Author Archives: davesswan

About davesswan

Writer, blogger, editor, former broadcast journalist, all-around communicator

Un visiteur grincheux dans le grand pas si facile, or A grumpy visitor in the big not-so-easy

My wife and I just returned from a jazz education conference in the city where jazz was born, the one that greets the suckers tourists with the slogan “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” or “let the good times roll.” However, after a few days in the conference hotel, les bon temps became le mauvais moment* instead. Here’s the scoop.

  1. After driving for two days, we unpack a little, lie down to rest — and find that our bed is like cement. The front desk offers us another room, but we have to trek around to find a decent bed, then repack and schlepp our stuff. When we try to take a shower in room number two, we have…
  2. No hot water! The desk claims, “the engineers are working on the boiler,” which was probably built when Louis Armstrong was a baby and definitely should’ve been patched up before.
  3. There’s no place to hang hand towels, and we can’t reach them without bending down and riling up our backs. Worse, the shower lacks a grab bar for anyone who’s a little unsteady. Note to hotel: not all guests are young and physically flawless.
  4. We grab some chips and get slapped with an outrageous markup, even by New Orleans standards: jacked up from $4.69 to $8.99. Did I mention that the people at the conference are jazz musicians, educators, and students, none of whom have extra cash?
  5. We lie down for the night and have – wait for it – No heat either! Which we need, because despite the sweltering summers, NOLA gets chilly in winter. We pile on some blankets and try to sleep, but…
  6. In the room right above ours, two young sax players are blowing, in both senses of the word. It takes two calls to the desk before security can quiet them down.
  7. Still no hot water or air next morning. Desk says “noon” for a fix. Guess what?
  8. The lobby and common areas are drenched in some noxious freshener / scent / perfume. Just because it’s New Orleans doesn’t mean it should smell like a cheap cathouse, though of course that’s the best kind. (NOT that I have any firsthand knowledge of such a place. Truly. Really! Just a bit of literary license here. Okay??)

In the end, the hotel owned up to the problems and gave us a free night, which we greatly appreciated. Also, the buffet had world-class bread pudding and grits. (And we found the best king cake in town right up the street.)

I’m not as touchy as I sound. I just don’t like having to struggle with the details of life, especially when it puts the damper on something I love, like music. Forget the bon temps: from now on, my personal slogan is, “Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You.”

*A bad time (which you probably figured out).

The kindness of non-strangers

So you made it through the holiday. Congrats, but don’t stay happy for long! Seeing as how you’re a Real American, it’s time to shed the mindset of celebration and take up the mantle of guilt and self-improvement. New Year’s resolutions? Dude, like soooo last millennium! According to the poohbahs of pop-psych, what you need to do in 2020 is be kinder to yourself.

I’ve always thought of myself as the kind kind (and modest about it), but this one has thrown a whole set of wrenches into my gearbox. Here’s how the ideas in the article shake out for me.

Take more time for yourself. I’m retired. I’ve taken a whole life for myself. Not that it’s all chocolates and violins, because reaching retirement age means the spirit often makes promises the body can’t keep. I’ve become very familiar with “Pill Hill,” the part of Atlanta overrun by medicos and hospitals. I’ll probably be dead to the world long before the ball drops in Times Square. But I can’t figure out how to retire from retirement.

Take time to do nothing at all. See above. Besides, what’s “nothing?” Does that mean sitting in my recliner reading the good books I got for Christmas? That’s “something.”

Cultivate more casual, low-stakes friendships. The article hints, “Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park.” I’m way too old for kids, don’t have a dog, and haven’t had a favorite bar or tender in years. And “casual, low-stakes” sounds like “friends with benefits,” which is NOT on my horizon.

Learn to enjoy things when they’re good because, “Worrying about when ‘the other shoe will drop’ will only steal your current joy.” Well, maybe. But this runs up against the fundamental nature that’s gotten me this far in life, summed up by John Cale in “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend.” The other size nine is always out there, like an asteroid that could blast our world right into the cosmic corner pocket. I will remain my own toughest critic and like a boxer will protect myself at all times. So sue me.

