5 ways poetry doth rock

Clostridium-difficile_456pxA friend this week shared a poem as her Facebook status, resolved that 2014 would be the Year of Viral Poetry. The game went: “Like” it and she would assign you a poet. Thus tagged, you must plunge into this master’s work, like unstopping a brain clog — getting down and dirty, because contemporary poetry has fewer rules than the augured couplets of ninth-grade Honors English. Next, share your wonder by pasting in a poem as your status. So non-status-quo!

Then, as others glom onto you with “Like” petals, you’ll divine, assign, entwine, and this rivulet of streaming consciousness become a swollen wave to displace the dreariness of insipid trumpery.

That was the plan.

c-diff-photo-300x225.jpgSo I dove, cannonballed, belly-flopped into the source material, hoping to dislodge a pearl from the sandy, stingy depths of complacency. But that poem seemed just words randomized, a word cloud, a fluffed pillow of broken dreams, alphabet soup. This poem didn’t speak to me. Another poem sabotaged itself with quirk. The famous series — mere postcards to a celebrity. I rifled, like a picky eater with a shellfish allergy, through the digital poem links, downloaded mp3’d poems, YouTubed and buzz-fed for a Great Poem, one that itself might be shared exponentially. The more I typed “poem” the more it didn’t look write [sic]. A tiny voice started whining: How did she get to be an acclaimed poet? Who is she to pout and ponder? What makes these word choices arranged this way art, and others but utterances? And isn’t “WordPress” so aptly named — we’re all just slaving in a word mill of meaninglessness, churn, churn, churn.

light-virus-1I begrudgingly posted one — of course about death, too obvious — stating I didn’t really like this one, but it’s published, it must be worthy … and waited for the thunderous clap of “Likes” and my turn to pick a pack of poetic, pickled, plucking peckers. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Hello? … … … … … … … … … Is this thing on? … … … … … … … Turned out my friend had assigned me one of her poetry teachers, ouch, and I had probably offended everyone in the room.

Tonal2

The word cloud I created from the poem I chose to post, “Tonal,” by Julia Bloch.

‘Course I think that I’m halfway smart and thoroughly understood this poem. Then my friend analyzed the poem … and in the process psychoanalyzed me. She showed me I had been applying my editing skills, and a poem is not necessarily built to withstand the acid tests. I had been reading it wrong, trying to sniff out the person behind the pen, legitimize her, case some logic or crack some code. Worse, I had been reading just the words.

Here is what I discovered about poetry through this fanciful Facebook exercise:

1. There is no “About Me” in poetry.

What was all that we learned in school about the id, the ego and the super-ego? Well, writers have ego. Writers-editors, super-ego. But the poet knows only the id, and that’s not spelled “I-D,” as in construct a Gravatar and share a little something about yourself in three pithy sentences. The poet dissolves amid the fluid exchange of lucidity.

2. Poems have an “interiority” complex.

This goal of “going viral” with a poem? Ridiculous. It’s already viral in the smallest and largest (universal) sense of the word. It connects like a unicellular predator inside of you and eats at you and decimates your defenses. You can’t put the experience “out there.” It’s like “E.T: The Extraterrestrial,” both outlandish and “right here.” It is of creation. A fabrication of the fabric of life. So there’s little point in sharing. That would be redundant.

3. To appreciate poetry, you must reject authority.

As puzzling as a poem might be, and as clever as you think you are in unlocking its meaning, there is no answer sheet. As my friend pointed out, “Is the poet the ultimate authority of her work? I think not.” You aren’t, either, because the next time you attend to it, it may strike you differently.

4. There’s death in every poem.

Writing may bring some immortality, but an immortal poem confronts death as the life-affirming force it is. What is life but the absence of death? When we write poetry, we are, in the most reductionist sense, tangling with mortal measures — and that’s why I’m writing this at 3 a.m., praying someone will hear, or care.

5. We are all poets.

What’s really happening on Twitter, Facebook and the “Like”? A percolation of delineated and concentrated thought that congeals — like the creation of a Facebook status or that guy’s blog post, “Marriage Is Not for Me,” going viral — it was really his headline that did it. Yes, a certain twist on words, or something that connects, strums, makes inner music that others dance to. Our accidental choices mixed with nail-biting deliberations produce a form of condensed poetry, every time. We blindly follow the rules while cloyingly obliterating them. Technology is the platform for us to rise to the next stage, to one-up ourselves, but we stay above it, hovering, waiting for that next burst of creativity or clarity.

And that’s why I sat agape watching this commercial the other night, pondering: Is 2014 indeed the Year of Viral Poetry? “That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, taking flight on an iPad Air.

Powerful play, Apple.

Oh, and jk about the “5 ways.” There are hundreds more, but I’m clearly no authority.

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That’s what s/he said

A PRO’S VIEW: I’M PRO-GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS

pronounsAs a copy editor at USA TODAY, I was asked by our editor in chief last summer what I thought about the Pfc. Bradley/Chelsea Manning case.

Not so much what I thought about it, but whether I thought we should follow the lead of the Associated Press, which soon after Manning’s sentencing decided to start referring to Manning, a transgender who identifies as female but has not yet gone through any transitioning, as “she” and “her” instead of “he,” “his” and “him.”

This is what the USA TODAY style guide says about that:

transgender people

Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can include preoperative, postoperative or non-operative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators and intersex individuals.

If an individual prefers to be called transsexual, drag queen or king, intersex, etc., use that term.

When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.”

Widemodern_Manning_130822620x413

Chelsea, meet Bradley. Bradley, Chelsea.

Therein lies the catch for Manning: “… the way the individual lives publicly.” For the crimes of espionage, theft and fraud for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Manning is serving 35 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — an all-male prison. And the Army has denied Manning’s request for hormone therapy. As far as dressing male or female goes — aren’t prison jumpsuits fairly unisex (Orange Is the New Black)?

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox plays a transgender on TV (well … Netflix’ … in”Orange Is the New Black”), a role close to home.

If Manning has no opportunity to live publicly as a woman, how can we, the media (includes you), honor the request or apply an institutionalized style?

At the time, and on deadline no less, I suggested avoiding pronouns and writing around things — introducing the situation on first reference: “Pfc. Bradley Manning, who prefers to be known as Chelsea” then using only Manning on second reference. But that seems wimpy. The point of setting style is to be bold, even dictatorial. Besides, the name “Manning” leans male — unfortunate surname for a transgender woman.

