Slur Wars

It is 2078. A young man is visiting his grandfather at his apartment in an assisted living facility. He glides on a movable walkway and steps off at a spot on the wall showing the number 305. The young man says, “James O’Connell” and in a moment a section of the wall becomes transparent, revealing an old man sitting in a chair.

Grandpa: Who is it?

Bobby: Hey, Grandpa James, it’s me, Bobby.

Grandpa: Bobby? Oh, yes, come on in. I wasn’t expecting you. Is everything alright?

Bobby walks through the transparency which immediately turns back to an opaque white.

Bobby: Oh, no, Grandpa, everything is fine. I just thought you could help me with a project.

Grandpa: For what, a History class?

Bobby: History? Of course not. Since all history is recorded, why would anyone take History? It’s for my dissertation.

Grandpa: How old are you now?

Bobby: Sixteen, but I did take a year abroad on Titan, so I’m not that far behind. Ever since the schools went to all on-line, all standardized, and all multiple choice, the kids get through much faster, now. Who’d have thought that it was the teachers that were gumming up the education system for all those centuries.

Grandpa: What’s your degree in?

Bobby: Communications, just like everyone else. I mean, what else is there?

Grandpa: “So, what do you need me for?”

Bobby: We need to talk to someone who was around before Googlenet. You know, someone who remembers what it was like…like…you know…before.

Grandpa: Communications, huh? Okay, any particular part of my brain that you’d like to pick?

Bobby: “Well, Dad said you fought in the Slur Wars.

Grandpa shifts uneasily in his seat.

Grandpa: Bobby, I’m not sure this is a good idea. Does your Mother know you’re here? I would not like to get on her bad side.

Bobby looks sheepishly at the floor.

Bobby: Gee, Grandpa. I can handle it. I mean, I heard it was bad, but, I mean, how bad could it have been?

Grandpa: Worse than you can imagine. I’ve tried to block it out.

Bobby: I tell you, I can handle it, Grandpa!

Grandpa: Okay, okay. I just hope that I can. You’d better grab a pencil.

Bobby: (confused) Huh? What’s a pencil?

Grandpa: You write with it.

Bobby shrugs, puts his hands out to his sides and shakes his head. He clearly does not understand.

Grandpa: It’s made of wood.

Bobby: Grandpa, you’ve lost me already. Can we do this in English, please?

Grandpa shakes his head in disgust.

Grandpa: Okay, let’s see, where do I begin? We’ll need some background. Ah, yes. Do you know what bullying was?

Bobby: I’ve heard the term but I’m not sure I get the concept.

Grandpa: Okay, we’ll begin there. In the early part of this century, it was not uncommon for stronger people to torment those weaker than themselves.

Bobby: Why?

Grandpa: It’s kind of hard to explain. This was all before the great shift. Many people of that day tended to take advantage of, or “bully” weaker people.

Bobby: Did you do that, Grandpa?

Grandpa: Well, less than most, but sometimes, I suppose. Anyhow, in the beginning of the century, bullying became a bigger and bigger issue. Even the media of the day, now this was long before Googlenet, began practicing bullying.

Bobby: Wow, before Googlenet?

Grandpa: Yeah, television, radio, the internet…all completely obsolete junk that you would laugh if you saw it today. Anyhow, this led to three watershed events…The Exile of the Lawyers, The Shifting, and of course, The Slur Wars.

Bobby: I’ve never even heard of the first one.

Grandpa: I’m not surprised. It was a dark time. But it led to great progress. Okay, the bullying was a big problem, but was manageable. There were many who fought against it, although many were bullied for their efforts. The real problem came when the lawyers got involved. They began suing people for bullying.

Bobby: Grandpa, I’m not completely clear on what lawyers were, but wasn’t stopping bullying a good thing?

Grandpa: Stopping? Pay attention, boy. Lawyers were the worst bullies of them all. And, on top of that, there was so much of it going on, that the planet nearly came to a halt bogged down in bullying lawsuits.

Bobby: So that’s when the lawyers were exiled?

Grandpa: Exiled, shmexiled. Googlenet isn’t telling you everything. My own mother Theresa was one of those lawyers.

Bobby: My Great-grandmother? What happened? Was she a bad person?

