It's no small secret that I’m a deeply flawed man.
Should I hold forth on my firecracker temper, which causes me to berate drivers parked in a bike lane? Or perhaps how I hold grudges like a toddler cradles its favorite stuffed animal, squeezing it till eyes pop from fabric sockets? No, I think I’ll discuss the detrimental effects of my dialogue.
I inherited my dad’s amphetamine driven speech pattern, wherein I often mumble-speak too fast for comprehension. In my head, the words are as clear as consommé, but to listeners I’m spewing an unintelligible gumbo of nouns, verbs and other words. Hence, “Could you please repeat that?” tops my most-asked list.
Here’s a handy example: A couple days ago, I was headed to a backyard BBQ in Carroll Gardens. I’d attempted to purchase sausage at Court Street’s marvelous G. Esposito and Sons Pork Store, but the shop shutters at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Sigh. Instead, I settled for a few pounds of decent spicy sausage at Mastellone Italian Deli (303 Court St. at Degraw St., 718-522-6700; B’klyn), then headed to Caputo’s Bake Shop (329 Court St. betw. Sackett & Union Sts., 718-875- 6871; B’klyn) for some crusty bread.
“I’m going to be grilling sausages at a BBQ, so what bread do you recommend?” I thought I inquired. The counter ma’am examined me cockeyed, as if I’d asked if she gave five-dollar lap dances. “Start again,” she said, “and talk much slower.” My cheeks turned sunburn-red. “Sausage,” I said, holding my package of cool, tubular meat. “I. Am. Grilling. Sausage. I. Need. Bread.”
She nodded, then shuffled over to a stack of long, fat loaves. “You’ll want the Italian bread,” she said, quickly sending me into the inarticulate afternoon.
Other times I’ll say the right thing and everything will still go wrong. A few weeks ago, lunchtime hit. I looked in my fridge. It was barren save for Thai curry paste, pickled cabbage, seltzer and enough beer to intoxicate a freshman dorm. “Come on, Sammy,” I told my small Welsh corgi mix, “Daddy’s puttin’ on pants and going to the store.”
I work from home, alone. That means I often spend most days in monk-like silence, except when I warble along to old Pavement tunes. Speaking to Sammy is a sanity-saving outlet, and even refreshing— though my furry friend understands me as well as the average human, he never asks me to repeat myself. “Let’s go, boy,” I said, linking Sammy to a leash and leading him to Washington Avenue’s nearby NSA supermarket. For years, I avoided this subpar market. It stunk like rotten fish, and the produce was often wilted.
But in the last year, the supermarket has been spruced up. Goodbye, foul seafood. Hello, organic produce. NSA regained my money. This day, I was heading to NSA for sandwich meat—say, turkey. When I was a kid, my fridge was filled with Ziploc bags stuffed with roast beef, pepperoni, turkey and other thinly sliced flesh. A sandwich was always at my fingertips. No longer. Since my vegetarian girlfriend requires our fridge to be meat-free, I only buy enough animal protein for one meal at a time.
After tethering Sammy to a parking meter, I headed inside to the deli. Behind the counter stood a stout middle-aged man who could’ve doubled as a nightclub bouncer. “Can I have a third a pound of Boar’s Head turkey?” I asked, carefully measuring my cadence. “A third?” he said. “Yes, a third.” I twiddled my thumbs while the slicer whirred through white meat. A few minutes later, the deli guy brought me a stack of turkey that resembled a brick.
“How much is that?” I asked, gawking at the meaty mound.
“A third.” “Can you weigh that?” He put it on the scale. It registered three-fourths of a pound. “That’s not one-third a pound,” I said. “Yes, it is.” “No, it’s not.” “You said a third. That is a third.”
Was I ensnared in a Monty Python skit? Were we speaking the same language but using different dictionaries? I pulled out my phone, ready to demonstrate the calculator application. Then the peanut gallery piped up: “He means treinta y tres,” said a gentleman with caterpillar eyebrows, impatiently waiting his turn.
A flush of recognition crossed the deli guy’s eyes. “Treinta y tres,” he said, recalibrating my turkey pile into a single-serving portion. “Why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”