people will notice because you are always talking about your grudges—er, balloons—because they are, frankly, noticeable.  So, in the end, you’ll be what the ancient Greeks called an idiotes, someone so independent of everyone else, so much an “individual” that they become an idiot.  And if you continue adding balloons, eventually you’ll be swept up in a wind and even though, at first, you’ll enjoy looking down on everyone—something you’ve probably been doing anyhow for quite a while already—you’ll eventually be transported somewhere you really don’t want to go. The only way back down to earth will be to let go of your balloons, one at a time.  But the true idiot won’t do that.  He’d rather cling to them and float around above other human beings than let even one of them go, even if that were the only way back.

But that is not the essence of forgiveness. That is simply what happens to you if you hold grudges and refuse to forgive.  The essence of forgiveness is—and I have one friend who will most certainly not want to read this—is the same as the essence of love: it is sacrifice.  It’s not quite the same kind of sacrifice that love demands, but it’s similar.  Love demands putting the other person first, caring for that person’s needs first, taking second place, even third, fourth or fifth, as appropriate.  The kind of sacrifice that forgiveness demands is even greater.  It demands that you surrender.  And you must surrender something that is the greatest sacrifice of all those that you could possibly make: your pride. That includes your sense of soaring above the other person, buoyed up on your fistful of balloons, so you can look down on them and say, “See, I was right, and you were wrong!”  Yep, you have to sacrifice your burning desire to “win the argument,” the rush of satisfaction you think you will have (but you won’t) once you’ve “won” the argument. Yes, that’s pride.

So that’s the essence of forgiveness, as far as I can see, from the human point of view: sacrificing your pride.  From the divine point of view, it is quite another kind of sacrifice. But I leave that aside, for blood-red Good Friday is still many a Friday away from these chill-grey October days. 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: When One Notices Grammar

Your life can really be wrecked by having good grammar.  How? There are only three ways, not ten, like last week’s blog. So, this blog will be shorter.

  1. The Grammar Grammatical Annoyer.  That’s right. You’ve known them. These are the people who will correct you when you’re engaging in Umgangschprache.  Not that they know what Umgangschprache is.  Of course not, because they’ve spent all their time refining their English grammar, not learning German. They are like people who brush their teeth so often that they have receding gums.  Or people who comb their hair so much that it’s perfectly kempt but their hair is naturally (too) thin owing to the repetitions of combing. Or, worse. Those people who have perfectly groomed dogs that look just like them. And, by the way, the people are perfectly groomed, too. And they walk their dogs in the park and the dog’s leash and collar and sometimes even little doggy-jacket are color-coordinated with that of their perfectly groomed master.  You get the idea.  These people are like fetish people. Toe fetish people, who crave sucking on your toes.  Not that there is no room in the world for such people—I just don’t want them sucking my toes, that’s all.  Fortunately, politically correct people (who are by now horrified, if they are still reading) have supplanted a lot of the Annoyers, because they are actually more annoying than the Annoyers.  And you can thank God for the PC folks, if you’re a grammar Annoyer, to do which (i.e. thanking God) is probably not PC.
  • The Grammar Observers.  Okay, say you’re lucky enough not to be an Annoyer. There is also the category of Grammar Observer. These are what you might call grammar voyeurs. They are like people with voracious sexual appetites who have decided to take holy orders, and now have to suppress their desires.  On the surface of this, it sounds innocent enough. But these are really people who notice bad grammar and simply stuff the urge to correct it deep, deep down in their souls. They are deeply troubled individuals. It’s not that they want to suck your toes, exactly, but they would love at least to see what your foot looks like without a shoe, or even better, without a sock. Not that they would suck it or even touch it; but they would want to, really, really want to. Okay, that’s weird, but that’s these people. They are deeply suppressed, and most of them wind up in therapy at some point.
  • The Grammar Whizzes.  This one is less likely to wreck your life per se than the first two, but it can. These people are better than your computer at grammar. More to the point: they are better than their own computers. They actually hate grammar/spell check—they turn it off because it is too often wrong. (And, just so you know, the grammar/spell check feature is only wrong once per 100,000 words, on average.) But that is simply “too often” for the Whizzes. When they find an “error” in the grammar/spell check, they actually write a letter to Microsoft. If there are any “errors” in the response—and I put quote marks around the word because they are not necessarily errors per se—they circle them and sent the letter back to the writer of the letter. That’s their favorite thing in the world to do. These folks are weird.  Forget the toes. Forget the socks. Forget the analogy. These Whizzes have some kind of power grab fetish, and they use grammar to get their jollies.