And “writing around things,” I realize now, is the equivalent of sweeping things under the rug — precisely what society has done with pegs who don’t fit into precise holes. We ought to address this issue here and now. As much as human brains construct language, language can help to shape minds.

When the story broke in August, the media was vigorous in debating the issue, and many outlets took an immediate stand in allowing Manning to declare her own gender. We follow similar styles on name treatment: We strictly don’t use Jr. … well, that is, unless it’s required for clarity or a source insists, so it’s not so strict — and same with middle initials.

But if the media went around allowing anyone to declare which gender they identify with on a given day, without requiring precedent or proof, doesn’t that invite capriciousness and — horrors — inaccuracy?

th

An earlier photo of Bradley Manning. Could s/he have been given a more virile name?

The issue comes down to who is making the determination and whether this might be an extreme example of self-determination vs. predetermination. In other words, do we trust our eyes to recognize and make judgments about sexual dimorphism? Or do we trust the source to make a judgment for themselves? (Note the use of the singular “they.”)

Maybe — brilliant — remove the act of judging entirely. Introduce a new, non-judgmental word.

In Sweden, gender-equality activists are working to get ahead of the transgender curve by proposing a third, gender-neutral pronoun. (Although “hen” wouldn’t work in this country — leans female, and sexist, at that.)

In Nepal, the census recognizes a third gender, but doesn’t name it.

Another wordpress blog examines many options, attempts to consolidate all reasonable suggestions for epicene pronouns and explores how to make this linguistic transformation happen. But a related Facebook page has only 40 members as of this posting.

Carmen_Carrera

Carmen Carrera, from that RuPaul drag show.

Look — people have been discussing this not just since last summer, but since the mid-19th century. What’s the big hang-up? As more transgenders do the talk-show circuit or become household names, such as Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), we realize: People are getting used to the idea. Let’s simplify the process with language.

Adopting new words and changing old patterns can feel daunting. So I’m not proposing inventing any new, weird-sounding pronouns, which would serve only to alienate. Rather, we could repurpose ones we already use and understand, just as body parts get transfigured.

Many men use the personal pronouns “she” and “her” to describe random inanimate objects, like ships and car engines. And oogenesistically speaking, we all start out as female. So let’s use “her” for both possessive pronouns and personal pronouns to describe gender, including those in the objective case. Men shouldn’t complain — they have been objectifying females for eons, plus “her” has the word “he” built in. This streamlines things significantly, eliminating not only “his” but also “him.” “Her” works both ways. You can even spell it he/r, kinda poetically aloof to sexism.

The new movie “Her” serves as my PR campaign. That tangle of 0’s and 1’s isn’t even human, yet a
man projects a gender — and much more — onto it.

Likewise, “she” will be the new “he.” I’d be willing to spell it “s/he” until it caught on and we abandoned the slash. Punctuation does add punch somehow.

Having lived so long with an androgynous name like Terry, I have enjoyed knowing that few can tell what I am by my writing alone. It has made for some interesting instant-messaging exchanges — they go from good-ol’-boy crass to suddenly polite and tender when my gender dawns on men.

th (1)

Joanne “Jo” Kathleen (fake middle name, borrowed from her grandmother) Rowling

8523406_f248

Pamela Lyndon Travers

In the patriarchal publishing world, I think both P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) tried to circumvent some sort of sexism by initially masking their gender — as if being female creates some drag on the sails of success. Is that where the term “drag” comes from? What’s it called when a woman “dresses as a man”? Normal, right?

The worlds both authors created spun on transformational magic — poof! We can change things with a flick of our hands.

My one regret in naming my daughters is that I didn’t bestow unisex names on them. But maybe boys’ and girls’ baby-name lists are taking care of this naturally, as dual-purpose names like Morgan, Andy, Alex and Sidney grow more popular. People can spell them however they choose, adding clues or not, branding their child from Day One with arbitrary name baggage.

So this campaign is my new baby.

Presenting … h/ers and s/hes. Poof! There s/he is.

Hers and Hers towels

Hers and Hers towels

RELATED LINKS

Where is “Sandy?” on the list of popular baby names? (mommytongue.com)

I've got this language thing down pat.

I’ve got this language thing down pat.

In search of The Word Detective

“The Word Detective” has gone missing!

That beloved site run by Evan Morris on the Web since 1995 has not posted an update since October, and instead of dissecting words he told of battling primary progressive multiple sclerosis — quite the mouthful — and struggling to pay his bills.

He’s the one who charmingly answers such reader questions as this:

Dear Evan: I was spending a day at the beach recently, and, taking time out from reading a book, spent some time watching seagulls. I noticed that these gulls did a great deal of walking around and picking up things that they seemed to think would be edible but weren’t, such as candy wrappers. They did not, in short, seem very bright. Is this where we get the word “gullible”? — Katherine Mercurio, New York, NY.

Since I am only remotely related to any seagulls myself, I shall answer your question, but first I’ll let you in on an old lexicographer’s secret — “gullible” is one of the few common English words not listed in any dictionary.

I’m tempted to let that sentence stand as is, but I get enough irate reader mail already, so yes, I’m pulling your leg. “Gullible,” meaning “easily tricked or deceived,” is in all decent dictionaries and does indeed have a connection with “gull” the bird. Lest I inflame my avian correspondents in Brooklyn, however, I should note that most authorities feel that the “gull” in “gullible” is not a seagull, but comes from an earlier sense of the word, meaning a young bird of any species. And young birds, as you seem to have discovered, are easy to fool.

For those of us enamored with language, it would be dreadful to lose his fulgent voice. My own, pathetic column riffing on language, “Word Whoops,” is an occasional distraction, but Morris’ livelihood depends on his lively linguistic probes.

They tell young people to pursue what gives life meaning, and they’ll find the means to live. They tell writers: Write what you know, and you’ll be successful. They say: Do what you love and never work a day in your life. Here’s Morris, trying to cure a poverty of knowledge, or at least enrich our ability to communicate, and he faces impoverishment? Then suddenly — ex-communication?!

Seriously, I’m concerned. If anyone gets word, please spread it. And if you have the means, please support his effort to bring more meaning into our lives.

Bird was not always the word

The etymology of “bird” is fraught with mystery and/or typos. In Old English, the word for bird was “fugol,” while “bridd” applied to all nestlings. In Middle English, “byrde” applied to all young animals, even humans, with “burd” targeting “young, maiden women.” In modern-day Britain, the slang “bird” retains that “sweet young thing” meaning.

0864c_3031018903_b0d754d862Giving someone the bird.

The middle-finger reference seems to arise from 1860 vaudeville, when catcalling or hissing at a performer in rejection was likened to a goose’s hissing.

