The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
I live with an 11 yr. old. My 11 yr. old. Our 11 yr. old. He’s too young to use most social media, but is enmeshed in video games and knows an awful lot about memes and the web courtesy of Youtube and various gamer wikis. Recently he has begun speaking with hashtags. For example, he’ll say something like: “I got these fantastic transduction grenades in Borderlands. Hashtag: grenades-are-awesome.” Or, “Mom gave me extra dessert. Hashtag: Winning!”
‘Tis a strange thing to hear hashtags used verbally, much less out of one’s own progeny. And yet it is a fascinating use of the language. Social media’s structure and technology (smart phones, texting, etc.) encourage truncated, brief forms of expression from limiting characters to reliance on abbreviations. Add search engines to the equation and communication patterns tend to morph around quickly understood exchanges that are easy to redistribute, search, categorize, etc. Very roughly, it’s kind of like a transition from:
Speaking (cave men) –> Writing/Symbols –> Printing –> Audio/Video –> Telecommunications –> Writing/Speaking at Distance (phones/texting/e-mail) –> Becoming One’s Own Communications Hub
Living through such a rapid transition in technology and communications, one actually gets to see the language usage and patterns change (Who would have predicted that teenagers would eagerly spend much of their day writing to one another?). And now our mancub and his friends are using meta-tags orally to comment on their own speech or codify their inside jokes despite never having used these communication forms in their original manifestation. They are almost like parenthetical comments inserted into the middle of their dialogue. They communicate while simultaneously augmenting that communication with various forms of amplification, affirmation, commentary, and even plain redundancy. Common chat/text acronyms like WTF and LOL have been creeping into everyday vernacular for a while now (his classmates now use YOLO as a verb to describe activities that exemplify enjoying life to the fullest), but it’s only recently that I’ve heard hashtags orally, and they work wonderfully if one wants to quickly joke about something as it’s being said…
“No, you cannot have more game time. Hashtag: parents-just-don’t-understand.”
my eyes, the strongest dam
holding back torrents
with a concrete force of will.
but nature always triumphs
and this shall end no different.
there’ll be no minor cracks,
no early warning signs.
not with a tiny leak or pinhole prick,
but with an explosion powered by my
highly pressurized pathos.
for a split second the eyes will bulge
ever so slightly, then pop like
dual-fired champagne corks
and the tears will flood out
covering surfaces in seconds,
swallowing up small pets
and toddlers left to fend for themselves.
an oil black devastation rising endlessly;
over rooftops pulling everything
under and down, down, down
until not even the tallest peak remains.
the earth, a black liquid sphere now sapping
the sun of its light with a gravitational
pull that will end in darkness, that will appear
as a galactic void, an outward explosion of
pain and emptiness destroying like
a blackhole in reverse.
Essentially, there seem to be three types of family stories: 1) The kind that are true and known to all; 2) The kind that are made up, but still seem to persist; and, 3) The kind that are hinted at but mostly hidden, guarded by a select few. At any given time a story can move from one of these categories to the other, morphing along the way, growing details of almost mythological proportions, dropping entire, essential limbs like a tree decimated by fierce winds.
I grew up believing my Uncle Francis was into animals. Not so much husbandry as bestiality. It was not until somewhere around middle school that I realized my Aunt Janice’s bile-ladened mutterings of “That fucking heifer!” had nothing to do with an actual member of the esteemed bovinity on their farm. In this case, truth was a relief (to me, at least; hard to say which version Aunt Janice might’ve preferred). My much-older cousin Nick was always heralded as the true hero in the family for having saved some neighbor’s children from a housefire. Never mind the small detail about him having started the damn thing on purpose. Insurance money ended up saving the neighbor’s from having to file for bankruptcy in the end, so whose to say heroism doesn’t come in many forms? Speaking of forms, we’re still narrating the tale of Jenny and her three-hundred-plus-pounds. She’s a second or third cousin or something like that, only a couple years shy of 20, but her family maintains it’s a “glandular” issue. She sounds like a cow when she chews. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her not chewing. Everybody knows something disgusting must’ve happened to her when she was younger, but nobody knows just what.