So how can noticing other people’s grammar ruin your life?  If you’re in category one to three, you need some help. You need therapeutically to write a grammatically incorrect sentence.  You need to listen to country music and try to like it—for there are many infelicitous moments, grammatically speaking, in country music. Probably purposefully so, by the way, but infelicitous, nonetheless.

So, what’s the deal? Speak bad, lighten up, relax. The computer will fix you’re grammare. Works for me.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Top Ten Difficult Moments When Traveling

What is the worst thing that can happen to you when you are traveling?  As I am traveling a lot these days, I decided to make a Lettermanesque list of the top ten bad things that can happen to you when you’re traveling. You can decide for yourself if I am right.

10.  You packed too much.  Yes, that’s right, even for the seasoned traveler, there is at tendency to overpack.  I am in Romania as I write this, and when my wife saw how little I was taking she said, “No way. That’s not enough.” But, for the first time in my married life, she was wrong.  I did pack enough, barely. Okay, so she was pretty close to right.

9. You can discover that you used someone else’s toothbrush by accident. Now some of you are thinking this should be number one. But it is not. Why? This rarely happens, but I have had it happen.  And it is gross, but not as bad as number 8.

8. You lose your passport, and you didn’t bother to make a xerox or photograph of it. Hassle city in either case.  Sorry!

7. Some son-of-a-bugger cuts in line while you’re patiently waiting to get into a museum, or board a plane, or even just check out of the grocery store.  Yep, that’s a pisser. There’s no point in complaining. They will pretend to know no English.

6. Your luggage gets lost. Really lost. Like it’s five to eight days lost, and you’re now in another city, and it’s still lost. Good news/bad news. You just bought a new wardrobe—that’s the good news.  Bad news: you skipped the $12 trip insurance that covered lost luggage.  Crud.

5. Your glasses break. Yep, that happened to me on this trip. So you go to get new ones. But, because you’re in Wales, they don’t allow you to get them without a “valid” (=within one year) prescription.  But your exam was a year and 2 weeks ago.  “Sorry, not ‘valid’.”  Ugh!  So you call your ophthalmologist and convince him to change the date. He does so, but it will now cost you a really expensive gift that you will have to bring all the way from Wales for him. Still, things could be worse.  Try number 4.

4. Strike.  Yes, strike. The Europeans (especially the Italians?) seem to love to have strikes. And somehow they time them for when you need to travel. So the busses and trains both shut down.  Seriously? You kiddin’ me?

3. Your kid falls off a skateboard and knocks out her front teeth. Yep, that happened to me when I was in Africa. With my wife. My poor eldest daughter had to handle everything. There’s a special place in Heaven for her. There definitely is.

2. You wind up in a TB ward because you broke a few ribs falling when you got out of the shower.  In Ukraine.  You just can’t make this stuff up.  So, when you get home you have to be tested for TB.  Yikes!

1. You simply have no toilet paper at a very, very inopportune moment. You’re already in a men’s or women’s room that is hygienically unacceptable—no toilet seat; yep, none. And you really need to be in that bathroom because you were apparently not used to the water or the food or something… well you can do the math. And only after you’ve taken care of your emergency—for it was an emergency—do you realize that the dispenser has nothing to dispense. So you use your teeth or a nail clipper or a match or something to rend your underwear into pieces to use as “substitute toilet paper” and then you go commando the rest of the day.  You can see why this one is at the top of the list.  I am glad to say that it has only happened to me once.

Thanks for reading. Sorry to close with the grossest one, but it is number 1 for a reason. And you can see why I did not put any pictures in the blog. No need. The images dance off the page.

Bon voyage.  Gute Reisen! Happy travels! 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: How to Get Grandchildren

These days, I meet more and more people who are desperate for grandchildren.  Yesterday, here in Rome, I sat at a coffee bar and spoke with a woman about my age, who was so looking forward to her first grandchild.  But she couldn’t conceive of a way to get this grandchild, even though her son, who I think she said was 29 years old, had been married five years, and her daughter of 27 years had been living with her boyfriend (in his wealthy parents’ home) for five years.  She wondered what she could do to promote one of them getting pregnant. 

Now of course, my first thought was, “Why, when I am sitting at a coffee bar in Rome, innocently drinking a cappuccino, do people always ask me weird questions like, ‘How do I get my kids to have unprotected sex?’” I think it’s some kind of strange ambiance that I must have that screams, “Go ahead, ask me a deeply personal question—I don’t care how weird it is.”