6 of the funniest species names (to me)

1. Bananaquit (national bird of the U.S. Virgin Islands)

2. Rufous-vented Chacalaca (national bird of Tobago)

3. Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (national bird of Peru)

4. Imperial shag

5. Grey Go-away-bird

6. Long-wattled Umbrellabird

umbrella

A long-wattled Umbrellabird, found in a relatively narrow belt along the Pacific slopes of the Chocó of western Colombia and Ecuador, sayeth Wikipedia.

Top 5 references to birds in the Bible

Writers of the Bible had a limited grasp of diversity, but some species get regular mentions.

1. Noah’s ark: Raven vs. dove. “So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground.” Genesis 8:6–8. And you know the end of that story. In Christianity, the raven appears in 12 Bible verses. The dove? At least double that.

dove-with-olive-branch_lg

Picasso’s dove sketch

2. Nesting. Psalm 84:3: Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars …” Deuteronomy 22:5-7: “If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young.” Psalm 104:17: “Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.” Isaiah 34:15: “There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.”

3. Hunting/evading capture (only a smattering of examples as hunting is quite popular, biblically speaking).
Proverbs 1:17: “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.” Proverbs 6:4-6: “Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Proverbs 7:23: “Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life.”

songbird

4. Birdsong (a sampling). Ecclesiastes 10:20: “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” Ecclesiastes 12:4: “And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low.” Song of Solomon 2:12: “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” Turtle?

5. Start of an ancient life list. Leviticus 11:16-17: “And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl.” Psalm 102:6: “I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.”

burr-owl

5 out-of-fashion terms that somehow still fit

Design and fashion shape language in ways most people don’t stop to notice. Here are a few dated concepts that somehow have survived the test of evolving styles and technology.

MonopolyHat

The Monopoly guy has pretty much cornered the market on hat-tipping.

1. Hat tip. On the Intrawebz — among social-media socialites mostly — this has been condensed to “h/t.” It’s what we in the real media biz call sourcing: a nod to the person or organization providing whatever scoop, meme, funny video, scintillating blog post you’re sharing. My suspicion: Its recent popularity was inspired by the “Tip of the Hat / Wag of the Finger” segment on the The Colbert Report — but I don’t have that sourced. Or maybe it’s bad economic times reminding us how hats are held out to collect tips.

What strikes me as odd: The style of hat that men once congenially tipped was in vogue all the way back in the Edwardian age. With this usage, it zooms into the digital age. Although some men — primarily cowboys — still flick their brims in a kind gesture of recognition, respect, gratitude or greeting, hat-wearing has been in decline since the end of World War II.

ManTipHat

Side note: In American Sign Language, the “hat tip” gesture signifies “man,” while drawing a bonnet’s chin strap across the chin signifies “woman.” Today’s deaf kids must be durn-tootin’ confused by that one.

2. Powder room. Doing lines in the ladies’ room aside — and I refer to both kinds of lines — powdering one’s nose seems a somewhat outdated rite. Refreshing her makeup was always a subterfuge for “meeting in the ladies’ room,” anyway, and what happens in the ladies’ room, stays in the ladies’ room, amiright, m’ladies? But day and night, as I watch endless episodes of whatever comes on HGTV — the modern gal’s counterpart to ESPN — I’m reminded that “half-bath” may be correct, but “powder room” has more polish.

Another take on "powder room."

Another take on “powder room.”

3. Duck tape. When Ace Hardware stores started stocking all those decorator rolls of “duck tape” — sports teams, camo, tie-dyed, floral patterns — I chortled. Isn’t that cute? They are changing the spelling of duct tape! Joke’s on me, because the original spelling of this jack-of-all-trades tool is, in fact, “duck tape.” It was developed in 1942 using a cotton duck-cloth backing. It assumed the “duct tape” spelling, along with the gray sheen, only in 1950, when the Melvin A. Anderson Co. bought the rights and started using it primarily for sealing air duct systems. So what’s old definitely has some sticking power. (Who said blogging wasn’t educational?)

fancy_duck_tape-545x545

My only issue: Why penguins and not ducks?

4. QWERTY. There is poetry in this shorthand reference to how keys are arranged on a typewriter — or “a keyboard,” for those born after 1990. (Yes, Virginia, I have friends who have not only never used a typewriter but have never seen one. There may even be some youngsters who would need a dictionary to get through this bullet point.) But the beloved 1873 layout is not universal. As technology advances and we find a need for more control keys, panic buttons, what-not, the QWERTY is as endangered as those quick brown foxes jumping over the lazy dogs. For instance, the Dvorak keyboard, patented in 1936. Muyah-ha-hah, if it gained traction, then you’d ALL be hunt-and-peck typists, like me.

kbdvorak

The simplified Dvorak keyboard.

A more complex arrangement in the Dvorak keyboard by Maltron.

A more complex arrangement in the Dvorak keyboard by Maltron.

This is a typewriter.

This is a typewriter.

SGH-t469 008

5. BUtterfield 9 and PEnnsylvania 6-5000. Gone are the days when such obscure cultural references as these mean anything to those who text using predictive text. When texting was new, I pondered why phone designers clung to the arrangement of letters on numbers that once formed the genomic sequence for reaching out and touching someone. That is — arcane phone exchanges spurred the design of touch-tone phones, even though exchanges pretty much went out with rotary phones and a boom in urban population (too many land lines to maintain limited combinations of letters).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you probably weren’t as frustrated as I was trying to spell-text on flip phones, especially when my “3” and “6” buttons would lose their paint from overuse. Predictive text SOMEWHAT eased this problem. I no longer had to type each letter. And now touchscreens mirror the QWERTY schematic, although the numbers still appear on the flat-screen keypad. WHY?!?!?!

Can’t help wondering: If the designers of touch-tone phones knew how much communication would be based on actual touching today, would they ever have arranged the letters this way?

get your digitsIt gives “Can I get your digits?” a whole new meaning. Can I BORROW someone’s else’s digits so I can manage to stay in touch in the digital age?

(Cross fingers this post doesn’t make me seem so out-of-touch.)

Living in an age of telepathy

The age of communicating via telepathy is upon us, and its name is Twitter.

Journalism's good ol' days. Except it wasn't too good for women, or non-smokers.

Journalism’s good ol’ days. Except it wasn’t too good for women, or non-smokers.

