When Ellipses Meet

by Michael Kroth

It was a dark & stormy night. She walked in, unbuttoned her trench coat, & pulled out a copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. She waved it at me. 'You've broken the rules,' she said huskily. 'Your subjects & verbs don't agree. Your memoir? A crime.' She moved closer. "But I can show you how to diagram sentences in ways you can't imagine."

I leaned back. “Irregardless…”, I started, but she was all over little-old-innocent-but-worldly me like a stacked modifier, “Shh…” she said, putting her finger on my lips. “Be careful, or the coppers’ll be here quicker than a holier-than-thou amateur shouting out my last typo. Those copy editors...”

“Yeah, I don’t know why anyone would choose a profession like copy editing,” I quickly agreed. “It would take an obsessive-compulsive person to devote his (or is it his and her? Or hisher? S/her? Some other abomination? Or…oh, never mind…) life to slogging through the dregs of first drafts, even when they find a superscript. But you’re right, the proof is in the reader, they’ll be here just the same.”

She had a figure of speech that would put any other’s wordplay to shame, and would  certainly bring out the simile in any man’s pretext. Her tight dress covered black stockings leading to gams that seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t keep my mind off split infinitives. My mind was a jumble. I couldn’t get a clear sentence out. I was paralyzed. All I could think about was syntax.

I couldn’t stand it another second. I was waiting, waiting, for something, but I knew deep inside that if I wanted anything exciting to happen that I’d have to change to my active voice.

Imperatively, then, I demanded “Come closer.” “I was thinking of you,” she whispered passively. Finally it was too much. “I want you to come here,” I indicated.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” I hyperbolized. “What’s your name and what are you doing here?”

She hesitated, and told me she couldn’t share her real name, just her pseudonym. “Grammar Girl here,” she plagiarized. “And I came here to share some quick and dirty tips with you.”

My mind was afog, or was it agog? (This was only rhyme, no reason.) The formerly elusive but increasingly ubiquitous Mignon Fogarty wouldn’t be caught dead in a cheesy canard like this one, thought I. So it had to be some other princess of punctuation, some other maven of misplaced malapropism.

I’d been in one lousy relationship after another. Each had been like being locked in a cage (another drab simile, another overused jail sentence). It was time to get out and this beautiful grammarian was my ticket. Still, regardless of the mixed metaphors I was tossing around, I didn’t want to finish a sentence with a proposition. Unlocking my heart? I didn’t know how to.

She was lying. It wasn’t Grammar Girl at all. But I was confused. Who would slide into the life of a poor washed up cliché like me? I thought back. It had all started when I gave up trying to decipher tony double entendres. Once savvy and proud, I got them. Dorothy Parker was my hero. But I started to lose it, lowering my standards from intellectual, smart humor to puns and limericks. I thought desperately that I could never allow myself to deteriorate to using oxymorons such as "The Biggest Loser."

So my use of language had started to slip. I groped with tropes. I couldn’t take the risk anymore of trying out dazzling persiflage. Simple, clear, uninspiring prose is all I would allow myself. Against all my wishes I’d become a journalist.

Yes, I knew how to lead with a hook. Just the facts, Sam, my inner editor would say, and I’d take it like a frustrated author with an unpublished novel in my desk. I’d lost it.

There I sat, like, an, overused, comma, when I spotted two ominous shadows. They stepped into the light and I could see it was those two thugs, Aardvark and Squiggly. I shuddered. It was the grammar gang.

Notorious for enforcing proper word use, these two had been sent over by an obscure foreign agent known only as OED. “Wot,wot,” chortled Squiggly in that annoying Cockney accent. “Did I ‘ere someone tryin’ to clean up his action verbs?”

Aardvark added, “We’ve got you on 21 counts of breaking the rules.” “Shut up you anteater,” I cried. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Aardvaark replied menacingly, “We’re not talking entomology here buddy. Get with it. This is all about etymology, not the birds, bees, or ants for that matter. You haven’t a clue what half the words you use mean, do you, much less where they came from.”

“Call off your hacks,” I appealed to her. “I’m nuts about you. I’ll shape up.”

 “Don’t be an idiom,” she replied. “Or two of them. I want someone who isn’t a crackpot, but more the salt of the earth.”  She went on amphibologically, “and you are one of a kind.”

“But...who...and...however...either...” I sputtered, trying to get my thoughts together. “Sheesh,” she said again. “Calm down. I can see you’re suffering from a severe case of conjunctivitis.”

Dangling, I modified my approach. I quoted Zinsser to no avail. Her word police just watched stoically. Then I dropped in my pièce de résistance, from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (copied here faithfully from Goodreads.com) "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere." I could sense her melting. We started gradually.

Slowly, tentatively, we moved closer. Finally, the kiss (without a verb, for effect). Her lips... My lips.... Our ellipses merged and it seemed to go on forever...,....,...

I don’t know who you are, I thought, but I sure like your style.

* * *

"When Ellipses Meet" by Michael Kroth, coauthor of Managing the Mobile Workforce, received an honorable mention in the 2011 National Grammar Day short story contest.