The Case of the Missing Comma

commaMy daughter’s birthday is coming up and I think I’ve found the perfect gift. I’m giving her a comma.

I hope she’ll be able to use it. She sure could have used one several weeks ago when, in the heat of excitement, she posted the following on Facebook: “It’s time for the final baby! Yeah!”

Now, if you use Facebook, I’m sure you are quite used to somewhat cryptic messages being posted on a regular basis and, as is usually the case when that occurs, the flurry of comments that pop up onto the feed.

There was a lot of discussion about whether or not they should be congratulating her on another pregnancy and it was so heartwarming to see her friends and family wanting to share in her joy.

However, she is not currently expecting a baby. Her post had absolutely nothing to do with having a baby. She was celebrating the recent semi-final win of the U.S.A. Women’s World Cup Team.

Most of this miscommunication could have been saved by adding one tiny little mark between “final” and “baby.” I say most because the post was still fairly cryptic, but hey, that’s the fun of Facebook.

Listen people, commas are important! Not only can they prevent Facebook feed blow-ups, but a good knowledge of comma usage can even occasionally help you gain the upper hand over the government.

I’m not kidding. In the village of West Jefferson, Ohio, one of my newest heroes, Andrea Cammelleri, saved herself a parking violation by simply reading a law as written. According to court documents the ordinance read as follows:

“It shall be unlawful for any person * * * to park * * * upon any street * * * in the Village, any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours * * *. “

She was initially convicted of the offense but won on appeal by claiming that she did not own a “motor vehicle camper.” She said she owns a motor vehicle and since motor vehicle is not on the list, she was legally allowed to park in the manner she parked that day.

To further back up her claim, she did an internet search on “motor vehicle camper” which returned websites full of recreational vehicles.

The government intended for the ordinance to list “motor vehicle” and “camper” as two separate items and they claimed that “anybody reading [the ordinance] would understand that it is just missing a comma.” But the appeals court said, hey, grammar matters, so officials were ordered to rewrite the law and add the comma if they wanted it to be read that way.

It’s clear that these 2 examples demonstrate the importance of omitting one cute and curly comma. However, we also need to discuss another, more controversial, example of comma omission which is the road signage that says, “Slow children at play.”

Some people think it should say, “Slow, children at play.” Those people are wrong.

This signage is correct as written. Of course drivers are being warned about the slow children. After all, the fast children can get the hell out of the way.

I hope everyone now understands the value of commas. I highly recommend that you keep one on hand at all times. If you need one in an emergency, just call my daughter because soon she’ll have access to an unlimited supply from Commas “R” Us.

Finally, if this column annoys you, then all I can say is you need to remember the wise words of Socrates who said, “The unexamined sentence is not worth writing.”

Originally published here.

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Parallel Parking Pain

Latest column for the News and Tribune:

From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons

Last month in Madison Indiana, a parallel parking lesson went bad, oh so bad, when the driver accidentally slammed the accelerator and ended up inside a restaurant.

No one was hurt but I’m sure a hood ornament wasn’t the garnish customers expected that evening. Even so, the wait staff remained very professional, asking, “Would you like some freshly grated parmesan cheese on your engine tonight?”

I can sympathize with that driver. It could have been me had I not made it a rule for many years now to never parallel park. Ever. I will drive around for hours to avoid the task and will even pay money to park elsewhere.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to parallel park. I aced geometry class. I know what parallel means but every time I try it, my car ends up at an angle not discovered yet by mathematicians.

It’s not really my fault though. My high school driver’s ed teacher refused to teach me. I think it’s because of what he saw when he had me practice driving in reverse. He told me to put my right arm along the top of the seat and my left hand on the steering wheel at “12:00.” Then I was supposed to turn my head to look behind. And that’s when the abnormality stared him right in the face.

Apparently, when I am backing up a car, I stick my tongue out and my mouth opens up in direct proportion to the amount my torso twists. He watched in horror as my mouth opened wider and wider so I could see out the back window.

“Holy smokes!” he yelled, “Can you see out the back window yet? Because I think I just saw what you had for lunch.”

I snapped my mouth shut and he shook his head, “Ok, look, young lady, maybe you will be able to back up one day but there’s no way I am going to try to teach you how to parallel park. I don’t want to get sued if your jaw breaks or your bite your tongue off.”

My husband is the exact opposite of me in this regard. He considers himself the Parallel Parking King. He loves to parallel park. He even carries around a measuring tape so he can see how close his tires are to the curb when done. (You know how men love to measure.) If his tires are not within .5 inches he mutters to himself for days.

I was as jealous of his ability as he was proud. So naturally, since we were in love, we were both deluded enough to think that perhaps he could teach me.

We were wrong. He’s a horrible parallel parking teacher. All he does is repeat, “you have to trust the process,” like some mantra-spouting guru. Then he demonstrates by deftly putting the heel of his hand on the steering wheel at the perfect “12:00” and rotating it around in a sort of “wax on,” “wax off” motion that would impress Mr. Miyagi himself.