Long ago and far away, news was dictated by “the public’s need to know.” Journalists had to sift through the facts surrounding an incident or figure, decide what was relevant or newsworthy while taking a step back to filter out (or let their editors filter out) biases so that the public could form its own opinions. In this one-way show ’n’ tell, people extracted news and views on a daily — maybe twice-daily — cycle, giving time for dust to settle and for story tellers to fit the right frame to the story. It was a way of telegraphing the news — send it out there, as if on the wires, to get a point across that hits close to one’s intended target.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

A week ago, I experienced something entirely new. As the apprehension of the Boston Marathon suspects unfolded — and I mean “apprehension” in every sense of the word — I couldn’t sleep, feeling an untapped energy I couldn’t put my finger on. Part of that was no doubt the jangly communication device I keep in my pocket that I can’t keep my fingers from tapping. Images of those ordinary college kids on a video loop that had replayed on the airwaves were also coursing through my brain, so I checked my Twitter feed once more before bed, and discovered there was trouble afoot at MIT. Turned on CNN — not much to go on there, as the anchors somersaulted over themselves to make sure no one would infer that the chaos unfolding in Cambridge or Watertown had anything whatsoever to do with the story at the top of everyone’s minds. Our “need to know” was trumping everything else in our lives, it seemed. How? Why? Who? These questions haunt us each time something bad happens.

On display on Twitter, though, was more than a need to know. It seems fueled by “a need to tell.” Twitter empowers every single human on the planet who has a data plan and even the weakest signal to feed the need-to-know machine. It’s so instantaneous and so exponentially more than two-way communication — try a billion-way — that the news feed, a feeding frenzy, becomes a blur. You’re not even sure at times whether your thoughts are your own or someone else’s. Retweeting, favoriting, hat-tipping, direct-messaging, sending modified tweets, partial retweets, subtweets, little ehs, uhs and half-thoughts that spend little time churning in your brain before they’re out there, disseminating.

In psychological terms, “telepathy” is defined as the communication between people of thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., involving mechanisms that cannot be understood in terms of known scientific laws — also called “thought transference.” OK, that’s definitely happening. Does anyone really KNOW how Twitter even works? How we are connected to other beings we’ve never encountered and maybe whose real names we don’t know? We are followed and followed-back at lightning speed. We blink, we process, we share.

All the news that was fit to know — during the three hours that it took the established (establishment) news organizations to verify a single fact — was out there for anyone to see on Twitter late last Thursday night into the wheeeeee Friday hours. We had raw video from folks holed up in Watertown, Mass., their laptops held up to windows framing the story as it unfolded. We had nearly live audio of gunbattles, play-by-plays from people peering out bathroom windows on the second floor. It was incredible, as if we had an aerial view of the universe, like God, if I may, honing in on this one distress signal. And yet I was safe in a spare bedroom of my house, curled up with pillows, gnawing on raw veggies. 

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

And that was about the time I saw a tweet that the young suspect seen in the video was almost surely a college student from Brown University who had been struggling with depression and missing since mid-March: Sunil Tripathi — one of those odd names that Americans have a hard time placing, pronouncing or spelling, thereby rousing instant suspicion. Even friends of his were tweeting and retweeting their theories and shock. “Oh, God, no, unbelievable, that’s Sunil.” And, without thinking, I shared it. Because it was “new” — thus, “news.”

Eventually, Tripathi’s name bubbled up to Twitter’s top-trending-hashtags list.

The need to show and tell and know. It was out of control, yet honing in like radar, connecting every synapse in our collective brains, with retweets revictimizing one young philosophy major caught in the cross hairs of supposition.

Today, of course, we know better. Today, Sunil’s body was identified after being pulled out of a river near his Rhode Island campus. Whether he was already dead at the time the innuendos swirled around the ether, I’m unsure.

But as if by telepathy, I feel connected now to his grieving family. On the Facebook page they used to reach out for tips and support while missing him (and, of course, they will  miss him eternally), they wrote:

“This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”

That’s 203 characters. Too long for a tweet. They wrote much more, all of it excellent context, but that was the part that resonated most with me. That’s the part I’m sharing on my slice of the social-media pie. Lending my hand, the only way I can, to type more words.

And now, when people say:  “My thoughts and prayers are with you” — I’m thinking, yeah. I believe that. Here’s hoping the Tripathi family can also sense mine.

We each carry the burden of sexual abuse calamities

Cassy outside the Free Library of Philadelphia, where the eBook containing her essay — and those of other contributors — were celebrated.

When we checked our daughter Cassy into a four-story hotel next to Philadelphia’s airport last night, the petite clerk asked whether she had a floor preference. Cassy shrugged. I shuddered. Beads of separation anxiety dribbled, as I recalled the high fence outside and the sketchy terrain, as if I were placing my daughter in the path of an oncoming train.

“Well, I don’t like putting a single woman on too low a floor …” the woman petered out.

We all knew what that meant. The hoteliers couldn’t guarantee her safety from random brutalities, but they’d do their best. As Cassy nodded in relief and appreciation for an unexpected kindness, we three women joined in solidarity, a coven, skipping in a circle of hair and howls, silhouetted against the moon, standing our ground. “Thank you,” in unison.

And that’s the way it is for a parent. We cannot protect our children from the world’s random brutalities, but we do our best.

It has been three months since Cassy “came out” to us and the world as a sexual abuse survivor. Somehow it seems longer. My husband and I escorted her to the Free Library of Philadelphia. There, we would celebrate, along with more than 100 other survivors, survivor advocates, survivor support systems, the release of The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, a 360-degree anthology of more than 50 first-person essays compiled by the editors of Philadelphia Weekly. They’re tackling the biggest, most pervasive stories of our day that no one is talking about. (Purchase a copy at amazon.com here.)

A group hug among Cassy, Joel and Nina Hoffmann — and the in-utero Hoffmann, benefiting by proxy.

Nina and Joel Hoffmann conceived of the idea shortly after Joel’s own revelation of the abuse he suffered as a child and his long-fought struggle to heal — a fight that nearly decimated their marriage. Their stories are at the heart of the book, and as much as you might imagine reading the entire work to be like slogging through the muck of jungle combat during monsoon season, this diverse and courageous chorus of voices promises to lift you up — as a languid swimmer remembers suddenly to surface for air or a newborn gasps hopefully at its first breath, in a waul declaring, “I’m here.” See me. Hear me. Keep me safe.

Cassy meets fellow contributor Ari Benjamin Bank

Listening to the essays read aloud — one in particular, by Ari Benjamin Bank, a survivor as well as that swimmer, whose story had each of us lapping up tears — strengthened the group conviction that these accounts, these truths, beg a wider audience. One in four women, one in six men, a sexual assault every two minutes … grim statistics that became flesh and blood, my own flesh and blood, when I first awoke to the full weight of my daughter’s experiences last August.

