Having been born and reared in the Midwest, I was briefly befuddled by an exchange between two older Southern gentlemen in the post office the other day.
I recognized one of them as a distinguished, retired physician. His equally white-haired companion wore seasonal resort clothes: plaid golf pants and a pale, zip-up sport jacket of a cut that hasn't changed since James Dean wore a red one in the 1950s. The golfer was, to all appearances, recounting his recent vacation in Ireland and a particularly rude caddy there. The story escalated in four movements, fitted out with details, gestures and the mildest of expletives. Boiled down to its crude essence, the script went like this:
American tourist: Why do you keep looking at your watch?
Irish caddy: It's not a watch, it's a compass.
Tourist: [deep in the woods] This is the worst course I've ever seen.
Caddy: You left the course two hours ago.
Tourist: You see that pond over there? I'm going to go drown myself in it.
Caddy: You couldn't hold your head down long enough.
Tourist: You must be the worst caddy in the world.
Caddy: No sir, that would be too much of a coincidence.
The whole room was within earshot, but nobody else was chuckling. I tried to suppress mine, assuming this man's vacation snafu might call for genuine discretion. His straight man wasn't helping me decipher truth from tall tale with his body language. The retired doctor didn't smile, just bowed slightly forward at the waist, interjecting "He was rude, was he?" at the appropriate moment. It all went down with such a natural rhythm, my first instinct was to take the narrative at face.
Perhaps it was my eagerness to believe in the existence of such a quick-witted, gob smacking Irishman. I don't speak golf, so I'm not familiar with the set pieces of the humor genre. Once I wrote it down, I saw the beauty of the thing. What I had witnessed was a prime example of Southern leg pulling.
If people who read other people's diaries get what they deserve, the same might be said for scalawags eavesdropping in public. I never did speak golf, and apparently, 15 years living below the Mason-Dixon hasn't taught me to speak Southern, either.