Words, Words, Words
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
There are two words you should never use at the Vermont hardware store: Modge Podge and Perspex. I asked for both and was put in touch with the person who knows how to talk with foreigners. If I had explained why I needed these things (I'm trying to transport a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle back from Vermont because I haven't finished it yet), they would probably have called mental health services. Instead of Modge Podge (actually Mod Podge but nobody calls it that), ask for "a craft adhesive." Instead of Perspex, ask for "plexiglass, or a clear unbreakable plastic which I can clamp to my unfinished picture of Neuschwanstein Castle." The kind lady behind the counter went all the way from "can I help you?" to "do you understand what this person is saying?" to "I give up - you talk to him."
What made the encounter so priceless (and as a person who stubbornly holds onto his British accent I've had several of these) is that I've just spent 4 days playing Scrabble at the Northeastern Tournament in Albany, and been blown off the board with fake words. The young turks all do this - one played FAYNESS and another the absurd SIKHLAR, both with impunity. I allowed them both and lost both games. Who the hell looks at their rack and plays SIKHLAR for 90 points and gets away with it? He said afterwards that "you would be surprised at how few people even hold" (the stage before a formal challenge, when your opponent must wait to see if the word is accepted before drawing new tiles). Try these: KEITLOA and GRUNGERS. Both are good - one is a rhinoceros, the other a description of people who go to concerts in Seattle. With words like these, who needs enemies? I failed to challenge FAKIEST and lost (it's bad). But by the end I had got my own back - WOODGAGE for 92. If you can't beat them, join them. And I really couldn't beat them: 11-12 at the end is a poor showing for the #2 seed. Plus I challenged PAEON which I absolutely know is good (a metrical unit of verse) - there's a paeon in "The Windhover," for crying out loud.
The Scrabble universe is definitely an odd one. I was trying to explain it to my family over the July 4 weekend: the best way to explain it is a microcosm of non-Trump voters. African-American women are passionate about Scrabble. The Nigerians are a huge voting bloc, having memorized all the 5-letter words. I played 2 people in wheelchairs, and they both blew me away. The two best T-shirts on display were "Make Orwell Fiction Again" and "Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492." None of us have any money (at $500 for a win it's not much of a career choice), but none of us care. It's a tribe. Some of us are retired professors trying to stave off Alzheimer's (PULK: a sled. YAGI: a radio antenna. KAMI: a sacred force). All of us would rather have a bad day playing Scrabble than a good day doing anything else. This is my retirement community.
The key to a successful retirement strategy, says Bill Schiffman, the world's greatest tax authority and quiz master for the local In-the-Know, are the three Ps: Purpose, Passion, and Financial Security. If fly-fishing is your passion then you're in luck - there are a dozen cable TV channels validating your life's purpose. If it's trainspotting, or jigsaw puzzles of foliage, or sketching topiary on soapboxes, then it may be harder to justify the expense of spirit in a shameful waste of time. But here's the news: IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS. Stop looking for validation from somewhere else - that's how you got into the tenure-track business in the first place. If you are so in love with words that you use them in hardware stores just to mess with people, then let that be who you are. You don't have to apologize to anybody. And that, my friends, is what retirement is all about.