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Letters From the Editor

I Am a Pompous Twit

I met Paul Ford for drinks a week ago. We sat in the backyard at Iona, an Irish pub in Brooklyn, where they have a ping-pong table set up under a tree and a few beat-up iron and lumber tables. We both drank beer. For an hour, Paul and I talked about books and writing, movies, the internet, how to handle stalkers, making films with The Flaming Lips. I told him Andrew and I were making some minor adjustments to the site, adding this letters column to refresh the site’s voice.

I told him, ‘I’m basically trying to sound like a pompous twit.’ He laughed and slapped the table. Paul, a large man, nearly tipped the damn thing over. Whether he found it funny because I was trying to sound like a twit (and possibly sounded more so by admitting to extra effort) or because it’s a decent joke, since I’m nothing like a twit, I don’t know.

Later, he asked me about a new shirt cuff-style he had seen on men in business meetings. I knew exactly what he was talking about and explained to him the details. (Cuffs that are folded back on themselves in a creased triangular-like shape; see Sean Connery in From Russia With Love.) Then it struck me, post-advising, am I really a pompous twit? Is it possible that my web-writing has tapped into an otherwise unnoticed voice in my head, one that is petty and judgmental, and capable of hating Wilco? As I thought about it, a few points in my offense came to mind.

Point: My favorite character in The Razor’s Edge is Uncle Eliot, the social-climbing bedridden snob, a Proust without his poetry, an Uncle Monty without his burglary. Better point: I refer to The Razor’s Edge without explaining that it’s a novel by Somerset Maugham, to Proust without explaining he’s a French novelist that spent a lot of time in bed, and to Uncle Monty, a sexually-frustrated character in the film Withanil & I who mourns his lost chances at playing Hamlet and his inability to bugger Paul McGann. Notice, even the references are pompous.

Point: I always mispronounce people’s, and especially authors’, names. Not easy ones, but tongue-twisters: Maugham, Nabokov, Waugh (there are many more). My girlfriend corrects me, but is surprised when I don’t adopt her pronunciation. She’s nearly always right, and I’m nearly always wrong and so concede, rightly, that she’s strung the syllables together correctly, but I can’t for the life of me get past my first malformations. I.e., rather than pronouncing someone else’s name the right way, I pronounce it my way.

Point: I mimic strangers’ accents. All the time. In front of them, behind them, right to their face. Not as a joke, but a personal tic that I become embarrassingly aware of half-way through a sentence.

To thank my Polish dry cleaner, I usually say something like, ‘Okaaaay, dees ees goot. Thanks, thanks. Have a goot one." I am not Polish, and my normal speaking voice sounds much more like Peter Jennings than Lech Walesa, but the dry cleaner is unfazed, apparently not noticing that I leave, blushing, still mumbling an ugly version of how he speaks.

Then again, my accent may be so distorted he just thinks I’m crazy, or tongueless.

It gets much worse in other countries. England, as you can guess, was a disaster. I was there with my girlfriend and her family last Spring and there wasn’t an exchange, anywhere, when I didn’t try to work in some new slang. Someone was tired, they were a winge-er. People slow in the tube station could toss off. My girlfriend would admonish me, and honestly, I felt ashamed, but I couldn’t stop. At dinner, in a museum, all it took was one innocent Brit to say something a bit queer and I was off on a ‘Pip pip, tra-la-la, look! there’s some paintings from the re-nay-sance...’

The same happened the summer before in Italy where I was teaching, ciao-ing everyone I met. In my eyes, I was Marcello, waving from my convertible. To my students, I was the obnoxious American I had told them to avoid becoming.

The worst part is, all of my accents are crude and are barely recognizable for their nationality. After a few sentences, each degrades to an Irish/Jamaican trill that sounds like a creepy leprechaun trying to get you high.

Fine. Only a few points, but it’s quite possible that I am both a twit and a pompous one. I had some counter-points lined up in my defense, but I remembered there is an enormous drawing of my head to the right of this letter. Consider for a moment, not just a photo, but a drawing, which means I commissioned an artist to do a portrait of me, and then pasted it next to my own writing. (In my defense, all of the site’s writers have portraits.) This could be read as: 1) If my writing is horrible, then look at the picture and notice how handsome I am, 2) If my picture doesn’t appeal to you, don’t you find me charming and smart by what I’ve written and therefore looks don’t matter?, or 3) If neither my picture nor my writing pleases you, then you must feel awfully bad, as I have so little going for me.

Pompous? Definitely. Twittish, yes. Hopefully Paul is laughing.

Your friend,
Rosecrans

biopic

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). His nonfiction appears in a variety of magazines, mostly GQ. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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