High School Faux Pas

I remember reading, once, that certain college entrance exams were considered unfair assessments of future performance because they relied too heavily upon cultural knowledge of white middle-class America.  If that was not your experience, then you would not score as well, intelligence notwithstanding.  These cultural shackles work in reverse, too.

I lived a sheltered life.  I remember lying on the carpet one Sunday morning, reading a cryptically written story on the front page of the Quad City Times, rolling over, looking up, and saying, “Hey, Dad, what’s V.D?”

He hemmed, and fussed, and muttered something about, “Ask your mother,” but, when I turned to her, he quickly added, “Later!”

I never did get “the talk”.  Consequently, everything I learned about sex, I overheard in the locker room.

In 1969, the book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask, was published, Buried in it was one little useful tidbit of information that would, one day, jump out at me, hit me in the face in an “Oh, crap” moment, and reveal the depth of my high school naïveté. Unfortunately, I would not read that book while I was in high school.

As a senior, I found myself assigned to Mr. Robert Smith’s homeroom history and government class. Mr. Smith had a wry and witty sense of humor. I recall he signed my yearbook with a rubber stamp. But, he also was a very approachable man, and my friend, Keith, and I would often talk to him before class.

One day, Mr. Bob started referring to Keith as “Captain Courageous”, and to me as “Sidekick.” (hmmm.)

“I’ll call you, ‘C.C.’ for short,” he said, and laughed.

“Okay,” said Keith, “and I’ll start calling you the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel.’”

Bob laughed.

“Or, ‘Pimp’, for short,” laughed Keith.

Bob didn’t laugh.

…But I did. I thought it was hilarious, for some reason. Over the next several days, I got a big kick out of passing Mr. Smith in the hallway, and saying rather loudly, “Hi, Pimp,” and then scurrying away like O.J. Simpson through a crowded airport. He chased a couple of times, but I always got away. It was great sport. By the following week, I had forgotten about the nicknames…

…until college. On the day my cultural base broadened to include knowledge of what, exactly, a “pimp” is, I felt pretty embarrassed, and stupid. I actually considered writing a letter of apology to Mr. Smith, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he didn’t know I didn’t know. Why, he probably figured it was just my payback for his calling me “Sidekick”.

And, so it goes.

Winds of Time

There was a stiff wind blowing across the Walmart parking lot, yesterday. As I eased down a lane, I noticed an elderly lady placing bags into her car, while her still-loaded cart began to drift away. She started to go after it, shuffling in the way that elderly people do. She got to within an inch or two of it before it began to pick up speed. As she shuffled for all she was worth, vainly stretching her hands out toward the cart, it slowly got three inches away, then four, then five, until it became apparent that she was not going to catch up with it.

And so, she slowed down and just watched it roll all the way across the lot and come to rest against a curb that surrounded some landscaping. Without breaking stride, she trudged right on after it, and scolded it with a wagging finger when she got there. Then, she wheeled it around and determinedly marched it right back to her car, with its still open door, and finished placing her purchases onto the rear seat.

By this time, I was parked myself, and I was going to offer to take the cart from her there, but something told me she wasn’t finished yet. She grabbed her cart solidly, with both hands, and with a final look of proud independence, she wheeled it across the lane and slammed it into the corral. Take that, you, you, you…cart, you. Head held high, she drove away.

As I find myself approaching ever closer to that “elderly” designation, I hope I, too, will remember to be an overcomer, instead of a victim. Bravo, elderly lady with the wrap-around sunglasses. Bravo. At first, I laughed. Then, I understood.

Phonetic Evaporation and Precipitation

“…(W)hen a Bostonian “pahks his cah in Hahvahd yahd”, the missing /r/’s are not lost. Instead, they evaporate, aerosolizing and floating up into the æther. They travel with the prevailing dialect currents and precipitate down in Texas and other places, where people “warsh” clothes, dishes, and cars, and cook “squarsh”. In this case, the /r/ is not only conserved, but relatively untransformed and easy to identify. By plotting the prevalence of words like “pahk” and “cah” and “warsh” and the less-

common “squarsh”, some enterprising graduate dialectologist could likely map location, direction, and strength of major /r/-carrying dialect currents and readily wring a dissertation from the effort.”

                                                Trey Jones, the Speculative Grammarian, June 2011