Reading Crooked


My mind has been employing itself in oddities lately. I go to perform a task, and suddenly I’m headed off on a weirdly curly think-tangent. I don’t know if the day-dreamy stuff is to do with having little sleep lately, or if I’m just getting some sort of chemical in my diet that tickles the brain’s hyper-drive.

What’s cool about it is, in these mindsets you tend to see and note connections, relatedness that might  escape your notice otherwise.

But it makes it kind of hard to focus. Reading, the same sort of things happen. A passage or headline gets read differently, and I get all fascinated by the accidental meaning for a moment. For example, I was reading John Steinbeck’s ‘Once There Was a War’… the chapter about the cottage that wasn’t there, and came to this sentence:

“Across the path, a line of people were fishing in the Serpentine, sitting on rented chairs, fishing in water that was stirred with the oars of boats and kicking swans.”

That stopped me for a moment. It’s a rather laid back, satisfied picture: The fishermen setting out their lines, close enough together to chat. Resting on chairs as they wait for something to happen. And in that nonchalant, laid back way, they’re kicking swans.

The swans must be awfully thick underfoot, I decide. But still, it’s odd… in present day culture, kicking an animal certainly isn’t acceptable enough to mention, and you wouldn’t do it in a nonchalant sort of manner. “Oh yes, I just took it easy yesterday. Did a few crosswords, kicked a few dogs.”

My brain went through all these musings, got so far as wondering about the time and place John Steinbeck grew up in, and if there’s a peculiar swan-kicking tradition thereabouts before I actually took another look at the words, and my brain unscrambled the meaning- ie: that kicking swans were stirring the water, along with the boats’ oars.

But that wasn’t the best one. This headline showed up on the Yahoo Home Page yesterday:

A cell phone that thieves love

I immediately clicked on it, mind teeming with immediate concern; for how I read the headline was that the cell phone was somehow stealing love. 

How can a cell-phone do that? Is there some new technology that preys on human emotions? Does the cell phone intercept calls from loved ones, and carry on a robotic conversation, soaking up the good vibes while the thwarted callee is left with a busy tone? Or was it a less fantastical case, where a particular cell phone was simply taking up all the admiration and attention that its new owners formerly lavished on loved ones? Causing rifts in marriages perhaps, or leading to crimes of passion and new, technological love triangles.

All sorts of intriguing possibilities as I click on the title.

And I was a tad disappointed with the mundane story that followed. No, goofer, it’s a CELL PHONE that THIEVES love TO STEAL.

Not a cellphone that thieves on love.


But really, wouldn’t that be kind of a trip?


13 thoughts on “Reading Crooked

  1. I get that way myself sometimes, but usually I have to smoke some ganji to get there. Think of all the money you’re saving, not to mention the risk of arrest and imprisonment.

  2. This cracked me up, mostly because my thinking runs like this sometimes. I call it scrambled brains. I enjoy those moments of off-kilter thinking. It opens up new windows in my mind.

  3. Oh, the humanity… Yes, in certain parts of the world, atrocities against animals are becoming more and more ingrained into a native culture’s everday life. For example, as pointed out in “The Jerk” (perhaps the most politically poignant movie I’ve ever watched), Father Cordoba comes to Navin R. Johnson (the very wealthy inventor of the Opti-Grab) in search of funds to stop the disgusting sport of cat juggling. I must repeat it… Oh, the humanity!

  4. btw, i reread Steinbeck’s sentence and you had every right to think the line of people were kicking swans. they were “sitting…fishing…and kicking.” Poorly constructed sentence. i’d diagram it to prove it but i’m not quite sure how.

  5. I actually had the exact same reaction to both the Steinbeck sentence and the Yahoo headline. Technically, the Steinbeck sentence, while awkward, is correct … the fishermen would be kicking the swans if there were a comma after “boats.” But it’s a piss-poor sentence, IMO.

  6. Robin- i don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind… except the Mexican or fried ice-cream. That durn poll made me go out and get like four kinds of ice-cream (the smaller, haagen daz flavors…remember that line from Jurassic Park when they were eating ice-cream? “Spared no expense.”) to stock the freezer. I couldn’t make up my mind. Wonder how long they’ll last.

    Bob- I would give up several precious books and one of my Haagen Daz special reserve pints of ice-cream to watch a good cat juggle. And that’s sayin somethin. (although the idea probly horrifies Mr. Rochester)

    avidday- The same reaction? Really? See… warped minds think alike.

    mad- You… and me… loftily indulging that hapless Mr. Steinbeck’s literary faux pas as we liberally kick swans…
    Feels oddly natural, doesn’t it?

  7. I love diagramming sentences, but THIS ONE! Yikes! That is a very complicated — or messed up– sentence by one of my very favorite authors. I did get the meaning right off, but diagramming was a whole different animal or I’m just out of practice. Thanks for the brain teaser. Now my brain is blue. :-(

  8. I usually do not get phrases mixed up but I do read totally different words than what is written sometimes. Part of it is that in multi-syllable words I have a bad habit of reading just the first syllable. This sometimes causes the same type of WTF moment.

    Hmmm , could trying to control a highly irate cat on a leash be considered juggling? (this is the original pinky the cat)

    I don’t really consider this funny until the end when the human gets it.

  9. I’ve only had cinnamon ice cream twice in restaurants (both times were Mexican restaurants) so I learned to make it myself. It was probably unfair of me to point out it wasn’t on your list since it seems to be a rarity. :)

  10. Welcome to the club! My mind has been like that since I was in my teens! Nowadays, it seems to be even worse.

    I am often tripped up by reading sentences, and headlines, in a way that they weren’t meant. So yeah, I get what you’re talking about.

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