Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jef supports solipsism solidly

I was a little dismayed this week to read a column ripping Joel Stein. The fact that it was written by the same Joel Stein didn’t help matters any, especially since he’s one of my favorites, placing me in the curious position of raving about a column that was illuminating me as a sucker for doing so. Further ruining and saving the day simultaneously was the fact that he was kind of coming out as a narcissist, which naturally meant that the column was about himself instead of about me, but it could have been about me if he were the obscure Internet blogger and I were the Time Magazine columnist.

I’ve always believed that good writing was personal, no matter what the style or subject. Whether it’s a novel, nonfiction, a comic strip or the school lunch menu, it’s all autobiography at some level, and the writer just needs to decide how many levels to cloak it beneath. With Frazz, with Trizophrenia, with this blog, I made the decision not to cloak it beneath very much at all. I’d write about my own life, which sounds like the easy way out until you realize that it behooves you as much as it frees you to go out and have a life interesting enough to bother writing about.

Then Stein goes and makes narcissism sound like a bad thing. Or if not bad, at least unoriginal. “All bloggers write in the first person,” he wrote in the third person, “spending hours each day chronicling their anger at their kids for taking away their free time.” Okay, I don’t have kids, but I do spend a lot of time writing about how much time I don’t have. I can withstand that semi-direct hit, but I can’t abide by the suggestion that I got that way following his lead. Self-absorbed behavior and infantile behavior go hand in hand, and infantile suggests we’ve been this way since we were in diapers. Stein was born in 1971, meaning I’ve been self-absorbed nearly a decade longer than he has. I win!

That assumes we had similar diaper histories, but I don’t think that aspect of my life is interesting enough to write about. Stein may feel differently. He may write about his life in Huggies someday. And then … well, I don’t know if that makes him the winner or me the winner. All I know is, God help me, I’ll read it and be a sucker for doing so, and it will cost me precious minutes I’m supposed to be out there doing interesting things. Perhaps I will complain about it on my blog in the first person.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Food for thought from Patty

As we move into an increasingly food-oriented time of year, I find myself marvelling that one of the things I miss most about our former city of residence is its restaurants. Lansing, Michigan, has a number of fine qualities, but it's really not known for its dining establishments. (On the west side of town where we lived, there were a couple of little ethnic spots we liked, but there were mostly chain restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Steak 'n Shake. Things have been improving, but Lansing's still not known for its restaurants.)

Here in metro Detroit, we've already found a bunch of places we like a lot. We don't have to travel far to eat well—there are terrific bagels not far from here, and there are really good Chinese, Ethiopian, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Lebanese and Thai restaurants (as well as an array of less ethnically classifiable spots) practically within walking distance of our house. I don't think we've stepped foot in a national chain restaurant here since shortly after we moved, when we used the Olive Garden gift cards I was given when I left my job in Lansing.

But I miss the Great Lakes mochas at Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee, where Jared still greets me by name and asks about Jef when I stop in.

We haven't found a replacement for El Azteco, the East Lansing/Lansing restaurants I patronized as an MSU student 25 years ago and where the Lansing waitstaff knew our usual order (Chicken fajitas, cooked crispy, all rice, no frijoles [Jef's gotta watch his cholesterol]) and asked only whether we wanted cheese dip or not.

And we won't find a replacement for Golden Harvest, Lansing's north-end hole-in-the-wall where we happily helped ourselves to coffee and waited in line up to an hour for the best breakfasts I've ever eaten, cooked by the charming, talented, tattooed and sometimes mohawked Zane Vicknair (and often served by his charming, talented, tattooed but not mohawked wife Vanessa).


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jef recommends a stroke of genius

Before I created "Frazz" - mostly before, anyway; there was some crossover - I was art director for the capitol bureau of Booth Newspapers, a chain of Michigan dailies. The last few years I did that job, a very happy and stressful part of it was to draw editorial cartoons for the eight papers.