Grandpa: Quite the contrary. She was a peach.

Bobby: A what?

Grandpa: Oy, never mind. She was a very good person. All of the countries agreed, and this was the first time ever for that, that all lawyers would be exiled to an island. This island used to be called Hawaii.

Bobby: Are they still there?

Grandpa: Here’s what your Googlenet won’t tell you. There was an active volcano. I believe it was called Kilauea.

Bobby: And?

Grandpa: And in went the lawyers.

Bobby: Wait, what? You mean hundreds of thousands of lawyers were tossed into an active volcano?

Grandpa: Bobby, there were that many in California alone. I’m talking millions.

Bobby: Including your Mother? I thought you said she was a good person.

Grandpa: She was. There was an appeal process. Two problems. First, there were no lawyers to defend anyone. And second, even though she hadn’t practiced the law in years, she was in compliance. “Close enough”, they said.

Bobby: Wait a minute; Googlenet only has a mountain called Kilauea, not a volcano.

Grandpa: So how many lawyers does it take to extinguish a volcano? You tell me, Mr. Smarty Pants.

Bobby: Sorry, Grandpa…

Grandpa: (Smiling) It’s okay…So where was I…oh, yes. Then came the shifting.

Bobby: You mean from before we had five countries?

Grandpa: Exactly. There were actually hundreds of countries.

Bobby: Wow! How did anything get accomplished?

Grandpa: It rarely did, but after the worldwide success from the Exile of the Lawyers, people started to rethink all of this nonsense about loving thy neighbor, melting pot, the whole schmear. Leaders began proposing that we exile any group that was…let’s say undesirable. You know, make them somebody else’s problem.

Bobby: How did it work?

Grandpa: Well, if I recall, it happened in a place called China, which is now in what you know as Asiana. The people from China were annoyed for centuries by a small group in the mountains called Tibet.

Bobby: So they exiled them? To where?

Grandpa: Oh, this was at the very beginning. We hadn’t worked out the bugs, yet. I’m pretty sure they suffered a similar fate as the lawyers. But soon, things became more civilized. Next, they decided to rid themselves of the Muslims in their neighborhood who used to be in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Bobby: Gee, Grandpa, I never heard of these places.

Grandpa: They’re all part of Asiana now. These Muslims were sent to a place called Africa where there were more Muslims.

Bobby: So they would all get along?

Grandpa: What? No, no, are you even paying attention? There were all kinds of different Muslims. Of course they didn’t get along. But it was now their problem. If they couldn’t deal with it, they would be killing each other. It became their problem. They could no longer blame someone else.

Bobby: But I thought when people were exiled, they just disappeared.

Grandpa: No, only in the beginning. The Muslims were sent to a place that used to be called Africa. You know it as Islamobama. It was actually named for the first person exiled from here.

Bobby: Wow!

Grandpa: This process continued until we were left with the five remaining countries. Asiana, I’ve already mentioned. China, Mongolia, Australia, India, they’re all part of it now. Islamobama is primarily what used to be Africa and the Middle East.

Bobby: And Hispania?

Grandpa: That was Mexico, along with South and Central America. And of course we live in Amerussia, which used to be Canada, the United States, Europe and Russia.

Bobby: But that’s only four countries, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, and of course Israel. How could I forget? It’s the only one that remained from before.

Bobby: But why?

Grandpa: Well, they were clever. They are by what we call the Holy Land.

Bobby: The tourist place?

Grandpa: Sure, now it is, but then, it was the point of greatest contention. The people of Israel agreed to keep it and turn it into a resort destination for all peoples in exchange for being left alone.

Bobby: Why would they want to be left alone?

Grandpa: The truth is, no one else wanted them anyway. They can be…hmm…a headache, let’s say.

Bobby: So they are tiny, but one of five countries. I guess that’s pretty smart.

Grandpa: You mean smart like a fox, kiddo. They have an equal vote in the Security Council and don’t think they’re not making money hand over fist with that Holy Land.

Grandpa yawns and stretches out his arms and legs.

Bobby: Are you tired Grandpa? You haven’t even got to the Slur Wars, yet.