And yet, as each writer who dares to draw on firsthand experience must, she first had to weigh how breaking the silence would affect not only her personal safety, vulnerability and validity, but also the impact on those who know and love her. Would they be disappointed in her? Would they see her differently? Would she be stigmatized? Could WE survive her pain?

The fact that a survivor wrestles not only with the physical injury and emotional hollowing out but adopts the burden of managing others’ reactions to their injurious news is part of the injustice. The burden of proof gets placed on the one who has suffered the crime of sexual abuse, then a dispassionate, blinders-on society inflicts more misplaced punishment. A gag order by way of our gag reflex. We do not want to know. We don’t want to hear. We don’t listen. We don’t wanna talk. Well, maybe just the gory parts, and then we turn away.

Learning Elmo, the new Muppet monster, does not tickle my fancy.

Several of the event’s speakers invoked the Sandusky case. Sure, we were in Pennsylvania, but, as a Philly native, I realize Philadelphia is as safely removed from Penn State as it is from Pittsburgh (random sports rivalry reference). Still, that case resonated worldwide not because of its prurient interest, but because of personal, statistical investment. One in four, one in six … sexual abuse has no doubt touched your life in some personal way. (As I write this, my phone wiggled and jangled with the news that even Elmo is a pedophile. Sigh.)

My eyes were opened to what each of us can do to keep from revictimizing those who have experienced sexual abuse. It could be as simple as me, a headline writer, not buying into the label of “Victim 1” in describing the 19-year-old who brought down the monolithic Lions with his bravery. Despite how the court documents refer to him, he had protested the use of “Victim 1” — and yet the news media took the easy (or non-objective?) way out. As a copy editor, the burden is on me to do no harm with the language we choose, to eradicate bias, including the bias heaped upon so-called victims.

For better or worse, when the news broke in our family, a decision was made not to let my octogenarian father know what had happened to his beloved granddaughter at college. Possibly he couldn’t take the grief, his heart wouldn’t hold out. He is legally blind, so he doesn’t read my blog. Things must be read to him, so it’s easy to filter out the bad news. When I phone my parents, I am instantly put on speakerphone, so I, too, must filter out what is inadvisable — such as my pride over Cassy’s profound, surefooted steps toward recovery; how she has decided to commit her life to helping other survivors emerge from darkness and make the public see the light; how the inclusion of her 28,000-word essay in The Survivors Project was something even the editors felt needed to be digested wholly, not in digest form.

As a wider audience embraces her voice, my wonderful mother frets over how she’ll continue to maintain my father’s news blackout, protect him from it, if this explodes.

Cassy with her cockatiel, Baby

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, though, thanks to Cassy, is that hiding the truth can prove toxic. And we ought never pre-judge another’s capacity — whether that gauge is for pain, resilience or love.

It’s what drew me to journalism: Present the facts. We know objectivity is a lie — we are humans, after all. Still, our directive is to not sugarcoat it, not demonize it, be thorough, be accurate and let the readers/listeners discover their own truths.

We certainly can’t protect those we love from random brutalities. But armed with knowledge — and a full capacitor for feeling — we can surely do our best.

Or, at least, better than we’re doing.

50 Shades of Rage and Gray: The messy aftermath of a mother’s discovery

Home, James (A short story)

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is pretty much a transcription of a dream I had recently.)

She could have taken the train.

Her friends all told her so, those snoopy friends who dared advise her. How ghastly, though, the thought of huddling with smelly strangers or suffering children, their damp, foreign flesh pressing in. No, she would drive, she had the Bentley wagon and needed the extra space for Aunt Martha’s balloon bouquet, besides.

Onboard navigation, check. Sparkling water, check. A wealth of creature comforts to seal out the city’s din and offending fumes. She’d show Robert and Chase, her loafing chauffeur, just how foolish they were to worry about her driving herself.

The first few hours she ran on pure giddiness and Richard Marx’s discology. Cruise control and heated seats, toasty buns, goodness, she could use a nap. It wasn’t until she picked up the Kennedy Expressway, under assault by tractor-trailer brigades and dizzying signage, that panic set in. Her GPS android hiccupped its garbled orders: “Take right lane toward two-hundred-ninety and — continue, on left, in 300 feet – recalculating …” until the display summarily blanked.

Bollocks. Now what? Where? Zip, zing, whoosh! Boxed-in and claustrophobic, she hurtled a battle cry. “Ro-bert! YOU!!!! Bought! The! Wrong! Stupid! OWWW, THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING TO ME!” She was hyperventilating. Like a pack animal, she moved where they moved, but aimlessly, blinded by those menacing balloons, falling behind, weak, disoriented, doomed.

Pushed by the undulating tide of traffic, she couldn’t recover from a misguided exit, landing her squarely in the filthy, fetid unknowns of Chicago’s South Side. Her luxury-car bubble instantly transformed into a space capsule. Every hair out of place after wrestling with the steering wheel, she gripped it now like a life preserver, peering out the windshield for any recognizable life forms. She knew she would have to get out and fish out her ancient road atlas retired to the trunk.

She notched open the door, looked to position non-sensible spiky shoes into the craggy Earth’s surface, but then, there, out the window to her left, drew the comforting sight of neon-yellow-orange reflective vests on men – not rescue workers as she first hoped, but two construction workers, helmeted and strong, shovels in hand, approaching the car.

She looked upward, and saw too late the glint of lust in two bloodshot, watery, yellow-tinged eyes set deep in leathery skin, then spastically tried to shut the door and engage all power locks. But a shovel’s rusted blade had made contact with her ivory-beige interior, prying it open, almost as wide as the mercenary’s toothless grin.

“There now, purdy thing, lost?” his gravelly voice mocked. “Naw. You ain’ from ’round here.” He whipped off the helmet with an upswing of his hand. “Jethro. Help da little lady out her vehicle, wit’ some of dat fine valet service, haw …”

The one called Jethro obliged. She flinched at his touch, sniffled, mewed. “Aw, she be scared?” the ringleader chimed. “We don’t wan’ nuthin’, sweets. Jus ’dose balloons. Is for my babe’s birfday. Das all. We be takin’ your balloons and you be on our way, everybod’ happy.”

As Jethro positioned the shriveling socialite beside the car’s rear door and jettisoned it open, she glanced back at the construction site and saw nothing being built. Other shadowy forms huddled under the overpass, punctured by flickers of light. They’re smoking something. Trash, brown paper, bottles pitched about, a shopping cart short one wheel. These vests are stolen. Trappings. A trap set.

