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End Game



Jennifer, 20 years ago I loved a woman who knew nothing about it. That woman was your mother and she loved someone else. So I went away, etc., etc., etc."

Read on. Please.

"After closing her purse, she began to ask him, etc., etc., etc."

Just one more time. Promise.

"The Evergreen Motel, etc., etc., etc."

Yes, there's a method to this madness. Well, not a method so much as a cause. In recent calendars, it has adopted the term leisure, which fits nicely on the cover of, say, Esquire or Cosmopolitan. You may know it better by its older name: laziness.

(The word's connotations are off-putting to many people, but I would remind them that when the word "work" or "toil" first appears in Genesis, it was not described as "good" or "very good" by God. No, it was a punishment for sin, just as death was. The avoidance of this is laziness.

My counterpoint to all this laziness is the usual: lucre, skins, wampum, jack. "I am damned by dollars," Herman Melville once complained in a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the feeling is mutual.

So one forenoon, when my need for damn dollars collided very forcibly with my well-honed laziness, I came up with the following: If you must write for your supper -- nothing else comes to mind -- then do it in strict minimalist fashion. Simply begin a story by suggesting a likely course of action, and then turn over the remainder of the story to the reader and let him or her finish the tale as they see fit.

How? Well, by exhausting my skill with the Latin language, which is in such depleted condition that it's no longer required of altar boys or freshmen at Jesuit High. Yet still remembered is the eternally useful "et cetera," usually spelled "etc." and Webster-defined as (a) a number of unspecified additional persons or things, (b) others, especially of the same kind, (c) and so forth.

With an ample supply of "et cetera," I could write best sellers actually using no more than 60 or 70 words. Ah, sweet laziness, at last I've found thee! And no one who bought the book could dare complain about the ending language or plot because they themselves had supplied it!

I decided to try one and show it to my everloving Violent Femme (V.F.), a lady who's made peevishness a life study, for her reaction. So here it was:

"He knew that to stop talking was to admit he was lying, so etc., etc., etc."

Violent Femme read, but she didn't ponder. "You work harder getting outta work than most people do working," she said peevishly.

"You're starting to sound like a female Yogi Berra," I noted. "Maybe a Yoga Berra."

"You oughta finish it," V.F. said. "Who knows more about talking? Or lying, for that matter?"

We adjourned. Later that night, I hooked up with Dale, who once went to Princeton for about a year and a half. Dale's from Lutcher; I think he went to Princeton as a cultural exchange student.

Dale had a three-cheese pizza or burrito or something of that sort. That and a couple of bottles of Sambuca. We ate a lot, drank more and talked even more than that. I think the talk was good, good for Sambuca talk anyhow.

We talked of how many words had become meaningless, how Charlie Chaplin had flirted with my device in 1919's Sunny Side (that copycat ballerina!), the shrinking sound-bites on TV news. Since the music of words seems to be drifting away to a one-note samba anyway, why shouldn't I go Et Cetera?

Yes, yes. But somewhere else isn't this about the huge amount of conformity that has crept into our speech? Yet another conformity in this Age of Individuality? All to show that with the slightest of nudges, our imaginations, swollen with familiarity, will happily fill in the blanks for us. Staggered by the unknown, the mind opposes it with the homey and familiar.

This happens when you drink with cultural exchange students.

Then I point out that any three samples (NOTE: see beginning) are each progressively shrunk to one-third the number of words as the one before it and this next should be only one word and Dale says "Infrastructure, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!"

I ask about Velma, who Dale stole from her sister's ex-husband. Dale says he told her there weren't many laws he hadn't broken, and he was going to be doing her a big favor by never calling again.

Then Dale looked at me, I at he. And in perfect harmony, the Great Chortle, ascending with drained Sambuca glasses:

"Et cetera! Et cetera! Et cetera!"

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