I loved that job, but it wasn't perfect. For one, some people thought I wasn't very good at it. (That happens to every editorial cartoonist, and it's not that hard to get used to when it's random crackpots. When it's the editor of the largest paper, it's a little problematic.)

But for another, it was apparently making me stupid. In one editorial-cartoonists convention alone (so maybe it was just Minneapolis that made me stupid), I (1) asked Walter Mondale which newspaper he drew cartoons for, and (2) listened to Garrison Keillor speak, and with all honesty thought to myself, "Damn, if he weren't already such a prolific writer, he could make a good living in something like radio."

I guess it wasn't quite that bad, but I still had it backward. I was a huge fan of his writing and had never heard "A Prairie Home Companion." I still avoid the show, mostly because of the guy who makes sound effects with his mouth. I know radio doesn't work this way, but any time I hear that guy, I find myself looking down to see how much spit he's gotten on me. But if I stumble across the show and it's just Keillor talking, I leave it on and enjoy it a lot.

To hear Keillor speak is as infuriating as it is enjoyable. His writing flows in a very conversational, seemingly random and very natural style. I try to make my own writing do that, and it takes me forever. I'd like to think Keillor suffers as much, not out of any animosity toward Keillor, but because it would comfort me to know my own frustration was an integral part of the process instead of a profound lack of Keillor-caliber genius. And maybe he does strain at it, but when he spits it out orally, with no "undo" key or other hack editing functions, in real time, it's harder to ignore the difference between us. At least I can draw pictures. Between that and never hiring a sound-effects guy, it may be a wash.

I'm thinking about Keillor now because he's in the current issue of Men's Health. He had a stroke a little over a year ago, and he's written an account of it that's beautiful, informative and funny. There's even a sex scene of sorts. When your brain is a vault like his, and there's been a security breach, you want to see how much of the treasure is still there. Keillor's audit of the Bureau of Sexual Memories turned up enough currency to be either a testament in stark contrast to the abs-like-this-get-you-laid ethic that the rest of Men's Health magazine seems to push, or to suggest that a stroke can insert surrogate memories as readily as it vaporizes real ones.

There's no reason to suspect the latter, but either way, I'm happy for him. I always have been. Keillor has always struck me as someone who finds joy not because his life is easy, but because he is at peace with his turmoil. I myself am at peace with Keillor's sexual memories. Visual thinker though I am, I could read his accounts without any unwelcome images coming into focus unbidden. My own life and vault are full enough to ward off any hint of envy.

But most of all, the sound-effects guy was nowhere to be found.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jef sings "oo-bee-doo" in his best Louis Prima

I know, in a realistic and pragmatic sense, that one of the last things I want as a homeowner is a monkey running through my yard. But I can’t help thinking that it must have been pretty cool back in the good old days when the Detroit Zoo was a little more primitive with its simian security and my house in Huntington Woods was within easy brachiating distance of the freedom side of the Monkey Island moat.

No worries. It’s not much longer a trip for me than it was for the occasional liberated monkey (unlike King Louie, I bought a zoo membership instead of hopping the fence), and I enjoy seeing the animals in their own neighborhood. I especially enjoy the signs that tell me what I’m looking at and some interesting, pertinent facts about that animal: Where they’re from, what they eat, how big they get, and why their buns get enormous and red every so often to such an extent that all the chocolate in the world would not make them feel better were they not lady chimpanzees who appeared not to give much of a damn anyway.

This (the signage, not the chimpanzee PMS-o-rama) was on my mind yesterday while I ran through Mayberry, RFM. I had an 8-miler on the schedule and some errands to run a little west of home, happily near a gym that would let me change into my running clothes and explore some new territory. I love to explore. I got lost almost immediately in what at first appeared to be the Community College District. It was just one big campus-sized building after another. They were not community colleges, of course; they were personal residences, and they were jaw-dropping. Some were jaw-dropping gorgeous, some were jaw-dropping tacky. Just about all of them were jaw-dropping big, and it goes without saying that all of them were jaw-dropping expensive.

