Anyone who ever rides the New York City subway has encountered the barrage of people asking for food, money, a moment of your time, who knows what. Indeed, probably anyone who has ever ridden public transport in any major metropolitan city has encountered this. And, no doubt, the majority of these people asking for help are very much in need.
This is not about that. This is about what I hear.
The other day, for example, I was on the L Train from Brooklyn into Manhattan when a fellow started asking for change. Anything would do, he said. And I heard him request “pickles, pennies, limes.” And I felt confused. Pickles? Maybe. Limes? Really? I was also hungry and thinking suddenly that I might like to have a pickle, so why wouldn’t he?
As I was transferring trains at Union Square, of course, it hit me. He hadn’t said “pickles” or “limes” at all; he’d most certainly said “nickels” and “dimes” but some days are like that. I heard pickles. I heard limes. Suddenly I wanted a pastrami sandwich and a margarita. And it reminded me of when I first moved to New York some twelve years ago.
Now, I must preface that immediately before moving to New York City, I’d spent seven years living in French-speaking countries – Switzerland and Belgium, to be specific – and so even though I am a native English-speaking American, I had a bit of readjusting to do. Once I had settled into an apartment that early January in 2003, I started listening to the local radio each morning to get myself into the swing of things.
They’d broadcast the weather and any news updates and then they’d make the strangest announcement of all that took me – no joking – weeks to understand.
“The proteins were off last night.” Proteins? What about the carbs? How about those lipids? I was so out of touch with American culture that I was truly baffled. Only after the Super Bowl came and went that year and probably, really only after spring training started, did it register that all along they were saying “The Pro Teams,” in reference to professional sports. “The Pro Teams were off last night,” as in they had no scores to report.
Normally I have excellent hearing, but sometimes I just don’t quite get it. Blame it on whatever you’d like, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Not the proteins, the pickles or the limes.