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Verbal Downpour

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In a gray, sodden week, one that pushed New York toward a new record for October rainfall, the city echoed with strange linguistic innovations. Mommies talked of “elimination communication” and debated whether it was wise to toilet-train their babies at a very early age, Freud notwithstanding. Men looked into their hearts and asked themselves if they were “Über-sexual,” employing a new marketing term meant to refer to a harder, manlier sort of male than the effete metrosexual of yesteryear. (Bono and Bill Clinton were deemed top Über-sexuals, but Rush Limbaugh, despite his obsession with the label, failed to make the cut.) Names in the news had a certain music to them. Parris France was sentenced to prison for ransacking a Harlem apartment while his accomplice strangled a teenage girl. W. Graham Arader III publicly denounced fellow map dealer E. Forbes Smiley III, who stands charged with stealing rare maps from Yale, while Manhattan socialite J. David Enright IV filed suit against the Catholic Church, claiming that boyhood molestation by a priest had made him gay. As reported in the Times nuptial announcements, Christina Less was wed to Edward Policy. Even Liz Smith was moved to Joycean wordplay, penning the sentence (apropos of a lamentable CBS sitcom about dysfunctional doctors) “Asclepius, hide your caduceus!” What seemed to be the body of a young Brooklyn poet named Dennis Kim was pulled out of the Hudson River. Having drowned after jumping off a pier to save a notebook of his verse that had fallen into the water, Kim now joins a romantic pantheon that includes Byron, Chatterton, and young Werther. Up in the Bronx, the Yankees cleaned out their lockers—in Mel Stottlemyre’s case, for the last time—while disaffected fans could be heard muttering about someone called “A-Choke.” Harold Pinter, master of the “comedy of menace,” won the Nobel Prize for literature. And, speaking of the comedy of menace, federal counterterrorism officials put the now-discounted plot to bomb the subways in a new light. The threat was not more credible because it was specific, as New Yorkers had been told. Just the opposite: Its specificity made it less credible. Now we know.


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