Friday, September 30, 2011

Elocution Evolution

Yesterday afternoon, I was in a meeting with someone who’s never lived outside of the Los Angeles area. She kicked it off by telling me I have a New York accent.

I don’t have a poker face. Neither did she – I saw her see that she said something she shouldn’t have.

Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. I had to stay cool.

“You think so?” I asked.

“That’s what it sounds like to me,” she said. (Remember, all she knows is L.A. It was a humid 70 degrees outside and she had been wearing a coat.)

To keep things light, and to drive home that I’m not from these parts, I let her know that my freshman hallmates made fun of me and another hallmate (who hailed from suburban Chicago) because of our Midwestern accents. They had field days with the way the Chicagoan and I used to pronounce “Kathy” and “college,” and say “pop” instead of “soda.”

She smiled politely, but wasn’t buying it. Can you blame her? She can only ever picture me talking like Renee Graziano from Mob Wives.

This is how it all begins. First, everyone insists you have the attitude. Then it starts in with the speech patterns. At the rate it's going, I’ll never make it out of here. I’m becoming re-branded.

I did this to myself. For years, I’ve been imitating the New York and New Jersey accents and mannerisms that surround me. Too many years. I’m morphing into what I’ve mocked.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Laughter and Medicine

My primary-care physician now does her thing out of a new office. A few days ago, I dealt with these digs for the first time. While waiting for my routine physical to get underway, I was summoned to the reception desk and was notified that the check-up wouldn’t be covered by my insurance because I already had a physical on January 14th.

Nice try, but I have an alibi for where I was on the 14th day of this year. It’s not an airtight one, but it’s credible enough.

Ten minutes and $15 later I was steered into a side room and onto a scale, 2 feet away from a nurse who was silently drawing another woman’s blood. Although I’m farsighted, I’m not blind or dumb. I know how to read a scale and have no trouble making out its numbered notches when they’re directly in front of me. My nurse saw that I was following along without any visible confusion, so I assumed she would just write down my weight on the chart she was holding. She did - right after she broadcast it to the group. And then she repeated it! Is this a doctor’s appointment or an audition for the Bolshoi Ballet?

Should a patient’s blood pressure be taken immediately after a mistaken-identity fiasco and a public weigh-in?

I’ve always put this doctor on a pedestal, and it remains unclear how a clinician of her caliber could have gotten mixed up with an operation like this. When she walked into the examining room, it was tantamount to reuniting with a cousin you hardly ever get to see; one of the cousins you really like - not one of the ones you’re planning to quietly leave off your future wedding’s guest list.

The problem with having a reputation for being a joker is that people constantly think you’re trying to be funny when you’re not. That’s why my internist was cracking up with impunity as I caught her up to speed on what’s been happening with my body this year. The only point in the monologue where the snickering might have been warranted was when I started doing (spot-on) impersonations of people.

She called with my blood test results earlier tonight, and was still laughing. We both were – I had accurately diagnosed myself. One of the first things I said at the exam was: “I think I have a thyroid problem.” And I do.

She also said I have the healthiest cholesterol level she’s EVER SEEN. I (an English major) accurately diagnosed that in advance too. Medical school is for suckers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Little Engine That Could Use a Big Overhaul

The only disadvantage of having an uncommon name is that it’s very easy to be tracked down. With the advent of Google and all the other free Internet search engines, everyone’s moonlighting as a private investigator these days. People are so idle and nosy.

Evidently, the first thing people do once they get ahold of my name is take it straight to the search engines. Since Googling is no longer something that’s done in the shadows, many of them think nothing of confronting me about what they’ve sleuthed up. Then I have to defend myself against the lies and manipulations:

“No, I am NOT 41 years old. I don’t know where they got that from.”

“I sure did sign a petition to keep that allegedly adulterous Iranian woman from being stoned to death. Why didn’t you?”

“Dammit, I don’t know if I’m going to my next high school reunion. Stay out of it.”


At a job interview in early 2008, the hiring manager declared that he Googled me the night before (note that he did this at night – not during regular business hours) and proceeded to probe me about articles I wrote in 1997. Ever since then, I started Googling myself once a week, to stay on top of what’s out there and get a sense of how much of it I can control. So far, I’ve gotten a couple of inaccuracies and unnecessary pieces of information completely removed. But I’m not always so lucky. Last summer, I noticed an outrageous typo in the text of a header link that might always be a part of my search results. I went right to the source, e-mailing someone at the magazine (under the pretext of asking about something else) to alert her of the defect that hovers above my name. It’s still there.

I last Googled myself this morning. So much can happen in a week. There’s a brand-new search result that I don’t like one bit, and I can’t even fathom how something like this could have made it up there. I’ve added it to my Must-Go list.

I’ll never forget a chilling line I once read in a poem: “Daughter:/looks like laughter,/rhymes with slaughter.”

Google: /looks like Giggle, /rhymes with Bugle (which I consider to be the most aggravating of all the brass instruments).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cotton Candy

After 48 hours of deep thought, I decided to send flowers to someone.

Sending flowers had been the initial, instinctive plan - until I saw how much the full and decent-looking arrangements cost. In this age of austerity, it seemed like a tasteful, top-of-the-Hallmark-line greeting card would do just as well. But even though we’ve been out of meaningful touch for years, and I suspect they now belong to the Tea Party, this person and her husband once spent a week driving me around New England to visit colleges, dropping hundreds of dollars on sweatshirts and water bottles at campus bookstores. (Not to mention footing the bills for those evenings out at the Olive Garden.)

I don’t usually send people flowers. I send baskets filled with snack foods, because that’s what I’d want people to send to me. But they don’t. They send me flowers in vases that are out of harmony with my rental d├ęcor. I’ve put the vases to work in other ways, reusing them as oversized candy dishes or storage bins for the salt, pepper, and sugar packets I unload from low-end eateries. There’s one vase I use as a pail to collect the stream of water that occasionally leaks from my bathroom ceiling.

Sending food wasn’t a sensitive option this time around.

I ordered over the phone. A few seconds into the call I made a promise to myself that, from here on out, I will only buy special deliveries directly online.

“What a beautiful choice!!!! Is it for a young girl?!”

“No, it’s for a really old woman,” I said.

“Oh.” The enthusiasm evaporated and we segued right into the billing-information portion of the conversation. We both so desperately wanted to get off the phone that I forgot to ask for the card message to be read back to me. There’s no telling how many typos will turn up in that small space.

This is a Get Well situation. I needed an arrangement that would strengthen the recipient on sight, wowing her into recovery. If it’s possible for any non-edible special delivery to do so, it’s this long-stemmed, “sweet as cotton candy” bouquet (tightly packed into a vase big enough to have some serious pail potential).