And I thought to myself, these houses should have signs in front of them like the ones in front of the habitats at the zoo. They could tell us who lives there, what they do for work and fun, what they eat, and of course where all their money comes from. It would be tremendous fun, but it might also serve a purpose. I know William Jennings Bryan (again with the monkeys!) said that it’s impossible to earn a million dollars honestly, and Balzac said that behind every great fortune there is a crime. I don’t think either guy was 100 percent correct, but I’m sure both of them were close enough. Such signage might promote a little more honesty, though the more likely result would be that the biggest of the big houses would belong to the most gifted public-relations wordsmiths.

But there were no such signs to be had. Indeed, there wasn’t that much evidence of any actual human habitation. It was pretty quiet. If it were a zoo, I’d have asked for my money back. Which is when it hit me. Of course it wasn’t the zoo literally, but it wasn’t even the zoo figuratively. No. Figuratively, it was Huntington Woods, and I was Curious George on the loose.

I checked my watch; six miles to run. I looked over my shoulder; no Man In The Yellow Hat. So far, so good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Patty likes enthusiasm, but...

Jef doesn't do anything halfway—he's an "anything worth doing is worth overdoing" kind of guy. If you didn't know this before you started reading this blog, you certainly know it by now—it's not enough for him simply to run a marathon, he has to run it fast enough to qualify for Boston.
I appreciate that sort of enthusiasm—I really do. I even admire it. But the guy even sleeps enthusiastically, which has this tendency to get in the way of my ability to sleep, um, at all.

Jef's enthusiastic sleeping may have something to do with the fact that he is (Attention Tim R.! Minor dirt alert!) chronically sleep deprived, which may have something to do with the fact that he doesn't do anything halfway and therefore cannot possibly accomplish everything he wants or needs to in a given 24-hour day without sacrificing a little bit—or a lot—of sleep. It's a vicious cycle, and it's one that causes the man who despises multi-tasking to multi-task in his sleep.

Hasn't had much time to spend with me lately? Something in Jef's subconscious will spur him to try to converse with me while he's still sleeping. Sometimes this leads to him rolling over when I'm awake, reading quietly next to him, and saying, sincerely, "I'm sorry. I sort of blanked there. What did you just say?" And sometimes this leads to truly inexplicable utterances, like the time he sat up, cleared his throat, and said, "Moo. Moo."

Not enough time to train? Jef's subconscious thinks training while sleeping is an excellent idea. I learned early in our marriage that an extra bed in the house is a necessity, not a luxury. Jef swims, bikes and runs in his sleep. (On one particularly memorable night a few years ago, he played hockey—goalie!—in his sleep.)

I just move to another room and leave the dog and cats to deal with his thrashing.

When we first got married, I'd sometimes awaken in the middle of the night to find Jef getting ready for work—rummaging in the closet for his clothes or heading into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. And more than once, I woke to the sound of the shower running, stumbled into the bathroom to see what was going on and found him, asleep, in the bathtub.

Both of us are relieved that Jef no longer sleepwalks—we were both a little concerned the night he woke up outside our apartment building. But 20+ years later, he's still an active sleeper.

I wouldn't trade Jef for anyone, and I love his enthusiasm. But, man. We'd both be better rested with a little less of it...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jef pays the price

One of my smarter friends and readers (which is like the Pope saying "one of my more pious cardinals and bishops") just sent me this article from the San Jose Mercury News about the high price of competition in the endurance-sports department.

It's a really interesting story. They all are. And I don't know what this says about the once (or allegedly) simple and cheap sports I love, but it's one of many articles pointing out that they've become about as simple and cheap as golf (which, come to think of it, was probably once simple and cheap). At least I don't have to pay to practice. Unless you count the health club with the pool. Um. Er. (Or with the stationary bicycles and treadmills, which I avoid until I don't.) Or the coach. Gee, this is uncomfortable.

