Thursday, September 30, 2010


I went to Missouri yesterday with my roommate Steve to visit his house and pick up some of the things he left behind last time he was home. Two other friends came. We stopped at a Denny's when we were still in Illinois but far away from Chicago and were being a little obnoxious as we sat down. John imitated a Missouri accent (pretty badly) and gave some guy the wrong idea, because he came over (a little drunk) and asked us in his outside-voice if any of us could tell him how a person gets to Pi. We didn't know, even after he came back from the bathroom and asked us again, so he explained it to us (sort of) and the more he spoke, the angrier he became.
"I thought you said you were smart."
"I'm from the South, and I'm an engineer. You smart kids can't even tell me how to get to Pi!"
"and how many times does seven go into thirty?"
He went on for a while and made us so uncomfortable that we could only let the pressure out through unintentional steam-releases of painful giggles. This probably made him angrier. He told us he was here to pick up his son and reiterated that just because he was from the South, it didn't mean that he was stupid. After going on long enough to be sure of having won (which he had), he walked away, ate, put on his feathered hat and left. The hat complimented his leathery face, white hair and goatee, brown cowboy boots, and attitude. We sat in our booth, wide eyed and pathetic and confused and a little indignant.

My friends and I thought about this event for some time after the man departed. After replaying it in our minds, we came to a difficult realization: that we were really the bit players in his unfolding story, credited after the movie as Obnoxious Guys at Denny's #1, 2, 3, & 4. We observed only the tip of the narrative iceberg, which was undoubtedly complex and dramatic. He had us beat the minute we started talking about mathematics. And our behavior was so typical, the audience would have known from our entrance whom they were supposed to be rooting for, and it wasn't us. We were small-timers; meanwhile here was a man on a journey with the spiritual dimensions of a Russian novel.

The moral of the story is that it's unwise to imitate regional accents at a high enough decibel to be heard in a restaurant that lies along an important national highway. And furthermore, it may be just as unwise to assume that you're the main character in every scene of your own story.

Mr Engineer from the South, I hope you find your son, and whatever else you're looking for.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Today I am only reading blog posts about myself!