I grew up in the Bronx, one of this nation’s great working class communities, and one of the joys of my return to the area nearly 20 years later was the ability to speak colorfully, profanely and directly again without offending anyone.
I was also delighted to be reunited with a childhood friend named "Tony," who had just returned to New York City from Boston after completing his doctorate at Harvard. He was a professor at a local university now and everyone in our old circle of friends was incredibly proud of him. However, his new speech patterns took some getting used to.
Tony didn’t curse anymore, speak fast, use slang, or mix Spanish and English in the same sentences. He sounded a little “fancy” without those vestiges of working class speech, which is not a compliment for those of us raised in the city's outer boros. His wife had a PhD too and they sounded like a doctoral dissertation together.
“Hey Tony,” I said one day, speaking rapidly as is my habit. “Hey man, you guys wanna grab some dinner with Amaka and me this weekend? Maybe catch a flick? Have a couple cervesas?”
Tony looked at me like he was studying a computer screen as he gathered his thoughts. He'd always been thoughtful and deliberate, but the pause between thought and speech was considerably longer now.
I'm fairly impatient and would sometimes jump into these lulls, upsetting his thought process like a ring bearer running through puddles beside a bride in a wedding dress.
“I can whip up a batch of my homemade marinara sauce if you want to make the hike out to Jersey City,” I interjected during one lull, receiving the kind of pained expression in return normally associated with nails on a chalkboard.
“I’ve got a bottle of Jack,” I added a moment later, earning another wince.
Finally, Tony's enormous Harvard brain completed its tortoise-like journey from thought to action.
"That's a promising idea,” he said, speaking deliberately. “Let me conference with Madeline before we commit."
I leaned forward into the subsequent pause, silently willing my absent-minded professor to continue as he stared off into space.
"We’ll brainstorm some alternatives and get back to you," Tony finally said, refocusing his eyes on me. "I know she’s partial to cabernet sauvignon these days."