My conversation with my central Texas boat mechanic took place outside of what could optimistically be described as his shop. The building had recently been consumed by a fire so hot that it not only melted portions of the metal walls and frame but also several fiberglass boats parked outside over 20 yards away. Having no insurance of any kind, my mechanic tore-off the melted portion of the structure, boarded-up the windows and continued on as if nothing had happened (an approach that worked for just about everybody except those with melted boats who also had no insurance).
I preferred to have my boat conversations outside, where it didn’t smell like a campfire and there was slightly less broken glass on the ground. On this particular occasion I was picking up my boat so a group of friends visiting from Canada and I could take it out on the nearby lake. They stood nearby whilst I wrapped things up with the mechanic and got the boat hitched to my truck.
When we all got in my truck to drive away one of my Canadian friends started giggling.
“Was that English?”
I was puzzled. “Yeah, why?”
There was more giggling, and then another friend from the land of hockey and bacon volunteered, “Towards the end you sounded just like your mechanic.”
That comment, however true, felt like a low blow. Wasn’t I the guy who made fun of Madonna for: 1) temporarily destroying Guy Ritchie’s career, and, more importantly, 2) affecting a British accent for roughly a decade even though she’s from Michigan? I hadn’t yet ruined anyone’s career, but was I otherwise guilty of pulling a Madonna?
This episode stuck with me. I now proactively listen to my speech to attempt to head-off any Madonna-like tendencies. Just last week I gave myself an “atta-boy” when a women I’d just met told me I had a Colorado accent. Truth-be-told there is no such thing as a Colorado accent but I was born there, and, more importantly, I hadn’t switched to New Jersey mode (where she was from) so I took it as a compliment.
The fact that I can curb my innate desire to involuntarily blend-in would be a source of pride were not for the fact that I am apparently unable to muster a reasonable Spanish accent no matter how hard I try. I’d like to sound like I hadn’t just stepped off the plane/boat. I’d also relish the opportunity to avoid the many times a day when a local person I’m speaking with angles their head, squints at my pronunciation and again asks, “Que?” I am, I fear, damaged goods on the language front.
Lacking any other option, I will continue my quest to one day sound like someone that has at least visited Latin America a few times whilst simultaneously protecting my Rocky Mountain orientation for exchanges in English. Time will tell. It took a few years for Guy Ritchie to shake off the malaise of Madonna, maybe there’s still hope for my accent in my second act.