Monday, June 5, 2017

Where a couple seated together cheated together

A prickly pear indeed
I would hate to have to learn language from, like, scratch. 

Here’s why.

Last Tuesday, I was riding what we in Toronto call a streetcar, which is an electric bus that runs on rails. I was doing the Toronto Star crossword and got stuck on the very last clue.   

Without so much as an “excuse me,” I said loudly enough for my seatmate to hear, “What’s a five-letter word starts with N-O ending in A-L that means prickly pear?”  

She shook her head to indicate she didn't have the answer but kept looking toward the front of the streetcar. It’s a very healthy reaction when you’re a 20-something woman and really don't want to encourage some strange old guy beside you chewing his pen.

I re-focused on the puzzle. I do crosswords every day and it seems like every single one comes down to one or two impossible answers.

And then without so much as glancing my way, she said “Now it’s going to bug me.  What’s the first letter again?”

Me: “N.”

Her, eyes straight ahead: “You could cheat using your phone.”

Me, after a brief pause: “I really liked the way you said that. You put the accent on 'phone' and not on 'cheat'.”

Her, still looking out the windshield but now with a slight smile: “I know.”


If she had put even the slightest little extra breath of air when she said the word “cheat”, it would have meant that she was suggesting there’d be something devious about using my phone to look up the five-letter word for prickly pear.

But no.

She stressed “your phone”.

By her reckoning, “cheat” meant “solve the problem.” The phone was simply the best vehicle for doing so.

Turns out Mira (I'm not using her real name) is—surprise surprise—a professional communicator. She works in one of those hip advertising agencies. “You mean like the ones Toronto Life’s always writing about?” I asked? 

“You got it,” she said.  But I digress.
WHO KNEW? Okay, if you're Kate, you know. 

I also, by the way, had to plead guilty when she asked if I knew the capital of the country where she was born. I didn’t. Unless you are my good friend Kate Zimmerman, who has traveled there, I’ll bet a day’s wage you don’t know the capital of Azerbaijan neither.

Anyway, here’s what I think about Mira, who graduated from college just three few years ago and who promised to tell all her pals at work about the guy on the street car who bought and actually read “Tender Wings of Desire,” the Colonel Sanders novella published by KFC on Mother’s Day. When I showed her the book cover on my phone, she said I should get a poster made of it.
Spoiler alert: Like KFC chicken and the potato salad that comes with it, the little book was surprisingly tasty! The dedication reads thusly: “For mothers everywhere, I dedicate this to you—a brief escape from motherhood into the arms of your fantasy Colonel. Whoever he may be.” 

I think Mira, whose mom and dad believe it’s high time her only sibling got himself a job--put the accent on phone and not on cheat because in her very considerable brain, I started cheating the nano-second I asked for help.

By the time she suggested I use my phone, the cheat horse had long left the morality barn. It was no longer a matter of if I would cheat or not; it was simply a matter of how. 

Pretty subtle, huh? The only difference was how she said the words. 

See what I mean about learning English from scratch? 

One more thing. If you're wondering about the prickly pear? The brilliant, quick-witted and open-brained Mira Googled it. The answer is NOPAL.

To that I say, “Of course nopal of mine is what you’re going to be if you’re prickly”.

And the capital of a Azerbaijan is BAKU. But don't take my word for it. Ask the stranger next to you. You never regret doing so.

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