It has been my practice at the end of each year to call on my aged friend Miss Ann Thrope. It has been some time since I last wrote about her. She is from a bygone era, I am not sure which, and objects to the au courant prefix “Ms.” She is aged and ageless, and reputed to have been the lover of Moliѐre.
Miss Ann, an avowed deist, has been an invaluable source of secular wisdom for me over the years. When in doubt about whether to foist on my readership an audacious or questionable proposition, I call on Miss Ann for advice and counsel. Regular readers of this column will no doubt conclude my visits have been infrequent. She sleeps most of the time, but in those rare moments when I catch her awake and sentient, she offers “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding… of counsel.” Isaiah 11:2. I hope the blasé will not scoff, for it is written that “[w]ith the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days, understanding.” Job 12:12.
I arrived at Miss Ann’s Victorian hideaway to wish her well for the new year and to seek her advice on the advisability of sharing my New Year’s resolutions with you dear readers. Because of the unprecedented uncertainty this particular new year brings, prudence compelled me to solicit suitable admonitions. Her caretaker and companion Max greeted me at the door. Max informed me that Miss Ann was in a deep sleep, but that perhaps she might respond if I held her hand and spoke softly.
We entered her spacious boudoir and made our way discreetly across the dimly lit bedchamber to the large davenport upon which she reposed. I parted the gauze curtains that surrounded her. I touched her small spindly hand and whispered “Miss Ann, my New Year’s ….” Before I could finish my sentence, she opened her eyes and uttered a word, or cleared her throat, I could not tell which. What I distinctly heard was “worry,” the second sound that escaped her wizened lips. She gently squeezed my hand and smiled or . . . grimaced; I cannot say.
She immediately fell back into a deep slumber. I was puzzled and thrown off my orbit, my mind be still “no more a‑roving.” Did she utter a word before “worry” or was that sound a cough, or a frog, I hesitate to say, “croaking” in her throat? If she did mutter a word, was it “not” or “don’t”? My disquieting thoughts landed on Neil Armstrong.
Did the first man to set foot on the moon say to billions of people on earth, “a” after the fifth word of his famous aphorism? Or are astronauts good at math and physics but not so good at grammar? One can argue ad nauseam what Neil Armstrong or Miss Ann Thrope said or didn’t say. I was in a quandary.
Without Miss Ann’s guidance, I opted for the less controversial of my New Year’s resolutions. I offer these few quotidian resolutions in the hope they will bring inspiration to a reader or two.
1. I will try not to criticize those (apparently most everyone) who use the infuriatingly annoying adjective “iconic” to describe anything, most often the prosaic and insignificant. I have even heard someone at Thanksgiving refer to Sophie's “iconic turkey stuffing." Please. It is the most overused word on the planet.
2. And that brings me to the second resolution. I will try not to complain about the use of the word "planet" to depict the singularity of something or someone. "He is the most talented taxidermist on the planet." Why not the universe?
3. I am resolved not to foist on unsuspecting victims foolish limericks I make up on the spot. This resolution requires some background. Several years ago I wrote about attending a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. The program notes mentioned his lover, the great opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi. At intermission, while my wife was visiting the restroom . . . . Why do they call it a restroom? In Europe, bathrooms are called what they are‑‑toilettes. Just thought of a new resolution. Call things as they are.
4. Getting back to Verdi and Giuseppina. While waiting for my wife to return from the toilette‑‑maybe restroom is better, I quickly penned a quatrain to honor theses two iconic artists. I was sitting on a couch in the downstairs waiting room where there are… restrooms containing toilettes, when an elderly, elegantly attired woman sat next to me. She asked me if I enjoyed the opera and I read her my limerick.
Loved Verdi and spumoni,
Was his lover, not a crony,
His muse, his rigatoni.
She got up and left. Can you imagine?
At the next Verdi opera I attended, I wrote another verse, a version of which I shared with you in this journal.
They, an island, not a Coney,
She, Verdi's love, his love only,
A love that's true, a love not phony,
Not Swiss nor Cheddar, but Provolone.
I think that is quite enough. So I am resolved not to burden you with more inane stanzas like the one I wrote after seeing Verdi’s interminable masterpiece Simon Boccanegra. I say interminable because the geniuses at the Music Center allowed for only one intermission for this four-and-a-half-hour extravaganza. I was almost arrested for fighting my way out of the hall before the intermission where I sprinted to the. . . place where they have the toilettes.
They wouldn’t let me back into the concert hall until the “intermission.” So to pass the time I wrote another stanza.
They had kids, quite a lot,
Not to keep, let others adopt.
One day they finally married,
But then no baby did she carry.
I could go on, about their pets, and Busseto, the rustic village where they lived among the disapproving townspeople, until they married, and about the dogs they adopted to make up for the kids they deposited at the local nunnery. Query- Do they get a pass because they were towering artists and lived in the middle of the 19th century?
5. I am resolved not to criticize those of my colleagues throughout the state who in a judicial opinion begin a discussion of the facts or the law with "at the outset." Or worse, "at the outset we note." Please note this unnecessary redundancy. Oh dear. If it is redundant, it is ….
6. We in California are blessed to have the most outstanding Supreme Court in the nation. So who am I, even on rare occasions, to chide them for doing something I consider ill-advised? I am resolved not to criticize our high court . . . unless they . . . well, read the new rule that is published at the end of Vergara v. State of California (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 619. Depending upon how well I do with these resolutions, you may read about my conflicting views on this new rule in future columns. Whether I agree with the comments of the dissenting justices or not is beside the point.
So Happy New Year. We and the United States Supreme Court need one. But I am optimistic. I am just as sure that Miss Ann said “don’t,” as I am that Neil Armstrong said “a.” And may we all succeed in bringing our New Year’s resolutions to fruition.