Learn to accept a compliment—even if it’s from yourself. “Dave, if I say so yourself, this is truly one of your best posts. It’s witty, timely, and not too long. It should yield a bounty of likes, hits, and clicks to start the New Year.”

Yield a bounty? Who the hell taught you to write? Go back to the recliner and let me finish this before you kill what’s left of our reputation. My advice to me is to recall what James Thurber wrote in response to the self-improvement loonies of the 1930s: “Let Your Mind Alone!” Okay, we’re done. That’s still not too long, is it?”

Fords and Ferraris, forever

Dear Dad,

I hope you enjoyed the movie as much as I did. You weren’t sitting in the theater, but you were with me the way you’ve been for fifty-plus years now, and especially since I heard about the film “Ford v Ferrari” a few weeks ago.

That title could’ve been taken straight from our lives. After all, our Ford and Ferrari battled it out on the racetrack many times. We also had a Mustang, a Corvette, and a Jag, but the Cobra and the bright red Ferrari were our favorites. And racing was racing. It didn’t matter that the track was plastic, laid out on a table in the basement, and the electric “slot cars” were only a few inches long.

We sure had fun down there. I remember hitting full power at the starting line, fighting to get around the loop without spinning out, tearing down the back stretch, and blasting through the last turn to the finish. I also recall when we saw a real race at the state fair, sitting in bleachers with those monster Indy 500 cars of the ‘60s screaming past us on a dirt track, the noise deafening and the dirt flying.

I didn’t care who won. Just being there was enough. We never kept score in the basement either, because there was always time for one more heat. Until that day in February when I was fourteen and suddenly there was no more time for anything.

For a long time afterward, I felt like I was driving on an endless course at night, running blind in the darkness. But as you taught me, I kept going and came out intact in the demolition derby that was high school. My career as a journalist and wordsmith required me to race plenty of deadlines, and I’m proud to say they haven’t beaten me yet.

I hope you’d be proud too. I doubt that I could ever match your integrity, your big heart, and especially your gift for salesmanship, which I need now that I’m peddling a novel. But I can tell you that both of us married loving, intelligent, funny, wonderful women.

I’d give anything on earth if we could all be together in our old living room with you playing the piano and my wife singing something like “Moon River.” And if somehow we ever did see each other again, I’ll bet the track would be there waiting. Let’s go. You can have the Ferrari.

40 shades of Dave

I recently ran across one of those “copy and paste and play along” posts on Facebook, a list of questions to answer and share. This one was called “40 things about me,” but I’m too busy to wade through the whole bunch, and I’m betting a lot of y’all would tune me out somewhere around 13. So here’s the short list, or for those in my approximate age range, the Cliffs Notes / Reader’s Digest version of my life.

  1. Do you own a gun? No, I just sort of borrowed it from the sporting goods store.
  2. What do you drink in the morning? This question has a typo. It should be, “What, do you drink in the morning?” and the answer is “Usually.”
  3. Can you do 100 pushups? Maybe, but why would I want to?
  4. Age? I sure do, and brother, it’s a bear. Forget being 21 again; I’d settle for 59.
  5. Nick names? My only names are “David, “Dave,” and “Swan.” I am not called by “St. Nick,” “Nick the Greek,” “Nick Danger, Third Eye,” etc.*  
  6. Employed? I’m retired, self-employed, and freelance. Figure it out.
  7. Biggest downfall? I took a header off the porch at a rather young age after wrapping a red towel around my shoulders and deciding I was Superman.
  8. Worst pain ever? Writer’s block. That’s why I’m writing this instead of my novel. (Blogger’s block is a whole nother mess.)
  9. Do you like to dance? Love it, but I’m banned from doing so in seventeen states because I do it like this.
  10. Three drinks you drink? Sometimes. Other times four or five.
  11. Favorite color? Blue – no, yellow AAAAAAHHHHHHH!**
  12. Summer, winter, spring, or fall? I prefer Carole King and James Taylor’s version: “Winter, spring, summer or fall / All you have to do is call / And I’ll be there / You’ve got a friend.” You do. Right here. 😊

*As a kid I was known as “Tito,” not for the Jackson brother or the Yugoslav dictator but Tito Francona, then with the Cleveland Indians and whose signature adorned my baseball mitt.
**The obligatory Monty Python reference.

