The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 4, 2009

Monsieur Malaprop et fille

Everyone has that one relative, don't they? Maybe that relative is noted for his (or her) bad timing and puerile humor, like choosing to loudly pass gas just as the maestro lifts his baton. Is there any family who cannot lay claim, however remotely, to a hothead who ruins the restaurant meal for everyone by abusing the server for bringing toast one shade darker than ecru? There's certainly a maniac driver in every family; how else to account for all the road rage? And some families have that one relative who doesn't suffer from dementia but does carry eccentricity to extremes: the uncle who has to Armor All the tires in a certain order, on a certain day, with a certain cloth that must be folded just so; the cousin who takes apart toilet paper dispensers in public restrooms, just to make sure the paper all hangs in the "right" direction. And from what I've seen in restaurants, everyone has a relative who was raised in the barnyard, and lacks any vestige of acceptable table manners.

But I have this brother-in-law. His name is Jeff. Okay, his name is Robert, but we all call him Jeff. Jeff is the dearest, gentlest bear of a man. A sweetheart, the kind of guy you can pour out all your troubles to and be certain of a sympathetic yet pragmatic ear. Married to my elder sister for 38 years, he's been a stellar husband, father and provider. Good table manners, too. Courteous and considerate of others. You can pretty much take him anywhere. But one of these days he's going to show up in one of my stories.

Jeff is not a reader. No books, magazines, newspapers, nada. He glides through life, never listening to any news more current than the weather report. In all the decades I've known him I have only once, outside of church, seen him with a book in his hands: He was reading Goldilocks to his great-niece, sort of. That is, he was turning the pages and she was telling him the story punctuated frequently with her favorite word: Why?

And I think it is this lack of close contact with the English language in print that has caused Jeff's vocabulary to become a thing of curiosity and a joy forever. Whether he chooses the wrong word or makes up a new one, he manages to twist the meanings of his sentences in ways unique and startling.

Once Jeff was explaining scuba diving to me. A diver has to pause on his way to the surface, he informed me, in order to decapitate. And here I always thought divers were supposed to stay calm and not lose their heads.

At a family gathering before the death of my father, Jeff wanted to get a photo of the clan. This was, he assured us, a kodiak moment. Another of those moments was probably the picture my face made when he told me the VA would give him radioactive pay for his disability. Yeah. That one took me a few seconds to translate.

I promise you, he is blissfully unaware of the impact of these declarations. As in the time when Jeff said he could never have been an office worker, as I once was. He said he couldn't stand to be cooped up all day in one of those pubicles. Well. Who could blame him? Some time later I was amazed  to learn that the word 'pubicle' has entered our vocabulary and it refers to a bathroom that has been made into an office. Nope, can't say I'd care to spend nine-to-five in a pubicle either. But somehow I don't think Jeff was ahead of the curve when he said that word.

Not only does he not care to work in a 'pubicle,' but he's decided that he doesn't really want to visit Scotland because all the men there wear (drum roll, please) stilts. When his daughter wanted to go to the store to get some balm for her sore muscles, he protested the necessity of doing so when he had some perfectly good embalming cream in the medicine cabinet.

You can only imagine what he does to song lyrics. As his wife and I are both life long Beatlemaniacs, we don't go long without hearing their music. Do you know the words to Let It Be?
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me...

Try singing along with Jeff:
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Nature calls to me...
We were pretty sure he did that one on purpose, but he certainly acted innocent when we called him on it. Because of another incident later on we decided he was innocent, and we also decided his daughter, Amanda, the wide-eyed recipient of the "embalming cream," had inherited his verbal malady. Looking over the menu at a Chinese restaurant, Mandy was startled -- as we all were -- to find Human Chicken on the menu. And she wasn't half as amused as I was when she discovered that her flight home was scheduled with Pinochle -- sorry, that's Pinnacle -- Airlines. Those slips could have been merely coincidental but one day as Mandy sang along to The Beatles' Help!, we realized her condition was a genetic reflection of her father. Her version of that famous song?
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down,
And I do appreciate your feelin' 'round.
What's that old t-shirt slogan? "The gene pool could use a little chlorine." Well, if you're at all concerned about the gene pool, you may be relieved to learn that as of this writing, Amanda -- an only child herself -- has not replicated.


  1. After completing that first paragraph, I really began to wonder how you knew my people? Have you and I been in the same restaurant at the same time somewhere in the past? "This is like deja vu all over again."

    I'll trade you one particular brother-in-law, one cousin, and a future draft choice for Jeff. I know I'll have to put up with his mangling some Beatles' songs, but it's a transaction I (and maybe my wife) would be willing to make ;-).

    Fun post, Corey. Thanks.

  2. I don't know what Corey's relatives are like, but maybe he'll trade you. I'm keeping Jeff in my family. He took me to the zoo last week - of course, he tried to leave me there. Maybe I should re-think a trade.

  3. Believe me, Naomi, when I say you're not only right, but internationaly and "interlanguagely" on it! One of my cousins is the crazy driver (my grandpa is the lazy driver); an uncle is the imprudent -and impudent- farter; and another uncle can't tell the difference between a tablecloth and a napkin.

    And, believe me, I do have some "Jeffs" in my family as well. I'll try to recall some of his Greatest Hits and give you some better feedback.

  4. Unfortunately, I fear in my family it may be me.

  5. You can be part of my family, Patti. Writers unite!

  6. What a wonderful realtive! Some of us are just blessed.

  7. I don't have anyone in my family like that. But it was the funniest thing I've read all week. Unemployment, illness, and my hair turning white requires levity at decent intervals. Thanks so much!

  8. Leslie, I hope the laughter helps. Thanks for the kind words.