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3 posts categorized "Verbal Sparring"

February 26, 2012

Verbal sparring 101: Poor grammar, illegal parking and a very angry man

A friend and fellow author, Ellen Painter-Dollar, wrote a post last week about when it is acceptable to illegally park in a handicapped parking spot.

The answer is never, though apparently not everyone agrees.

Ellen’s post reminded me of a confrontation that I had with a man a couple years ago regarding a similar but slightly less heinous crime. It was to be the first in an ongoing series of posts detailing the frequent verbal confrontations that I seem to get myself into on an almost weekly basis and the lessons that can drawn from them (though they admittedly happen less often now that I am frequently toting a toddler around with me).

I was going to title the posts Verbal Sparring, and perhaps I’ll use Ellen’s piece as the impetus to find those older pieces and post them here, along with any new confrontations that occur along the way.

Either way, here is the original piece:

__________________________________

Verbal Sparring 101

I was in Subway yesterday, waiting patiently in line to order my roast beef on wheat, when the customer in front of me decided that it was time to act like a jerk. Dissatisfied with the number of cucumbers that had been placed upon his sandwich, he said, “What? You can’t give me no more cucumbers?”

“Sure, no problem,” the employee responded, more patient than I could have ever been. Not only were his choice of words offensive, but his tone and demeanor screamed condescension.

A moment later, when the amount of Southwest sauce was also inadequate in the customer’s estimation, he spoke up again. “What’s your problem? You can’t give me no more sauce?”

Again, the employee responded with a polite and apologetic tone.

When the customer reached for a cup and began filling it with Coke, the employee moved over to the register and asked, “Did you want the meal, sir?”

“What’s it look like?” the man shot back, shoving the cash into the employee’s hand.

In a situation like this, I frequently come to the defense of the employee, launching some type of verbal assault against the offender in hopes that bystanders might join my cause. They rarely do, but I manage to receive quite a few nods of appreciation in these types of situations, and that’s usually enough for me to press on.

I know that some might consider my potential involvement in this type of situation to be an example of sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I disagree. This type of behavior should never be tolerated. Unfortunately for the Subway employee, she was unable to defend herself without risking her job, so that is where we must step in and do our part.

Defending those who cannot defend themselves.

In this case, however, I restrained myself, adhering to one of my rules on verbal sparring:

Avoid verbal confrontations when your opponent lacks command of the English language.

Based upon his constant use of double-negatives, I doubted the man’s ability to converse effectively in English. In this type of situation, the nuances of my verbal sparring repertoire would be lost on the individual, resulting in an inarticulate, profanity-laced shouting match, with neither combatant gaining the upper hand.

The same rules apply when playing poker. Don’t check-raise a novice player because he or she won’t understand the meaning of a check-raise. When dealing with an amateur, play it straight or don’t play at all.

So rather than entering into battle with this man, I waited until he had left and then praised the employee for her cool-headedness and patience in the face of such rudeness.

She seemed pleased.

This afternoon was an entirely different story.

Upon pulling into a parking space at Stop and Shop, I noted an older gentleman pulling his Buick alongside my car into one of the spots reserved for customers who are saddled with infants. Noting that this man was without an infant, I jumped out of my car quickened my pace until I was walking beside him.

“You really shouldn’t keep kids in the trunk,” I said to him as we approached the doors.

“Huh?”

“I said that you really shouldn’t keep kids in the trunk of your car.”

“What?” the man asked, genuinely confused.

“Well, I noticed that you parked in the spot reserved for people with infants, and since I didn’t see a baby in your arms or in the car, I’m assuming that you put the poor little thing in the trunk.”

“Go to hell,” the man shot back, finally understanding the meaning of my statement. “Just go to goddamn hell.”

‘Don’t be too long!” I warned as the man entered the store a couple steps ahead of me. “I’m just making a deposit at the bank, and there’s no telling what I may do once I leave the store, especially if I see a mother walking halfway across the lot with her baby!”

I’m not sure if he heard everything I said, but I was pretty loud and the man seemed genuinely embarrassed by my comments as he turned the corner.

I know there will be some who will say that my remarks were just as rude as the man’s decision to park in the reserved spot, but I disagree. I believe that we have an obligation to stand up to these inconsiderate people, particularly when the victims of their inconsideration cannot defend themselves. And this was a case where it was impossible for the victims to stand up and defend themselves.

First, a person with an infant is significantly less likely to engage anyone in a verbal battle. Even I adhere to this rule when I’m with Clara.

Second, these parents would have no idea that this man had infringed upon their rights. Unless they actually saw him entering or exiting his Buick, they would see his car and likely assume that the driver was also accompanying an infant. Therefore they would never have the opportunity to challenge him.

Admittedly, I’m not always thinking of the victim when engaging in these confrontations.  In fact, more often than not, I’m not thinking about the victims at all. I enjoy these verbal battles. You can’t imagine how much satisfaction I get from a well-timed quip or a stinging barb. This afternoon’s confrontation was the highlight of my day. The way that guy went from confusion to outrage to embarrassment in less than minute was priceless.