Jethro wrenched out the balloons, handed them to his senior officer, who grinned with tongue dangling. Then, he dramatically let loose the powder-blue party ribbons. “Ooops.” A slow, demonic “oooo” through furrowed lips formed a fish-mouth “O” as the balloons sailed up into the traffic stream above. She felt her breath escape, chest tighten, fists and thighs clench.

With the back seat now empty, Jethro pushed her head down into the roomy ride as one might a police suspect, his other hand gripped tight around her bony arm as the fearsome leader took the driver’s seat. Doors pinched shut with a sick sucking sound, like coffin closing.

“Dis is nice. Our best catch today, Jethro,” the crazed chauffeur said with his winningest smile. He reversed the Bentley too fast making the tires squeal on the embankment, then set off on a route lined with houses whose plywood windows and prison yards of chain-link forced shudders. She spied a gang draped in cotton, T-shirts on their heads. She sat stiffly, as if already dead, trying hard to contain any reaction. The sweat beaded in the small of her back, at her neck, under her pearls.

“I’m Keneval,” he said. “And we gonna give you a chance. Not that your kind eveh give us no chances. But we’re better dan youse. Hear? Better dan youse! We gonna play cash cab. Heh. Das righ’. Giveya chance to win sumpin’ back.”

He tuned the radio to a thumping stream of grunts and curses and bobbed his brillo head to the beat. The car’s nine speakers shook and gasped like a chimney sweep’s soot snifter. Her precious car careened as Keneval drove too fast and too close to the jagged edges of this tortured terrain. Dogs barked, an occasional kid hurled rocks, finger gestures were exchanged. He opened the windows to let the air roar in and the noise belch out.

“First question. Ready?” Keneval paused. “When I say ‘Ready?’ You say, ‘Yessir! Yesmassuh.’ ” She managed a squeak, parroting him.

“Gooooood. ’K. First one. Name a liquor that ends in a ‘H.’ ”

Name a –?

“V-v-vermouth?” she pleaded. She’d never seen Cash Cab, but guessed this was not a typical line of questioning.

Keneval emitted a loud buzz sound, forcing her undainty convulsion.

She glanced at Jethro. He shrugged, gazed out the window without loosening his vice grip on her. She pictured hard the array in Robert’s study. “Glenfiddich!” Too frantic.

“Unh-huh, no names, LICK-er,” sighed the twisted Trebek. Confirmed. They didn’t speak the same language. Aware it ended with an “e,” she tried, anyway, praying he wouldn’t know the difference: “Absinthe.”

“Whatchoo talking at, lady!?” Keneval cackled while rocking back and forth. “Hawh, I shouldn’t be giving you so many guesses, dat’s not in my rulebook.” He leered. “But go’on, one more, see who’s so smart.”

“Syrah?” she heaved, overachieving.

“NO, no, no, and more nnnno,” Keneval scolded. “The answer … is ‘Dry mouth.’ ”

A wheezy laugh. “Or we would have accepted, ‘Truth … serum.’ ” That’s when she saw it. A gun in his belt. A gun. His ratcheting giggle, in any other situation, might have come off as benign.

“Tell me,” Keneval finally crooned. “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” He was drumming on the dashboard.

He was a madman, she glumly dawned, and she had no hope of surviving this. Still, activating her brain was helping her keep her wits about her. In a start, she remembered she had her phone with her in the back seat, in her Gucci handbag, not far from the Manolo stilettos. Killer shoes.

“OK, second round,” the evil Keneval announced, clearing a fresh buildup of phlegm. “In Russia. You know, Russia?” she nodded, though he wasn’t watching. This was her chance to slip the heel into the purse, twitch and release the magnetic clasp. Jethro was still gazing out the window, a dopey, disinterested sentry. With every bump, though, his grip tightened.

She focused on keeping the left side of her body statue-still as she finagled her right foot … oh! She jerked. Jethro darted his eyes her way. She meekly smiled, then reached down to remove her shoe, indicating discomfort. He allowed this much, reached out his other hand to accept the shoe. She reluctantly surrendered it, and then the other, but in the tussle managed to nab the phone that fit sweetly in her palm, awash with relief she had not traded in her compact Samsung for a cumbersome iPhone.

“…In Russia, they got a Mickey D’s,” had been Keneval’s droning, drunken soundtrack. “Putin, he likes him some burgers, man. Putin. You know Putin? … Pootang … ” Here he had glanced her way, salaciously “… naw, not now, precious, not now.”

She shifted uncomfortably. Amid the distraction of the quiz, she hadn’t noticed they were back on a freeway, although the Chicago skyline was growing distant. A weapon plus cell signal could = a lifeline.

“Well, now, those commies, they line up in bad-ass-long lines, like we here for Mickey Mouse, ’cept it’s for a goddamned burger! … JETHRO. Pay her mind, we ain’t doin’ no Mickey Mouse today. … So. There are people dere in Russia low on the food chain, like me and Jethro heyah. They get paid to STAND IN LINE,” he attacked each word. “30, 50 by the hour. Dey live off dis desire of others. Gotta have deh burger, hooo, yeah.”

By now, she had her phone ensconced under her thigh and was fingering it, daring not to glance down. She visualized the touch screen, cursing the techno-whizzes who’d dispensed with a more sensible raised keypad, testing to be sure she had the phone in the right orientation. Marking off sectors of the screen, guessing at the “9” and “1,” praying it was muted, she made her choice: punched three times. Then came its queer beep-beep-beep tones that tolled her fatal error.

Keneval snapped his head around and, emitting a low roar, slapped her skull with such force it jettisoned not only her phone but both earrings and a thin line of drool. Jethro instinctively and obediently reached over her legs, picked up the device and handed it to his boss.

Flipping and shuffling the phone one-handed, his tongue tsk-clucking, Keneval slowly shook his head, then paused, performing his best gunslinger’s stare. He flung the phone out the window, jerkily pulled the car over and stopped. She heard the chew of gravel. The buzz of passing traffic. The black jackal whipped open his door, then the driver’s side back door and ordered Jethro out. “You drive, thug.”

King Keneval sidled in next to his prey. “The question. Shug.” He locked his eyes on hers, then traced her face with grimy fingers. “What, fair lady, is the best value on Mickey D’s dollar menu?” He sneered that gaping grin. “Answer!”

