alexandra alger


Archive for the month “February, 2016”

A Play on the Mirror Cliché

I read this in a recently published crime novel: “As he reached for his Visa, the security monitor next to the register caught Billy in all his glory: football burly but slump shouldered, his pale face with his exhaustion-starred eyes topped with only half a pitchfork’s worth of prematurely graying hair.” As you might’ve guessed, Billy’s a cop—more specifically an NYPD detective on the graveyard shift (his last name is actually Graves).

Here’s my theory. The author (prolific, successful) wanted to give us this image of Billy but wasn’t going to stoop to using the old he-looked-in-the-mirror technique. Besides, Billy doesn’t look in mirrors. That much is clear. So…a security screen! At the Korean deli where he buys the crap that’s supposed to keep him awake all night!

Pale face, exhausted eyes, gray, thinning hair (is that what “half a pitchfork’s worth” means?)— that deli has one high-resolution monitor! Maybe security systems have gotten more high tech lately. I try not to look at the screens myself—a) because I don’t want the person behind the register to think I’m vain enough to want to check myself out; and b) when I can’t resist glancing up—just a glance!—the picture is so grainy and dark I don’t automatically recognize myself. Does anyone look reasonably like themselves in security footage? If I could, I’d make this point to the author (whom I will identify shortly). I’d also have to add, isn’t it kinda cheesy? Is it any better than the mirror cliche? He could argue that Billy, whose coloring is gray and white and black, shows up perfectly. He could swear that in the delis he knows with security monitors, people look themselves, and anyway, security footage is as key to Billy’s life as iPhone pictures are to the rest of us. My only rebuttal would be that I could envision Billy perfectly without the security image.

The Whites, by Richard Price, writing under the pen name Harry Brandt; Henry Holt, 2015. It’s worth reading, if you like stories that go deep into the lives of NYPD detectives dealing with the ugliest crimes imaginable. A memorable array of cops and low-lifes and people struggling with circumstances they didn’t deserve.

A Waggish Aside

Waggish—I’ve seen this word twice recently, in two different articles, both in the context of political commentary. Politicians tend to invite mischievous humor, for obvious reasons (believe it or not, neither story was about Trump—or Palin or Cruz!).

Waggish! Meaning silly; humorous, in a mischievous, or facetious way. Why don’t I ever use this playful word?

Come to think of it, I don’t hear it much in conversation. I never heard it in conversation. Is “waggish” a part of anyone’s day-to-day vocabulary?  Is there somewhere someone cooing to her child, “Oh, you little wag!” Or flirtatiously: “What a waggish thing to say!” Or admonishingly: “No waggish comments when Mother gets here.”

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “wag,” dating from the mid-sixteenth century, was a “person fond of making jokes.” The origin of the word is murky—it could be a shortening of a early-German word used to describe pranking children. My vote goes with what seems obvious—it’s based on the transitive verb, which was used to describe what dogs did with their tails as early as the mid-1400s. What’s more joyful (and possibly a sign of mischief-making) than a dog (I picture a Lab or Golden Retriever) wagging its tail?

That gives me an idea for a story….

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