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Lynn Hummel: A boxful of unused commas

In my garage there is a box of miscellaneous nuts, bolts, screws, washers, wing-nuts and various other bits and pieces that will probably never be used, but are far too precious ever to be thrown out. You may have one just like it. On the counter where I write, there is another box. It is a box full of unused commas, but I don’t think you have one like it.

I have usually followed the practice of using as few commas as possible. Just tell it — don’t chop it up. That breaks a lot of rules, but — old dogs, new tricks, you know. As a result, whenever a rule said maybe you should put a comma in a particular spot, but I didn’t, I would just throw the comma in the comma box in case I would need it to make a correction later. In time, the box filled up because, as you may have noticed, there have been many expressions that needed to be corrected, but weren’t.

Where do you seek wise advice about a question of commas? I used to go to my elders, but I don’t have many of those anymore. So I asked myself where I’d go if I had a computer or cell phone problem. You don’t seek out elders for questions about computers or cell phones do you? No, you find a kid. Well, in our family we have Maya, our eighth grader granddaughter who reads books by the dozen and always does her homework. Maya explained to me last week that there are new rules about commas that I ought to incorporate into my writing. Well — I read books too, but I don’t do much homework, so, for the time being, I’m going to take her advice under advisement and wait.

In the meantime, the comma box is filling up again because I’m not using enough of them. What do you do with a surplus of commas? This is an old problem for me and I still don’t have a solution.

I’ve tried sprinkling some on the lawn. But when I do, they kill everything and dandelions spring up. If only dandelions like commas that should send a message even the elders would understand shouldn’t it? Also, when I put commas on the lawn, sometimes neighborhood dogs come out and lick them. Then they make a pucker face and get surly. How can you tell if a dog has been licking commas? They growl, then they pause, then they bite you. The pause is the telltale sign. If there were a way to get close to those pups, you’d know they were surly as soon as you smelled commas on their breath, but you could get your nose bitten trying to sniff it out. Even birds, who like to peck and swallow sand and grit for their gizzards, hate commas — they just spit them out.

In desperation, this winter I sprinkled commas on my icy driveway to give my tires some added traction. It didn’t work — there’s no grip in commas because they’re slippery. Yes, commas are slippery.

I’ve considered flushing commas down the toilet, but you wouldn’t anymore flush commas then you would flush prescription medicine if you care about the quality of the water in your area. As a last resort, I’ve called the hazardous waste people about a dumping permit and they say — no way, it would turn our dumpsite into a dandelion forest.

So now, I’m afraid I’ll have to do the homework I’ve been dodging, and may end up putting those commas on paper where they’ve always, always, always, always, always, always been intended to go. (There, I used seven commas in one sentence.)