Sunday, July 24, 2011

That time the Governor met me.

I've got to tell you about my infatuation.

Are my waking thoughts monopolized by a particular movie star, majestic farm animal or yoga temperature?

Negative to all three. I'm obsessed with words.

I love words. I love twisting and crunching and abbreviating them; I love making new words up. I love working with words and plays on words,  I love spotting the perfect word as it cautiously peeks from behind a mental tree trunk after an hour's worth of staring a blank screen.

And that's why, while I find moments of speechlessness to be disquieting, blurting out nonsensical, insensitive or complete gibberish strikes an even greater blow to my Old-Navy-t-shirt-fabric-thin psyche.

Like most of us, I have good days and bad, periods where I wake up, gently yet intensely spooning with my wordsmith muse, and other days where I can't seem to get out of the way of my own uvula.

On Monday,  I may think of something inspirational and nudge my co-worker while saying, "Wow, I just had and epiphany which could very well prove serendipitous."

Tuesday, the same thought could trigger, "Dude, I"

Natural biorhythms aren't alone in determining my verbal literacy when responding to a situation. I maintain a firm belief that emotions, especially anger and intimidation, drive the elocution train and frequently, after it speeds by, I'm lucky to grab a couple words off the caboose.

My daughters have often rendered me incapacitated. I've experienced levels of anger and frustration with each of them which can only be measured using a huge space telescope. Conversely, my wife's pulse slows to that of a yogi contortionist about to stuff her entire body into a refrigerator crisper.

When addressing a highly offensive minor, my spouse's words materialize slowly, in perfectly enunciated syllables: "You need to turn off your phone. Now listen. You are being extremely rude. If you don't stop, you will be taking the bus to the mall rather than driving. Is that clear?"

Here's how I would have worded this teaching moment: "If you don't...stop...that...thing you're doing...I'm something...or take something...or something."

Anger reduces my vocabulary to that of a really smart camel.

Intimidation is even worse, because, unlike the speechlessness caused by anger, I can readily summon the words—just the wrong ones.

Not long ago, I visited my doctor for a physical. I've always felt intimidated by doctors. Whether it's due to their vast knowledge of the human body, their hallowed position as healers, or their heroics in E.R. and St. Elsewhere, I'm not sure, but on this occasion, I came prepared.

"Do you ever use duct tape in a medical setting?" I asked, planning on at least a courtesy chuckle.

No response, other than, "Nope."

Feeling the need to rally, I opted to dazzle my doctor with my  knowledge of medieval surgical techniques. Centuries ago, physicians believed that heated glass cups, when placed onto the skin, could create vacuums to isolate infections, which would then be lanced and bled to suck out the body's toxins.

"I suppose you'll need to cup me now," I proclaimed. Well put, Hemingway.

Another case of gross intimidation drew similar results. Back in college, I'm not really sure why, but our state's Governor visited my fraternity. Maybe he was lobbying the young Republican vote or he wanted to finally learn to use a beer bong, but he came up from Olympia and hung out with us for a couple hours one Monday night.

I'm not sure how this happened, but a crowd of people which had stood between him and me spontaneously cleared away, and there we were, the Governor and I, looking into each other's eyes. I knew I had to say something, but what? Should I go with straight small talk or be a bit more clever? I opted for the latter.

"Hello, Mr. Spellman. Nice to meet you. I'm just curious, do you prefer crunchy peanut butter or creamy?" Oh, my god. Did I really just say that? I just gave the governor a line I wouldn't even use on a freshman sorority pledge. 

My disembodied soul looked down upon my sad, quivering body mass.

"You know, I'm a crunchy guy," he replied. "I still enjoy a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, especially with raspberry Smuckers. How about you?"

"Crunchy all the way!" Oh, shit. It just continues. I just said, "Crunchy all the way" to the Governor."

Seconds later, other fraternity brothers had converged upon our conversation, and the subject of peanut butter quickly dissolved into other mundane topics as everyone competed for some face time with the Governor. I backed slowly out of the group, vowing that if I were ever again thrust into a similar position, jogging away would prove far less embarrassing in the long run.

I obviously haven't kept that promise. The words keep flowing.


  1. I could not agree with you more. While I tend to think of myself as somewhat of a smooth operator in the English language department and at times a bit of a grammar bitch, there are instances which render me completely useless. While I was pregnant and had no control what-so-ever over my bodily functions, I was in the middle of an important business meeting and let out a large belch as my pregnancy support snapped open flailing onto the table. My response was to look around, gesticulate forward to the present parties around the table and say, "Hmmm... Yes... interesting... continue."

  2. Funny, but I met Governor Spellman as well. But it was at a bar, the old Jake O'Shaughnessy's near the Seattle Center, if I remember correctly. It was on St. Patrick's Day, most likely 1983, and he had had a few. So had I, come to think of it. Maybe that's what gave me the courage to go up and introduce myself and offer to buy him a drink. Alas, he didn't take me up on the offer. I was so disappointed I moved to California (well, 3 years later).