What cracks me up is that, when asked why these events cost so much, no one gives the Occam's Razor-simple and Occam's Razor-accurate answer: Because people will pay it. Exhibit A: Cheap, simple me. I'll be racing the Boston Marathon this year. I wasted a full morning trying to register, and I was one of the lucky ones who got in before the race filled -- eight hours after registration opened six months before race day. Registration fee was $130 plus God knows what service charges. (Which, at about 25,000 racers, nets the promoters $3.25 million before sponsors get involved, rather squishing the argument that it's all those lifeguards, most of them volunteers, who make triathlons expensive.) But that will barely show up as a blip on the next Visa statement, buried under the hotel reservation (imagine what 25,000 runners and their entourages do to hotel rates on Patriots Day weekend) and airfare (ditto). This is seriously going to eat into my ability to purchase the overpriced "Look At Me I Qualified" Boston Marathon windbreaker I will absolutely, positively be buying at the race expo.

Two weeks before Boston is the Martian Marathon in Dearborn, Mich. The Martian, like Boston, is exactly 26.2 miles long. It will be impeccably, professionally organized, accurately timed and luxuriously supported with fluids along the course, food at the finish line and a high-quality, if a bit loudly designed, shirt. The start/finish is less than a half-hour drive from the house -- mine, as it happens -- where I'll be staying. The entry fee is $69, and nobody has to blow a morning of work time trying to register before it fills.

I could have signed up for that one. In fact, I did sign up for it the past three years and things came up (hernia surgery; USO tour; Alcatraz swim). I could have signed up for it this year instead of Boston, but instead I opted to be one of those guys I used to think I could snort at. I'd love to think I'm choosing to pay the big bucks to be a part of a grand tradition, to be part of arguably the greatest footrace in American history. And I am. But that's hardly the whole story. What I'm doing is joining a club I once thought would never have me.

I can't wait to feel the buzz on the starting line. I can't wait to pass those hallowed landmarks, and I can't wait to cross the finish line. But I also can't wait to show up at a group run with my Boston Marathon jacket. To picture some of my friends and peers accepting me as, well, not elite, but perhaps competent. And maybe to inspire some other runners to eat right, train hard, focus, persevere and catch some lucky breaks until they, too, can blow many hundreds of dollars on a race they could do for the price of a nice dinner out.

It's lunacy. The problem is, it's worth it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Patty and her earworms had a busy week

You ever have one of those weeks? I just had one of those weeks, which is why I neglected my blogging duties on Tuesday. (Sorry about that.)

It was also one of those weeks for my earwormsthey apparently believed that they could relieve some of my stress with Bobby Goldsboro's "Me and the Elephants."

When that didn't work, they opted to devolve further and dredge up a little more Bobby Goldsboro ("Watching Scotty Grow"), throw in some Gilbert O'Sullivan ("Alone Again (Naturally)"), pile on with England Dan and John Ford Coley ("I'd Really Love to See You Tonight") and then yak up Randy VanWarmer's "Just When I Needed You Most" for good measure.

I apologize to anyone reading this who actually likes these songs, but I don't. I know how they got into my brain in the first place (WOOD AM and WGRD FM in Grand Rapids, the radio stations of my childhood and early adolescense), but I don't understand why they insist on hanging around where they're no longer welcome.

When I was a student at MSU, my brain would sometimes cough up a long-forgotten bit of information when I was studying for an exam, as though it needed to jettison something from the past to make room for whatever I was learning. I had to turn to a dictionary to figure out where "syncline" and "anticline" came from (Mr. Lovett's 9th grade earth science class at West Middle School, as it turns out).

So. A couple of questions: Did my brain cough up moldy songs this week to try to make more room for work information? Or were my earworms just amusing themselves at my expense?