Well, I just can’t do it and there’s no way I’m going to clean the kitchen floor more often than once every five years just so I can improve my ability to make those motions automatic.

Still, he tried a few more times over the years to teach me until we both finally gave up and agreed it made more sense to just increase the amount we placed in the “avoid parallel parking” budget item, which by the way is oddly not one of the default choices offered in Quicken software.

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Back To It

NOTE: Starting June 2015, I began writing a monthly column for the News and Tribune again. I plan to archive the columns here as well.

HARBESON: The Big Comeback

Recently overheard on the Big 4 Bridge:

“Harold did you hear about that Debbie Harbeson lady? Rumor is she’s writing a column again for the paper!”

“Ugh. Why won’t she just go away?”

“Well , I heard that she backed herself into a corner and sort of has to do it.”

“What do you mean Hazel? Did she lose a bet?”

“Something like that. She apparently told a few people that she’d go back to writing a column when thoroughbred horse racing gets another Triple Crown Winner. Now she’s stuck I guess!”

“No, we’re the ones who’re stuck. First we have to forever endure the misspelling in American Pharoah and now this? I don’t know if I can take it.”

Hello, dear reader. Yes, the rumor is true. It’s me, back again. This is my second – or wait, maybe it’s my third comeback. (Sorry, I can’t remember. I quit and restart so many projects and it’s easy to lose track.)

What? You don’t care for comebacks? Oh come on, that Rocky V was the best! Also, if Baron Hill, who recently announced he’s running for Senate, can come back then I can too. So there.

That remark probably makes you think I am going to continue writing primarily political commentary. But you would be wrong. I definitely quit that.

Yep, I’m done. When it comes to politics, I just don’t care anymore. I wasn’t really sure why until my daughter helped clarify it all for me. She claims that I’ve mellowed out and just don’t care due to a couple of life events that have happened over the past two or three years.

“First of all, mom,” she said, “You’ve been spending lots of time with a grandbaby. You’ve been cuddling, talking and playing with her which is helping you develop and nurture what you hope will be a life-long close relationship with the newest person in your life.”

While that does sound like an impressive reason, it’s just not quite right, at least in regards to why I’m not focusing on politics anymore.

The truth is that babies require you to think about poo, lots and lots of poo. And there is only so much time in one’s life for poo so something had to um, drop. And what has dropped is taking notice of politics. And I have to admit, taking that dump really feels good.

The second life event that has supposedly mellowed me out, at least according to my daughter, is yoga. Not just any yoga, but Bikram Yoga, the type that is done in a hot and humid room.

“The consistent practice of yoga, Mom, has calmed and mellowed you. You are now able to breathe slowly and deeply which is rejuvenating your body with fresh oxygen.”

Again, while that sounds good, I’m afraid it’s just not true. The truth is, there is only so much hot air one can take in which means I have to diligently avoid anything politicians say.

Oh, maybe she’s right. All I know is I’d rather not bother with the political world any longer. But what will I write about instead? I don’t know but I’m sure that in between pulling a toddler out of the air vent and twisting myself into a pretzel, something’s going to catch my eye.

Or maybe I’ll just meander up the Big 4 Bridge and see what Harold and Hazel are up to.

SIGLINE: Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson welcomes your comeback to her comeback.

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I Have Perfect Breasts

mammogramI was told by two women yesterday that I have perfect breasts. Not just perfect but textbook perfect. These two women who were really, and I mean really checking them out too. Okay, yeah, they were mammogram technicians, but still, they said I have perfect breasts!

I was too shocked to hear everything they said but apparently my breasts have just the right combination of muscle and other tissue which means they present wonderfully on the mammogram machine. One of the technicians said I could be a model for the textbook they used in their training. Me, a model. Oh, yeah.

Maybe it really did help when my cousins and I, in our early teens, pushed our hands together in front of our chests and chanted, “we must, we must, we must increase our bust…”

I felt good about this news… until I thought about it some more while walking to my car. Something just wasn’t right. I wanted to believe them of course but it just didn’t make sense. I mean, if my breast muscle is so darn great then why is that on this same body, mere centimeters away as the flea flies, do I have the most flippity-floppy triceps muscles imaginable? Huh? Huh? How do you explain that mammogram professionals?

Also, if my breasts are so great then why have I never been able to find a bra that really fits? No, no, something just isn’t quite right here.

Finally, I realized what they were really saying to me: my breasts look good when tightly pressed and flattened between two paddles on an x-ray machine. Of course, only flippity-floppy breasts can look good under those conditions. Oh well, at least they match my triceps.

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A Hairy Situation

NOTE: This is the first in what I imagine will be an ongoing series I shall call “News You Can’t Use.”

hairLate last month a Federal Appeals Court ruled against an Indiana government school policy that restricts the length of hair for members of the boys basketball team. The family maintained that this policy violated their son’s constitutional right of equal protection since the girls team did not have the same restrictions.

I wonder what those crazy long-haired, wig-wearing founders think about this entire controversy.

