Merismus (mer-is’-mus): The dividing of a whole into its parts.
“Divide things up between us”—sounds easy, up front, before you actually have to do it. When I was a kid, I was first acquainted with division vexations. We were only 15 years old, but we had a gang called the “Phantoms.” We were like the junior auxiliary to the “Titans,” a gang that had been doing business since right after the Revolutionary War. During the War they harassed Loyalists by stealing livestock, kidnapping Loyalists’ wives, and occasionally burning down a manor house and freeing the slaves of rich plantation owners. The Redcoats were often hot on their trail, but their superior knowledge of the lay of the land enabled them, most of the time, to evade capture. If they were caught, they were hanged without a trial. So, you could believe they were courageous.
When the War ended they got nothing—no recognition, no pensions, no nothing. So, they turned to crime, and still, after 100s of years that’s what they do. They specialize in arson, burglary, extortion, and hijacked shipments of CBD supplements. There are 12 members in the gang. If the booty from a given job isn’t an even number, or if there isn’t enough to go around, the Titans play rock/paper/scissors, breaking off into two person teams, that determine through a process of elimination, who gets a share of the booty. This process of elimination has kept them from killing each other ever since the gang’s inception, when “Luke Cold” Fawcet instituted the practice after returning from Sicily and assembling the first Titans into a European-style gang.
Unlike the Titans, the Phantoms used what we called “slash and burn.” In our adolescent minds, destruction was a favored option. When we couldn’t evenly divide, we either got rid of the whole haul, or we destroyed pieces until we got to an even number. We would squabble over how to effect the surplus’s destruction. It was usually accomplished by burning it, or throwing it off a bridge into a river. This worked beautifully. For example, we had stolen a truckload of Izod shirts that were being delivered to some upscale specialty store in NYC named “Hammermacthers.” We ended up with an odd number that we had to divide between an even number of gang members. Solution: burn the surplus shirts, and everybody would get the same size piece of the pie. Worked perfect! Then, Joey Freehand proposed a new idea:
Give what we can’t divide to widows and orphans. We could open a front and give stuff away that was supposedly “donated” by civic minded people and organizations. We had the cops covered. They “promised” not to look for stolen goods as long as we kept making “donations” to the police force. For a gang of adolescents, we were top-notch wiseguys. We named our store “Angel’s Outlet.” There’s a sign on the door that says “Widows and Orphans Only.” They had to show proof. Sometimes it was gruesome, but usually it was a death certificate. Once inside, they were allowed one item for free, and had to pay for the rest. We took only cash or gold or silver jewelry. Some of the widows tried to make a trade for something they wanted in addition to their free item. It was sad. Toaster ovens were frequently offered along with blenders, and even Pyrex casserole dishes. Our policy was “No Never” for everything but jewelry. I felt guilty enforcing it, but we didn’t want to be stuck with used crap, when our cache was “all brand new stuff.”
When I graduated from high school, I got out of the rackets. I went to college in New Hampshire and put my past behind me—so I thought. One of the orphans from my gang days was in most of my classes. We were both majoring in Anthropology. Her name was Ludmilla, and both of her parents had perished in a tornado that had ripped through south Florida. She recognized me immediately and told me she was still grateful for what the Phantoms had done for her. She told me she wanted to show me how grateful she was, if I would come to her dorm room at 11:00pm. I agreed, and showed up at 11. She was standing there with a ziplock bag. She handed it to me: “This is a remnant of my father: one of his glass eyes. It is precious to me. I have his other eye. If we each have one, it will make us a couple.” I looked at the glass eye. I thought, “What the hell.” We had the eyeballs made into pendants. We always joked that we could “see” how much we loved each other. After college, we studied further and became optometrists. We’d start each day by saying “the eyes have it.” We had a daughter we named “Hazel” named after the color of the glass eyes.
Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).
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