Accent

His accent was a muddle of working class neighborhoods. From whence such workers sprung was an indefinite geography, and no telling last name nor ethnic features spoiled that mystery, and no question was ever answered with the name of a place any could repeat. It was believed at one time that he hailed from one of the former Soviet blocs; there was just enough Eurasian shade on his lingo to seem probable. But he was so very English in his mannerisms, and he did so love pineapples, and these affectations seemed to ebb and flow with the seasons, as did his dialect.

It was a stewed gargle, a seemingly impossible way of talking if his agenda was to be understood, all the vocabulary splashing about in his mouth, heightened in his excitement to a near singing effluvium, incorporating onomatopoeic slashes to punctuate his point and, when the time called for it – though who rightly knew when that was except when he insisted – a pidgin of outdated American slang. To hear him lambast some unsuspecting student whose hesitant stride crossed his on the campus grounds, only to have him turn around and bid the child good day and that he’d “grok him later, hip to it,” well, it did cause confusion amongst the rest of the staff.

It seemed, as time went on, that the accent became heavier. I TA’d for the professor’s class for three semesters, you see, and so who better to marvel at the epicenter of this glottal jambalaya, and bear witness to its appealing strangeness. It was as if one heard the seed of a coherent voice tickling the roots of the professor’s wambling lectures, as if something had been planted years ago and, with judicious watering, generous fertilization, tending, care, a thick jive had flourished inside him.

There was nothing left for his students but to do the readings themselves, lest they fail at every exam. Even students recording his readings found themselves with nothing more than the hissing gibberish rarely encountered outside broken subwoofers. His accreditation was impeccable however and few students complained. They were cowed by his passion. And so they read.

The more tangled his tongue the more studious they became. Three semesters I watched this occur, as his speech unraveled, waxed and waned with the phases of the moon, the autumn wind, football tournaments. Towards the end he communicated almost entirely in explicit gesticulations and melodic ululations, and the students of those classes have gone on to receive Nobels, a Pulitzer, Tony awards, the list goes on…

The dean told me that the professor was born in a quiet suburb in Middle America and was educated in the same. Where he learned to teach, that’s a place that likely has no proper name.

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