I was waiting for a cab as I stood outside the Sleep Inn and Suites in Round Rock, Texas, which is just outside of Austin, when she got out of her car, carrying her viola, and came to the entrance.
My wife the Beautiful AP was participating in a three-day strings camp and obviously this woman was as well.
“I hope you have a good day,” I said to her.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“New York,” I said.
“Oh, New Yawk! New Yawk!”
“I know, I know,” I said. “I still have some of that accent.”
“New Yawk, New Yaaawwwk!,” she said and entered the building.
Wherever I go around the country or the world there will be someone who points out that they think I come from New York – even in Japan, “You from New York!” It usually ends there.
I can’t seem to escape it and I know that I do have a New Yawk accent but when I went to college a half-century ago I was able to get rid of most of my lower-class-working-man-woman Brooklynese. For example, if there were a group of men or women hanging out I would say, “Youse guys,” or “Youse gals,” as youse is the Brooklyn plural of you. I did not go to the bathroom but to the “terlet” and I would put not gas but “earl” in my car.
I also had that New York cadence in my voice and I’ve worked hard to get rid of it or at least tone it down a notch. I am almost 71 and I haven’t achieved my goal yet.
Look, I do admit that the New York accent is not a pleasant one; we all sound more or less like Mafia dons from the Godfather and Goodfellas. Even if you have a high IQ and great intellectual success, it doesn’t matter. The New Yawk accent lowers all of us in the eyes of many other Americans. In Mississippi one delightful unscrubbed gent said, “Y’all New Yerkers is duumb!” I felt like saying, “Who won the Civil War, pal?” But I didn’t; no use starting another conflict.
I came back to the hotel from a tourist trip to Austin and this woman was talking to my wife in the lobby. The musicians were on a break. I went over and kissed my wife.
The lady sneered at me, “Oh, it’s the New Yawker!”
I laughed. Then I said to the Beautiful AP, “The cab was fifty bucks each way. Most people couldn’t afford that.”
The lady jumped in. “Affawd! Affawd! You gonna go in tamorra too?”
“I take it you like my New York accent,” I laughed.
“New Yawk! New Yaaawwwk!” she cackled.
“I don’t think I got your name,” I said.
“I am Mrs. Rosen,” she said proudly. “I am from Queens but I do not have that stupid accent. I’ve been living in Texas for over twenty-five years.”
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Rosen,” I said.
“She’s in the advanced ensemble,” said the Beautiful AP.
“Oh, that’s great,” I said.
“Dats! Dats! He said dats!” snickered Mrs. Rosen.
“No I didn’t,” I said. “I didn’t say dats, I said that’s.”
“New Yawk, affawd, dats,” she said.
“Well, uh, I’ve got to go to the room and take a nap,” I said.
“I think I heard gotta, I heard gotta!
I walked away and went to my suite. It was a decent hotel. What was with this harridan?
I took my nap and the Beautiful AP came back to the room. She had a long day. We were meeting her brother and his wife for dinner. She was washing up.
“What’s with that Mrs. Rosen?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “She even mimicked you during breaks in the music.”
“Is my accent really that bad?”
“No, no,” said my beautiful wife. “I think she adds to your accent on certain words. Forget it.”
“Man,” I said.
“Forget her,” said the Beautiful AP.
Although we had a good dinner with my in-laws, I kept thinking of Mrs. Rosen intermittently throughout the meal. Was my accent really that bad?
The next day I went to visit the Museum of the Weird in Austin. When I was buying my ticket the young blue-streaked and blood-red haired girl at the ticket booth asked, “Where are you from?”
“New York,” I said. “Lived in Brooklyn and now I live just outside the city.”
“I thought so,” she said.
“Is my accent that bad?” I asked.
“No, just a hint,” she said. “I love New York. The people are so interesting, so different. I’ve been there four times. I wish I could live there.”
“I’ve lived there over seventy years,” I said.
“You are so lucky,” she said handing me the ticket.
