Here's the link, and in keeping with recent practice, the text also follows. Because I had to file columns prior to departing on holiday, I took the liberty of posting in advance. Now that holiday is over, this "full text" citation may continue. Or not. In the meantime, there's catching up to do.
Having spent the better part of 30 years diligently studying human behavior in my chosen habitat, the barroom, the first thing I noticed when the well-dressed woman rose from her table and approached me was the way she held her wine glass.
She was clutching the defenseless glass like the handle of a sword, and there was nothing dainty about it.
That, my friends, is a bad sign.
It is reputed that in the days before indoor smoking went the way of the rotary dial phone, the famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow would carefully insert a thin wire into his cigar, which held the steadily lengthening ash in place as Darrow smoked and spoke, commanding the complete attention of the denizens of the courtroom as a result.
In much the same way, watching someone grasp a stemmed wine glass with a closed fist tends to make you wonder when the increasing pressure exerted by an obviously agitated drinker finally will snap the glass in half, and while glassware can be replaced, it’s always a tragedy to waste good booze.
Which assumes, of course, that the booze in question isn’t common rotgut, but there’s an upside either way, because the puddle of spilled alcohol will shine a floor better than commercial cleaning products ever could.
“I want to ask you a question about that column you write in the newspaper.”
Sure. What about it?
“Just who do you think you are writing like that?”
Um, like what?
“People around here, they don’t understand what you’re saying. They ask me, what’s he saying? Who do you think you are, writing things that people don’t understand?”
(There was ice in the wine. How very frightening!)
Well, I don’t have an answer for that. I write the only way I know to write, and I write for people who are capable of …
“And what about those big words? Do you think you’re better than people around here? Why don’t you write things that we – I mean they – can understand?”
Okay, let me ask you a question. Why is it my responsibility to help you – er, I mean, them – read English? If you have to look up a word in a dictionary, then you’re doing the same thing I did to learn the word in the first place. I look at dictionaries all the time.
“You want to know why they can’t understand it? I’m going to tell you … in a minute.”
(She balanced the glass on the table, staggered toward the lavatory, and upon returning, drained the remaining ice cubes and wine in a single, well-executed gulp.)
“Now, I’m going to tell you. Do you know how many people in this town live in rental properties? I’ll tell you how many. 63% of them, that’s how many. Why don’t you write so they can understand you?”
You must be kidding me. What does being a renter have to do with reading comprehension?
“You know what I mean. I’ve lived here my whole life. You don’t know me, and you don’t know my family. All you want to do is intimidate people. Who do you think you are, writing like that?”
My interrogator didn’t let me answer the final question, and that’s just as well, because it was time for her to go to the bar for another drink. At least the wine glass survived, and we remain thankful for small favors.
Beside, it was time for me to walk home, and as I exited the side door, I noticed my inquisitor’s expensive, gas guzzling sports car parked squarely in the middle of two parking spaces, presumably to protect it from the deprecations of local, illiterate rental property occupants, and I felt the urge to rationalize the irrationality of her opinions in the context of wealth, privilege, and the way that some people insulate themselves from the real world.
But I resisted the temptation. Literacy and illiteracy, comprehension and incomprehension, getting it and not getting it – they aren’t so much about money as one’s personal willingness to try to learn and understand, right?
Here’s what I’ve learned in barrooms over the years. For many people, alcohol is a veritable truth serum. It transforms circumspection into exhibitionism, and alchemizes unspoken thoughts into bold theses nailed to the front door of the dive in question. I haven’t seen that woman since, although we’ll probably occupy the same saloon space on another, similarly enchanted evening.
What’s more, my experience tells me that while it’s possible she remembers the one-sided conversation we had, it isn’t really likely. She’ll remember few if any of my answers, and so we’re destined to have the same chat over and over again, because that’s the way the New Albany Syndrome works -- and another way it works is that the more one is consumed by the syndrome, the better chance that he or she rises to a position of elected or unelected functionary according to the eternal futility of lowest common denominators.
For me, the barroom remains just as sacred a place as the church confessional, and what is said there, stays there under the majority of normal circumstances. Accordingly, the story I’ve told today may or may not be entirely true. It’s possible that I’m embellishing for dramatic effect, exercising creative license, and writing metaphorically.
It’s also possible that the story is completely factual.
What do you think?