And the BIGGEST question: When the exterminator comes back to our house next week, can he do anything about my earworms? Because I'm not sure next week's going to be any easier. And I know David Soul's "Don't Give Up On Us" is stored in there somewhere...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jef says There's something in the air

It's been a fragrant week here at the Huntington Woods cartoon and writing studios. Two things demanded attention immediately and concurrently: First, the surface of our bathtub started peeling off in big sheets. One of our house's previous owners had tried a do-it-yourself kit, lending credence to my home-repair approach. I have a policy that says don't do something complicated yourself if you don't anticipate doing it more than once; no point in learning on the job for a task you'll never do again, except to fix what you screwed up. (There's a modified version of that rule that applies to all plumbing no matter how simple or repetitious.) So in comes the tub re-glazing guy with his tub re-glazing chemicals. I'm still a little high.

And somehow we ended up with fleas on one of the pets, and thus in the house and thus on all of the pets. How the fleas survived the tub re-glazing fumes, I don't know, but they did. We'll presume they won't survive the flea-specific stuff.

But there's something a little embarrassing about having an exterminator's van parked in your driveway, broadcasting a big "we have vermin" beacon to the neighborhood. (Geez, why not just put it out there on the Internet?) Fortunately, you can always trust the world to put these things into perspective. Patty and I were driving somewhere that evening when we were passed by another commercial van, and this van's driver specialized in biohazard cleanup. Anticipating observers lacking either vocabulary or imagination, the van painter had thoughtfully lettered examples of biohazards that typically need cleaning up, including but not limited to suicide, unattended death and, my new favorite redundancy, "gross filth."

Puts the flea guy right into perspective, it does. Actually, the flea guy himself did a pretty good job of that. He started his own pest control business -- bugs and vermin, plus larger problems as well, with glands that spray, teeth that bite and claws that claw -- after a tiring of a career in the mortgage business. Now, that's upward mobility.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jef says, Take my advice: Don't take my advice

People generally don’t like unsolicited advice. I’m not sure why, even though I’m one of those people sometimes. Nobody seems to mind it when they stumble across an unsolicited $20 bill. But unsolicited advice, however valuable, is unwelcome advice.

This is a problem for writers, since good writing has a point of view, good writers have passion, and good entertainers have a need to enlighten as they amuse. All those things can come off as advice. What to do? Bullying and demagoguery seem to get people to listen, but not the kind of people I want listening to me. Being a celebrity helps, too, but who has time to do that and still think? And I don’t think I’m cut out for law school.

Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors (yes, that’s why my comic strip’s setting is Bryson Elementary School), said that writing is like showing people your vacation slides. Nobody wants to see your vacation slides, even if they’re good vacation slides. So you kind of have to lure them in with something else. Bryson said he likes to promise readers that there might be a laugh or two in it for them, and then once they’re laughing and comfortable he can haul out the metaphorical slide projector.

Good advice.

I’m thinking about advice today because of another Bill’s advice. This is Bill McGann, a good friend I met through our two oddly compatible businesses, bicycles and comics. In this particular case, it was more of an observation. Maybe that’s what made it so palatable – Bill stopped just short of actual advice. He more or less set the medicine on the bathroom counter and let me decide whether to take it.

Bill’s a very good cyclist. I’m a pretty good one. I’m only now getting to be an OK runner, and Bill tells me he’s a lousy one. But he knows about my quest for competence, and one day he had something to tell me.

“I’ve been watching the really good Kenyan and Ethiopian runners,” Bill said, “and I’ve figured out what you need to do to run like them.”

Do tell.

“First,” he said, “you need to weigh 135 pounds.”

It was a little like the old Steve Martin “How to Be a Millionaire” routine. “First,” the line goes, “get a million dollars. Then …” But you couldn’t argue Bill was on to something. Like I said, he stopped short of committing advice. He didn’t tell me to overhaul my diet. I did that on my own, and I’m happy to give Bill some of the credit in spite of – maybe because of – his restraint.

