I Before E

Boyleing Points

It’s a wonderful world – partly because Louis Armstrong inhabited it. The raspy baritone is a musical immortal, of course. I should be able listen to him all day. But I get stuck on “What A Wonderful World.”

It goes back to eighth grade. Which I’ll get to in a second.

Louis sings, “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” And I don’t hear another word. You know what my twisted, stunted mind does? It focuses on those words: I think to myself.

Well, who else is he gonna think to? I can’t quite enjoy the rest of the song because Mr. Armstrong was being redundant. And redundant brings me back to eighth grade, which, if you’ve read recent columns, were the bad old days.

I had a drill sergeant — I mean teacher — who was preparing us for the Catholic High School entrance exam known as the Co-Op. The preparation was thorough and completely fit with the bad old days. We all had those thick Barron study guides. And so did the teacher. He’d walk up and down the aisles calling upon students in a grammar usage exercise. They’re vs. their, you’re vs. your, it’s vs. its, things like that. He’d bring that Barron’s book down over your head if you messed up. You might get a double whack if you didn’t finally get that “a lot” was two words.

Mercifully, he wasn’t too much of a stickler for lay and lie. Being eighth graders, we had many giggles over lay, lie and laid. He knew “laid” was a lost cause with boys (who really didn’t know what it meant but had to snicker anyway). I certainly never learned the correct usage. I don’t know if you lay down or lie down. The only thing I’m certain of is that no one in the history of speaking has ever used the word “lain” which is the past participle (whatever that is) of the word “lie.”

It’s been a while since I’ve been in eighth grade but my wild-ass guess is they don’t whack you on the head with a big book anymore. But I can’t guess if the kids are learning today or not. I know we learned. We learned a lot (not alot). Oh, dented head and all, I’m still friends with the book-swinging teacher.

I’m actually grateful for the English drilling but it’s probably why I have a problem with Louis Armstrong. I hear bad grammar and I look around for a Barron’s book. But I try not to be a grammar cop and let most atrocities slip past without reaction. 

I never corrected a buddy who said we were going to Bay Ridge “viva” the Belt Parkway.

And I never said anything when he saw a sign “No Pedestrian Crossing” and asked if people in that church weren’t allowed to cross. You, know, pedestrian — Presbyterian, same thing.

My buddy was the Slip Mahoney of his time. You remember Slip, from the Bowery Boys. He once bragged about saving someone: “I had to give him mouth-to-mouth perspiration.”

Ok, that’s enough English.  I ain’t got nothing more to say on that.

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