Monday, May 21, 2018

Tutor

tutor
verb, transitive. To have the guardianship, tutelage, or care of; to teach or guide, usually individually in a special subject or for a particular purpose.
verb, intransitive. To do the work of a tutor; to receive instruction, especially privately.
Also a noun.

The phone interrupted Ruth just before she was about to save the business card she had just finished as a PDF and email it to the client. Compressing her lips, she continued with the steps, thinking that it was probably another telemarketing call. She would let the answering machine pick up.

“Ruth? Are you there? This is May Coolidge.”

Ruth was shocked at how much her anger flared at the sound of that voice. May was a customer of the printing company that had laid Ruth off a couple of months previously, and not a good customer, either. May dabbled in design and layout and was constantly calling the office to ask Ruth’s advice on how to use the software necessary to produce high-quality work. Once May finished one of her little projects, she would bring the files to Ruth’s company and do her best to coerce Ruth’s boss into printing it for free or at a deep discount. She had used up Ruth’s reservoir of patience long ago.

“Hello,” she spoke into the phone, wondering how May had tracked her down at home. She knew that no one at her former office would have given out her number.

“Oh, you’re there! Listen, I’m putting together a newsletter for my genealogy group, and I have a bunch of JPGs. Is it okay if I use those?”

“It depends. What’s the resolution?”

“Mmm. I haven’t opened them to find out yet.”

“They need to be 300 pixels per inch at the size they’re going to print. If they are, it would be better if you convert them to TIFs before you place them in the document.”

“Aww! TIFs take up so much memory...”

Ruth could hear the familiar whining tone in May’s voice. The woman insisted on doing everything on the cheap. Ruth was certain that May’s hard drive was already strained nearly to its limit by the software alone. She was surprised that the other woman wasn’t always complaining about it crashing. “There’s a good reason for that,” she remarked, but didn’t elaborate. Instead, she decided that it was high time she told May some unwelcome facts. “If you’re not going to set up the files properly, you shouldn’t do it at all, May. You will only cause problems on the press. That will cause delays and cost money, and if it costs you money, it will serve you right.” She heard May sputter on the other end of the line and went on: “You keep asking me pretty basic questions. You need to devote time to learning how to use your software to do your projects. There are thousands of free tutorials online that will teach you almost everything you need to know. You can also spend time reading discussions on the software users’ groups. That’s how I learned everything I know. If you want to continue calling me so I can tutor you over the phone--long distance--I’m going to have to bill you forty-five dollars an hour.”

“What?!?!” May shouted into her ear. “That’s outrageous!”

“That’s what I charge my freelance clients. You interrupted me while I was working on a project for one of them. It’s only fair that I charge you the same for taking up my time.” Ruth actually charged her clients thirty-five an hour, except for one who annoyed her. She charged him forty-five. May definitely qualified as annoying.

This was met with a long silence. Finally, May replied: “I’ll have to think about that.” She sounded defeated. Ruth smiled, but said nothing. After another moment, May said goodbye and hung up. Ruth hoped that that would be the last conversation she would ever have with the woman.

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sever

sever
verb, transitive. To put or keep apart; to divide; to part by violence, as by cutting.
verb, intransitive. To become separated.

Ted almost turned and left when no one came to the door for five minutes after he pressed the doorbell button. He could hear the bell through the apartment door, so he didn’t bother to knock. He pressed the button again and was rewarded by the click of the deadbolt before the door opened a couple of inches.

“Oh, hi!” Clare looked surprised to see him, but not displeased. After half a breath, she smiled and opened the door wider. “Come in. It’s good to see you.”

Once inside, Ted surveyed the living room. It was sparsely furnished with comfortable-looking chairs. In contrast to the surroundings where he had last seen her, the room was tidy; the carpet recently vacuumed.

“I was visiting Jack and Kate this morning,” he began. At the disappearance of her smile, he paused. He had suspected that something had gone wrong in the relationship Clare had with the couple, but this was the first evidence of it he had seen. “I didn’t know that you had moved out.”

She nodded by way of confirming that, then motioned him toward a chair. “Can I get you some coffee?”

He shook his head. “I can’t stay long. I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“Better than I was,” she stated, “and better every day.”

“Better because...?”

“Because we broke up the household of hell!”

Ted mused, “I had no idea you and Mike were unhappy, living with them. When did that start?”

She thought for a moment. “About six weeks after we moved in together. I did the unthinkable. I stopped at the store on my way home from work, then was told--at the top of Jack’s lungs--that I should have consulted him and Kate before I did something that concerned the entire household. Do you believe that? They wanted to have a group meeting for every decision. All I bought was a gallon of milk!”