I’ve had a skip in my step ever since.

Regardless of the reason for my attack, I believe that my remarks may have made a difference in the world. Even the most hardened skeptic must admit that the likelihood of that man parking his Buick in those reserved spots again is significantly reduced because of my interference.

He will at least think twice before doing so.

And as a result, a mother with an infant is more likely to find that reserved spot available when she arrives.

And I was able to have a little fun in the process. 

August 26, 2010

Is it time for product placement in fiction?

A month after SOMETHING MISSING hit the store shelves, I began receiving the occasional but persistent email from readers asking and sometimes accusing me of having made product placement deals in the writing of my book.  It would seem that my frequent use of specific brand names in the book had struck a nerve and caused them to wonder why an author would choose to be so specific. 

Clearly, they had not yet read Stieg Larsson.

I answered those emails with the assurance that my attention to detail and use of brand names was only an attempt to paint the clearest picture possible in my reader’s mind.  But I also told readers that if Subaru had wanted to pay me for my mention of my protagonist’s Outback, I’m not sure if I would have complained.

A year later, at my first appearance for UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, a reader asked if I had ever considered contacting Smucker’s and working out an endorsement deal with them.  My protagonist, Milo, is saddled with the compulsive need to open jars of Smucker’s grape jelly, and so this particular brand of jelly is featured prominently in the book.

Again, I told the reader that the use of the brand name was not intended to garner any corporate attention or an advertising windfall, though I also admitted that it would have been a great idea had I thought of it soon enough.

Last week The Wall Street Journal created quite a kerfuffle with a piece suggesting that it won’t be long before ads find their way into e-books.    

“With e-reader prices dropping like a stone and major tech players jumping into the book retail business, what room is left for publishers’ profits? The surprising answer: ads. They’re coming soon to a book near you.”

Still reading my books the old fashioned way, I cannot say for sure how I feel about the possibility of ads on an e-reader, but I can assure you that I would hate to see them on the pages of a pulp-and-ink book. 

However, product placement might be an entirely different story. 

While I can’t imagine striking deals with companies before or during the writing of a book, what’s wrong with my agent contacting companies like Subaru or Smuckers after the fact and attempting to make a deal?  If UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO is made into a film, the producers will undoubtedly attempt to do the same, and even switch the brand of jelly if necessary in order to make a profit.

Why shouldn’t authors also cash in when they can?

And as I think about this idea, I find myself wondering if deals could also be struck during the writing of a book as well? 

Consider this:

I am writing UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO.  I decide that one of Milo’s compulsions will be the need to open jars of jelly, thus releasing the pressurized seals on the lid.  I grew up eating Smuckers grape jelly, so this is the brand that I am inclined to use, but I contact my agent and inform her that jelly will be playing an important role in my next book, appearing multiple times and always in a relatively favorable light.  “I’m inclined to use Smuckers,” I tell her, “but the actual brand name is unimportant, so if you can make a product placement deal with a jelly company, go for it.”

Do you see a problem with this?

Naturally, there will be a concern that an author might write a book with the sole purpose of product placement, or that the proliferation of product placement might somehow erode the creative process and bastardize stories, but wouldn’t those books stick out like sore thumbs?  Wouldn’t these authors be spurned as sell-outs?  Wouldn’t these stories be ignored? 

Companies willing to invest in product placement would want the books in which their products are mentioned to garner favorable reviews and sell well, and as such, the use of product placement would need to be subtle and appear as a natural part of the story.  A brand of jelly was predestined to appear in UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, and if choice of brand name is arbitrary, why not make some money in the process?

I’m not entirely sold on the idea yet, but as a writer who frequently mentions brand names as a means of being specific, the idea of product placement and the profits that it might garner has a certain appeal to me.

Stieg Larsson’s books could have brought in a fortune on product placement deals.

Another fortune, I mean. 

March 02, 2010

Verbal Sparring 101

A friend of mine recently began reading my manuscript, which features a protagonist who is a vigilante of sorts, a man seeking to fight against the forces of petty annoyance and incivility from time to time.  She asked me where I had gotten the idea of writing about vigilantism, and I told her that the idea popped into my head, as most do when writing.  I had no idea that my protagonist was a vigilante until I started putting words to the page.  I’ve never known any vigilantes in my time, nor have I participated in any acts of vigilantism in my past.

Then I was reminded about a series of posts that I had once written in which I dispensed advice in regards to verbal sparring: the art of verbal combat, and it was pointed out to me that almost every post included an account of my own act of vigilantism. 

She was right. While these vigilante acts don’t rise to the level of my protagonist, each one is an examples of vigilantism in their own, small way. 

Perhaps I’m more closely aligned with my protagonist than I had once thought. 

I dug up those verbal sparring posts today and will re-post one, and perhaps more in the future, depending upon the response.

Or perhaps I’ll compile them and write some new ones as well in time for the release of my third book, which I am getting close to finishing.  It might provide a nice bit of publicity and generate a little buzz:

The vigilante acts of an author and his protagonist.

