Saturday, December 10, 2011

Theater of the Unlikely

Seeking to bolster the illusion that we are social sophisticates, Judy and I ventured out last week to a community-theater rendition of Mister Roberts.  Before we took our seats, we bought the obligatory little plastic cups of wine.  The wine came with plastic lids and tiny straws, since open containers are banned from the seating area.  And for good reason, it turns out.

The highlight of the evening should have been the actor playing Capt. Morton and channeling James Cagny with all his heart and soul, and pretty effectively at that.  But the good Captain was upstaged before the curtain even went up.  By the guy sitting in front of us.

He was regaling the lady next to him with photos of his recent trip to an exotic location he had long dreamed of seeing:  eastern Maine.

Lenny - that's what the lady called him - apparently started his visit in Portland, because that was his first photo.  "This is a guy posing in front of the Portland Light," he reported.  Who was the guy?  "I don't know, but I thought he looked pretty good posing like that."  Judy stifled a giggle, but poorly.

"Here's one of me and Lucille-somebody."  The photo showed Lenny and a large, ornate granite tombstone.  The lady emitted a tiny gasp.  Lenny moved on quickly.

With Lenny, it's not just all about the strangers, because he also shot lots of pix of a comely young woman holding up a big lobster.  "I don't know who she was, either - I was looking at the big lobster."  That was when Judy snorted wine out her nose.

Luckily Judy was drinking pinot grigio and the lid stayed on the plastic cup, so clean-up was easy.  I covered for her deftly by exclaiming, "Gesundtheit!"  

After a time, the travelogue resumed.

"Here's a picture of me standing on the 49th parallel, exactly halfway to the North Pole."  The didact in me ached to correct him - assuming he started counting his parallels at the Equator -  but he was so pleased to have been to that magical location, I remained silent.  Actually, Judy and I have been there too, and we remain very proud of that.

"Next is a picture of Canada.  Over that water, there.  This was taken from Lubbock."  For the record, Lubbock is in Texas.  Lubec is in Maine, and the locals say it "Loo-BECK."  You can't see any of Canada from Lubbock.  Luckily, Lenny didn't visit Pennamaquan or Mattawamkeag, but then you can't see Canada from either of those towns.

Lenny finished up just before the curtain rose, with a dramatic shot of a brightly lighted L.L. Bean store in Freeport.  It was surrounded by profound darkness.  "I took this at 3 in the morning to show that it really is open all night."  Judy excused herself and stepped out to powder her nose.

The play was very good, too.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's the Glottal Stop

If your name is Newton and if they nicknamed you Newt, you have some immediate problems and one unexpected headache.

It's hard enough to introduce yourself as Ev Newton - everyone says, "Hi, Ed" - or Everett Newton - everyone says, "What?"  But you can never, ever introduce yourself as Newt Newton.

There are sound linguistic reasons for this prohibition.  The name Newton has a "T" in the middle, as proficient readers of English will recognize right away.  But when the word "Newton" is pronounced casually and out loud, it invariably comes out as "New - in."  As in "uh-oh."  That little break in the middle is a glottal stop, which, for the hopeless pedants among us, is also called a voiceless glottal plosive.  The glottal stop is that little catchy thing you do with your throat when you say "Hawai'i" (which used to be pronounced "Huh-why-yee," but we are more sophisticated these days).  It's science.  People whose names are Bob Johnson have no idea that this lingual circus is in town. 

So my immediate dilemma is whether to introduce myself as Newton with the correct and formal "T" sound, which by the way is a voiceless alveolar plosive, or with that lazy but comfortable glottal stop, which is what I say to myself when I am pondering how noise comes out of my face Got that?  Good, 'cause now it gets complicated.

The name "Newt," spoken aloud by itself, ends with the aveolar plosive "T".  That remains true if "Newt" is followed by a fricative, like "Newt snores" or "Newt farts."  So if my name were Newt Harris, I would not be paddling around in this murky linguistic backwater.  But if "Newt" is followed by a nasal alveolar, like "N," the brain/mouth connection breaks out in a sweat and a glottal stop ensues.  Try it: "Newt Newton."  Your frontal cortex wants to put a hard "T" in both slots, but your tongue and your glottis become entangled and you can drown in your own spit trying to pronounce the combination correctly.  Anyone who has ever tried to speak German or Welsh understands this.

After walking around the bridge club with a name tag reading "Ev Newton" for a year or so, I decided to drag my nickname out of its phonetic closet.  Not wanting to subject everyone to the double-glottal-stop torture of "Newt Newton," I had a name tag made up that reads simply, "Newt":

You can probably see where this is going.

Enter Newton Leroy Gingrich.  Remember that headache I mentioned in that first sentence?  "Newt Gingrich" has no glottal stop to muck up the lingual works.  But walking around in public these days with "Newt" on your chest is an open invitation to ideological engagement.  There are no glottal stops in the words "philanderer" or "pompous narcissist" or "walking embodiment of current Republican demagoguery."  The name slides out like poop through a goose.

Except this is the Deep South, even during Snowbird Season, and the median age at the bridge club is about 84, so everyone there wants to shake my hand and declaim over the evils of Barack Hussein Obama, whom we all know was born in Togoland with a Commie flag clenched in his tiny satanic fist.

Aw, crap!  I've gone off political again.

Well, it's not my fault this time; Newt started it.  Anyway, I have ordered a new name tag that reads, "None of Your Damn Business, That's What."


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are the Gods Poking Fun at Me?

If the truth be known, the wry portrait of me over there --------->
is a bit out of date, and some excess avoirdupois has collected around my midsection and nether regions.  Quite a lot, in fact, since we're telling the stupid truth so religiously here.  Anyway, I have been living for the past few months on dried twigs and carrot juice, hoping that my belly goes away before my teeth fall out and I die from lack of chocolate and beer.  Especially beer.

So far so good - let's not descend into tawdry specifics - and I console my poor deprived palate with a weekly visit to my favorite restaurant.  The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou is located nearby in fact, but its heart and soul reside in N'awlins, where les bon temps roulent.  Invariably, I sit out on the quiet deck over the bayou, often alone while Judy plays bingo or some such.

So I'm sitting there tonight, brooding.  Brooding, I think, is one of life's true luxuries.  The temperature dips to the low 60s - cold enough if your blood is thin and hungry.  I order a cup of gumbo and a green salad with a little salsa instead of salad dressing.

I'm freezing to death in the dark, eating roughage and three tablespoons of soup.  Next thing I know, the Dalai Lama appears over the bayou, hovering in full regalia.  It's much colder in Tibet, I suppose, so His Holiness looks comfy here in homespun robes.  Not to mention scrawny, but I may be losing perspective.  He wants to award me the Laughing Buddha Award for Pious Virtue. 

I'm pondering my acceptance speech when Steve the Smartass Waiter interrupts: "Will there be anything else, or are you content to sit there sucking the stains out of your napkin?"  I used to tip Steve quite generously.

"Yeah.  Bring me a 20-ounce prime rib, medium rare, and a chocolate cake."

Steve snickers and drops my $9 tab on the table.  The Dalai Lama chuckles quietly, and I leave a $3 tip.