Watch that slanguage!

A few months back, I retired from my gig as an unpaid but dedicated language and grammar grouch. Y’all could have sent me a few thanks and maybe policed your own copy for a change, but nooooooo! So I’m coming out of retirement with some hot tips on slang, which is fun to use and adds color to your writing — but must be applied correctly, like commas, ellipses, and Preparation H.

What set me off is seeing, in a writers’ newsletter yet, the statement that a fictional character with the cops after her is “on the lamb.” The same facepalmer* appears in the online lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song “Wanted Man,” made famous by Johnny Cash: “If you ever see me coming and if you know who I am / Don’t you breathe it to nobody ’cause you know I’m on the lamb.”

As I’ve said a few times before, even if something clears spellcheck it can still be atrociously WRONG. The correct word is lam, which should be familiar to anybody who’s ever seen a vintage crime movie or cop show. The noun is defined as “a hasty escape or flight,” the verb “to run away quickly, escape, flee.” For example: “I’m gonna lam it outta here before Raylene finds that dead skunk in the dishwasher.”

Because I’m a public-spirited person,** I’m passing on some similar lingo from Damon Runyon, the author of the stories that became “Guys and Dolls,” and the master of American slang in the last century. (WARNING: some of these are not quite politically correct in this century.)

Croaker – a doctor, “croak” meaning “to die” in those times.
Loogan – fool, putz, sucker, etc. Sometimes misused as “outlaw.”
Fin – a five-dollar bill. From the Yiddish “finnif.”
Taking it on the Jesse Owens – a variation on “lam;” running extremely fast indeed.
Stinkeroo – what we now call an epic fail.
In spades – to the max. Derived from the spade being the highest suit in bridge.
Zillion – bigger than a billion, quadrillion, or trillion. See also squillionaire.
Sheep’s eye – an amorous glance.
Tomato – attractive woman or girl. See also pancake (I warned you).
Cemetery bait – a tomato whose husband is so jealous that any guy who gives this doll the sheep’s eye is apt to wind up in the boneyard unless he takes it on the lam.

Runyon was also a philosopher: “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” I won’t argue with that but since I’ve already got a rant going here, let’s settle the conundrum currently raging over “substitute.”

Q: What’s wrong with this sentence: “We’re often told to substitute saturated animal fats for healthier vegetable oils”?
A: Wouldn’t “Saturated Animal” be a great name for a band? Seriously, the problem is that the fats and oils are in reverse order: the newer should substitute for the older. I’ve also read that , “Over the centuries, the verb substitute has been used with a variety of prepositions for its oblique object,” but I’m keeping my oblique object offline. I’m sticking with the Who, who wrote a song called “Substitute.”

I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.


*A new slang word. Send royalty checks here.
**I can’t shut up and I’m desperate to expand my “platform,” if somebody could just explain what it means.

Scooting through life

My wife and I recently drove from Atlanta to Detroit, a two-day interstate slog that covers several hundred miles and gets even longer when you try to avoid the endless work zone known as Ohio. Despite all that time on the road, the most enlightening part of the trip for me was a ride on the mean sidewalks of the Motor City, aboard a mobility scooter.

You’ve probably seen these at the big-box or the grocery store. Most often used by victims of stroke, arthritis, lung disease, and heart trouble, scooters can transform the quality of life for those with severe disabilities. My wife’s arthritis isn’t that bad but it makes long walks difficult, so her scooter was ideal for a jazz festival in Detroit, with four stages spread over several blocks.

