My morning rituals include walking the dog, drinking espresso, and picking up used condoms outside our home.
Those of you from New York City won’t be impressed by the condom part. But people in L.A. never fail to raise an eyebrow or ask a follow-up.
“But you live in such a nice neighborhood!”
“Outside your house?
“You PICK THEM UP?”
Yes, yes, and yes.
Which brings us to my first phrase of the day.
URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD. Aleen and I say this to describe information which you receive only after you have made the purchase, signed the contract, or accepted the job. It’s kind of like Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ versus ‘Songs of Experience.’ With the used condoms being the experience part.
After completing escrow on our house, we were talking to the previous owner one day. She told me not to park in front of the house and to use the garage instead. When I asked why, she mentioned the occasional vehicle burglary and said, “You know, it’s an urban neighborhood.”
Now those are two words you don’t hear during the Open House, or during purchase negotiations. You hear great schools, wide sidewalks, wonderful neighbors.
After you close, you hear ‘urban neighborhood.’
Aleen and I use the phrase as shorthand for, ‘Now that you’re legally committed, here’s the real deal.’
As for the condoms, I guess the prostitutes on Western Avenue ask their customers to drive them five or six blocks west, and park on any of the poorly-lighted side streets, such as 1st and 2nd. So yes, in the mornings, along the south side of our property, I regularly find empty Trojan boxes or used condoms. Generally I try to gather up and discard them, hoping to delay by at least a day or week the moment when my kids ask, ‘What is that?’
When we first moved in, I mentioned this particular facet of our urban neighborhood to a guy who lives near me. He shook his head and said wearily, ‘Yeah, I stopped collecting ’em a long time ago.’
To which I said, ‘Yeah, because you can’t re-use the things.’
Which didn’t strike him as funny and may have slowed the pace of our acquaintance.
HOOKER HEDGE. A few months ago, my wife upgraded the landscaping around our house. She arranged for an oleander hedge to be planted on the south side of the property. We call this the Hooker Hedge. In theory, it will grow tall enough to block our view of the local sex trade.
Fun fact: I used to tell people the term “hooker” derived from the non-combat activities of Gen. Joe Hooker’s troops during the U.S. Civil War. A cursory Google/Wikipedia search reveals that I was full of shit. Apparently the term derives from the concentration of prostitutes in the Corlear’s Hook area of NYC’s lower east side in the early 19th century.
Another step which Aleen and I took to ward off the local sex trade was installing outdoor sensor-lights along our fence. But this led to a new problem.
Now we get young Korean-American men who congregate outside our house Thursday through Sunday evenings to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, eat fast food, and listen to music. Then they all pile into one or two cars to head to a club.
I am told these men like our sensor lights because they protect against thefts from the cars which are left behind. Aleen and I debate whether this was really an upgrade in problems. At least the hookers worked quietly. And they didn’t leave as many ketchup-stained Carls Jr. wrappers on the curb.
Since I am a criminal defense attorney, my wife has suggested that I hand out business cards to all these people — the hookers, the johns, and the potential drunk drivers.
CAKE EATER. Last weekend, a Hockey Mom cleared up for me a mystery related to the obscure, derogatory term Cake Eater.
My kids and I first heard this epithet while watching one of the Mighty Ducks movies. We debated the likely origin and meaning. Last weekend, out of the blue, this Hockey Mom used the term. I asked her about it.
She said she grew up on the north side of Chicago. ‘Cake eater’ was the label she and her friends used for rich kids from the suburbs. The meaning was, The kid is spoiled. The kid is soft.
I have so many friends from Chicago suburbs, I will have many chances to use this. Indeed, I have friends who, although they hail from the city itself, are from the rich parts of Chicago. I will call them Cake Eaters, too. I shall certainly call my children Cake Eaters, since they are members of the Softest Generation Yet.
However, I must remember that turnabout is fair play. I am from Chevy Chase, Maryland, which wasn’t exactly the mean streets.
Other phrases this week come from my dear mother Sally Troyer, in the cake-eater suburb of Chevy Chase. She was inspired by my recent collection of Aleenisms.
WAS YOU THERE, CHARLIE? Apparently my great-grandmother used to say this when she was skeptical about news received second- or third-hand. She would ask the person telling the story, Was you there, Charlie?
In the court system, this is known as a ‘hearsay objection.’
Another way my great-grandmother would say this was: I’M FROM MISSOURI. As in, Missouri is the Show Me state, so … go ahead, show me. Gimme the proof.
Third fun fact: this great-grandmother was named Gaye. Went by the nickname Gaye-Gaye. And she was indeed from Missouri. St. Louis, to be exact.
ANOTHER COUNTY HEARD FROM. A sarcastic rejoinder similar to, ‘Thanks for your two cents,’ or ‘Pipe down, peanut gallery.’ This too from Gaye-Gaye.
Along the same lines, Aleen sometimes says, YOU IN THE FRONT ROW. This is when a kid is raising his hand to speak or has been trying for a while to get a word in edgewise.
Getting airtime can be difficult in our house. My wife and daughter can talk a blue streak. They don’t even stop to breathe. A scientific study should be done.
Anyway, after a kid or spouse has been waiting and squirming, huffing and puffing, trying to interject, Aleen finally says in effect, Okay, go ahead. YOU IN THE FRONT ROW.
Best of all is when she says it to our dog Boomer. He has a habit of rolling onto this back, offering his chest to be scratched, and stretching out one leg high in the air. As if he has the answer and is dying to be called on.
LITTLE FEATHER TWO COWLICK. This is my daughter’s Native American name. It came from her toddling into our room one time when she was 1 or 2 years old. She was wearing some ridiculous outfit, and her hair was sticking up in back, as it often did, due to her possession of not one but two cowlicks on top of her head. She was babbling on about something or other. When she finally finished and was toddling away, with that feather-like wisp bouncing on top of her head, Aleen said, ‘Little Feather Two Cowlick.’
We still call Lulu that, even though the hair doesn’t stick up anymore.
Finally, I have already stressed the importance of knowing some Armenian phrases, especially if you live in LA. I have tried to give you ones which will be useful. Here is one for when someone is standing in front of you, blocking the TV or anything else you want to see.
TAHPANZEEK CHESS. It means, You Aren’t Invisible. It means, Sit Down!