Making Myself Not Understood


I was at Taco Bell, which is a tiny bit interesting because until about two years ago I’d never eaten at one. It isn’t like I have anything particular against Taco Bell, even though their corporate overlords used to have the supervillain-corporate name of Tricon Global, and now have the faintly-Orwellian menace name of Yum! Brands, Inc. I just never got around to it before. I probably should have. I sincerely like their extruded burritos. But I’ve always liked extruded things.

What I want to get at is that besides the seven-extruded burrito and a cheese quesadilla I ordered a pop. I did this because I was thirsty and this was Michigan. One thing I’ve known since childhood about the midwest was that “soda” was called “pop” there. This I heard before the 90s, when everybody got on the Internet and started discussing how they call the same things by different names and how other places than home pronounce words wrong. (That was all anyone talked about online all 1997.) When I moved to Michigan, I found this “pop” thing was true. But the guy working the register didn’t understand me. I said a regular pop, and please, and still didn’t get my point across. So I gave up and said “soda” and that was fine.

Thing is, this keeps happening to me. Or at least around me. I ask for pop from people who should be used to people asking for pop, and they don’t know what to make of that. I’d understand confusion if I asked for pop from someone that would be unusual, such as in New Jersey, at a furniture store, from the guy the building code office sent to check on a crack in a load-bearing pillow. I couldn’t complain much if the guy chose to slug me. But why is this confusing?

I have to figure the problem is my accent. I come from New Jersey, and I’m not more defensive about that than average, and I must just say words like “pop” in ways they don’t understand. I don’t have a very strong New Jersey accent. I routinely surprise people when they hear where I’m from. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” is the sort of thing I get. “I’d have guessed you were from … ” and then they’re not able to pin down just where they were thinking I was from, and they knock over a pyramid of soda cans and run away in the confusion.

I know what people expect from a New Jersey accent. It’s a bit loud and fast, with touches of 1940s Movie Brooklyn in it. College football is unpronounced. The average sentence will have something that has to get beeped out. Instead of clearly pronouncing the “-ing” at the end of words, speakers punch something. Maybe a person, maybe a tree, maybe the shoreline, maybe the abstract concept of justice, maybe a vending machine. Just something that’s available. The New Jersey accent is a crossing of the basic Atlantic Midlands dialect with swerving across four lanes of heavy traffic to cut someone off. I haven’t got a strong accent, because I’m too shy to punch an extruded burrito in a Taco Bell in Michigan. Most of my accent expresses itself in referring to Bruce Springsteen as if we were on a first-name basis, taking a surprising amount of guff for talking about people in queues being “on line”, and in getting into tiresome arguments about how people in other states are forced to pump their own gas. Also I expect to be able to order pork roll, although not at Taco Bell. I like to think my natural speech is a good bit rhotic, but I have no idea what that means. I might just want to be rhotic for the attention.

Except that doesn’t make sense because I hate drawing attention to myself. I feel like I’m taking too much of the cashier’s attention just by ordering my food. Going back around and explaining that by a pop I mean a soda, which is how he would have said pop is just horrible. I want to curl up in a ball underneath the plastic packs of chili sauce and go unnoticed, except they’d probably catch me when I snuck off to the bathroom. Except what would I have to go to the bathroom for if I can’t get a pop to drink?

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The Perfect Crime


I’ve figured out the perfect crime for me to commit. It’s counterfeiting two-dollar (United States) bills and spending them (in the United States). Any cashier questioning the bills would go asking around and get told by some smug know-it-all legal tender pedant — there’s at least one in every store’s work shift — that there are so two-dollar bills, and while they’re rare they’re legitimate currency and you should feel stupid for not taking them, and maybe they’ll even point out those urban legends about Taco Bell giving you stuff (Taco Bell food) for free just to not bother them with two-dollar bills or how the mall’s cops laugh at people who think two-dollar bills are fakes. I don’t care about getting free Taco Bell food, but the principle is a good one.

Why this is really perfect is it’s perfect pedantry snipe bait: anyone ready to get all smug about knowing there are so two-dollar bills is going to be so busy showing how proud he is to accept them that he won’t suspect they’re fake. And if he does accept them and find they’re fake, he won’t tell anyone because it would be too humiliating to have his smug self-assurance of knowing that two-dollar bills are for real destroyed by turning them over to people who know that these two-dollar bills are not. By then, I’m long out of the store and have got my free books about Taco Bell.

Oh, except it wouldn’t work, because I’m a know-it-all legal tender pedant and so I know that I’d be unable to resist going back to the store and telling the legal tender pedant just how I put it over on him. And then he’d either turn me in or demand to be cut in on the scheme because it’s so good. So the whole thing is a failure. Now I can’t do anything with the idea. Too bad.

In Response To A Horrifying Link On Wunderground.com


No, I will not check your Interactive Tornado Map, and what is wrong with you that you think the words “Interactive Tornado Map” could ever be a soothing combination in a sentence? I want tornadoes in the non-interactive form pioneered by Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton wherein they appear only in movies that I still haven’t seen. And I say that as if not seeing Twister were some kind of point of pride, instead of the second-most minor of my life accomplishments, after only “not having eaten at Taco Bell”.