Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Accents

I was at my regular coffee house in need of a cup of the wakeful.  Two blonde skinny women in expensive yoga clothes were ahead of me in the line.  (Don’t jump ahead.  Stay together, People!) Their children sat on the stumpy chairs that are too small for adults and give one the sense of balancing on a defective Lego.™  The women debated whether to have a short or small decaf, a poppy seed mini muffin or a cranberry mini scone.  The children sagged, burdened with the knowledge that this decision merits a ten-minute caucus.  I watched in wonder.  Had they no sense, the adults, that there were other people in line this workday morning, and that perhaps they might move the proceedings along?  In short, did they have as much sense as their children?  No.  Was their slowness due to smugness or stupidity?  Or, perhaps it is normal for people to stare at pastry, as Galileo no doubt gazed upon the phases of Venus.  The eye wants to linger upon the beautiful and the sublime. 

The young man behind the counter (Clerk? Barista?  Clarista?) was sweetly patient and asked them what they would like to order.

Blonde #1 said: Oh! I love your accent.  Where are you from?

(Ah.  Stupidity.  Mystery solved.)

The young man said quietly and wearily: London.  East.

London!  East!  She squeaked and I sighed because I knew what came next.

Clarista knew the script, too: Have you been to London?

And now it was Blonde #1’s time to shine:  Yes.  I lived in London.

You did?

Yes, I lived there when I was in college.

My Friends, I object.  I object to this entire exchange. 

First, no, you did not live in London when you were in college.  You did not live in the place if you did not have to order the electricity and the gas service, identify new vermin, or learn how to operate strange and flammable appliances.  You were put up in London.  Or, London put up with you.  You crashed on London’s couch.  And London was cool with that for a while, until the day London got tired of you because you are a lightweight and a weepy drunk.  London kicked you in the ribs at six a.m., gave you a mug of orange juice and two aspirins and said that if you are going to vomit in the kitchen sink, then you are going to wash the dishes.  And turn off that Smith’s disc.

Second, it is impossible to say, “I love your accent” without sounding like a fool.  I grew up in earshot of an English accent.  I must have heard an American say, “I love your accent” every week of my life. No one has ever replied, “Oh, thank you” and meant it.  I can tell you, from an insider’s perspective, that the possessor of that nightingale song never respects the person who tells her that they love her accent.  Never. Why?  Because while your observation of and compliment of the accent is your attempt to signal to its Golden Source that you recognize that she comes from parts elsewhere and that you approve of this elsewhere, that you think that elsewhere is a bit better than here, that people from that elsewhere, the same elsewhere where the Dulcet Mouthpiece is from, are more polite and intelligent, while you beam in pride of your own worldliness, this person who acquired her speech by the regular accidents of birth, geography and education, thinks you are a sucker and a rube who doesn’t know a Cockney from a Geordie from a toff.  You would say, “I love your accent” to Amy Winehouse, Trevor Howard, or Dame Edna and not know the difference. 

Blonde #1 and Blonde #2 smiled glassily at London! East! and adopted the skinny girl, scissor stance.  You have seen it.  The boot clad legs, crossed tightly, feet planted parallel.  The intended goal of this posture is to emphasize one’s thinness, and therefore dominance, over nearby females, but it smacks of anxiety and incontinence.  The last time I stood with my legs crossed so tightly, I was four years old and I was trying not to wet my underpants.  Also, it is not a stable stance.

Come on, you say.  Admit it: You are jealous of their blondness and their thinness.  You are harping on these qualities an awful lot, aren’t you?  You envy the hand life has dealt them.  You want the proper leisure to give pastry the consideration that it deserves.  You can’t imagine what it must be like to be so confident that your opinion on all topics would be received with anything other than gratitude.  You envy people who can survive on decaf.  If these two are so vacuous, so worthy of mockery, why do they bother you so much?  Move on with your day and forget about them.

Friend, you raise a good point. I can’t let every silly person interrupt my thoughts and consume precious real estate in my brain.  I should take deep breaths, chant mantras, draw zentangles and move on. 

I will tell you why I was bothered.  Because as I considered what it meant to “live in,” a place, as I remembered my mother’s disgust every time she received a compliment about her accent because, to her, she wasn’t English, she was American and wanted to be recognized as an American citizen, not as a British subject, as I tried to recall the planets Galileo observed and the proper spelling of “Geordie,” I was still in the goddamn line waiting for my coffee. 

