Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I once met a lady from Minsk . . .

This past weekend I worked around the clock, pretty much by myself, on a frustratingly complicated and exhaustively long and tedious upgrade. This had followed a long week of prep work, the technical dotting of 'i's' and the crossing of 't's'. By Sunday I was a zombie. The analytical hemisphere of my massive and handsome brain was all but burnt out, the creative side had been all but completely inert for more than a week.

I went back to work on Monday not feeling as out of it as I had the day before, but still not quite all there. I knew I needed to acknowledge other people, actually talk to them to help awaken the more atrophied parts of my noggin. In the elevator I was joined by a woman I’d seen around before but never really talked to. I knew from overhearing her on phone calls that she was European, Eastern European, my favorite kind. She smiled and mimed a ‘good morning’.

“Excuse me, are you from Russia?” I boldly asked.

“Yes” She said with a smile and a hint of the thick accent.

“Where in Russia?” I added. She looked at me with a rather baffled look.

“Minsk, Belarus.” She answered.

I gave her a scolding look. (Hint, Belarus is not in Russia, it has been its own country since 1990)

“I'm sorry, I find it easier to just say I am Russian, many Americans don’t know the difference.”

“Sounds remarkably efficient.” I responded. I understood since when people ask me where I came from I rarely say ‘Cadiz’, instead I say something like “Western Kentucky”, or “near Paducah.” Same reason, most Americans don’t know where Cadiz is either. When I lived on the east coast among mostly life-long east coasters, I'd just point toward the west and say "That way, but not quite as far as California."

“You know where it is, Minsk?” She happily asked.

“Well, I’ve never been there, but I know the maps, the region, the geography, quite well.”

She seemed intrigued, so I continued. “I was in the Air Force during the cold war, we knew where all the major cities in the region were, by heart.”

Her eyes popped open a little, but I was smiling so she didn’t scream. She finally smiled back, I knew she was probably too young to recall much other than the final flailing years of the U.S.S.R and probably didn’t relate to those tensions very well.

“Really?” she asked, more curious than anything.

“Nothing personal Ma’am. We were just watching, and listening, and watching some more, exactly as the Soviets were doing to us.”

She nodded, unoffended. I sensed she didn’t know how to contribute to the conversation. I broke the pause by asking her how long she’d been in the U.S.

“Eight years.”

“Well, you’re English is very, very good!” I lauded.

She shook her head and said “No, no, no, is not so good. My daughter, she goes to school here, she comes home and teaches me even more every day.”

“Well English is kind of a stupid language.” I returned.

“No, is not so stupid.” She paused and seemed to reflect for a couple of seconds. “It just doesn’t cover everything.”

Wow! I had to think about that simple, insightful, profound response. Our beautiful, patchwork language, pulled together from hundreds of disparate pieces and parts, honed almost aimlessly through centuries of trial and error, the language of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Hemingway and even Sponge-Bob ‘just doesn’t cover everything’. Who knew?

The elevator door opened and we stepped out and away in our different directions. It had worked though, the sleeping portions of my brain were now upright and dancing around in delight. For the first time in weeks, I was able to enjoy recreational thinking again.

She's right you know, it doesn’t cover everything. I can’t even come up with a second line for the start of a limerick that popped into my head moments later:

“I once met a lady from Minsk . . .”

Poets, help please?