Not bad.  Maybe I could even start picking some fights, in order to garner some more interesting stories. 

This could be fun.  I wonder what my publicist would think.

I wonder what my wife would think. 

Anyway, here’s the post:

______________________

I was in Subway yesterday, waiting patiently in line to order my roast beef on wheat, when the customer in front of me decided that it was time to act like a jerk. Dissatisfied with the number of cucumbers that had been placed upon his sandwich, he said, “What? You can’t give me no more cucumbers?”

“Sure, no problem,” the employee responded, more patient than I could have ever been. Not only were his choice of words offensive, but his tone and demeanor screamed condescension.

A few moments later, when the amount of Southwest sauce was also inadequate in the customer’s estimation, he spoke up again. “What’s your problem? You can’t give me no more sauce?”

Again, the employee responded with a polite and apologetic tone.

When the customer reached for a cup and began filling it with Coke, the employee moved over to the register and asked, “Did you want the meal, sir?”

“What’s it look like?” Mr. Meany Pants shot back, shoving the cash into the employee’s hand.

In a situation like this, I would normally come to the defense of the employee, launching some type of verbal assault against the offender in hopes that bystanders might join my cause.  They usually don’t, but I do manage to receive quite a few nods of appreciation in these types of situations, and that’s usually enough for me to press on.

I know that many might consider my potential involvement in this type of situation to be sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I disagree. This type of behavior should never be tolerated. Unfortunately for the Subway employee, she was unable to defend herself without risking her job, so that is normally where we all must step in.  Defending those who cannot defend themselves.

In this case, however, I restrained myself, adhering to one of my rules on verbal sparring:

Avoid verbal confrontations when your opponent lacks command of the English language.

Based upon his constant use of double-negatives, I doubted Mr. Meany Pants’s ability to converse effectively in English. In this type of situation, the nuances of my verbal sparring would be lost on the individual, resulting in an inarticulate, profanity-laced shouting match, with neither combatant gaining the upper hand.

The same rules apply when playing poker. Don’t check-raise a novice player, for example, because he or she won’t understand the meaning of a check-raise. When dealing with an amateur, play it straight or don’t play at all.

So rather than entering into battle with this man, I waited until he had left and then praised the employee for her cool-headedness and patience in the face of such despicable rudeness.

She seemed pleased.

This afternoon was an entirely different story.

Upon pulling into a parking space at Stop and Shop, I noted an older gentleman pulling his Buick alongside my car into one of those spots reserved for customers who are saddled with infants. Noting that this man was without infant, I jumped out of my car quickened my pace until I was walking beside him.

“You really shouldn’t keep kids in the trunk,” I said to him as we approached the doors.

“Huh?”

“I said that you really shouldn’t keep kids in the trunk of your car.”

“What?” the man asked, genuinely confused.

“Well, I noticed that you parked in the spot reserved for people with infants, and since I didn’t see a baby in your arms or in the car, I’m assuming that you put the poor little thing in the trunk.”

“Go to hell,” the man shot back, realization washing across his face. “Just go to goddamn hell.”

‘Don’t be too long!” I warned the man as he entered the store a couple steps ahead of me. “I’m just making a deposit at the bank, and there’s no telling what I may do once I leave the store, especially if I see a mother walking halfway across the lot with her baby!”

I’m not sure if he heard everything I said (I’m deeply saddened if he didn’t), but I was pretty loud and the man seemed genuinely embarrassed by my comments as he turned the corner, heading toward the produce aisle.

I know there will be some who will say that my remarks were just as rude as the man’s decision to park in the reserved spot. But again, I disagree. I believe that we have an obligation to stand up against these inconsiderate people, particularly when the victims of their inconsideration cannot defend themselves. And in this case, it’s even more difficult for these victims to stand up and defend themselves.

First, a person with an infant is significantly less likely to engage anyone in a verbal battle.  Even I adhere to this rule when I’m with Clara. 

Second, these parents or babysitters would have no idea that this man had infringed upon their rights. Unless they actually saw him entering or exiting his Buick, they would see his car and likely assume that the driver was also accompanying an infant. Therefore they would never have the opportunity to challenge him.

Admittedly, I’m not always thinking of the victim when engaging in these confrontations.  In fact, more often than not, I’m not thinking about the victims at all.  I enjoy these verbal battles. I can’t imagine you how much satisfaction I get from a well-timed quip or a stinging barb. This afternoon’s confrontation with the old man was the highlight of my day. The way that guy went from confusion to outrage to embarrassment in less than minute was priceless.

I’ve had a skip in my step ever since.

Regardless of the reason for my attack, I believe that my remarks may have made a difference in the world. Even the most hardened skeptic must admit that the likelihood of that man parking his Buick in those reserved spots again is significantly reduced because of my interference.  He will certainly think twice before doing so. 

And as a result, a mother with an infant is more likely to find that reserved spot available when they arrive.

Sometimes the ends do justify the means.