“That does sound unreasonable. Did anything else happen?”

“Oh, yeah. That was only the beginning. It was always Jack finding fault, and if I tried with all my might to behave according to his rules after one of his tirades, the rules would change, somehow. Over time, it became more and more clear that I couldn’t do anything right and neither could Mike: not for the group, not for the kids--even ours--nothing. Anything one of us did was an excuse for him to pick a fight.”

“What did Kate do? Was this happening when she was at work?”

“No. It usually happened when she was at home. She almost invariably backed him up. I have a nickname for her now: ‘Enabler-in-Chief.’”

Ted shook his head sadly. “I feel bad, Clare. I encouraged you to consent to moving in with them, then I had to work so much that I couldn’t come by very often. Maybe I could have helped.”

“No, you couldn’t have.” Her expression had grown sorrowful. “We might have been able to find a way of getting along with them in time, but when they began to belittle Mike Junior, we decided that we had to sever the relationship.”

He was surprised. “Sever? You mean that you never see them any more?”

“That’s right. It took some doing, let me tell you: going for long drives in late afternoon or evening; weekend camping trips.... A couple of times, we just pretended we weren’t here. After awhile, they stopped trying to drop in.” She scoffed. “The few times they did catch us at home, all they did was ask for money. We kept saying ‘No.’ We’ve subsidized them enough for one lifetime.”

Ted sat back and regarded Clare sardonically. “That explains it. This morning, Jack told me that you two aren’t doing well at all.”

She threw back her head and guffawed. Her delight was so intense that Ted began to smile in concert with her laughter. “I’m going to tell you a secret, Ted,” she finally stated. “And I know that you will let it go no further than these walls.” She gestured at the boundaries of the room. “We realized that it’s in our best interests not to let Jack and Kate know how well we’re doing.”

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Revel

revel
verb, intransitive. To take intense satisfaction; to roister; to take part in a revel.
Also a noun, meaning a wild party or celebration.

Ruth plopped onto the porch swing and stretched the sleeve of her t-shirt out so she could mop her face with it. It always surprised her, that she could resist the urge to exercise as hard as she did, leaping upon any excuse to avoid it, but then, soon after she began, she would revel in the activity, and the longer she kept at it, the better it felt. As she had kept moving until just this moment: ten minutes, twenty, twenty-five and finally thirty minutes, she reflected that this hadn’t been so difficult while she was working. Somehow, the more restrictions there were on her time, the more discipline she was able to apply in using that time.

When she had a normal job, in town, she would rise early in order to arrive at least forty-five minutes before she was expected at the office. She would lock the car and take off down one of the city’s excellent walking/cycling trails, nodding greetings to others who were using the trail, thinking about the day to come as she walked. Before lunch, she would take a shorter walk on the sidewalks in the neighborhood of her office. Most days, she walked for about an hour, and gleefully watched her excess weight melt away. Now, she worked from home, had all the time in the world to organize as she saw fit, and nothing could be more challenging than setting aside time to exercise every day.

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Quash

quash
verb, transitive. To reject or to void, especially by legal procedure; to put an end to or to suppress

Ruth turned from ‘net-surfing to a writing exercise, propelled by the momentum she had experienced earlier that morning while writing a journal entry, then a practice piece. She loved the way her mind would awaken and generate ideas that she had had no idea were waiting in the wings when her hands were idle. Sometimes, her fingers would begin to ache with the strain of typing so quickly. These were the times when she knew beyond any doubt that she was a writer--no question. When the act itself gave her more happiness than almost anything else she did.

Then an unexpected sensation interrupted her focus: she felt hungry.

“Wha...? It seems as if I just ate breakfast!” she muttered. The previous day, she had decided to eliminate wheat from her diet, as an experiment, after reading thirty or forty pages in a book her sister had sent for her birthday: William Davis’ Wheat Belly. She had seen copies of it in bookstores and in health-food stores for several years, but had never picked it up to sample the contents. She had figured that she was already following enough diet restrictions, with little to show for it. Her abdomen continued to grow. Every time she weighed, she was disgusted by the higher number on the scale.

Then yesterday, she found herself reading on and on in the Davis book. His premise was alarming. Agronomists have been changing the DNA of wheat for decades, and now, after 50 years or so, our bodies probably cannot recognize it as food. This is similar to the body’s response to the High Fructose Corn Syrup we ingest. Yes, it’s made of corn, but it is so intensively processed that our bodies can’t recognize it as food. The puzzled body stores it in the liver as fat. Ruth suspected that the body was converting wheat to abdominal fat and storing it as well, for a similar reason.