Grandpa: No, Bobby. I’m fine. I’m just a little stiff. Oy, don’t get old. I can’t recommend it. So where was I? Oh, yes, the Slur Wars. Once we separated everybody through The Shifting, world war was no longer a threat. There were so many domestic problems, but with nowhere left for exile, people had to get along or kill each other. Most learned to get along. One problem was the language that was held over from the bullying days. It continued to separate people. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I call you a Hubbadubba.

Bobby: What’s that?

Grandpa: It’s nothing, I made it up.

Bobby: I don’t understand.

Grandpa: Wait, be patient. Let’s say you have some qualities that I don’t like. I call you a Hubbadubba and that becomes known as a word personifying those qualities.

Bobby: You mean like if you called me smart or handsome?

Grandpa looks as though he is about to say something sarcastic, but holds back with a sigh.

Grandpa: It’s similar, but Hubbadubba would be to describe something negative.

Bobby: (Gasping) Negative? But that’s not allowed!

Grandpa: Shush, shush. Are you trying to get me in trouble? You wanted to know about this. Maybe we should check with your mother.

Bobby: No, no, Grandpa. It’s okay. Please continue.

Grandpa: Alright, back in out day, it was allowed, and not only that, it was common. Even in our media and our government, people nearly constantly used these terms to describe one another.

Bobby: Slurs.

Grandpa: Exactly, slurs. Anyway, I was working for the government on environmental policy.

Bobby snickers.

Grandpa: Hey, kid, we thought there was still hope then. Still, I saw the writing on the wall that the environment was a lost cause, so I started thinking about other problems that might be actually fixable.

Bobby: How?

Grandpa: Let’s see, do you know what gender is?

Bobby: Gender? It’s not defined in Googlenet.

Grandpa: Hmm, this may be tough. In the past, there was a thing called gender. It defined people in different ways. There were two main genders, but people identified themselves in more ways than that. Some people came up with a code to define these people. Let’s see if I can still remember it. Yes, it was L-G-B-T-…umm…Q. That’s all I can remember.

Bobby: It doesn’t spell anything. What does it mean?

Grandpa: Well, nothing now, but back then, each letter represented a word.

Bobby: A bad word?

Grandpa: I guess it depends on who was using it. In any case, it gave me an idea. I wrote a paper suggesting that we eliminate slurs by combining them all into one group term that put everyone at the same level.

Bobby: Sounds like a good idea. What happened?

Grandpa: What happened? My worst nightmare happened. My paper ended up in a journal and my idea grew rapidly in popularity. I was asked to head a commission to develop such a term. As I was assembling a team, the idea went international. The Security Council voted 4-1 to participate, with only Israel against it.

Bobby: But why?

Grandpa: I’m not sure. Just like the rest of the world, their country was beset by insulting slurs making civil living almost impossible. In the end, they had several words in the Yiddish language that they were just not willing to part with. So anyhow, we formed a massive committee and we meet for several months. In the beginning, it was easy. We had the N-word, the B-word, the C-word, well, you get the idea.

Bobby: N, B, C? What did they stand for?

Grandpa: Nice try, Junior. I wasn’t born yesterday. You don’t need to know, and you don’t want to know. Let’s just say, that they were the most vile of the slurs.

Bobby: Sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: It’s alright. Curiosity is a good thing. The problem was, there were way too many slurs for letters, so we decided to make a word made up of one syllable, or a portion of each slur. We wanted to be fair, so we allowed people to propose what slurs we should use. Boy oh boy, was this ever a mistake. Two full years, we sat through hearings and applications. There were dozens of separate slurs each for women, Arabs, Jews, and don’t even get me started on the slurs for black people. So we made a rule that each group could pick one and only one slur for the new term.

Bobby: Did it help?

Grandpa: Not much. Besides those battles in subcommittees, we had more groups that we could count. I remember an Eskimo tribe that had six members left in the world. Still, they had a word that loosely translated to “walrus fornicator” that was regularly used.

Bobby: So what did you do?

Grandpa: Ultimately we finished the project. We came up with a word containing parts of all slurs that could offend any group based on whatever made them different. We spent another six months arranging the syllables to make it pronounceable.

Bobby: How come I’ve never heard it?

