WEBSTER FALLS, Mo. Dorinda Walthrip was an English teacher in this town’s public schools for forty-five years, retiring a decade ago to a quiet life in an apartment that overlooks a public park. “It’s nice, except on Sundays,” she says with an air of disappointment. “That’s when the white trash come out to wash their cars,” she says, pronouncing “wash” as if it includes the letter “r,” the one vernacular lapse in her otherwise proper pronunciation.
Where every prospect pleases, until the hot-rodders warsh their cars.
But lately Walthrip’s peace of mind has been shattered by more pressing issues; racial tensions, mass violations of social distancing rules imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, and an upswing in acrimonious partisanship as elections loom in the fall. “I watch the 6:00 news every night, and it distresses me to see what’s happening in this country,” says the long-time “knee-jerk moderate,” who has never joined a political party and says she votes for the best person, not the party. “I don’t see why everybody can’t just get along,” she adds, echoing the words of Rodney King as Los Angeles burned around him in 1991.
“I wish people wouldn’t end their sentences with prepositions.”
Hobbled by arthritis, there isn’t much the widow can do in the real world to make it a better place, so lately she has been gingerly dipping her toes in the robust political debates that take place on the internet. “My grandchildren finally bought me a computer so I could stay in touch by email,” she says with a dash of chagrin in her voice at having been tardy to the digital age. “I don’t get out much, but I’m well-informed.”
This morning after she finished her regular breakfast of bran flakes, fruit, orange juice and decaffeinated coffee, Dorinda signed on to her favorite social media platform, cringing as she did so to see what the body count was from late-hour arguments from the night before.
“M-u-t-h-a-f-u . . . what? I’m going to have to deduct 5 points for spelling.”
“Oh dear,” she says as she “doom scrolls” down through an extended comment “thread.” “Looks like there was a ‘black lives matter, all lives matter’ tiff after I went to bed,” she says, moving her cursor just below a comment by “bluenomatterwho.” “I HATE the all lives matter idiots,” the comment reads. “Their just racists and they know it.”
Dorinda takes a sip from her second cup of Sanka–“and that’s it for the day,” she tells this reporter firmly–then types out a response: “Dear bluenomatterwho, I think you mean ‘they’re,’ a contraction for ‘they are,’ not ‘their’ which is the possessive form of ‘they.’”
A bubble appears on her screen with a series of blinking dots, indicating that “bluenomatterwho” is taking his or her time formulating a thoughtful response. “FUCK YOU GRAMMAR NAZI!” the comment reads after winging its way across the World Wide Web. “Oh dear,” Walthrip says with a scowl and a shake of her head. “Someone needs more fiber in ‘their’ diet,” she adds with a smile as she makes finger quotes in the air.
“What a terrible thing to say!”
From that brief but disturbing encounter, Dorinda shifts gears to log on to Twitter, which she has been told has taken steps to weed out abusive accounts in an effort to elevate the tone of users’ discussions and avoid the heavy hand of government regulation. “I like the little blue bird, he’s cute!” she adds.
Her eye is caught by a picture of a statue of Ulysses S. Grant being torn down by a masked gang, which an account named “God&Country” has posted with a rambling diatribe on America’s young people. “If you don’t like this country, leave it you pussies! Its the greatest country on Earth in the history of the world.”
Dorinda purses her lips as one eyebrow shoots upwards. “That’s unusual, typically the error goes in the opposite direction.” She adjusts her hands on her wrist pad and begins to type: “Dear God&Country, you have made a common mistake. You should have written ‘It’s,” a contraction for ‘it is.’ Without the apostrophe, those three letters are a possessive pronominal adjective.”
“Don’t blame me–I’m out her minding my own business.”
She gets up from her chair to look out the window at a yellow finch that has settled on her birdfeeder–“They are so pretty!” she says–then returns to her chair to find that her comment has not been received favorably.
“You with your fancy college education look down on hard-working people like me. Well take your damn ‘apostrophe’ and stick it up your ass, you bastard!”
Dorinda gulps, and not from her coffee. “I don’t know why people are so harsh,” she says as she stares off into the distance. “I’m only trying to bring them together.”