I got stuck on drive-through in the mornings. Facing East, a single oak tree served as shade, the Spanish moss pulling its limbs to earth. It was a barrier against the rising sun. A barrier, until rays of light crept through holes in the canopy. Most of the time I was blinded–each customer a silhouette until my eyes adjusted. Fortunately, I got to speak with them first through the intercom. To get a grip on their tone. A feel for their mood. To buy a bit of time in preparation for neurotic regulars: those creatures of habit.
Most of the dialogue was simple; A quick exchange of words, of cash, of a small coffee.
Some, unnecessarily involved. Like the regular who drove a muted blue, Chrysler Fifth Avenue. The upholstery, weathered. Styrofoam cups littered his dash board. He was an adult mess, overzealous in his attempt to refine others, combing the scene to educate a fledgling at minor details. Once a week, I was his child pupil.
“Would you like anything on your croissant” I asked over the intercom?
“No, I would not.” He shot back. His tone an aristocratic affectation: “It’s qwa-saunt.”
‘Great. Please drive forward.’
Paying little attention to his correction, I handed him his order.
“It’s qwa-saunt.” He repeated.
“Please pronounce it correctly.”
“Cruh-sant?” I clarified, dumb founded.
“No, its qwa-saunt.”
“Ok, craw-sant.” With a southern drawl, I Intentionally mispronounced the word. The line of cars behind him curving around the building. Considering the morning rush, I had a valid excuse to not offer this pedantic Francophile my time.
“I’m not leaving until you pronounce the word correctly,” he barked.
“Cray-sant, you mean?” My sarcasm biting.
There I was, the uncultured kid who dropped beans in the grinder and pushed a button.
Kids man. We’re a terrible lot who speak an uncivilized language: a vile combination of slang strung together to communicate our alien pop-cultures.
I poked my torso out of the drive-through. Pointing at Mr. Marriam Webster, I shrugged my shoulders towards coffee induced gridlock.
One horn blew behind him. A second. A third. I watched as his right arm slowly reached down to the automatic gear shift. Craning his neck, he shot a last glance onto the window, his eyes locking on me in arrogant hopes of corrected pronunciation.
But I kept my mouth shut as his ancient car, belching a cloud of exhaust, pulled him away.
Was it a linguistic battle to the death? Hardly. Maybe just a subtle backlash to defend my perceived ignorance. “Craw-sant,” my battle cry. I felt empowered having repeated it several times. For that morning, I was the William Wallace of underachievers. My sword slicing arcane, grandiose, real world language. I chopped them into bits to feed my people, who then spat them out into expletives like “hell no!,” “dude!’, and “shit yes!”
On that morning I reigned victor, successfully defending us kids and our bastardized lexicon.