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Friday, January 21, 2011

Meetings with Annoying Men

Poor Winnie - Part 1

He was one of the most annoying people I have ever met - the mold for the New Yorker everyone loves to hate. Every human descriptive with "self" as a preface could easily apply. I was introduced by a friend and learned that He was a translator for the United Nations - a perfect job for someone who wants professional tools to cut others with precision. A person like this will, however, need a constant audience to fan his ego and will likely run through unsuspecting victims rather quickly. I was one of them.

He believed everything had a price and it could be quantified. One only needed to ascertain whether the value of a thing or proposition was worth the price to any given person. His favorite question to me was always "How much is it worth to you?"

He lived on the Upper East Side. I visited His apartment once. On a tour of His home, every furnishing was pointed out and named, always prefaced by the brand or designer. I was to know that the ordinary or inexpensive did not belong here.

He had an outdoor garden (of course). It was here that I saw a moment of merit when He got into an argument over grammar with His close friend, also a translator for the UN. At one point, His friend, furious, declared that you absolutely could not use words in a particular way. He grabbed a paper napkin and began diagramming the sentence, something I had not seen since grade school. I don't remember the outcome, but it did not involve the brand or cost of the napkin or pen - the weaponry of the argument.

At that time in New York City, nothing to me conferred status more than gaining admittance to the various hot clubs, places like the Mudd Club, Xenon and the most well known, Studio 54. These places had arbitrary admission policies and potential admitees were chosen from the throngs outside the door, completely at the whim of the bouncer and his criteria.

On one occasion, I became extremely excited to learn that He was a regular at Studio 54. When I asked about the prospect of getting in, He asked what it was worth to me. $10? $20? He also surveyed my appearance, knowing full well that I would be a challenge.

A large number of us made an excursion to Studio 54 with Him. I recall very little except carrying a crumpled bill in my sweaty hand and following Him in a line with the others like victims of river blindness. At one point He looked back and told me to run my fingers through my hair and "look rich." I think He sensed the futility of getting our motley crew in before the bouncer rejected us, telling Him there were just too many to admit to the club. It did appear, however, that He did have rapport and clout with the bouncer. We failed nonetheless.

In my few brief encounters, I did take away one thing of value and that is about restaurants - dining is a business transaction. He had no tolerance for those restaurants that had menus without prices (such places do exist) or the common practice of waiters reciting specials without prices. You have the right to know the prices and asking is not improper. The management has already priced the offerings, so why hide it from the customer? I now never hesitate to ask a waiter the price of any special(s) I am interested in.

But as annoying as He was, I was to meet much worse in what is one of the finest (and most mysterious) restaurants in New York City and the waitress that had to serve him. My dining companion and I felt so badly for her. See why in Part 2 that we felt and said Poor Winnie :)


Anonymous said...

Was he actually an interpreter? There was a letter to "All Things Considered" on NPR yesterday from an interpreter for calling one who orally interprets from one language to another a translator. Translation is written, interpretation is oral.


Brian Dubé said...

I have been made aware of the difference by one of our regular readers who once corrected me when I referred to him as an interpreter and he is a translator. In this case, I am honestly not sure, but I thought he was a translator.

know-it-all said...

Translators and interpreters, we tend to see and analyse language in a different way, which constantly annoys all those other people who are not obsessed with it. I diagram sentences too, and in doing so have caused more than a few of my relatives and friends to doze off in the middle of dinner. Nevertheless, not all of us are annoying, I hope you know that!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait till part 2.. ^_^

Will said...

I'm a grad student in linguistics and an English teacher and I can tell you that grammar is essentially a series of conventions, and no more. The idea that there are hard-and-fast reliable rules to the language that can be decreed from "the top" is simply nonsense. Language is a creative activity, and words and grammar patterns are constantly being created and changed by regular people every day. Even the traditional terms noun, verb, etc. are very unreliable when extended to the language as a whole. Any rule you care to name is a construct of people's language use over time, a temporary trend, and will only last until enough people use a word or structure differently that the previous usage sounds wrong. People who argue that this or that sentence is "correct" should relax, and put the pen and napkin away. Correctness is a function of frequency, so it doesn't matter that I get upset when people "misuse" the terms beg the question or disinterested. These people are simply changing the understood meaning from previous meanings that didn't catch on, as it is their right to do. If I tried to correct them, I'd be trying to stop a river with a cup. Still, I can't resist trying to share these insights with people at the drop of a hat, so I guess I'm feeding my own inner Cliff Clavin. Good work with the blog, Brian. I've been reading every morning for the past two years (and I do read the archives).

Brian Dubé said...

Thanks Will! It would have been great to see you that night in the garden with the sentence diagrammer.

Russell Claxton said...

You know, I've come to the conclusion that most people who are notably obnoxious have diagnosable personality disorders.

The more you see of the behavior, the less clear it becomes whether it's tragic, pathetic or some of both.

Sue said...

Oh my gosh, Brian, I remember that night and that comment! How funny! I do remember actually getting in once soon after that. I think you were there too, weren't you?

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - Wow. I never got into Studio 54. How did u manage that?

Sue said...

Uhm, not so sure I remember. Someone I knew must have known someone who knew someone who....oh heck, all I can remember is being there and dancing and feeling as though I didn't fit in with the people there, who all seemed to be people that I wouldn't want to hang out with anyway.

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - seems always the case with these "exlcusive" clubs - they are ften a big disappointment once inside. Getting in is the only thing that is interesting.

Unapologetically Mundane said...

Funny–I swear I eat out a lot, and the first time I can remember ever hearing the price of a special was this weekend at Pastis. I'm always too embarrassed to ask and assume they're priced similarly to the rest of the menu, but I'm still not apt to order them for that reason. You're a brave man.

Brian Dubé said...

Unapologetically Mundane - Another useful thing to remember is that in nearly all cases, the staff in a high end restaurant or retailer is a person of ordinary means, often unable to afford the food or items in the place they work. So there is a certain amount of posturing. If you are real and direct with them, you will often find them sympathetic with concerns you may have over cost.