To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks. — Ben Jonson
"I think we should hit Whole Foods first, then Fry’s, and then Iowa Meat Farms,” I said. “That way we can make one big loop — I hate to backtrack.”
“That works fine,” David said. “The thing is, we don’t need anything perishable at Whole Foods — just figs for my sauce; they’ll hold up fine in the car.”
“Oh, is that the thing?” I teased.
“Yes, that is the thing,” David said.
“Seriously, though.” I paused to pay attention to oncoming traffic and waited until I turned onto Robinson before continuing. “I mean, here’s the thing — I’ve been saying that a lot, too. ‘The thing is?’ I don’t really remember us saying it before, but now we start every other sentence with it. We must have picked it up from someone. Think... Who could it be?”
“No, his thing is ‘Here’s the deal,’” I said. “Oh, wait, I know.”
“Josue...,” David said accusatorily, like Seinfeld saying “Newman...” I smiled in appreciation of David’s telepathic ability.
In the knowing, raised-brow lull that followed, we made a silent pact to resent our friend Josue for the duration of the ride. But after we’d collected our figs and were on the freeway heading to Fry’s, my feelings of resentment had faded, and all that was left was a vague impression of Josue — his name like the chorus to some long-forgotten song. This is probably why, as we were leaving the electronics store, I turned to David and said, “Hey, isn’t Rosa out of town? We should call Josue and see if he wants to have dinner with us.”
“That’s a good idea,” David said. “I was just thinking about him.”
It wasn’t until we were seated at the bar at Kensington Grill, sharing wine with Joe the Sommelier and small plates with each other, that I suddenly remembered my irritation with our compadre. I cut him off in the middle of his story about how my dad had helped him with his booth at ArtWalk.
“Yo, Josue, you’ve got us both saying ‘the thing is’ all the time now.”
Josue stared at me for a moment before his puzzled expression broke into a smile. “You’re so funny, Barb,” he said.
“I’m being serious — you just said it three times during your story. We’ve already picked up your trademark head-nod.” I demonstrated the gesture. “Now you’ve also got us repeating your catchphrase, just like David with ‘look.’”
Josue laughed. “You do say that all the time,” he said to David.
“You guys are, like, as bad as, like, Valley Girls,” I said. “I’m so glad I don’t do that.”
Josue took a bite of his “mac ’n’ shrooms” and looked at me intently. When he’d finished chewing, he said, “Yes, you do. You say, ‘What the fuck?’ and now, because of you, I’ve started saying it, too.”
“I don’t say that,” I said, laughing and shaking my head at David, as if to say, “Can you believe this guy?”
David had a curious look on his face. “Yeah, you do say that a lot,” he said. I glared at him. Judas... “Just wait, when you say it again we’ll point it out to you,” he added. “By the way, you’re both right: I do say ‘look’ all the time. It’s funny — the phrases we use are reflective of us as people. I take strong, opinionated positions, so I say, ‘Look, let me outline it for you.’”
“That makes no sense — what’s Josue’s ‘thing,’ huh? And, though I’m not admitting I say it, what would my alleged phrase say about me? Wait, don’t answer that.”
“Look, I’m just saying —”
“Ha! Look,” I mocked. David rolled his eyes and looked to Josue for help.
“I think I know what he means,” Josue said. “The thing is —”
“Ha!” I snorted. “You guys can’t not say it.”
With a shrug, David and Josue gave up and Josue went back to telling his story. As he spoke and we listened, it was impossible not to wince each time he uttered his phrase or David’s.
It was 20 minutes later, when Joe informed me that one of my favored wines had been removed from the list, that I uttered, “What the fuck, man?” It came out as a whine. David and Josue assaulted me with smug glances. I was surprised — not because I’d spoken the words but because of how natural they’d felt coming out of my mouth, which could only mean that the guys were right. Though David has often accused me of talking like a sailor, I’d somehow remained oblivious of the frequency with which I blurted crude words. Now it was disconcerting to imagine recent social scenarios in which I might have unleashed them.
At first, I was chastened by this new awareness. But then my survival instincts kicked in and I became defensive. This time, it was David I interrupted. “So what if I say WTF every now and then? It’s better than ‘hon.’ Remember that? You hated that.” In my early 20s, I’d picked up the habit of using the shortened version of “honey” from one of my New York aunts.
David grimaced at the sound of the word.
“It wasn’t hard to break the habit when every time I said it you’d make that face,” I said. It only then occurred to me that David had used negative operant conditioning to excise the word from my vocabulary. I wondered in what other ways I’d been modified.
“Look,” David said, his d’oh-like expression signaling that the word had slipped out. “Not meanly, but you sounded like an old lady when you said that.”
“Not meanly?” I repeated. David and I burst into laughter. Josue waited patiently for us to stop giggling long enough to explain the joke to him. “He got that from my sisters,” I said. “They preface offensive statements with ‘not meanly,’ as if that somehow absolves them of saying something that is obviously malicious. Like, ‘Not meanly, but she’s kind of dumb.’”
A shared reticence fell over us — anything we said at that point was subject to scrutiny. Eventually, after a few more sips of wine and many minutes of watching the group on the other side of the bar, I turned toward the guys. “So what if we’ve got our catchphrases? It’s part of talking.” With this, David and Josue seemed to relax a bit. “It’s like Jane always says: at the end of the day, it is what it is.”