by Andy Weddington
Friday, 25 November 2011
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
George Bernard Shaw
There's a line I regularly use as intro when replying to goofy emails and weighing in, usually with humor, on other's facebook posts--"I don't make this stuff up...".
Frankly, I've found I can turn just about anything in life into a short story. All I have to do is step into the public arena and within minutes, every single time, something seen or heard will trigger an idea. Hence, there's no call for me to make anything up. Besides, I couldn't possibly make up all the peculiar stuff people do. No way.
Since it's the day after Thanksgiving, a light short story about a funny thing, an encounter, that happened at a counter, Wednesday morning.
But first a little background...
A few days earlier I received an email inquiry about the availability of a painting. The sender asked about "While You're Away...". I knew the painting instantly but sent a short note back with an attached image of "Baby, While You're Away Even the Tomatoes Turn Blue" (short title "Blue Tomatoes") to confirm. A day later came response, "That's the one, I like it a lot." And they provided a shipping address.
Early Wednesday morning, but not before coffee, I crated the painting. Before departing for the post office, I measured and roughly weighed the bulky package then entered the figures into a calculator on the post office's website (http://www.usps.com/) to confirm cost.
At the post office, after completing a form for customs--which I did correctly on the third try--and one for express mail, I joined the short queue. The clerk who waited on me has been working the counter for as long as we've lived in the area (approaching 10 years) and who knows how many transactions we've completed, but numerous ones, without hiccup. I handed him the lightweight crate and a green post-it with the dimensions and said I thought it weighed less than five pounds but wasn't certain--so he placed it on the scale resting on the counter between him and me.
I looked at the clerk--who speaks fluent English, I think as a second (or more) language--and asked, "What's the weight?" Clerk, "What?" Me, "The weight, what's the weight?" Clerk, "Sorry, are you asking which way?" Me, "No, no, the w-e-i-g-h-t (spelling the word slowly), what's the weight?" Clerk still looking puzzled, "It's about 3 to 5 business days." At this point I'm beginning to question my English--southern accent and all, and wondering why we're not communicating. Me, trying to think of another way to ask the question, "No, no, how heavy is the package?" Still nothing is registering with the clerk.
Then for some odd reason and though I'm not conversant, the Swedish word for weight--"vikt"--came to mind. At least I was fairly certainly that was the right word. As I was about to say it, another clerk overhearing the miscommunication piped in, "Weight, he wants to know how much it weighs." Finally, a ray of light. Clerk, "Oh, pardon, sorry sir, it's four pounds. And twelve ounces." And then he smiled. Who knows what had been on his mind. He didn't offer.
We laughed a little. It was funny. I thought I heard a few others in the queue within earshot chuckle, too.
Business complete and as I turned to leave I paused, turned back, and remarked I'd better brush up on my English. The clerk laughed and again apologized. Customers in the queue who'd heard the entire exchange laughed, too.
The package is on it's way to Sweden. Maybe that's why. I have no idea. The clerk is definitely not Swedish so I'm glad I didn't say "vikt" for it'd have only made for further confusion.
Arriving home, my wife--conversant in Swedish, confirmed "vikt" was the right word.
In case you care, "Bla (with a circle over the 'a'--pronounced "blue") Tomater" is Swedish for "Blue Tomatoes."
As for the painting's catchy title, I learned from Frederic Remington that wonderful titles can make paintings oh so much more interesting. Paintings that come to mind: "A Dash for the Timber" (cowboys on horses going a full throttle fleeing from chasing indians with guns blazing); "A Fight for the Waterhole" (a few cowboys encircling a small waterhole protecting from raiders--life or death); and "An Argument with the Town Marshall" (cowboys and the law not seeing eye to eye). Yes, titles can add intrigue.
And so it is with, "Baby, While You're Away Even the Tomatoes Turn Blue."
As does the new owner--I like it, too. And I'm going to miss that painting, but have a grand story to remember it by.
I don't make this stuff up! Absolutely not. There's no need to.
By mid-week next, "Baby, While You're Away Even the Tomatoes Turn Blue" (posted left) will be gracing a wall and brightening a home in Sweden. So much the better that it's winter in Scandinavia. "Bla Tomaters" has a new home.