Better yet, he can’t be held responsible when the advice he didn’t actually give me turns out to be a lot of crap.

The newer, lighter Jef went running yesterday morning with (by which I mean “on the same road as”) members of the Brooks Hansons Distance Project, after which we all retired to the Hansons Running Shop’s second floor lounge for a New York Marathon-watching party. I didn’t waste a lot of time finding the food. For one, I was a little hungry (eight easy miles is still eight miles). But I also wanted to see what all these 135-pound greyhounds ran on.

Here is the menu: Dunkin’ Donuts. Lots of Dunkin’ Donuts. And only Dunkin’ Donuts.

I couldn’t believe it. I guess the premiere way to weigh 135 pounds is not much different from the premiere way to get a million dollars: through fortuitous inheritance.

I didn’t have a donut, but I didn’t mind everybody else eating them. They earned their speed and they earned their donuts.

It’s one thing to inherit a million dollars and an entirely different thing to turn it into a billion. I could twist that around into something about running, but I don’t believe I will. I know what it would sound like.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Patty on not-so-stupid pet tricks

A couple of months ago, Jef introduced you to Sparky, the cat who needed a new home right when we needed a new cat.

Sparky is named after Sparky Anderson*, the delightful former manager of the Detroit Tigers who was almost as well known as Yogi Berra for his ability to mangle the English language. One of Sparky Anderson's best quotes was "Pain don't hurt," and it was because of that quote that we graced Sparky the cat with her name.

One of our vet's clients found Sparky when she was camping up north. The little cat with the big personality wandered out of the woods on a badly broken leg, and the cat-loving camper couldn't leave her there. She brought her home and delivered her to Dr. Kimball with one question: "You can fix her, can't you?"

Dr. Kimball was in the process of doing just that when we made our last trip to Lansing to see Mars before he died. Fixing her was taking a little longer than expected: Dr. Kimball couldn't splint Sparky's leg because there was a large wound on the surface that needed attending to, and Sparky hadn't gotten the memo about staying off her broken leg so it could heal. Pain don't hurt.

When Mars died a few days later, we let Dr. Kimball know her foundling had a home once she had healed. And a week later, we drove to Lansing to pick up two cats: Mars' ashes, and the five pounds of feline ferocity we named Sparky.

While we were under orders to keep Sparky as quiet as possible, Sparky had other ideas. She turned every object in the house into a cat toy, and she made friends with our dog and cat by jumping on them until she couldn't be ignored. Within a few weeks, she was fully healedand completely unstoppable.

Jef took her back to Dr. Kimball's office on Monday to be spayed, and I picked her up on Tuesday. "What a sweetheart!" Dr. Kimball said to me as I was leaving. "Just bring her back in 7 to 10 days to have the stitches removed." Jef scheduled a return trip for this coming Monday.

Sparkynow six and a half pounds of feline ferocitybarrelled back into our lives at warp speed, not slowed in the slightest by her major abdominal surgery. She had paused long enough for a tummy rub yesterday morning when Jef called to me.

"Is it just me," Jef asked, "or are her stitches gone?"

They were. Sparky removed them herself.

Pain don't hurt.

*Sparky Anderson died November 4 from complications related to dementia. R.I.P., Sparky.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jef says something with a lot of consonants in a row

I've always envied people who could identify with their heritage, even while recognizing that, taken to its logical extreme near anyone else who's doing the same, that sort of thing can get unproductive and violent.

I don't deal a lot with my ancestry. It's not my nature to dwell on the past, and that's where all my ancestors seem to be. But once in a while I do pay attention, mostly to sort through my genetic code (forgive the flowery language, but to "pick through my genes" has a vaguely vulgar tone to it) hoping that somewhere I can find the aerobic capacity that gave Norway so many great cross country skiers and, currently, a world champion road cyclist.