Blonde #1 and Blonde #2 continued to occupy the front.  Their blockade was impressive, but I was not the only casualty of their privileged bitchery.  On the other side of the café, there was a man and his dog.  The man stood patiently and waited to get past them.  The dog, tired of his master’s solicitousness and possessed with more sense than all of the humans in the room, pushed past Blonde #2 with a good whap with his back flank that almost knocked her over, to the delight of the children.  How fierce are you really when a Scottie can take you out?  East London leaned around the counter to ask me what I would like. 

I ordered a medium latte, whole milk, please, and adopted a military “at ease” stance, that emphasized my width and mass.  I like to think it a solid, authoritative stance, a stance that says, “In the event of famine, I will last for years.” 

The Blondes were dazed at the abrupt interruption of Life.  They blinked at each other, then at me, then at the line that had formed behind me and out the door.  They were surprised by our presence, as if we had risen from the floorboards like ghosts.  They sat down and the children stared into their hot chocolate and gave us the nod: “Yes, it’s over now.  We will make note of your patience in therapy this week.”

And then I moved on with my day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Despair Goes to the Library

By D.D. Jolly, the Dostoevsky of Champagne Dilemmas

D.D. Jolly, here.  Despair to my friends.  I went to the library the other day.  It was a pleasant outing.  There is nothing unusual about that.  I have been known to pack a half day of rations (whiskey flask, sandwich, sweets, medications, mittens, lip balm, lipstick, hand cream, cell phone, head phones, flashlight, measuring tape, first aid kit, stainless steel lock pick set, machete, etc.) and wander the stacks for an hour or two.

There is one library I have haunted for years.  I learned the organization of the books well enough to find what I wanted without the call number.  It is an ugly building.  It is, I am told, a good example of the cozily-named style Brutalist architecture.  I am merely the conduit of this observation because I don’t know the difference between a good example and a bad example of Brutalist architecture.  The style features a concrete exterior with many windows and yet the interior is dark. The light is absorbed by the muddy color palate and creates a perpetual rainstorm of the soul.  The interior showcases an exquisite waste of space and lack of function. 

The library people re-shelved the books and erased my pheromone trail, surely with malice aforethought.  I am back to the slips of paper and call numbers, but Despair’s eyes are not as fresh as before and much peering occurs.  Peering at the paper – is that a 4 or a 9?  Peering at the spines – why didn’t they redo these labels?  Nobody can read these. 

Reading life, that tricky circle, has led me back to Henry Miller.  I used to know where to find his books.  He was on the bottom two shelves in the second to last row in the far corner where the scholars are caged, not the corner that is a favored place for… that is a ditty for another day.  Miller is in the center row, which you would think is prime real estate, but you would be wrong.  Remember, this is a Brutal Library.  A floor to ceiling concrete cube is plopped in the center of the étage for load-bearing purposes, or some such foolishness.  The width of the central aisle is slightly less than the length of my thigh.  Miller is still on the bottom two shelves.  He is in a tight place.

What to do? 

If you are hale and hearty, stand perpendicular to the stacks, do a handstand, walk yourself parallel to the shelf and read the titles upside down.  This is not the best position because you need one hand to take a book off the shelf and you need both hands to inspect the pages.  Miller brings out the mad beast in his readers with their doodlings, whoops and denunciations.  I cannot abide readers who mark up library books.  That is why God invented index cards.  Stop it now.

Or, you can assume Marjari Asana, Cat Stretch.  As before, stand perpendicular to the stack. Get down on your hands and knees, arch your back, lift your hips, and breathe deeply.  Try to make this a flowing movement.  This is not an optimal position, particularly for those of you with neck problems, because you have to turn your head to look at the books' spines.  And, you need both hands free to weed out the maculated copies of Black Spring.  Also, this position lacks dignity.  While you are probably wearing yoga pants as you read this, we are in a library, folks.

The third option, which is the best option, is this option.  Stand parallel to the stack, press your back against the wall, slide down the wall, open your legs to a forty-five degree angle, before your knees hit the shelf, and balance on your toes.  This position leaves you free to read, scratch, apply lipstick, or record your important thoughts on an index card.  If you suffer from lack of balance, hum an obscene shanty and lean against the wall, you will do the wall no harm.  Make your selections and move on; don’t stay in this position for too long or you will get a wicked head rush when you stand up, not a “metaphysical floating next to the Seine” head rush. 

Who was on this shelf before?  I don’t remember.  Miller would be tickled to know that a) there is a library where a reader must flash her junk to find his books and b) skirts are back.  It’s a cosmic coincidence that Miller ended up in this exact spot.  This is where he belongs. 

Happy to oblige, Henry.