Toluca Gringa

8,700 feet does more than simply turn you into a cheap date

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Citizen's Arrest

Not long ago, a truck driver with a national hauling license was given a ticket because the police officer claimed that the driver’s English wasn’t up to snuff. The driver had long ago passed the test to qualify for a national license (which requires an English proficiency test) but evidently this one cop couldn’t or simply didn’t want to understand the guy’s English. I think the article said the fine was $500. Hopefully that makes you say, “huh?” in one way or another. So, by this logic, if a driver is native speaking but has a speech impediment, to be fair, he should receive the same citation. It’s one person who claims not to understand another. How is this based on the law? Those of us who have traveled or taught English or simply made an effort to have acquaintances that don’t look like the cast of 90210 or Friends are used to English varieties. We’d all understand this driver and if it took a repeated utterance or two, well so be it. I have a native speaking friend who talks like he has Junior Mints squirreled away in his cheeks. I’m lucky if I understand him after three takes.
Anyway, not long after I read about this poor driver, I was coming back from Mexico waiting in line at the Homeland Security, which was much more efficient back in the day when we just called it immigration. The guy in front of me, although he seemed well-traveled, obviously had no prior exposure to a native Texan. The officer said (exactly, I’m not joking):
“You ain’t brining no food or meat in with ya, are ya?”
And literally every syllable was pushed through his nose without moving his lips. It was as if he were practicing a ventriloquist act and the doll was from the back forty, the kind of marionette who sits on the porch and talks about how foreigners are takin’ our jobs and Bush is a good guy because he’s protectin’ the country, and all the while he’s got a wad of dip between his cheek and gums that drips sublimely down the corner of his mouth and some cute little gal chewin’ on a straw with two pony tails and several missing teeth thinks that’s cute and funny and clever.
So, that’s the Homeland Security officer, if he were a puppeteer practicing for a ventriloquist act. The guy ahead of me asked him to repeat the phrase, and the officer did. One more time and the northerner got it and the officer waved him on, which may or may not have included a good ole boy nod.
So, let’s get this straight here:
A truck driver who is communicating with his brethren via CB, but happens to do so with a non-native accent receives a ticket for 500 bucks. However, the guy who is protecting our (ahem) “homeland” can slaughter his mother tongue as he greets everyone in an official capacity, in a position that is meant to evoke a sense of protection and a certain level of, let’s say, schoolin’.
I work with first semester English language learners who, at the very least, have mastered double negatives. This guy was like Gomer Pyle after a bad acid trip. So, I’ve decided to make my own citations, which I will issue in the form of a citizen’s arrest the next time I am faced with one of these Jeff Foxworthy-loving characters. It will look something like this:
Offense: Public display of dumbassery

And that last bit will already be filled in because everyone will essentially have committed the same offense.
The next person to receive the citation will be a girl working at the Lewisville, Texas Target store. I experienced her a few days later. I had been talking on the phone as I approached the check-out, so I told my friend I would call her back. The girl working the register, now that I mention it, was the exact same girl I was talking about before, minus the straw in her mouth. I do remember a great deal of hair twirling, though. So, she began a conversation that went like this:
Girl: Who was that?
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: Who was that you were talkin’ to? Was it your husband?
Me: [contorted, confused face; taken aback] Um, no, actually it was Dick Cheney. I gave him my cell phone number and he won’t stop calling me.
Girl: [lowered brow of concern] Aw, man. That sucks.

Yes, it really did suck. That’s something we could all agree upon. It sucks that a young adult actually believed me when I told her that I was talking to the Vice President of the United States of America and that he called me way too much. Then I got to thinking that Dick Cheney’s diction is not winning any prizes either, so that would probably be a frustrating phone call filled with, “Excuse me Mr. Vice President, I didn’t get that last part.” And he definitely strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn’t like to repeat himself.