March 27, 2003

Faustus has asked me to guest blog for an unspecified amount of time so that he may make progress on those numerous obligations he mentioned. In continuing his occasional theme of remarking upon lapses in grammar, I will discuss today something that happened in my youth in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In my youth in Silver Spring, Maryland, I lived near two brothers, one of whom was around my age, and the other of whom was considerably older but mentally retarded (is there a nicer term for that now?). I was playing Atari with the younger brother in their living room when their mother came in, distraught because she had asked the older brother, Paul, to sign his grandmother’s birthday card, and he had signed it “Paul B.,” as he did in school.

Naturally, I was horrified, not because he had written “Paul B.,” but because he had actually written “Paul b.,” with a lower-case last initial. To me, that was the true drama of the situation. So while the mother worried that she did not have enough time to purchase a new card, I suggested that she simply take the crayon Paul had used to sign it and complete the “B” by drawing in its upper arc. Then it would be grammatical. The lower-case “b” assaulting every nerve fiber in my young body, I bravely volunteered to do this myself if she did not feel up to it.

The mother, however, looked at me as if I were Dracula. She had not even noticed that the “b” was incorrect, nor was she interested in learning this; she was only concerned that its unnecessary presence (presumably, the boy’s grandmother would know which Paul signed in red crayon without the helpful prompt of his last initial) would spoil the card. In the end, she decided it could not be helped, and she dropped it in the mailbox as I watched, seething over the uncorrected “b.”

The incident haunts me to this day, twenty-three years later.

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