Who needs a brain at 2 in the morning?

I was up from 2 to 4:30 this morning fighting a losing battle with my brain.

No, I’m not kidding and I wish I were. Every once in a while it wakes me up with some kind of problem and doesn’t let me go back to sleep.

I know, we all have problems that won’t let us rest and I’m not immune from those.

E xcept the impor tant and understandable “how will I pay the mortgage?” and “I’d like to strangle my kid” problems are never the things that rob me of sleep.

This morning it was “how come when you stick ‘in’ at the front of a word it can mean different things?”

I guess I console myself that some of my favorite writers have also had attacks of the Night- Time Trivialities.

The great James Thurber once recalled during his wonderful, if somewhat zany, upbringing in Columbus, Ohio, he once laid in bed for hours trying to think of the name “Perth Amboy,” a city in New Jersey. He worked himself into quite a state, and I don’t mean Ohio. Thurber recalled he was on the verge of word hallucinations. “I had come up with terra cotta, Walla Walla, bill of lading, vice versa, Pall Mall, Bodley Head and Schumann-Heink. I suppose terra cotta was the closest I ever came, though it was not very close.”

(Oh, what a typical Thurber sentence that last one is, it makes perfect sense and is totally nuts at the same time.)

So he arose, padded into the next room, where his father was peacefully sleeping, shook him awake and commanded in a stern voice, “name some towns in New Jersey! Quick!”

The elder Thurber tumbled out of bed, backed out the door mumbling “Newark, Patterson, Atlantic City, Passaic...” and then fled in terror down the hall.

Fortunately, Mr. Thurber Sr. was not at my house about 2 a.m. Friday morning as I lay there thinking:

You know, valid means something that’s true. But you can put an “in” at the front and it becomes invalid, which is something that’s the opposite of true.

But then you’ve got flammable. It means something which can catch on fire.

You can put an “in” in front of that and you’ve got inflammable, which also means something that catches on fire. Now hold on here, what’s up with that?

I pounded my pillow, rousting a cat, and searched for more words which could be made into other words by sticking an “in” at the beginning.

I made a poor choice.

H’mm, famous. That of course means someone, or something, who has become prominent and well known. Okay, let’s add an “in.”

Infamous. Now here’s where it gets tricky. Infamous also means someone or something who has become prominent or well-known but for something bad.

Can you be infamous without becoming famous?

Well, let’s take JFK assassin Lee Har vey Oswald. He certainly was never famous until Nov. 22, 1963. Then he instantly became infamous. But isn’t he also famous now even though he’s also infamous?

But people can be both famous and infamous, can’t they? Prime example, O. J. Simpson.

He was certainly famous before that little marital spat, about as famous an athlete as we’ve ever seen. Then he became infamous.

So now, is he famous and infamous both? But that’s obviously different from Oswald who just started out only infamous and is now famous only because he was so infamous. Right?

The cat didn’t know. She turned and stuck her rear end in my face and re-settled on the pillow.

My alarm read 4:33.

I turned back to the cat and whispered:

“ Name some towns in New Jersey.”

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2011-02-17 digital edition

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