Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Meet the Erhu!

When I moved to New York City and started taking the A train, every so often in the middle of the day on weekends I'd see an old Chinese man playing a strange-looking two-stringed instrument. "How cool!" I thought. "An instrument I've never heard of before!" Here's a link to a video that'll give you a sense of the performance. Just pretend you're on a subway platform, people are conversing nearby, and everything smells vaguely of pee.

Yesterday, while leafing through the introduction to a collection of short stories called San Francisco Noir, I read a sentence that started, "The other day at a bus station I saw a man playing a Chinese fiddle, or erhu."

My eyes gloinked. So that's what they're called! And a quick search on Wikipedia confirmed it. Meet the erhu. Apparently, I'd been staring directly at a crossword puzzle word and had had no idea. And what a word! At four letters, it's actually a bit more useful than the three-letter weird words we're stuck with, and with that letter choice, it's all but begging: "Dave! Please put me running across on the second row down of some wide-open crossword grid of Friday-level difficulty!"

And then a strange thing happened: the word didn't exist. It's there on Wikipedia, it's there in San Francisco Noir. Presumably people in big cities like Chicago have occasion to see them every week or so! But it is not in any dictionary I have access to. Not in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate. Or the New International Unabridged, second or third edition. Not in Random House, not in Chambers. I checked the Webster's New World anyway, but I knew I was licked. Nothing. Apparently, those snotty lexicographers in their high, paper-filled, and incredibly flammable towers, feel that "erhu" does not meet an English linguistic need.

So I'm hereby announcing a new mission: to popularize the word "erhu." I'm going to use it in straight definition ("This weekend the erhu player was back at 59th Street"), in made-up idioms ("Oh, sure, it's complicated, but it's not like juggling erhus,") and metaphors and descriptions ("the sound was eerie, like an erhu being played by a baby vampire"). And when I use it, those of you who have read this post can knowledgeably smile and say, "Ah. The erhu. Thank you, Dave, for your continued selfless work on behalf of the crossword puzzle community." And if anyone wants to put me on a stamp later...well, shucks. You just do what you think best.

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Anonymous Trip said...

Erhu: the rotini of the musical world.

4/11/2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I've actually heard of the erhu because my good friend, Abigail Washburn, plays oldtime music and tours in China where she jams with the locals. (Incidentally, she has also been featured on NPR - she writes songs in Chinese and so is something of a novelty.) In any case, I fully support the movement to add 'erhu' to English dictionaries. How many in print citations do they need to admit that a word is a word?

10/03/2007 12:01 AM  

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