I don't know if I have good Nordic erythrocytes or not, and I'm not sure I'd be flattered if I did know. Either my endurance genes got watered down by my German and Welsh ancestors, or my desire to overcome pain was diluted with something a little more interesting distilled by my Scottish ancestors.

But now I see that if I'm in a mood to complain about my Norwegian ancestors, I can start with the ones who got on a boat to the United States. Because the United Nations just released their 2010 list of best and worst countries to live in, and Norway is at the top of the list - for the eighth time since 2001.

I'm not really too pissed at Great-great-grandpa Stafford anyway, given that the United States came in fourth. And three places can't provide a whole lot of difference, especially when it's not clear that I'd be able to draw cartoons for a living in Norway or find good espresso. Plus I'd get my butt kicked in ski races by everyone whose people didn't run off and mingle with the people who gave the world (or at least me) Prince Charles' ears.

So you know, Australia and New Zealand were second and third, and Ireland rounded out the top five.

Ireland? Only fifth? A good friend just spent a year's sabbatical in Ireland and described the country this way: "It's a place where arguing is considered conversation, beer is considered food and bicycles are considered transportation." How any country managed to place ahead of that, I don't know. So maybe the list isn't so reliable after all.

And maybe, in spite of all the griping we heard during election season, we don't have it so bad ourselves. I mean, maybe I can't sprint on a bike like Thor Hushovd or ski like … um … okay, I can't name any of those great Nordic skiers, so maybe aerobic invincibility is an overrated route to immortality. But I can spend the weekend pouting just a little bit because I've got friends racing the New York Marathon and The Iceman Cometh mountain-bike race. And if that's the worst I have it, I don't need to go to Scandinavia to be happy.

Although if I did, I'd be sure to bring enough money for a Team Norway cycling jersey. I don't need any United Nations to tell me that's one of the five best.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Patty says: At least it's not Przybysz*

My maiden name is Charles, so I spent almost 22 years of my life having my last name pronounced correctly the vast majority of the time. (There was always someone creative who could manage to screw up "Charles," usually by putting a French spin on the pronunciation and coming up with something like "Shar-LAY." To be honest, I kind of admired the effort.)

That ended when I married Jef.

Despite its straightforward spelling, "Mallett" is not pronounced "MAL-it," like the tool. Nor is it "Ma-LAY," like the start of the southeast Asian country. It's not "MULL-it," like the fish (or the business-in-front, party-in-back haircut that was at the peak of its somewhat inexplicable popularity around the time Jef and I met).

It's also not "Ma-LOT," which is, if I'm remembering correctly, the pronunciation selected by the minister who married us when introducing us for the first time to those who witnessed our wedding. Nor is it "MAL-erd," like the duck, despite what the seniors in the high-school English class I student-taught in the early 1990s wanted to pretend they believed.

Nope. One of the inscrutable Norwegians high in the Mallett family tree decided it was "Ma-LET," and so it is.

Jef once told someone who was trying very hard to fix the correct pronunciation of his last name in her mind before introducing him at an event (an event that that took place while we all were still blissfully unaware of Sarah Palin's existence) that Mallett rhymed with "You bet."

He was introduced as "Jef Ma-LETcha." 

I've found that "rhymes with 'Gillette'" works as well as anything. (Also, it explains why I occasionally break into a chorus of, "Mallett! The best a man can get..." when Jef's around.)

But you know what? It's just not that big a deal either way. If you're friendly, neither Jef nor I is particularly inclined to care how you pronounce our last name. (And if you're not friendly, neither of us is particularly inclined to care how you do much of anything. So there.)

*Pronunciation of Przybysz—one of my very favorite Polish names because it looks so completely unpronounceable to a native English speaker—tends to vary by family. I've most often heard  "P'SHI-bish," "SHI-bish," "PRI-bish" and "PRIZ-bee."