The absurdity of this script and the fear in her heart combined to produce not a word but a snort. How could she hope to get this right, anything right? Any answer would inflame this animal. All she could think was “latte.” The lady or the tiger? This lady was lost. Her eyes teared up. She was at wit’s end, yet newly callous to caring.

Jethro groaned, wearily. Was that sympathy? He took to swerving in and out of traffic at an unbearably high speed. It momentarily distracted her captor, who put his hands on Jethro’s shoulders and spoke some gibberish she couldn’t make out over the resumed radio racket and wind. With nothing to lose, she pressed her face against her window, the only one sealed, and mouthed “help” to passing motorists, all selfishly impervious. How could she be so close to normal people, people on errands, people on their way home from work, ugly stupid people who maybe could do something to help a fellow human on her last day? She reached her hand behind her head and waved it hysterically to anyone behind her.

This caught Keneval’s eye and with one hand he fused together her arms and tumbled her to the floor, placing his boot on her shoulder blades like a footrest. “Bust your motherfucking cantaloupe!’ he bellowed. “Oh lord, you steal my fun, woman.”

In a flash, she remembered her tweezers. Thank god for menopausal chin hair. Now who was the animal? Conveniently hunched near her purse, she ripped into the side pocket, extracted the fine silver weapon and burst up like an explosion, sending Keneval to the corner of the leather-pinched seat, wide-eyed in surprise.

She jack-knifed and pierced the carjacker’s eyeball with superwoman force. An inhuman shriek pierced her eardrum, but she attacked again, locking limbs with him. They were a tangle of grit and grime, as she pierced him again, and again. He reached for his Glock, but she reached deeper within and kneed him. With his elbow, he found the door latch, loaded her onto his thighs with the intent to eject her from the car, “This is where you gettin’ off, doll!” but he miscalculated the thrust of the door as well as her resolve. He fell back, out the escape hatch, chocolate-brown form folded like a newborn’s, then torpedoed like a turd onto pavement.

Jethro’s desperate attempt to right the vehicle during the scuffle instead cinched a queasy crunch, as the back tire hiccupped over muscle and bone, a final disservice. She glanced out the rear window to watch a rag-doll twirl then get swallowed in a horn-blaring parade of traffic.

Jethro had slowed a notch, which had given her an opportunity to shut the door, though she’d considered jumping. The ensuing commotion sparked his fuse. She saw blanched fear in the cutout of his eyes in the rear-view mirror. He hightailed, the Bentley’s speedometer needle soon straining into red, as they plunged past unsuspecting vehicles.

Neither spoke. Her breathing gradually calmed. Now what? What hell awaits me in this hard-won afterlife? The sun was setting. Her sweat, dripping. Normal people hovered on all sides. Normal, ignorant, blissful, boring people. Jethro chose an exit ramp. His hunched shoulders slowly relaxed as he navigated familiar mean streets.

Still no words formed. Nothing could sum up what she had just been through, was still going through. She’d been carjacked, a simple thing, truly, must happen every day. Yet she still had her life and, technically, her car. She rode. Waited. Hoped.

Darkness enveloped them now. The Bentley plowed on, through pockmarked alleyways and grimy cityscape. Fear was her ally — her sidekick. Where? How much farther?

First, she saw the child, as Jethro shimmied her car into an impossibly tight trough beside a mournful tract house in an ghetto wasteland. The boy’s pudgy hand tugged at a merle-mottled pit bull pup; in the other he held something like a bottle cap to his mouth. His vacant gaze latched onto the driver, his mouth yawning a silent cry. Then the others popped into focus, slowly swarming, nothing but stick figures in multicolored but faded rags: a scrawny, barefooted girl clutching a decapitated doll bigger than herself; a partly diapered toddler with glaze dried down one leg; a long-faced adolescent with pasty-gray skin, tear-streaked cheeks, mussed hair, doe eyes studying the ground as two more siblings clung to her brambly legs.

Jethro turned to his passenger and guiltily shrugged. “Home.” He tapped the onboard GPS. “Where you be headed now, miss?”

A question she had a ready answer for. She recited an address. With a golden touch, he resurrected the device, punched in the data. It lit up like a spaceship, a beacon for Home. He exited the vehicle into the circle of brightened children, now attaching like barnacles. Opening her door for her, he offered his hand as she scooped up her purse and cautiously emerged, her clothing ruffled but with some dignity intact. “Jethro,” she throated. “Thank you.”

“It’s James,” he nodded, bowed.

“James.” She dug into her purse to find the mad money she always had squirreled away, two Benjamins and 135 singles, those intended for hospital and rest-stop vending machines. “For your trouble,” she said, placing the bundle, secured by colorful rubber bands, into a chocolate-macaroon hand. Keep the change.

His smile blazed. An exchange of electricity.

Shaken but sure, she undocked the Bentley, watched the family’s huddle fade in her rear-view, then navigated back to a world of Panera Breads and Party Citys — somehow changed.

No power? More power to ‘The New York Times’

Some good news to come out of Superstorm Sandy’s rampage on New York City: Newspapers are selling again. Selling out.

According to USA TODAY breaking news reporter and colleague Melanie Eversley:

… The mood was not so festive at the Pinaz newspaper-magazine shop on Sixth Avenue, where lights remained out and the atmosphere inside was dark and claustrophobic.

Cashier Shakeel Khan, 38, said Wednesday afternoon [Oct. 31] that the owner asked him to open up in the late morning, but so far, he’d had only eight customers. He said he planned to close early.

Newspapers were delivered that day, though, and he did sell out, he said.”

With no cell service, TV or Internet, people can’t get enough of the news that’s fit to print — even in the dark. In a post-apocalyptic world, we’ll be scratching out messages on papyrus leaves and burning them for heat. Usher in a modern media Dark Age.

GET ME REWRITE.

What’s wrong with this picture? … Yep, no distaff journos on staff.

Sandy and the Dangling Crane

We create our own disasters sometimes. Whose bright idea was it to leave a crane erected like the gallows over NYC yesterday, for instance? Did they not get the memo about the worst storm of the century bearing down?

I admit I did little myself to prepare for superstorm Sandy. Murphy’s Law might thus have sealed my fate — sparing those who were ready and doing in those who were not — but instead I snugly checked into a king room at the Embassy Suites after my shift, on the company’s dime, and kinda kept working, watching the horrific drama play out on an HD TV. Make that TWO HD TVs, one per room. Drat. I couldn’t quite watch from the bathtub.

“Crane expert” from “Goose Creek”?  I had assumed he was an ornithologist.

