A literally figurative tragedy…a warning from Rick Springfield… a figuratively literal ending…

I have been getting a little edgy lately at the flagrant misuse of the word literally. On second thought, I take that back. The haphazard use of the word literally actually engenders a mirth and amusement so pure within my heart that I feel the need to jump to my feet, raise my hands and testify. Well, maybe not that rapturous of a response but something of the sort on an emotional level. I do like the word. Literally. I like it. Good word. When used properly it is a nice little stab of emphasis on a point being made. Let’s face it, it is fun to use. In fact the word is so much fun that it may be suffering from a bit of fashionable overload, basking in the stylish limelight of casual conversation. What with people feeling so strongly about things these days, it is no surprise that the word literally has become a standard part of passionate expression. And what with the kids and their heated opinions and their technology and drinking and pharmaceutical drugs and such, the word is bound to be dropped in a manner not in keeping with its definition now and again. But it all came to a rotten collision a few days ago at a bar when an overly-drunk young woman, garrulous to a fault, and with one of those voices that just finds its way into your bone marrow, exclaimed to the fellow next to her that….

“My boss wouldn’t stop talking. Literally, after twenty minutes, my head exploded.”

Disgusting, I thought. How tragic, too. To be minding one’s own business, at work no less, to be doing the best job one can, and then to be ruthlessly engaged by the boss in such a way that the sheer inexorability of the boss’s rambling causes one’s head to burst apart, leaving blood and brains everywhere. The stump of the neck hemorrhages uncontrollably while the body convulses in a big red gory pool. Poor girl, rushed to the hospital where they tape or glue her head back together or however they do it, the boss kind of being like “my bad I guess no frisbee-golf this weekend.” Months in the I.C.U. in an induced coma. Then the slow emergence, the physical therapy, the relearning of basic motor skills and now right as rainfall, in the middle of a crowded bar, back to tell her story of struggle and survival, amid a roomful of drinkers, over a blaring jukebox playing Rick Springfield.

Things started coming together in a way only random, beautiful artistic moments can. Rick Springfield was singing his song, and in his song he was lamenting the appearance of a “..slick, continental dude.” I appreciate Mr. Springfield, because nothing good ever comes from continental dudes, both slick and otherwise. They are always causing problems, and we, as a music-loving public, can’t say we weren’t warned. Doubly amusing was the fact that the woman whose head had been put back together after it had “literally exploded” had been gabbing to a dude who appeared both slick, and… although I don’t know exactly how to qualify this…continental. He had long sideburns manicured with the detailed attention usually given to country estates.

There she was, railing at him about everything and reverse-everything, and this slick continental dude had a look on his face of such rigid feigned interest that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. We had all been there, both men and women alike. It was as if his expression was pleading silently to, “please, please, stop talking so I can take you home to do that thing I’ve been wanting so badly to do for months and months and months and months.”

He was in over his sideburns. I knew it. He knew it. Everybody knew it. I don’t  care how slick and continental a dude is, when you’ve got a girl like that with a voice like radioactivity, like it burns from the inside, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Furthermore once the ice had been broken with the use of the word literally, it was on. She literally used it after everything she said. Which, as far as probability goes, meant that sometimes it was used correctly and other times it was just lashed into her barrage of outbursts. Seated where I was I could only catch bits and pieces, like the bits and pieces her head may have represented after it had “literally exploded.” I found myself trying to figure out which was which.

“…Literally, it was like twenty people…” she said.

(Could’ve been, depending on the circumstance)

“…Literally we were stuck on line for a month but we finally scored tickets to Bruno Mars…”

(Seemed like an exaggeration to me. The average individual dies after a week without food or water.)

“Your sideburns are literally longer than my driveway…”


“…She literally came home to find that he had taken the dogs and vamoosed…”

(As opposed to symbolically coming home?)

I didn’t know how much more I could take so I paid my bill and sipped at the bottom half of my beer. The bartender, a friend of mine, sidled up to where I was sitting. He looked at me and shrugged. I shrugged back.

“You should give her a shot of tequila for each use of the word literally,” I said, pointing a few seats down to the woman (standing, gesturing) and the slick, continental dude, (sitting, slumped).

“Are you kidding? They’d slap the handcuffs on me for manslaughter. Anyway the dude is a punk. He is a date stealer. Remember the blind switch?”

“Oh, that was him?” I said. “Don’t you think he’s kind of like the slick, continental dude that Rick Springfield warns us about?”

“I was thinking that same thing!” he said brightly.

The blind switch was a clever bit of chicanery on the part of the slick, continental dude. A woman had shown up for a blind date and had mistaken him for the fellow she was supposed to meet, another fellow slightly less slick and continental. Falling into character and after a hasty explanation the slicker of the two continental dudes spirited her away from the bar to avoid running into the continental dude that was running late.  After a night of fraud and frolic the slick continental dude cut a hasty exit. There was more to it, though. The blind date was also supposed to help the woman line up a job, which she completely missed out on by mistaking one slick continental dude for another. It was just a shame. I no longer felt sorry for the slick continental dude. Things were about to get heated, though, as the guy sitting next to me at the bar hit his breaking point.

“Hey, would you literally shut the fuck up?” he said to the girl, freezing her in mid-sentence.

“Mind your own business,” said the slick, continental dude, aroused from his jelly posture.

“Impossible with that braying,” said the guy next to me.

“Also,” I said, cutting in, “might you give the use of the word literal a bit of a rest. It’s been in the game for awhile now, and been performing well. Might be time to substitute. Might I suggest shit-motherfucking?” I went back through some of the snippets I had heard and was pleased with my suggestion.

“Communist,” the dude said to me. “You don’t care about the first amendment?”

“Dude, what are you getting all slick and continental for?” I said. He looked at me like I had just slapped him.

“Leave her alone. She’s just using it in the literally figurative sense,” he explained.

“Oh no,” said the bartender, stepping in. “He’s got Stockholm Syndrome.”

“It’s a method of usage,” the dude continued. “The literal figurative.”

“Scoundrel, take that back,” I said.

“No!” he said, his sideburns quaking in effect.

“You’re not allowed to invoke an unreasonable paradox to explain the misuse of a word.”

“Well I did. And now it’s done. And there is nothing you can do about it. Oh and by the way, your girlfriend calls me and begs me for sex and I hang up the phone.” He sat back, swelling with his own cleverness.

“Piss on you and your chop logic,” said the guy next to me. It felt like there was a fight brewing, so I stepped in to make peace.

“Everybody settle down,” I said.  “I apologize for my friend’s outburst,” I said to the slick continental dude and his chatty companion. “And for trying to infringe on your right to free speech. Tell you what, I’ll pick up your tab.” The couple settled back. The woman protested slightly, saying don’t worry about it, but the slick continental dude was not one to miss out on such an opportunity.

“It’s the least you can do,” he muttered.

The bartender shook his head, tallied up the total and put the check in front of me. I carefully lifted it off the bar, folded it up, put it in my pocket and left the bar without paying a dime. But before I left I gave the slick continental dude a parting word.


More Alembics to come.


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