So she did, and I wish I had thought then of what I thought of subsequently. Instead of giving her a straight answer, I just commiserated, saying, “You know, people are having fewer and fewer kids these days. They’re so expensive!” Or something stupid like that.  But what should I have said?  That’s what I will tell you now.

“Plan A”: use reverse psychology. Pretend you hate the idea of grandchildren.  Say things like the world is “overcrowded” and “needs fewer people anyway.” If you’re like most parents, you’ll always be “wrong” so, de facto, you will be wrong about this. This alone should do the trick.  Your child will immediately find his or her significant other, copulate without protection and, if you’re lucky, conceive.

But what if your kid is not subject to reverse psychology? That is to say, they’re the one in twenty-five who actually respect their parents, though of course they can’t ever tell you that; that is Regulation Number 41 of the “Offspring Code.”  So that won’t work with them. In that case, discard the reverse psychology ploy and go to “Plan B”: find out what kind of contraceptive they are using and deliberately sabotage it.  I recommend doing this alone—don’t tell your spouse, if you have one, and don’t tell your in-laws.

The exception to that last piece of advice, though, would be that you know your in-laws have also been complaining about the same thing and there’s a chance that they’re creepy enough to go along with you in this plan.  This would be more likely to work if your child, like that of the woman at the bar, happens to live with the in-laws. Then, it is a simple matter. When the young couple is out of the house, show up for “tea” and, with the in-laws, break and enter into your child’s and his or her other significant other’s love next and poke holes in their condoms. This is easily done with a simple pin.  “Ninety-nine percent effective” is dramatically reduced to “ten percent effective” with a mere pin prick.

Third, let’s say they don’t use condoms or you are afraid to break and enter. Plan “C” is to use guilt.  Now the effectiveness of guilt depends on two things: 1) how far you’re willing to go with it and 2) how subject your child is to it. But, you’ll be glad to know, it’s really more number 1 than number 2.  Now the easy-to-say but far-less-effective type of guilt goes like this, “You know, Sarah’s daughter, Emily, has two babies already, and they’re soooo cute!” 

That will not work. Your daughter has probably secretly despised Emily anyway since childhood.  You made them play together just because you enjoyed spending time with Sarah, and Emily was a little brat.  Somehow you never noticed. Your daughter is more likely to turn this into your own guilt trip than hers.

No, the kind of guilt we’re talking about here involves, like a good Greek tragedy, the evocation of pathos.  “I am old now, and I may not live much longer. But I don’t need ever to see grandchildren to be fulfilled. Anyway, I would probably be a bad influence on them.” This will only work, by the way, if you will not be a bad influence. Those of you who are bad influences will need to modify the rollout somewhat. Yet this should do the trick, if you present it correctly. 

But some children are resistant, even to “Plan C.”  Which brings us to “Plan D.” It is the creepiest of all and makes tampering with the birth control seem like child’s play. “Plan D” is a modification of “Plan C,” and involves two things: part 1, lying and getting away with it, and part 2, a miracle.

Part 1 is the harder of the two: you have to create a disease that you don’t really have that is or could be terminal. Then you reapply a modified version of “Plan C”: “I know, given my diagnosis, that I may not live to see grandchildren, but I am content with that.  I just want what is best for you guys. The exact timing of when you start your family is way more important than whether some old,” [and here you fill in “lady” or “man” as appropriate], “lives to see it.”  And you have to sound like you mean it, for it to work.

Then the easy part, part 2: the “miracle.”  A few years later, you simply say that you went to the doctor and there’s no trace of that incurable disease. Everyone is happy, everyone wins!  They probably even throw a party for you.  And you just sit there grinning through the whole affair, for it worked: you got grandchildren. And because you were so ill, they even named the first baby after you. Congratulations!

And that’s how to get grandchildren.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Hiatus

My Dear Reader,

Roughly 2000 years ago, the poet Juvenal wrote, “It is difficult not to write satire.”  He wasn’t the pioneer of that genre, for it existed a relatively long time before he wrote that oft-quoted dictum.  But a truer line, I think, was never written that could be applied to the age in which that poet lived or in which we ourselves live.

But I won’t be writing satire or anything for a little while. Why? Not because it is difficult or not difficult or difficult not to write satire but because I am writing something else and shall be while I am traveling. If it is published, you shall be the first to know. 

Greetings from Lviv, Barcelona, Rome and… we shall see.

Thanks for your patience,

H. R. Jakes