Grandpa: Because it was one-thousand-seven-hundred-and-sixty-three syllables long. It took nine-and-a-half pages to print it, and even if anyone could pronounce it, no one could remember it all.

Bobby: Nobody?

Grandpa: Not even me. Even now, I can only remember Nig-bit-dy-que-mo-red…yeah, that’s about it.

Bobby: What did you do?

Grandpa: I was in a panic. I needed a Plan B. Everyone agreed on the idea of replacing all slurs with one neutral term, but I spent two years creating it and it was a complete failure. I needed to find something better. I was walking to my hotel in a daze. I guess I wasn’t paying attention and I stepped into the street against the light. A cab driver jammed on his breaks and had to swerve to keep from hitting me.

Bobby: Oh, my God.

Grandpa: I’ll never forget what he said to me as he was driving away.

Bobby: (On the edge of his seat) What, Grandpa? What did he say?

Grandpa: He shouted, “Watch where you’re going, Asshole!”

Bobby: Asshole, you mean…

Grandpa: Exactly. It all came to me in a flash. Asshole! Every creature has one, in some form or another. And the asshole is used for pretty much the same thing, universally. It’s the nearly perfect slur. It can be used completely equally to describe anyone for anything.

Bobby: Oh my God, and it’s the one we still all use to this day!

Grandpa: Yesiree, I went back to the committee and proposed it the next day. Everyone was so exhausted that it was universally approved. It’s even used in Israel.

Bobby: According to Googlenet it’s the most frequently used noun on the planet. Gee, Grandpa, I never knew how important you were.

Grandpa: Don’t thank me. You can thank that asshole cab driver. (Stretches) Oh, my. I’m exhausted. I hope I gave you what you wanted.

Bobby: And how, Grandpa. Hey, can I come back next week and ask about your Father? I’m named after him, but know, like nothing about him.

Grandpa: I’d love to, Bobby. My Father, huh? Now, he was one special kind of asshole.

© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I Wrote Flash Mob

Flash Mob Elephant

Nearly two years ago, I lost my job of 29 years as a college professor of computer science. Like many Americans, I quickly realized that recent changes in the economy and the education landscape would make it unlikely to find satisfactory work. After my wife and I adjusted our financial plans, I thought about what I might do. Even though I had never before considered writing, I came up with an idea about a non-fiction book about baseball fandom. I outlined the concept and began writing. It was early October.

On Halloween of 2012, my daughter called to inform me that November was National Novel Writing Month. I figured that maybe I should work out the bugs of writing before I tackle my baseball opus. That night, I came up with an idea based upon an old family story. I began Flash Mob the next day. Flash Mob integrates fiction with some adapted autobiographical material. I knew where the story began and ended, so I made an outline in the form of a calendar. I blocked out the story in the form of vignettes in a chronology to advance the story.

Having no experience writing, I worked in an extremely linear manner. The story came together extremely well. I must admit, that aside from a few minor continuity issues, I changed very little content through the editing process. The structure was a different story. I would encourage any writer to retake seventh grade English before starting a project. The rules of commas, periods, and capitalization were lost for me. Fortunately, I had tremendous help with the editing.

Somehow, in a year and six weeks, I had gone from never having considered writing a novel to holding a complete hard copy in my hand. There are two more remarkable aspects to this story. First, I was extremely careful about investing money into the project. I was able to get professional artwork and editing for free through some very supportive relations. Through self-publishing, I spent only $10.00 on the ISBN, and did everything else myself. Not only can I say that I am published author, but I am in the black as well. The second remarkable outcome is that the work is really good.

Flash Mob is a comedy – romance – mystery. Everyone who has read it told me three things. They laughed out loud, they identified with the characters, and they did not see the ending coming. I cannot think of a better review, and I currently have 27 of them on Amazon as I write this. I am currently working on the sequel to Flash Mob (it takes place on a cruise ship). I also continue to add essays to my blog (www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com). I participate weekly in a writer’s group called the Parkland Writer’s Café.

Find out more at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com

© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Jewish Google

 

Jewish Google

I was on the computer recently trying to figure out how we survived without Google. It reminded me of a family gathering where a question arose. I looked up the answer on Google just to see how long it would take. It was about twenty seconds. It wasn’t always so easy. The time wasn’t so much the problem. It was the emotional damage.

