# Cypher

Cypher: (v) to calculate numerically; figure

### We live in a generation that touts its tolerance while simultaneously maintaining a tiny regional dialect.

Nowadays, folks are not only ignorant of words and terms, but proud that they were born long after said phrase was uttered.

I suppose I felt that way when I was younger, too.

I was guilty of looking for words and slogans from former decades so I could make fun of them.

Yet in the process of this alienation, a lot of good words get crucified on the “cross of cool.”

### So today when I saw our word—cypher—it brought back one single memory.

When I was in high school, there was a young guy who moved to our town from Bowtown, West Virginia. We thought he talked funny. He certainly dressed poorly. He was shy. And he always told us when he was discussing his algebra homework that he was “workin’ on his cypherin’.”

We just stared at him, having no idea what he meant. Exasperated, he explained that all reasoning, all math problems, all puzzles and all dilemmas back where he grew up had to be “cyphered.”

He described the process—you study the problem, look off in the distance seeking an answer, and then lick your pencil and “get to figurin’.”

### We called him a hillbilly.

It was not a compliment.

It was our way of saying that we were better than him because he had a weird word for mathematics.

Whatever his terminology may have been, his test scores were excellent. Matter of fact, he was so good at cyphering that he ended up with a scholarship to The Ohio State University, where he studied to be an engineer and ended up traveling the world, building stuff and benefitting poorer countries with better ideas.

I suppose one might consider that in these journeys he gained a certain amount of sophistication—and didn’t cypher anymore.

But I can still envision this alien to our community standing over a set of blueprints, looking off in the distance before licking his pencil…

### And solving the present problem.

Copyright: (n) the exclusive right to make copies in music

I had just turned nineteen years of age when I was sitting in the back area of my mother and father’s loan company which they had opened in our small town, and for some inexplicable reason, there was a piano situated in one of the corners.

I don’t know how it got in there. I don’t know whether someone was unable to pay their loan and offered their piano as penance—but it was there.

I was also present—with my new wife, whom I had only been married to for about seven months, but we already had a first son. (You do the math.)

Long story apparently being made longer, I decided to walk over to that piano and write a song. I had sung songs for years. I had done my karaoke versions of popular tunes long before the “Kary” came from “Okie.”

I don’t know what gave me the idea that I could write a song. Maybe it was because I was nineteen and pretty convinced I could do anything. Somewhere in the expanse of the next hundred and eighteen minutes, I wrote two songs. I had no idea if anybody would think they were good—I was so damn impressed with them that the notion of seeking another opinion seemed redundant.

I did not know if I would ever write another song, so I immediately wanted to make sure these two songs were not only recorded, but copyrighted—to make sure that no less-talented individuals would steal them, attaining great notice and gain.

There were two ways to copyright my songs. I could make original copies of the lead sheet and words, and mail them to myself, and never open that envelope because it would have the stamped date on the outside from the official Post Office.

This did not sound dramatic enough to me.

So instead, I pursued the other avenue, which was to contact the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, and receive innumerable forms, which I filled out, paying a small price for each composition. From that point on, once it was cleared that my songs were indeed original, I would have a copyright for all time.

My God. Who could resist such majestic red tape?

I went through the entire process, and even today, somewhere buried deep in a box in one of my closets, is a certificate informing the whole world that my two songs made a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and returned home again—sanctified.

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# Cleavage

Cleavage: (n) the hollow between a woman’s breasts

Jimmy was my friend. This was back in the day when the name “Jimmy” did not elicit laughter.

He was one year older than me. I was eleven. (You can do the math.)

Jimmy had a mom. I had a mom, too, but she was a mother. Jimmy’s mom was young and had the largest breasts I had ever seen. I was only
eleven, so I hadn’t thought that much about breasts. Most of the ones I had spied belonged to my aging relatives, and they were similar to the appearance and texture of an avocado.

Not Jimmy’s mom.

Even though we lived in a time when the “prude laws of behavior” were held supreme, Jimmy’s mom walked around the yard in a bikini, watering the plants. There was a tree not more than twenty paces from where she did her work, and I situated myself so I could stare at her as she gracefully bent over with her hose.

The bikini was so small that I could almost see all the way down to her nipples. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever beheld (and I had a Viewmaster with pictures of the Grand Canyon).

She was so …

I don’t know. I guess the word is “sexy,” even though I didn’t know there was such a thing as sex.

All I knew was that every time I stared at her ample cleavage, I got warm, I tingled and the lower parts of my body ached. It was like there was something they thought they should be doing, and they were being deprived of it, but since I was so ignorant, all I could do was quietly writhe between pain and pleasure.

One day I thought she saw me, so in the most clumsy way possible I ran across the street, back into my garage, finding it difficult to do so because, for some reason, my pee-pee hole had grown, making it cumbersome to speed away.

I’ve never shared this before and perhaps will never share it again.

But it was definitely my sexual awakening–and even though I did not know what the hell was going on, I was very grateful to Jimmy’s mom for owning a bikini and being brave enough to wear it.

Cleavage is a reminder to men that women are the only humans on Earth that are truly beautiful when unclothed.

# Anti-hero

Anti-hero (n): a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

Is it an oxymoron or just redundant?

For after all, there are no true heroes who fit the criteria we normally assess to such an honor.

• All heroes come from nowhere just in the nick of time.
• They cannot be manufactured–though we have hammered away.
• They cannot be educated, though classes continue to be held.
• They cannot be ordained, though religious institutions anoint at will.
• And they are not born heroes.