A scooter like the one I rode

A few snarky commentators, especially in England, think some scooter users are lazy sods who just don’t feel like walking. This, as they say in the UK, is bollocks. As I learned the day I retrieved the scooter from the hotel, no one would climb on these things if they had any choice.

First of all, scooters don’t have shocks. Every little crack and rough spot in the pavement goes straight to the seat, and big holes really rattle your teeth. I felt like I was bouncing all the way to the festival. Second, your carefree way of walking is over. You can’t just cross the street; you have to look for the cutout curb. And good luck getting through a non-automatic door.

Navigating a crowd is a struggle because of all the nubs* with their eyes glued to screens and their earbuds in so they won’t even hear your bell. You’re constantly slowing down, speeding up, and shifting left or right to keep from bumping somebody. On top of that, you have to watch for little kids running loose and big ones breezing past you on those dumb two-wheel scooters, which they later drop in the middle of the sidewalk and block your path. The speed control allows you to putter along at a good clip, but between crowds and bad concrete, I could’ve gone faster on foot.

All of this can be stressful, even if you’re not already coping with a serious disability. I’ll never take mobility for granted again.

The next time you see someone on a scooter, please understand that it’s a necessity, not an indulgence. Open the door for them. Ask if you can help with their bags. And all of us should insist that people with disabilities receive accommodations. We were told the jazz festival didn’t reserve space at concerts for fans who use wheelchairs or scooters. Think we’ll make that long drive to Detroit again?


*A dense, spectacularly clueless person. Derived from Navy jargon: “non-usable body.”

Geezerhood for dummies

Since today is National Senior Citizens Day, I thought we could all take a break from our busy schedule of lying about being at Woodstock, and using periods in texts just to aggravate the grandkids. Stay with me while I share some priceless* information from our good friends at the AARP on the subject of living in place. (You do plan on living for a while, right?)

This concept, also known as aging in place, means adapting your home to your age—perhaps by lopping off the second floor to get rid of those knee-killing stairs! Seriously, there are lots of practical, helpful ways to do this. Sadly, the AARP’s ideas are uncommonly bad.

Their first mistake was outsourcing the piece to those Property Brothers from HGTV (bless their hearts) and putting it in the form of a cartoon. This multi-page spread shows the bros leading their own parents through the house, while offering these king-size pearls of wisdom:

“Bedside units hold books, glasses, water, and medicine.”
“Low-flow toilets reduce water bills.”
“Non-slip floor surfaces reduce falls.”
“Elvis really is dead. He’s not hanging out at the Burger King in Kalamazoo.”

Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the idea. These yutzes** must think us elders have the brains of a kohlrabi. So what did you expect from the magazine that invited you to, “Meet Joe’s Prostate?”

The worst part is that many of their suggestions truly make no sense for seniors (or anyone else). The article notes, “A raised dishwasher eases the burden of bending and lifting.” Except that the cartoon shows, right next to said dishwasher, a fridge with the freezer at the bottom WHICH REQUIRES BENDING AND LIFTING EVERY TIME YOU TAKE SOMETHING OUT.

Still in the kitchen: “Under-counter lighting makes midnight snacking easier.” Right, and while we’re at it, let’s facilitate weight gain and heartburn. And get this: for the bathroom, they propose robo-toilets with “voice-activated flushing and lids that raise automatically.” So when Joe’s prostate gets him up at 3:00 a.m. and the privy suddenly gets balky, he’ll be yelling, “FLUSH! I SAID FLUSH!” and Jane, awakened out of a hot dream involving Harrison Ford, will be telling Alexa, ‘Look up divorce lawyer NOW!”

This panel sums up the witlessness of the story. Would any real husband be so dense as to blurt out, “She’s got a lot more to store!” emphasized by that thought-balloon next to his head? The wife would probably have her own balloon, with a big red X over his vintage Playboy collection.

Seriously?

*Since it doesn’t come with a price, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it. Get it?
**Similar to “putz:” dimwitted, but without the added meaning of being slang for “schlong.”