Mar 10, 2009, 06:20AM

A Manner of Speaking

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Jerry, a friend whom I haven’t seen for some months, recently e-mailed. “Hi, Iris!” the message began. “How are you?!” it continued. I was unsettled by his punctuation and didn’t know how to reply. Was it a question, a command or an exclamation? It took me a few days before I wrote, “Fine?” pressed send, and erupted into tears.

In line for a donut at Dreeson's in East Hampton, I overheard the conversation of a couple behind me.

The man pointed to a pair of potholders hanging behind the counter. “Oh my God! Those are the same potholders I have in my kitchen! I thought I was the only one who had them!”

“That's so funny!” the woman remarked flatly, twisting her hair with a frown.

“That's hilarious!” he added, without laughing.

“That’s really funny!” she went on distractedly, chewing a piece of gum and looking out the window.

“It’s totally hilarious. Wow!” he said, staring at the donut machine and yawning.

Back in college, my friend Lorraine was amazed, even awestruck, at a great many things. We were in the dining hall one evening when she remarked on the day's stir-fry, which I had quietly agreed was an improvement on yesterday's turkey burger.

“It's amazing!” she added digging in with her fork. I looked at her quizzically and asked if it was a particular vegetable that was amazing her, thinking I might return to the kitchen and get more of that one. “Stir fry’s awesome!” she explained.

I asked her if she had ever found anything to be simply tolerable, good or, even more whimsically, splendid? She looked at me seriously for a moment and thought hard. Then shaking her head, she pointed at me with her fork, “You make an awesome point.”

Glen, a man I dated last year, bustled into the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet for our third rendezvous. Taking off his coat, he recounted an amazing story of having earlier that day found himself sitting at a table adjacent to his next door neighbor in a café on the opposite side of town from the apartment building where they both lived. “How random is that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said warily.

“That we both ended up in the same place at the same time without planning it? Totally random!” he shook his head.

“Well,” I began, “That it was random is a given. What you’re pointing out is a coincidence. ‘What a coincidence!’ you might have said instead. See what I mean?”

“No. No, I don’t,” he said worried. “You think he was following me?”

In my friend Joel’s Facebook profile, under the category of “favorite movies,” he’s written, “Foreign” and under “favorite music,” he’s answered, “Tons of vinyl.”

I have “tons” of records, too, as well as compact discs, and an extensive store of cassettes from when I got the idea to “go towards the middle” and record all of my CD’s and records onto tapes—I love that warm tape-sound you get after you’ve left the cassette in the car, on the dashboard for too long. CD’s are so cold.

But to characterize one’s musical taste by the size of one’s collection or the medium on which it is recorded might be misleading. I currently own a large variety of polka records that I bought for a dollar each at the Salvation Army including one called, “Beer Polka Dance Party,” and also three El DeBarge albums I found abandoned on a stoop while walking home a few Saturdays ago.

The first record I ever owned was Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I still have it. My parents gave it to me for Christmas when I was nine along with my first record player—I’d requested a Victrola with an external horn, but stumped for where to buy one, they decided to get me the next best thing. I was disappointed, of course, but happiness was quickly restored when I unwrapped my brand new ear horn a few minutes later. From the time I was young, I’ve had a taste for all things retro—I’d thought my musical proclivities were pretty unique! Until, that is, I read of Joel’s favoring “Tons of Vinyl.” Does Joel listen to Polka and El DeBarge too? I wondered, staring at his profile and tapping my foot to a Lawrence Welk compilation. “How random is that?” I asked him on his Facebook wall.

After the recent presidential election, an amazed newscaster reported Obama’s victory as a “very historical election.” Aren’t all elections necessarily historical? Would he not have been better off saying, “historically significant” or “historic”? “Or is it the more awesome and random, the more historical?” I remarked to a friend who had called to share the “incredible” news. “Good news,” I corrected her, “but not incredible. The polls have been predicting his victory for some time now,” I said. “Hello? Hello? Are you still there?”

Last month, I was at a bar and an attractive man next to me struck up a conversation. Our chatter moved to travel, and I mentioned having visited Greece the previous summer.

He said, “Was it ridiculous?”

I said, “No, it was very nice.”

“I’ve been there. The beaches are sick. Greece is ridiculous!” he insisted.

“Greece is quite beautiful.”

His tone changed. “You didn't like it?”

“On the contrary, I liked it very much. Really,” I added for emphasis.

He looked at me peevishly and muttered, “The beaches are ridiculous,” and then turned away.

A few years ago, women everywhere began wearing t-shirts with sayings like, “Hottie,” “Sexy,” or “Foxy” printed on them. For many women wearing them, the shirts made exaggerated claims. Seizing the opportunity, I began my own line of clothing that could be taken literally.

My favorite is the women’s fitted tank that says, “Under Dim Lights, I'm Almost Easy on the Eyes,” available in sizes Large and Extra Large, and the woman’s cotton Tee on which, in flaming letters across the chest, it is printed, “Somewhat Attractive?!” I went back and forth a few times before I settled on the punctuation. Incredibly, they have not sold out yet, which is why I’m hereby lowering my prices to something ridiculous. Amaze all your friends and get these awesome shirts now while supplies last.


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