Archive for March, 2008

If a player wins at Scrabble, and there’s nobody to see the victory …

Scrabble As a literate individual, I like to think that I excel at playing Scrabble. I’m better than average, but I rarely best my three biggest challengers: My sister Pesha, who was valedictorian of her high school class; my niece, who has a PhD in community gardening; and my niece’s husband, a medical doctor. I can start out with a decent score — say, 30 points for my first move — and often hold my own for a good part of the game. Then suddenly one of these dynamos will add something like “Q-U-I-D-N-U-N” to an existing “C,” or enact a triple play of seven-letter words along the lines of “B-R-A-Y-I-N-G,” “R-E-S-O-R-T-S” and “C-R-E-A-T-O-R,” and I am bushwhacked. No matter how serviceably I have been playing, I will spend the rest of the game limping along 40, 50, even 150 points behind.

This weekend when Pesha and I were visiting my parents, we binged on Scrabble the way other addictive personalities abuse gin. By the third or fourth game, my sister used my aptly placed “U” from my own seven-letter mop-up — U-N-S-A-V-O-R-Y — to play the word “S-Q-U-E-A-L-E-R-S. That’s a nine-letter word netting two triple-word scores for a total of 203 points. She ended up with a final score  in the 440s. I too had my best-ever score in the low 420s. Yet once again my efforts were feeble in the face of the Scrabble-schwester.

One of my shortcomings as a Scrabble enthusiast is my disdain for so-called Scrabble words, mutations such as “na” — a variant of “nah” — and “tipi” instead of “teepee” — that serve to block your opponent from building out more conventional point-worthy words. Just because a romance writer once wrote about the steamy passion of an Arapaho maiden for a Nebraska cattlehand in a plains “tipi,” should the Scrabble dictionary legitimize the unauthorized spelling? On the grounds that orthography, not to mention human comprehension, profited greatly from standardized spelling, “tipi” ought to be banned from play. What’s to stop somebody — me, for example — from putting down “podbird” if I can define it as a woman who flits about listening to a podcast? True, the word hasn’t made it to a standard dictionary, but maybe now that I’ve used it on a blog post, some Scrabble minesweeper will ferret it out of the WWW and include it in the next edition of the Scrabble dictionary.

Pesha’s magnificent Scrabble score got us to talking about our small, unwitnessed victories. As I have since learned, her mid-400s score is not even close to the highest Scrabble score ever, a distinction that belongs to a carpenter from Massachusetts named Michael Cresta. About eighteen months ago, he racked up 830 points in a Scrabble club game. It doesn’t matter. Pesha consistently plays like a devil, peeling off two seven-letter words in a row, dropping the “Z” and “J” on triple-letter spots that catapult her leagues ahead of me. Sadly, as long as she plays in such recondite venues as our parents’ home, nobody will ever know how good she really is.

In other words, it may well be that a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville recorded sound seventeen years earlier than Edison. But Edison had the pluck to grab the spotlight. Many of us little people indeed have a speck of singing ability, literary skill or Scrabble prowess, but unless we record them for posterity, nobody will ever know how we excelled. You can’t help but wonder what feats of intellect, artistry and athleticism occur routinely, and privately, to elevate us past the anonymity of our own lives.

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Create a word cloud of my text.

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Give ignorance a chance

 William Shakespeare Nine “spirited” yeshiva students refused to take an exam on The Tempest on the grounds that Shakespeare’s characterization of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was antisemitic. Nixon used to talk about Jew-boys, but I still vote in the presidential elections.

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Expect to see more hookers

Ashley Youmans After O.J. Simpson went on trial for murdering his wife Nicole, I began seeing many more white women hanging out with black men. Conventional wisdom — conventional racist wisdom — would tell you that whites, especially white women, would have associated violence with black men and they would have shunned them. The fact is that Birth-of-a-Nation type racism isn’t how sexuality plays itself out in this country anymore. With the help of the media — and the Internet is just fabulous for this — we take our sexual cues from the sensation of the day. Hence, the rise in black-white couples, however short-lived the arrangements, after Simpson’s trial. Anecdotally speaking, I think the popularity of interracial sex continues to this day — and not because we’ve become less racist. We’ve just gotten more titillated by racism.*

I wonder if a similar phenomenon will go into high gear now that the banks and a slew of U.S. federal departments have outed Eliot Spitzer as a habitue of a prostitution ring. Instead of men laying low (no pun intended), they will make the ex-governor’s predilection for twenty-two-year old hookers their sexual preference too. Even men who might have been too timid to seek out prostitutes will permit themselves to do as Spitzer did. And the more like Ashley Youmans their “Kristins” are, the more potent the attraction.

I think that more young women too will start to dabble in sex for money. Professional prostitution rings may go under cover (or under the covers) for a while, but amateur rings, where girls or their pimps will charge guys something affordable, will become the latest rage. Who knows. Maybe Spitzer will have given the movement to decriminalize prostitution the, um, push it needs.

If you think my prediction is off base, think about the excitement over oral sex after Monica Lewinsky’s specialty became known to every human being over the age of five. An acquaintance told me that her daughter was the only teenaged girl at her summer camp who wasn’t giving the boy campers head. And who knows how long that girl was able to withstand peer pressure to take the dive.

What all of these stories about sex do is hyper-sexualize the society, especially children. I can’t help but feel the much-vaunted scheudenfraude that we all have about Spitzer’s downfall, but I am also unhappy that this latest sex scandal will give people one more reason to act on their worser impulses. Trust me. I’m not being santimonious. Only sad, and a little scared.

* This is why Geraldine Ferraro is so wrong about Barack Obama when she says that he could not be running for president if he weren’t black. Ms. Ferraro ought to visit YouTube and take a look at the Obama Girl videos. Obama’s race is not a hindrance for him at this point in U.S. cultural, political and sexual history. It’s why he stands a good chance of winning over McCain. And over Clinton — it goes without saying.

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