I deserved that bath, though, because I managed to turn what was little more than a heavy rainstorm in metro D.C. into an unforeseen (and untold, ’til now) disaster all my own.

Friend and colleague Sharyn checks out the damage to our headquarters.

If you saw my blog yesterday, you’d know that a giant “A” descended from the heavens at US TOD Y headquarters. As an investigative copy editor, I made it my mission to trace the source. I’d already examined two intact USA TODAY signs on the building and three GANNETT signs. I figured there was one I couldn’t see from indoors, so after my shift I meandered onto the median strip between the building and the Dulles Access Toll Road.

Turns out that at that time, about 8:15, our region was being hit the hardest, with gale-force winds and buckets of rain. I nearly fell down or was picked up, unsure which, and as I breached the treeline, I was startled by a CRRRAACCKKKK and blinding flash of light. I figured I’d met my doom. Still, I managed this photo:

Another “A” accounted for.

I also completely peed my pants.

One of these letters is not like the others. Can you tell which one?

By the time I made it to the hotel, drenched to the bone and smelling vaguely of urine, I figured I deserved that bath. Because I’d learned from the security guard upon exiting work that my mad search was for naught: The “A” on the ground was but a protective sheath of the letter on the building that had blown off.

My initial photo clearly shows the “A” in “USA” is receded. No great mystery. The “D” sheath also fell, about two hours afterward. A dropped “AD.” Happens all the time in the newspaper biz.

I’ve doffed my own protective journalistic sheath as I remain glued to the sad news elsewhere. My warmest, driest thoughts go out to those truly suffering in this storm — people who didn’t create their own suffering.

And, with my free oatmeal, grapefruit and piping coffee, I’ll have a side of rainwater as I watch the hotel’s atrium leak  — safe from any further embarrassing leaks.

Then … it’s back to the office and being on the lookout for dangling modifiers, not building scraps.

The leaky atrium at the Embassy Suites Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia.

Big news at USA TODAY: Sandy swiped our ‘A’

ImageAt about 3:52 p.m. ET, we in the newsroom heard a loud crash, and ran to the window. That’s the dropped ‘A’ there, in the flower bed below. Collective “gsp.”

It appears we could be reduced to: US TODAY. Or USA TOD Y. Not sure which.

Below, buildings crew worker Carlos recovers the ‘A’ from the 2nd-floor balcony garden. He tells me: “Miss, it is not safe to be out here right now.” Yes, but I am COVERING THE STORY. Maybe only a copy editor could understand.

Photo and 2012 copyright by Terry Byrne, USA TODAY

Update at 4:45 p.m. ET: Thinking now it must be the “A” in GANNETT. All the As in USA TODAY are accounted for. I even went to the rooftop to photograph the second photo, and it’s pretty gusty up there, which makes me pretty GUTSY.

All right. The puzzle deepens. I have photographed three sides of our headquarters. All three GANNETTs look fine. What we need is a traffic helicopter, or maybe some iReports from citizen journalists on the toll road to find the missing vowel.

‘Women and children first’ is so 1912

A nice guy holds the door for me at work … for the sake of the picture. This generation is big into taking pictures.

A stunning event at work today: Outside the elevator, a young man stepped aside and motioned for me to go first.

I could scarcely move. I strained to recall the last time I’d witnessed an under-28-something cisgender male behave thusly.

Since our media megalopolis declared itself “digital first,” bands of coding whipper-snappers who run laps with laptops tucked into the crook of their arms somehow decoded that guiding principle as: They get to go first.

I’d grown used to yielding to packs of geeks in every corridor. They depress me because they utter things like: “Print is dead” (no lie, I heard this in the elevator yesterday from a pair of them, and they were chortling about it). I’ve come to expect that sort of thing from them.

But this? Deference to me, a vestige of the green-visor age? Totally out of character.

Simply put: Chivalry is dead to this generation.

The flip side: Do women even want this kind of treatment?

How many of you have had a door held open by an older gentleman … except the door proves 30 yards away and you feel obligated to scamper in heels, heart-racing, everything jostling, while he holds, watches, just to accept his lame help despite being perfectly capable and strong enough to open a freaking door, for goodness sake … then wonder whether your frazzled display was how he regularly gets his jollies?

Happens to me a lot.

Some women take offense to door-holdings and after-yous. What about that double-door set-up at malls and office buildings? You murmur, “Thank you” once … then a beat later, “Thank you, again” giggle-giggle, gaze at floor.

Or, you take turns: I’ll hold once for you, you hold once for me.

It’s not just older men doing this for hot young women, it’s women doing this for men, women doing it for women … unsure I’ve ever seen men-on-men door-holding. Come to think of it, what IS the proper distance to hold a door for someone? Is it when they’re 10 feet away? 15? I hate making them run. Why run? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of easing things for the other person? Here, I’ll hold the door and spare you the 2-pound pull, if you’ll just run sprint drills for my amusement.

Are these spaces sponsored by businesses, like highway cleanup signs? Is it just another form of cheap advertising? So many things in modern life confuse me.

One thing that does shock me in this day and age are parking spaces reserved for “expectant mothers” or those with young children. Shocks me because NO ONE EVER USES THEM.

They remind me of those vintage “Baby on Board” rear window suction signs announcing the presence of an innocent in tow, ss if someone would ram the rear-end of your vehicle so long as no one under 5 were inside. After the wreck, the driver whimpers, “B-b-b-but I had a yellow diamond sign on there, din’tcha see? You were supposed to steer clear of me!”

Here in Northern Virginia, almost everyone violates traditional handicapped spots, despite hefty fines attached. Entire crime rings get built around fake handicapped placards you can pull out of your glove box to hang from your rear-view mirror when convenient. Yet I never see anyone violating these “expectant mother” spaces … let alone using them.

Would an actual pregnant woman feel obligated to prove she’s pregnant, especially if she weren’t showing, if she parked there … is that why they don’t bother? I wonder about fat women. Could they get away with parking there, in a pinch? Who would dare challenge a fattie or even someone post-menopausal? Beware the hot flashes.

I watched this prime piece of real estate at Pan Am Shopping Center in Fairfax, Va., for about two hours one day. No one ever parked there. Does the mere having to read a sign scare people off?

Maybe no one violates these spaces because they circumscribe law.  Where would be the fun in crossing a blurred line?

Or maybe … just maybe … these spaces indicate a resurgence in societal values regarding “women and children first,” hearkening back to the noble men on the Titanic who gave their lives so that the delicate innocents might flourish.

Anyway. I just wanted to thank that elevator guy. It was nice.