Sometime during the early seventies, we had a visit from my cousin Patty. I lived in central New Jersey, near the shore with my mother, brother, and grandparents. Patty stopped in for a couple of days on her way to Washington DC from Southern California. She had driven across the country heading toward an internship or grad school. I cannot recall which.

Patty was the youngest daughter of my grandmother’s sister, making her my second cousin, or first cousin once removed. Suffice it to say that while she was definitely my mother’s first cousin, she was closer to me in age. I would guess that she was about twenty-one at the time and I was probably about fourteen.

Since Patty’s visit stretched over a Sunday, and family visitors from so far away were rare, my grandparents had a family gathering to see her off. My grandmother’s two brothers and their wives came in from North Jersey. Her daughter Sherry came from the western part of the state along with her husband and children. My Aunt Phoebe and Cousin Alison were there from across town. Additionally, there was a smattering of other assorted relatives from the area, most of which I rarely saw, and was clueless about their relationship.

The one thing all of these people had in common was that they were all Jews. We had a very large eat-in kitchen where everyone was either sitting at the table, or milling around it. There was a cacophony of conversations with everyone who got near one immediately joining in. There was plenty of brisket, chopped liver, rye bread from Gelbstien’s and a selection of deli meats including tongue. For dessert, there were macaroons and a variety of sponge cakes.

This gathering was obviously special as someone opened the bottom of the china cabinet and took out the rarely seen spirits. There was cold duck, cherry herring and peach schnapps, all standards of the Jewish bar. Some of the adults tasted the tiniest of samples calling out l’chiam with each sip.

My cousin Alison and I were playing one of our favorite family games. We would watch a conversation between two relatives who were out of earshot and make up our own conversation using their hand gesticulations. We developed this game while watching her mother Phoebe conversing with our grandfather Oscar outside the Post Office one day while we were waiting in the car. Since nearly any conversation between Jews could easily be called an argument in most other circles, there was plenty of hand movement.

Here’s where it got weird. Patty was packed and ready to leave. She came up to Grandpa Oscar, her uncle, who was sitting at the head of the table. Patty had some Travelers Cheques and wanted to have a little more cash. Since it was Sunday, the bank was not an option. Patty asked Oscar if she could sign one of the Travelers Checques over to him in exchange for twenty dollars.

Oscar was happy to do it, assuming that it would be just like signing a personal check over to someone. Still, he had never heard of anyone actually doing this before, and with money, Jews check first. Quickly, the advice that came from those sitting closest by basically served to just reframe the question. His wife, Hilda had the only sensible advice, suggesting that he just give her the twenty dollars, but it was already too late to get by without a definitive answer. Uncle Arthur, who was an accountant, was standing nearby, and he jumped in. Soon the conversation began to grow and swirl around the room.

“Well, with a check, you just sign it over…”

“But this requires two signatures…”

“Is it American Express or some other company?”

“Wait, a minute. When I was in Israel…”

“Read the back already…”

“It’s supposed to be like cash according to the television…”

“Yes, the ads with Eli Wallach…”

“Schmuck, that’s Karl Malden…”

Alison and I were watching Cousin Patty who was still standing next to Oscar in the middle of this maelstrom. All of a sudden, Patty shouts out, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”, and rushes out of the room crying. Since the previous behavior was quite normal for Jews, everyone got silent for a moment while they all looked at each other shrugging as though it was a casting call for the lead in The Jackie Mason Story.

“What’s with her?”

“She gets it from her father.”

“He’s always been a little high-strung for my taste.”

“Must be from living in California…”

“Fruits and nuts…”

“I thought it was laid back, there.”

“It’s no place for Jews.”

“What about the Hollywood types?”

And there it was, back to normal. My grandmother followed Patty and calmed her down. She gave her twenty dollars and everyone said goodbye. The funny thing is that every time we had a family gathering, someone would remember the Travelers Cheque incident. People would comment on Patty’s mental state and laugh fondly. Occasionally, someone would revisit the question of whether you actually could sign over a Traveler’s Cheque to someone else.

“Travelers Cheque? Who still uses Travelers Checques?”

Jewish Google always has an answer.

© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.