The next day I saw into Mrs. Rosen in the lobby. Oh, Christ; I try to get by her.
“Hello there, New Yawker!”
I nod and scoot out the door. I hear her in the lobby as I am leaving, “That guy is a New Yaaawwwker!”
What the hell is with her?
Now I am back at the hotel and I again see Mrs. Rosen as I enter the lobby. “New Yawk! New Yawk!” This is my last night here and again I have to hear this creature. Tomorrow morning we head off to Arlington outside of Dallas to see our niece, her husband, their two gorgeous children and my sister and brother-in-law. I can’t wait to leave this hotel and this woman. AP is having a grand old time. I am having thoughts of murder.
In the elevator I fume. This stinking rotten old bag! I am usually in control of my temper but I have noticed that once I hit 65 years old I tend to get a little grumpy. What the hell is with this witch, this miserable human being?
In the room I think of how much I hate her.
AP arrives and we are to go down to the “music sharing” (aka concert) where all the members who attended the camp will play together. There will be two groups playing – the “B” group that has the Beautiful AP and the “A” group that has Rosen the rabid Rottweiler.
She’s a bully. In my life I had one other bully, Sullivan. That was 55 years ago. I wrote about him in my book The Virgin Kiss. He was a massively strong and incredibly tough kid who hated me and when we played basketball in the schoolyard he always tried to hurt me. I was a star athlete and he was a miserable creep who scared the hell out of me.
Sullivan was always on me, egging me, pushing me, shoving me when I shot the ball, and I could tell he was waiting to hammer the crap out of me. In a fair fight I couldn’t beat Sullivan; no one in the school could. But I couldn’t take his bullying anymore and I had to do something.
In our next schoolyard basketball game I faked a jump shot, Sullivan jumped with the idea of blocking the shot, but instead of shooting at the basket, I shot the ball with all my might right into his face. He flipped down backwards, hit his head on the pavement, and I then landed on him and pummeled him, probably breaking his big red nose that was spurting blood, and I had him basically unconscious when I was pulled off him.
AP looked over at me and asked, “What are you smiling about?”
“Do you think there’s a sporting goods store nearby?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I was just thinking about when I was an athlete.”
But I now knew how I was going to handle Mrs. Rosen if she got on me again. I’d say dramatically so everyone could hear me, “Mrs. Rosen, you are a bully!”
The concert was fun and AP played wonderfully. The “A” team was excellent and the creepy Mrs. Rosen seemed to be a good musician and then I noticed a new musician entering the “A” team. She was introduced by the conductor as Mrs. Rosen’s daughter, maybe about 40 years old.
The woman looked somewhat tired, a little haggard, drained. With her was her son, a kid who seemed off. Since the “A” team was getting ready to play another piece I said to AP, “The Rosen daughter has a kid who really looks off.”
AP confirmed, “He’s on the spectrum.”
“Yeah, he’s off,” I said.
“We don’t use words such as off,” she said.
The kid was fiddling with a coloring book and kind of laughing. He may have been about 10 years old. No wonder Rosen’s daughter was drained. Dealing with an off kid – sorry, a kid on the spectrum – was one of the toughest jobs in the world, a job that never ended.
When the concert ended AP and I stayed to help the owners of the company clear the room of all the stuff they had brought. Mrs. Rosen and Rosen’s daughter helped too. We were the only ones who stayed to help out.
I wasn’t as angry with Mrs. Rosen as I had been at the start of the concert. I felt sorry for her daughter and I felt sorry for Mrs. Rosen…kind of.
AP whispered to me and nodded over at Mrs. Rosen across the room. “She lost her son about two months ago. He was about fifty years old.”
I looked over at Mrs. Rosen, bending, picking up a viola to bring to the front door. This woman’s daughter was drained; her grandkid was on the spectrum and she had recently lost her adult son.
And me? I was a damn baby because I had been teased. Really? Really? I had been upset by nothing at all, a few words by a sad old woman who was confronting some tough challenges. The anger drained out of me and I thought, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.