Her hunger pangs distracted her again. She slowed her typing. “Maybe I should put on my Sauconys and go out and get some exercise,” she thought. “Exercise always seems to quash these hunger pangs.” She stopped typing and pushed away from the desk.

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Pique

pique
verb, transitive. To stimulate interest or curiosity; to feel irritated or resentful.
Also a noun, as "a fit of pique."

Alice was at a loss to recall what had piqued her interest in the late-night talk show first: had she tuned into it by accident one night after the NPR affilitate stopped broadcasting jazz and went off the air at midnight? More likely, she had walked to the back of the shop and heard the warm baritone voice issuing from the pressman’s radio: “I’m Art Bell, and this is Coast to Coast A.M.” She had heard that name; heard about the show. After she brewed her tea, she had returned to her desk and fiddled with her radio until she found it, then sat down, resumed her work, and listened until she finished her shift and left the office.

That was when she still worked graveyard shift. By the time she discovered Bell’s show, she had been working those hours for about ten years. Sometimes she had the company of the pressman, sometimes not. He was the boss’ brother-in-law and had a lot of freedom. He was also even more of a recluse than she was.

Alice loved her hours. She wasn’t very sociable, and preferred to be able to arrive at the shop, clock in and spend the next eight hours producing something. The phone rang rarely, and when it did, it was usually for her. She ate at her desk. She kept the radio on all the time she was there. At midnight, she had been in the habit of changing from NPR to a rock oldies station. After she found out where Bell’s show aired, she began to switch to it instead. The third night she did so, a caller regaled him with a story about a terrible date she had had. When she finished, Art asked her a few questions, then thanked her and announced, “Everyone who is on hold, hang up. I’m only going to take calls from people who want to talk about ‘Dates from Hell!’”

And he did. What followed was two hours of the most outlandish and frightening stories Alice had ever heard. The most riveting was told by a woman who had probably gone out with a serial killer, who had kept herself from panicking and thereby gotten away from him. After that show, Alice was hooked.

Since she kept the same hours on weekends, she would listen to Coast to Coast A.M. on Saturday and Sunday nights at home. It was the most entertaining era of her career. She listened avidly to Art interview callers about hauntings, alien abductions and a vast array of other topics that skirted the fringes of science and ordinary experience. She visited the show’s website regularly. After the first few weeks, she had to bring herself up short and remind herself that everything she was hearing couldn’t possibly be true, and should be taken with healthy skepticism. She was well-educated and not prone to dismissing her learning casually, but Art made those arcane subjects so much fun to think about!

Art Bell made the last few years Alice worked graveyard shift a delight, even though she had enjoyed it before she had found him. It was with deep sadness when she learned, nearly twenty years after she had first listened to his show, that Art passed away on April 13, 2018. Friday the thirteenth. As she uttered a silent prayer that the next phase of Art’s life would be as wonderful and fulfilling for him as his stay on Earth had been, she couldn’t help thinking how ironic the date of his death was. It was almost as if he had planned it.

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Peek

peek
verb, intransitive. To look quickly, typically in a furtive manner; to protrude slightly so as to be just visible.
Also a noun.

The new neighbors’ flock of guineas didn’t take long to discover that Hillary’s yard was a good source of ticks and other nutritious bugs. They wandered across the dirt road every mid-morning and spent at least half an hour there, foraging. Hillary chuckled when she recalled Rick’s visit the second or third time his birds had invaded her yard.

“I hope they’re not bothering you?” he had ventured uneasily.

“Of course not,” she had told him. “I appreciate the service!”

She knew that he was asking because a flock of guineas could make a lot of racket, if they felt threatened. Since the only threat on her property in daylight might be her pair of yard cats, she doubted that she would have cause to complain to him ... as if he would ever be able to control the barely-domesticated birds.

Just then, Hillary heard them: a loud, chorus of “Buckwheat, buckwheat, buckwheat!”

She rose from her desk and looked out the kitchen window. The guinea flock had formed a tight cluster a few feet from the edge of the porch. It looked like a circle of feather-clad soccer-sized balls, with heads on tapering necks thrusting outward from it randomly. All the birds seemed to be looking at a large flower pot at the edge of the porch. When Hillary saw that one of her cats was peeking at the guineas from behind it, she burst out laughing. Her fear that her cats would attack Rick’s guineas disappeared. The birds knew how to handle small feline predators.

Definitions adapted from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005 (eBook Edition, copyright 2008), and from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, 1965, depending on which is more convenient to hand.