One of the greatest misconceptions in our culture is the notion that people are born any particular way. We are all birthed with the need to be born again–emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically–or else to be cast in the role of being mere understudies of our parents’ stage work.

No one would expect a scrawny attorney from Illinois to be the central figure for the emancipation of the black race and the maintaining of the union of our country.

No one could ever have anticipated that a young man who struggled with math would later convince us that E does equal MC squared.

Could anyone have foreseen that a gentleman of great promise who was struck with polio and was confined to a wheelchair would be elected president four times, guiding us through a national depression and a world war?

Looking at a string of poets, musicians, authors, statesmen, inventors and liberators, there is not one of them who was naturally inclined to greatness.

It is those we preen to be heroes who disappoint us and those who we have cursed to obscurity who end up astounding us.

After all, could anyone have thought that a refugee to Egypt, who grew up in a village of less than five hundred people, the son of a carpenter, would be proclaimed the light of the world?

Thank you for enjoying Words from Dic(tionary) —  J.R. Practix

# Across

Words from Dic(tionary)

by J. R. Practixdirtied by bigotry.

Across: (adj.) 1.the motion of moving back and forth; e.g. I moved across the table  2. an expression of location; e.g. the store is across town.

I was trying to count it in my mind.

I think it’s about twenty-five. Yes, I have gone across this nation of the United States about twenty-five times in my life. Somebody asked me if I did all of this “jaunting” because I enjoy traveling.

Absolutely not.

I hate long drives. My butt gets tired sittin’ in my van–and how to stay regular on an irregular schedule has yet to be discovered by any mortal.

I was just never satisfied to believe what I hear.

Case in point: growing up in Ohio, I was taught that people in the south hated blacks. I was informed that folks who lived in California were all hippies. And New York City moved along so fast that if you stopped to catch your breath, you would probably get hit by a bus.

It’s just easy to sit at home and listen to all the tales about humanity and start thinking they’re part of your own experience instead of just rumors floating your way. That’s why we get the notion that “Asian people are good at math” and “Europeans make the best wine.”

Prejudice is not the by-product of an experience. It is the absence of one.

I wasn’t satisfied to listen to the tales of travelers who brought back THEIR rendition of the human race. I guess this is why I like the statement in the Bible where it says that “Jesus passed by.”

After all, you can’t sit your butt down in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and spout what you think about the world without going across the land to meet real people in their real situations. If Jesus hadn’t been itinerant, he would have been just another Jewish prophet instead of a friend to the world.

So when I went across this land to the south, I found out that people there didn’t hate blacks any more than folks in Cleveland.

• Citizens of New York actually DO slow down–because honestly, there’s a lot of traffic jams.
• And Bakersfield, California, has fewer hippies in it than any place in the world.

But you have to go there to find out. You won’t learn it on CNN or Fox News.

So perhaps my most joyous achievement is that I’ve gone across America, met her people and can truthfully tell you that I love them.

I can recommend getting your information from the horse’s mouth, instead of having it handed down to you from paws that just might be dirtied … by bigotry.

# Acalculia

by J. R. Practix

Acalculia: {n.} loss of the ability to perform simple arithmetic calculations, typically resulting from disease or injury of the parietal lobe of the brain.

Bob, Frank and I decided to go out for an evening.

The four of us came to the quick conclusion that if we left at seven o’clock and closed the evening out at twelve, we could have six hours of enjoyment.

You might think it odd, but we began the excursion by picking up a dozen doughnuts and splitting them evenly among the four of us–five each.

We went out and bought a pizza, which cost twenty dollars, and split it, which remarkably, was only six dollars a person.

At the end of the night, we realized we should reimburse the gas in Bob’s car, so we bought gasoline at \$3.48 a gallon, putting ten dollars in the tank, giving us seven gallons.

We had such a good time that we decided to do it every week. So it was concluded that five days from that time, we would get together again, and Bob, Frank and I–all four of us–would go out from seven to twelve (for six hours), probably buying that dozen doughnuts, granting us five each, to spend no more than ten dollars of gas, which would provide seven gallons.

Everything seemed to be going along real well until the second week, when for some inexplicable reason, we found ourselves arguing … because things just didn’t add up.

# Abacus

by J. R. Practix

Abacus:  An oblong frame with rows of wires or grooves, along which beads are slid, used for calculating.

I’ve heard of these things. I’m not so sure I’ve ever actually been in the presence of one. Listen to me go on. . . “Presence of one…”

It’s not exactly an alligator or the Queen of England. I always thought the Chinese used it for calculating–and since my society universally believes the Chinese are good calculators, I guess an abacus is quite efficient.

It looks complicated. It looks like one of those games advertised by Milton Bradley, with moving pieces that have seven pages of directions and you find yourself baffled by the second paragraph.

Can I be the first one to say that I think the calculator may be one of the greatest inventions ever known to man? It comes in second behind the fork. Never underestimate the power of that utensil.

Boy, that got me thinking. I gave such an importance to the fork, and left out toilet paper. I sometimes get picky about toilet tissue. It’s amazing how valuable it is, though,  even if it’s a second cousin to sand paper.

Anyway, back to the abacus. I was never good in math. I mean, I did great with long addition, subtraction, division, multiplication. But then, when it had to be explained instead of ciphered, with algebra, geometry, and we shall not even mention calculus, I started feeling like the last monkey staring across the plain at a group of humans building a fire. In other words, I saw the need, appreciated the effort, but had no way of fathoming the process.

I probably should go out, find an abacus and enlighten myself on its value, but instead, I think I’ll just go to the store and purchase a calculator.