Sunday, August 22, 2010

Missed by Euphemism

The human mind endlessly fascinates. Our ability to ignore that which we do not choose to see is an instance of a power. But mostly we don’t notice that we have it. Three weeks ago or thereabouts, the electric power lines in our neighborhood suddenly began to stage quite fantastic fireworks. By nights we saw the strangest of sharp, multi-colored lights, whole showers of sparks, and we heard huge booming and/or crackling sounds. Anxious crowds collected to watch this magic display on side-walks and in yards, hands touching faces: would those garages go up in flame? When the problem recurred by day, we saw white flashes and black clouds of smoke rise high into the air. These displays rapidly led to power failures that lasted many hours. My point in all this? The point is that, until this happened, we did not really see those power lines. But for some days after these events, we saw the amazing complexity of wire mazes above us, paralleling our streets, transecting our trees behind our houses—in our neighborhood and others. We had become aware of a kind of utilitarian ugliness that, until then, had been entirely filtered out.

Now the other day, as I was walking, a DEAD END sign came into view. Behind it lay a rather charming little street with well-kept, lovely homes. But now, sensitized by power-outage, it occurred to me that the people who lived there surely did not see that sign any more. In this day and age, to live in a street boldly labeled a “dead end” would surely have, long since, resulted in an explosion of that most modern of emotions, Outrage. How can they do that? How can they label us that way. We’re not dead-enders—no we’re not. We can change that—yes we can. The mind’s power to ignore occurred to me as an explanation why thus far Euphemism hadn’t tamed this yellow diamond. I wandered on, thinking about that sign.

The French call it the bottom of the sack—and living there does little more for property values than “dead end.” In Hungarian these are “sack streets,” in German “sack alleys”; both Spanish and Italian suggest that totally cheerless play by Sartre, No Exit.

I walked for an hour or so, and by the time I glimpsed a new sign on another street, the subject had been replaced by others. But there, right there before me, was a hint that Euphemism may have been stirred up after all. This sign, still yellow, was small, oblong, and affixed demurely just underneath the street's name. It said NO OUTLET. Well, well, well, I thought. And then I thought again. To live in a “no outlet” street might not exactly cheer the overly sensitive. Those words also provide at the least the germ of victimhood. Suppose your marriage is a little rocky. No outlet. Suppose your emotions are bottled up. Dear City Administration! I suggest you go back to the drawing board. What about something hip? DRIVE THROUGH. NOT. Wouldn’t that be better? Any suggestions?


  1. You know you really ought to keep up a little better, Arsen.

    If you paid any attention to HGTV you'd know that at the end of a dead end street, espeically on with a nice little round turn about, is a highly sought after property! Yes, it is true that most people prefer to call them by their happier sounding French name, cul de sac.

    Tisk, tisk, on this tipic, you have assumed more outrage than is present.

  2. What with my beard recently trimmed, Monique, you should have seen my tongue in my cheek.

    And now I have a question for you, seeing as you're living in a lake community. It is: What's the meaning of the phrase "back-lotters"?


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