I for one am on the side of the coach, but he didn’t go far enough. If he really wants a “clean cut image” for his team then why isn’t he demanding that all those dribbling boys shave their entire bodies?

There’s a competitive advantage here because I’m sure shaving legs could affect their speed just like it does for biking and swimming. They would be as clean as Lance Armstrong. Well, umm, clean-shaven anyway. Plus, I bet the air-time on dunks could be improved because all that hair has to weigh them down. Every little bit helps in the increasingly competitive world of sports.

Of course there is the practicality of shaving the legs, but perhaps most importantly, and since the coach is particularly concerned about a “clean cut image,” they definitely need to shave those underarms. It’s really gross, smelly and filthy under there after running up and down the court, shooting, jumping, dunking and rebounding. (Thankfully they would not be adding to this list of sweat-induced activities by having to readjust ponytail holders).

I’ve often wondered what might be living inside those tufts of fur flowing out from underneath men’s biceps. So come on, it’s gross. Shave already.

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It’s All So Familiar

Oh dear reader, I know how much you have not been wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to but too bad because I’m going to tell you anyway.

As you may already know, I’ve been busy taking care of the new grand baby. Doing things like

  • Promptly preparing a bottle upon hearing the whining.
  • Popping the empty bottle out of tight lips and saying “all gone.”
  • Hearing loud burps and ending up with half the bottle’s contents on my shirt.
  • Having gallons of drool drip onto my jeans.
  • Smelling tons of toots.
  • Buckling a squirmy body into the car seat.
  • Dragging a drowsy, floppy body down the hall and into the bedroom.
  • Pulling off clothes that are full of food crumbs.
  • Listening to loads of gibberish said in the most sincere manner but never understanding a word.

It’s taken more out of me than I expected which surprises me because of course I’ve done this all before. More than once too. After all, these are the same experiences I went through while dating fraternity guys in college.

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Dancing in my Head

There is an ugly truth that people who have known me as an adult only find out at weddings or fancy holiday parties: I can’t dance. The really strange thing about my inability to relax and move my body to the beat with ease on a dance floor is that Papa John loves to dance. I mean, he really, really loves to dance.

So how did we end up together?

Dancing played a big part in how we met and got to know each other. I saw how much he liked dancing and figured I better improve if I was going to catch his attention. So when I heard he was going to teach dancing lessons, I signed up right away. I thought surely this guy can help me.

He did, but not in the way you might think. When we dance together people think “we” can dance, but that’s not really the truth. Yes, “he” can dance but the reason it looks like “we” can dance is because he just whips me across the floor and twists me around and around. He gets me so dizzy that my body involuntarily relaxes enough that it kind of looks like I’m actually dancing. But it’s an illusion. It’s all Papa John, the magic man.

People quickly learn the truth if I end up being stuck out on the floor during a song change where people start to just dance on their own, improvising as they go. You know, the kind of song where you’re supposed to just move to the beat and improvise your moves. Just let your body go.

Yeah, right. That, readers, is my idea of hell. I completely freeze up at those moments.

“Just feel the beat and move,” Baby Mama offers, “it doesn’t matter what you look like; just have fun!” God, she’s so annoyingly like her father.

Just like some people practice singing in the shower, I once had the idea to practice dancing in the shower. It’s easy to relax in a nice hot shower! I’m not going to go into the details but let’s just say that dancing in the shower can cause injury.

I actually bought a set of video tapes that teach you how to dance during those individual improvisational times. That didn’t work either. As a matter of fact, the company had their attorney send me a cease and desist order to never mention that anything I do on the dance floor was something I learned from their tapes. Something about causing irreparable harm to their business. Whatever.

It doesn’t say so in Wikipedia but I’m pretty sure I was the real inspiration for this Phil Collins video (go to 1:10 in to see them imitating me):

I love to watch people dance though. I love movies with dancing but that’s always dangerous because it makes me think maybe I can do it this time and so I try again. When Dirty Dancing came out, I was sure I could do it.

Well, it was dirty all right, but not dirty in the “Hey-look-at-me-don’t-I-look-sexy” kind of way. No it was the “Oh-crap-I-fell-in-the-mudhole-and-now-look-like-an-idiot” kind of way. Dirty dancing is not supposed to make people look away in horror so I promised everyone I won’t do that anymore.

So why did Papa John, who loves to dance like no one else I know loves to dance, end up with me? Did he just feel sorry for me? Did he consider me a project?

Nope. The real reason he married a non-dancer is that this freed him from the burden of dancing monogamy. See, if I was as into dancing as he is, he would have to spend most of his dancing time with me, and although he’d tell you that was fun, he also like dancing with anyone else who wants to dance.

We both saw how perfect this relationship could be early on. In college he danced with all the ladies who wanted to dance. They asked me if it was okay. Are you kidding? Yes, it’s okay. Get me out of the hot spot here. Please.

If he had married someone who loved to dance as much as he did, he’d have to worry about whether he was dancing with me enough. This way he had no worries! He could dance the night away with all the ladies whose guys were like me and didn’t particularly care to dance so much and we’re both happy. It’s a perfect match really.

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