“Have you ever been talking to yourself, and someone else enters the room, and you have to make believe you were singing?” Carlin asks. “And you hope to God the other person really believes there’s a song called ‘What Does She Think I Am, Some Kind of Putz’?”
My life, dear reader, is a constant embodiment of this particular idiosyncrasy.
The other day, I walked by a gentleman on the phone who said, “I can bring a guest with me, so if you want, you’d be able to come and get a free lunch.”
Now, I have no frame of reference for this conversation. For all I know, the man could have been an undercover zombie and the free meal he promised could have been someone’s brain. But something about the way he said “free lunch” really tickled me. The way his voice was soft, almost secretive. The way he puckered out his lips to end the word on the “ch” sound, like a kiss. The way he stood there, glassy-eyed and stiff and smooched this word to his telephone companion.
I wandered around for two days after that, repeating his kiss of a phrase to myself at unreasonably high volumes, trying to replicate the wet, tender sound of his “free lunch.” Two seconds after the words floated from my mouth, an intense paranoia usually gripped me, and I conspicuously checked my peripherals to ensure no one’s heard me just say the words “free lunch” in a vaguely flamboyant manner.
I’m terrorized by a plague of constantly open ears.
A few days later, a stout old man with long, mangy silver hair told his name to someone in a park. “I’m Woody Starr!” he said, sharpening the R sound like a pirate. The rust-covered enunciation continued to mentally poke me for the remainder of that day, and I sought to recreate the sound repeatedly to satisfy my own urge to rehear him say it.
Other times, I’ll finish a conversation with an awkward phrase and walk away, repeating the last line in different cadences until I reach a more satisfying one. A school bus driver once stopped to let me off in a gigantic puddle, but when she offered to pull around it, I wouldn’t allow it. “It’s okay,” I informed her, not wanting to inconvenience anyone (as is my most trusted annoying characteristic).
As I descended the steps and waded into the suburban-street recreation of Lake Ontario, I repeated my closing line, “It’s okay,” over and over like a meditative mantra. To this day, I still can’t explain why. It must have been the way my voice tends to raise its pitch near the end of certain statements — it’s not a question, damn it! Stop phrasing it like one! my internal monologue erupts. Squeaking home in wet shoes, I had plenty of time to contemplate where my social clumsiness comes from. I’m a writer, for Christ’s sake! Words should drip from my mouth like sweet honey, mellifluously nestling themselves deep into others’ ears and nourishing them for minutes/hours/days/weeks/years after.
It might be a lack of confidence. It might be a lack of clarity. It might be a lack of deliberateness.
Whatever it is, it can most certainly be combating by simply practicing the act of conversing more often. I’ll never be a champion of thoughtful discourse, but at least I can muster up a decent “It’s okay” without sounding like some kind of muttering yoyo.
For now, I’m working to replace “What Does She Think I Am, Some Kind of Putz?” with “My God, That Man’s Burgeoning Vocabulary Has Left Me a Tad Hot Under the Collar” as the lead single from my debut album, Pa-Trick or Treat. Wish me luck.
P.S. The next time you see a brown-haired man murmuring to himself under a large tree, worry not. He’s simply practicing for his next big stage number.