Monday, November 28, 2011

Prevaricator, Me
By Michael

I'm not working only on the boat, I'm also working
on my appearance--going for the Dan Haggerty meets
Merlin Olsen look. The necklace was my birthday
gift from Frances. It has since fallen apart and
she has no interest in reconstructing it. (This is
okay by me as I don't think Dan Haggerty
wore a necklace.) 
I jumped up when he passed, “Senor!”

The slight, dark-skinned old man pulled over and stopped his cargo trike. I walked over and asked what flavors of ice cream he had. I ordered chocolate, one scoop. He held up a small plastic cup and said something. I nodded to indicate, “Yep, that’ll be fine.” He pushed it toward me more insistently and I realized he had asked me to hold the cup; he had only one arm and needed it free to scoop the homemade ice cream from his crude cooler.
His parting words to me were in English—clear, slow and deliberate: “Where—are—you—from?”

“Los Estados Unidos,” I said. He nodded seriously. I said goodbye and walked back to sit on the curb in front of the machine shop (the one building my new stainless steel water tanks), in an off-the-beaten-track part of Puerto Vallarta. My ice cream was already gone when he rode up to me.

He got off his bike and sat next to me, urgently thumbing through an English grammar book, written in Spanish. I welcomed the distraction as I was killing time. It took him quite a while, about two minutes, before he found the page he was looking for. I was eager to be the hero; he couldn’t possibly know that on this day, on this dusty little Mexican street, he’d sold ice cream to an English major who relishes talk of language and grammar.
I studied the page he had open, trying to anticipate his question. It looked like verb tense instruction.

“What—does—this—mean?” He pressed his thumb hard onto the page, underscoring a line of words in bold face, the same word in several tenses: nonplus, nonplused, nonplusses, nonplussing.
I felt a flush of panic. I smiled and nodded reassuringly, in spite of myself. I knew his question had nothing to do with grammar, but I started to answer a grammar question, hopefully. “Esta palabra aqui esta en muchas formas, para indica el tiempo, como futuro, presente, pasado, …”

“Si, si, claro…but—what—does—this—word—mean—nonplus?”

I’d been racking my brain for the past 30 seconds trying to answer the same question. I’ve read the word hundreds of times, probably understanding the context, but never the exact meaning. What a good word this was, nonplus, and I’d never made it my own. And I fancy myself a writer?
I don’t really know why what happened next, happened. But I began to define this word to the ice cream salesman in a desperate hope that in doing so, the meaning would somehow make itself known to me.

“Um, ok. Es como sorpresa, pero mal. Es como el siento de la persona cuando hay una sorpresa mal, pero la persona no esta enojado.”
The ice cream salesman asked for an example. I spoke and pantomimed one in Spanish, a lame example to match my completely incorrect definition, and he carefully repeated his understanding in English.

“I—ride—my—bicycle—on—the—street—and—lady—jump—in—front—of—me—and—a—big—surprise—and—I—turn—quick—and—I—not—happy—but—I—not—mad.   I—nonplused?”

Did I just say that?
While I really think I believed I could somehow divine a definition for that word as I spoke, it is pretty shameful that I didn’t retract at some point.


And that is it, that is the way it went down. Utterly nonplused, I lied to an elderly, disabled street vendor, probably a poet in his spare time, working hard to translate his work into English. Pretty shameful because he couldn’t possibly know that on this day, on this dusty little Mexican street, he’d sold ice cream to an English major who relishes talk of language and grammar and who doesn't really know the meaning of a common English word.

After touring Bumfuzzle a couple weeks back, we played
in one of the pools in Paradise. The girls enjoyed them-
selves like nobody's business. This is Frances zipping
down a slide, for the 25th time.

After teaching myself to whip a line, I quickly did a half-dozen more.
Then I passed on my new-found knowledge to Windy. Next we need
to learn to splice.


  1. When you get ready to learn to splice, forgo the fancy fid sets and get yourself some hollow aluminum knitting needles in various sizes and cut them with a hack saw or tubing cutter. They work great and chances are that you or someone you know already have a box full of them somewhere.

    S/V Kintala

  2. So tell me about the beard project . . .

  3. That is too weird. I just used nonplussed in a blog post tonight and even went so far as to double check with the dictionary that I was using it correctly. Then not five minutes later I was reading your post. Seriously. What are the odds?

  4. Michael,
    Always like your posts...

    Being Canadian, my Spanish is non-existent, but from what I can tell your definition isn't that bad..
    Oxford Dictionary says...

    1 so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react:Henry looked completely nonplussed
    2 North American informal not disconcerted; unperturbed.


    In standard use nonplussed means ‘surprised and confused’, as in she was nonplussed at his eagerness to help out. In North American English a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’—more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning—as in he was clearly trying to appear nonplussed. This new use probably arose on the assumption that non- was the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning. It is not considered part of standard English.

  5. Mike - would you have been nonplussed if the old gentleman had tossed a few pesos in your sombraro and told you to get a shave and a haircut? I cracked up when I saw your grizzled visage! Also, it's kind of strange for a vegitarian to be wearing a McDonald's necklace.........


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