Thursday, March 29, 2018

Crispy Around the Edges

            You may have noticed – probably not – that people in your family use some sort of catch-phrase that reinforces a shared experience, or even shared values. If you haven’t noticed it, then start noticing it now.

            I’ll give you a few examples that Kim and I share.

“crispy around the edges”
            Our friend Charmaine came up with this one. She was describing exactly how she likes her eggs to be fried to enhance the full sensuality of her eggsperience. Sometimes it’s these little details that most enrich an experience. One of Kim’s favorites is getting into a bed with freshly ironed sheets. (Youngsters reading this should ask parents or grandparents what “freshly ironed” means.) Kim and I use the phrase to describe our enjoyment of any small sensual detail. We might say (never have said it, but we might) that a piece of music, or a good haircut, is “crispy around the edges.” Thanks, Charmaine.

            This comes from a movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes,” one of many chick-flicks I enjoy. The character played by Kathy Bates identifies herself as Towanda when she rams the car of two insolent teenagers who took her parking place. The Urban Dictionary says the word is used to express extreme excitement while doing something crazy, but I prefer to see Towanda as a woman warrior. Kim uses the word when she makes a successful power move, usually involving unscrewing a lid. We are saving Wonder Woman references for her strength in battling cancer – she wore her Wonder Woman bracelet through her radiation treatment. Towanda has more to do with using her very human powers by summoning and then channeling the mythical primitive strength that all women share.

            Kim and I, with our friend Sue, were enjoying a week of classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. One evening we attended a poetry reading. The poems were OK in a rather conventional way, and the poet was a woman who read with a balance of dignity and emotion that I, perhaps unfairly, associate with the South. But there was just one thing: Her poems frequently used the word “celebration,” which the poet consistently mispronounced as “ceberration.” By the third utterance of the word, none of us could look at each other because we knew our laughter would disrupt the reading. There might have been ten or twelve “ceberrations” celebrated in those poems. The three of us gasped with relief when we emerged into the mountain air, and ever since then Kim and I look for opportunities to share a ceberration, often including a beverage. Using the word enriches each event by layering it with some history.

“but good”
            This comes from a joke that I think I first heard from Kim’s dad: Some guys went hunting for a week, and nobody wanted the job of cook. Finally, one of them agreed to cook, but he said, “If there are any complaints, I’m quitting.” After a few days, he was tired of cooking, so he went into the woods, gathered some dried moose shit, and stirred it into the pancake batter. One of his buddies took a big bite and said, “God, this tastes like moose shit – but good!”

“just the way we like it”
            “But good” is a variation of a story we heard another couple tell. John and Barb are both photographers, and as I remember their story, one of them fell and hurt a hip or shoulder but still had to climb up on horse to get to where they were going. “It was difficult,” John said, and they both said together, “just the way we like it.” I was touched by their only half-joking sharing of this stoic phrase. It’s not the same as “but good” because there is no self-serving lie involved, but rather an appreciation of a difficult accomplishment. Kim and I have incorporated this phrase.

            This is the title of one of our favorite movies. It refers to the wisdom that an Indian cabdriver imparts to one of his passengers: Be continuously grateful and stubbornly optimistic, setting aside self-doubts. Critics have called this superficial and naïve, but so, what? Kim and I find occasions to say it, even when, like “just the way we like it,” we say it with a touch of irony.

“good enough for who it’s for”
            Kim and I are not perfectionists – especially me. (Being a goalie on a weak ice hockey team at the same time I spent four years in college with only one A helps me acknowledge my shortcomings.) And sometimes Kim and I just have to accept that something – a meal, a cleaning job, some weeding – is, while not perfect, good enough for us. The saying has some amusing variations: “close enough for government work,” “true enough for journalism” (I coined that one), and one of my favorites that deals with writer’s block:

            A writer complained to his publisher that he was stuck with writer’s block. The publisher said, “It’s no accident that ‘perfectionism’ rhymes with ‘procrastination.’”
            “But they don’t rhyme!”
            “BUT IT’S CLOSE ENOUGH!”

            That’s how I avoid writer’s block: I lower my standards. Some of my readers may have noticed this. But I usually try to make a paragraph or two crispy around the edges.

Comment from Charmaine Stangl:
We enjoyed this immensely.  I was honored to have a phrase on your list and like the idea of expanding my use of "crispy around the edges" for numerous situations when something is just right.  Here are a couple of our family catch phrases you might enjoy.  The first one involves a story.  When Amber and Kate were about three and seven years my brother sent them identical (almost) little jewelry boxes via my mother when she came for a visit.  They opened their gifts and seemed delighted with the sparkly, silver boxes lined in red velvet.  A little later Kate took a nap.  Amber scrupulously examined each box to make sure that they were, indeed, identical.  She discovered a tiny raised spot on the bottom of hers which was not on Kate's.  This troubled her greatly.  My mother and I decided that it was  important to make a discriminating seven year old happy so we switched the boxes.  To our surprise and dismay, the first thing Kate did when she got up from her nap was to scrutinize her box like Sherlock Holmes.  She burst into tears and blubbered, "Mine didn't have a pimp on it!"  Seeing her devastation, at least we had the decency to not burst into laughter.  I don't remember how we resolved it, but we later concluded that a pimp must be something between a bump and a pimple.  After that we've always said, "Be sure it doesn't have a pimp on it,"  when we're making a careful selection. 

From John Bayerl:
Your “but good” joke is a variation of one I tell about lumberjacks and a cook who makes moose turd pie. A lumberjack takes a bite of the pie and exclaims: “Eh!  Dat’s moose turd pie—ain’t bad though.”

One of our favorite expressions is “is it bread yet?” while waiting for something to happen. Taken from waiting for bread dough to rise. 

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