Saturday, September 11, 2010

code, cod, codify

Whenever you hear the word "code," part of you is sent back to your pre-teen years, before the stunning rite of passage known as girls, where a significant rite of passage was tattooed onto your psyche to the point where you can still observe traces of it in retrospect.

Those were the days of radio serials and bigger-than-life characters whose exploits suggested the adventures to be had in your life, were you not bound and anchored in your miserable quotidian routine.  These were the days of heavy sponsor identification with product to the excruciating point where every bite of bread cost you a pang of loyalty.  You were in a war of loyalty to Weber's bread and The Lone Ranger on the one bite, and Langendorf bread and Captain Midnight on the other.  You forsook favored Bosco to chocolateify your milk for the more powdery Ovaltine because Little Orphan Annie brought you a secret decoder ring.

You were an avid collector of the premium prizes that paid off in devices that put code in your hands then the way your iPod Touch puts music in your hands today.  Soon your older sister added to your stash of code-originating devices by showing you how you could create any number of codes simply by using a second alphabet that removed a letter or two from the standard A-B-C order, starting with, say, D-through Z, then adding the missing A-B-C- at the tail end, causing in one version of the code D to equal A, E to equal B, and F to equal C.  She also showed you how to take a page from any book you happened to be reading, and by using the first paragraph, create one kind of code and by using an entire page, create yet another.

Trouble came when, a virtual library of codes and encoding devices at your disposal, you had absolutely nothing worth rendering into code.  What could you possibly wish to withhold?  What information or opinions would you feel the need to disguise?  It was not as though you were some incipient Leonardo nor did you have any heretical beliefs.  You pretty much took the universe as you found it, had relatively good communication within your family, and had just enough momentum in questioning authority that you were still more of a smart ass than a radical.

Nor was your plight in any way given examples of creative assistance by the purveyors of the Lone Ranger Code or the individuals you'd come to think of as The Little Orphan Annie People.  Most of their coded messages were more or less right out of the Boy Scout or Girl Scout Handbook.  Once The Lone Ranger broadcast a message that, when you decoded it suggested helping your mother wash the dinner dishes, and fucking Tom Mix presented a message that, when decoded, urged you to try shredded Ralston cereal.

Fortunately, puberty brought with it things to be secretive about, things such as having an enormous crush on Rena Passacantando which, had you enough Italian at the time, you would have realized was a remarkable name that meant walks while singing or singing while walking.  You were young enough to not want the rest of the world know of your crush because you were still getting used to the benefits of being in love and were not willing to go public quite yet.

Codes cover any number of secrets, using language to impart secret or special meanings.  A sentence or paragraph or even a word or attitude that is coded is meant to convey a special meaning to a special audience.  If you are able to decode, you are privy to the secret intentions of individuals, which makes you wonder about the ways in which your characters use code to keep things from one another or identify like-minded confederates.  This in turn means there are insiders, those privy to intent and meaning, while outsiders are thought to be kept in ignorance.

There are genetic codes, civil codes, and combination codes, ways of keeping information secure, impenetrable, as secure in a rhetorical way as a gated community is in a security way.

You do your best to look at the ramifications of coded language and expression, making you realize how great the potential is for naivete, how easy it is to use code or slang or argot or buzzwords to speak over the heads of some or to forge a sense of "us" as opposed to the larger sense of "them."  There is a kind of coding inherent in calling an individual you or thee or thou, and even though you have been around Spanish-language speakers for most of your life, you are still a bit skittish about when to call someone tu or usted, occasionally having to be given a mild rebuke that you would call a particular person usted instead of tu or a kind of wince suggesting you may have unintentionally patronized someone by calling them tu.  It is equally indicative of code to know the difference between abuela, which is merely a grandmother and tu abuela which, with the right inflection, is an egregious insult.

Such tropes remind you that all of language needs not merely translation but decoding, information that reveals intent and hidden or occult meaning.  You used ig-pay atin-lay as a language-based code that allowed you the luxury of communicating with peers in front of adults.  There was a variation of pig Latin used among those who worked the carnival circuit when you did, allowing you to communicate in front of "the marks" the name carnival people gave to non-carnival persons, civilians, by slipping the trope eiz between vowels of a word, thus good day becomes geizood deizay.

You try to learn the secret codes of persons, places, animals, things so that you can feel closer to them and write of them with greater understanding and less judgement.  To this day you do not know which, the understanding or the judgmental, is the area of your greatest deficiency.  You may never know.  To a large extent, your desire to know and to rectify are the forces that keep you at some keyboard oor pen, setting words adrift, trying to decode their habits and meanings.

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