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The Areas of My Expertise

Greetings, Los Angeles. As you may know, we are at the beginning of another Gregorian year. In New York, where I live, the ball has dropped. The rivers of champagne have run dry. Over 3,000 pounds of confetti, broken promises and shredded Justinian calendars have been removed from the canyon of Times Square. Now it is time for sober, hung-over reflection — and of course for failed palindromes. Because amongst the momentous turmoil of 2005, the de- and re-Poping, an amphibious assault on our shores by hurricanes, I am humbled to report that my small book was published: The Areas of My Expertise, a compendium of fascinating trivia and historical oddities like any other, with the distinction that in my book, all of the amazing true facts are made up by me. I make no claim that this small book is important, or even amusing; but I do hope at least that it is distracting in a year when distraction was needed. May these small, good-natured lies help you forget the facts for a moment. And to the “Failed Palindromes” below I may add two more:

1. 2005

2. THE YEAR 2006, READY YET?

Slow speed: deep owls

Drat that tard

Two owls hoot who owls hoot too (owt)

Sour candy and Dan C. roused

Desire still lisps: Arise! D.

A man, a plan, a kind of man-made river, planned.

Hobos! So!

Eh, s’occurs to me to succor she

Tow a what? Thaw!

Miss Millicent McTeague This elderly spinster is not as senile as she seems! Also, she eats cats.

Juno Dix This refined, morbidly obese attorney solves crimes without ever leaving his own bathtub.

Inspector Franz Duvet-Perez This fastidious foreigner refuses to say exactly what country he is from, thus keeping everyone guessing.

Buddy Jimmy Smith This freckle-faced fourth-grader is actually the reincarnation of an Egyptian slave whose ancient memories of embalming techniques mystically guides him as he cracks “The case of Janey’s Kitten, Who Has Been Missing for Days.”

Brother Metrigon This 10th-century monk actually believes he is a ninth-century monk.

Sergeant Demonicus Rex This uniformed police officer is also a high magus in the Church of Satan.

Dr. Kathleen Pietro This brilliant medical examiner occasionally wears the victims’ skin in order to “see the crime through their eyes.” This habit becomes something of a liability when she begins wearing the victims’ skin to nightclubs and restaurants.

Lord Miles Overstreet This debonair, mentally ill aristocrat does not realize that he is his own nemesis, the mad Dr. Craig Kittles.

Van Buren (known as “Old Kinderhook”)

Garfield (when President Garfield was shot, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a crude metal detector of his own invention; instead, he discovered “a curved, metallic sharpness in the vicinity of the wrist’s end.” Historians agree: hook)

T. Roosevelt (first draft: “speak softly and pierce their eyes with a golden hook”)

F. Roosevelt (note: his hook was actually a wheelchair)

Nixon (many believe that the sight of his horrific hook lost him the first televised debate with Kennedy, who was hookless)

Bush I and II (however, Bush II replaced his hook with a chain saw in an effort to seem less privileged)

Edward “Thach” Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard (although technically, President Blackbeard was only president of the pirates)

Eels, as any schoolchild knows, were the true main course at the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving, largely because the eels themselves had eaten all the turkeys. While it’s difficult to imagine now, our nation’s rivers were once glossy and black with majestic herds of eels. And the eels played a critical role in the economy and culture of colonial New England.

Paling Man A legitimate eel merchant.

Eel Picker A person who sorted through the village trash to find reusable eels.

Eel and Bone Man An itinerant merchant of eel carcasses and especially eel teeth. (See Scrimschonger, below.)

Eel Crier A young man who was posted to watch at the edge of a town or settlement for eels. Often an unintelligent person.

Eelwright Maker of false eels as decoys or for decorations.

Ratter Someone who caught rats to throw at eels to distract them. It was well-known that an eel would stare at a rat for hours, allowing a human a quick escape.

Eel Checker Once the eels were first spotted on land, an eel checker was often employed to check a home for hidden eels and to check under wagons for the same. This was not a skilled job and should not be confused with an eelsmeller, who was an artisan trained in the art of detecting eels that had disguised themselves as Dutchmen.

Eel Almanacker Many printed almanacs predicted the eel seasons, those periods when the eels would be plentiful, and when they would disappear for months on end to spawn. An eel almanac would also include a calendar of when eels would be wistful, secretive or accusing.

Scrimshander or Scrimschonger An artisan who carves scenes of daily colonial life in delicate, small etchings upon eel teeth. Many family portraits and early images of colonial life were immortalized on eel teeth.

Toothsmith A dedicated eel-tooth polisher and seller. The best eel teeth were those found lodged in trees, which eels would often attack at night.

Eel Meterer One who wrote poems about eels. When the eels proved amphibious and began walking on land, they became objects of deep and fearful fascination. And so many folktales were spawned of Dan Crate, the Brackish Man, who tied eels together to build a rope ladder to the clouds, and at the same time of Sleek Cynthia, the noble eel who stared down the sea.

Eel Tonguer One who learned the language of the eels.

Eel-Orphan A human child raised by eels after his parents had died or willingly given him up to become an eel tonguer. The eel tonguer’s parents were usually held in high regard for their sacrifice, though one printed memoir by an eel-orphan, The Eel-Boy’s Confession and Spelling Handbook, suggested that the author was much happier with the eels.

Rod-Man Also known as an eelpoker. Self-explanatory.

John Hodgman will be reading at the REDCAT Theater at 8 p.m. on Sat., Feb. 11, and at Book Soup at 7 p.m. on Mon., Feb. 13.


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