Which brings us to me, Laurie P. Welks. A rather regular coming of age left me with nary a place in the family history. For better or worse. No good times good enough to mention; no bad times bad enough to be worth remembering. That is, until last week.
I’m furnishing a new Chapter for leftover characters and scenes. I must improvise some kind of accommodations, pages, facts, and redaction for them, since my characters are all extremely minor: the second I leave off writing they stop doing things; when I’m not working, everything stops.
– Macedonia Fernández, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel)
The phone rang. Leonard saw that it was an outside call. He’d not had one of these in years. His voice cracked with a tiny bit of excitement as he answered: “Federal Commissionary Review Board, Division of Hedge Fund Trades Re-Reviews, Leonard speaking.”
Caller: A bomb has been placed in your building.
Leonard: I’m sorry, we don’t handle homelessness issues, but if you–
Caller: I said a bomb.
Leonard: Oh. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said–
Caller: It’s going to go off this afternoon.
Something like this had happened almost a year ago and the executive committee had issued an emergency card for employees on how to deal with such calls.
Leonard: Could you hold for just a second? I… I need to ask you some… Oh, here it is! Did you plant this bomb?
Leonard: Great. Would you be able to tell me where in the building the bomb is right now?
Leonard: You’ve forgotten or you’re not allowed to tell me?
Caller: Are you fucking with me?
Leonard: Absolutely not sir. I… I mean, we. We take these things very seriously. Bombs are dangerous. How big is the bomb? I mean, like how explosive? Wait, I forgot to ask you your name–what is your name, sir?
Caller: This is an anonymous bomb threat, you moron!
Leonard: Wait, my pen just ran out. Here’s another! So this is just a threat and not an actual report of a bomb? And you don’t want to get credit by giving your name?
Caller: No, you idiot! There’s an actual bomb in your building that I’m threatening you with.
Leonard: Me personally? Do we know each other? You’re not that guy from the dry cleaner’s are you. I only asked for your supervisor because I had to. There was no way those shirts were double starched–
Caller: Listen, asshole, you tell your boss someone called in about a bomb that’s going to go off this afternoon. Do you understand me?!!
Leonard: Yes. Yes, sir. Absolutely. But my boss is out on leave until next week.
Caller: Well, who is filling in for your boss?
Leonard: Terry. He’s actually from the accounting division, but we’ve had a hiring freeze so we’re a bit understaffed. Do you know Terry? Very good with numbers. With people he’s–
Caller: You tell this Terry everything I’ve told you.
Leonard: But you haven’t really told me much. It’s already after two–perhaps you could be more specific about what time it might go off.
Caller: Look, I can’t do that.
Leonard: Is it like a timer or a remote or something?
Caller: It’s triggered by motion.
Leonard: Can I ask–I mean this isn’t on the list of questions I’m supposed to ask–but did you make it yourself?
Caller: Of course.
Leonard: Really? And have you made such things before? Do you take requests is what I’m getting at–
At this point a large jolt erupts somewhere several floors below Leonard’s office. A smokey smell is somewhat discernible.
Leonard: Sir, are you still there?
Leonard: I think your bomb might have just gone off, sir.
Caller: What?!! That’s impossible.
Leonard: Would you like me to check?
Caller: Yes. Yes I would.
Leonard: OK. Where should I look?
Caller: Very funny. You’re a real wise guy trying to trick me like that. All that blood is going to be on your hands. Let me tell you another thing–
Leonard: Hold on just a second. I’ve got another incoming call. I’ll try not to drop you, but if I do, please call back. [Leonard answers the incoming call and puts them on hold.] Hello. Hello? Mr. Bomber Man, are you still there? Crap. Hello?