I’m a writer. Yes. But this isn’t one of those clever metaphor posts — “Being a writer is like being a prostitute. . . ”
No, I was literally mistaken for a prostitute.
I’ve written about being hesitant to say “I’m a writer.” Embarrassed by this job that pulls in no money. Unable to say exactly what I do without sounding like I sit around all day. Just the general non-productivity of it all.
My own issues. I know I’m being an idiot. Recently, I found out just how non-embarrassed I should be.
My parents are to blame. They visited my husband and me in London. They left five years later. Not literally. I love my parents, but they slow down time. Like all of London is passing a massive collapsed matter, a black hole. Except that metaphor is rubbish because their presence also adds light. Light everywhere! “You need more light! You’re going to damage your eyes. I need more light; I can’t read this small print!”
Thanks to this light! I’ve seen how many wrinkles I have on my forehead. More than three. And how dirty our baseboards are.
My parents also brought, from America, a strange liquid. It’s Peach Mango Crystal Light Tea, and it’s the only thing they drink. It looks like a lab sample.
But most of all, my parents are to blame for me being mistaken for a prostitute. Partly.
It was partly my parents’ fault that I was mistaken for a prostitute.
They wanted to visit the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster. Places every tourist wants to visit, places I have visited more times than I have forehead wrinkles. But they are my parents. I love them. So I escorted them. I stayed in a pub, drinking, bemusing, observing life — things writers do. (Faulkner did a similar thing with his parents.)
We took the Tube to Parliament Square. I kissed their cheeks, begged them not to drink their urine drinks in public, sent them on their way.
I looked for a pub and found one easily since Westminster is the hub of UK government. I ordered a coffee – imagination food – and pulled out notebook, pen, and intellectual magazine. Accoutrements of creativity.
My writerish-ness was percolating.
In addition, I wore a modest — if not slightly jejune — dress patterned with teacups and teapots. I can appreciate whimsical child-like clothes, it unleashes my imagination. (Faulkner, ditto.) Besides, girlish glee was more than tempered by the New Yorker I pretended to read. And I wore eminently practical rainboots. Which I bought before moving here and wore for an entire month just in case puddles showed up and wanted me to jump in them.
(Sorry to be tedious, these details will become important in the not-too-distant future.)
In a bit, two women of an unknown vintage will sit themselves at the next table.
Brits complain that when Americans attempt a British accent, we always end up sounding Cockney. It’s true. It’s because we want to say, “Y’aawright, guvnor?” No idea what these words mean — are they words? We all want to say them. It’s how we imagine British people talk.
Just like “G’day mate! Put another shrimp on the Barbie” is how Australians talk and “It’s cold up here, eh?” sounds Canadian. Oh, and “Youa wanta spicy meataball?” — that’s Italian. We never imitate the French because no one pretends to be French.
Is this culturally insensitive? Yes. But accurate. Italy is literally abounding with people offering you meatballs. And Canada is cold. These are highly accurate portrayals of foreign cultures. (Unlike every non-US person who attempts an American accent and imitates George W. Bush. Americans do NOT ALL SOUND LIKE GEORGE W. BUSH. If they do, you’re at a convention of foreigners trying to sound American, or in West Texas.)
When Americans want to sound British, we talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Because until Downton Abbey came alone, this is what we thought ya’ll talked like.
Well . . . these two ladies sounded like Brits doing an impression of an American doing an impression of a Brit. Their Cockney accents were so over-the-top I thought they were tourist attractions.
The women chattered non-stop. I think they were chatting, they could have been talking to birds, for all I knew. One sounded like she had been sucking on a cigarette for the better half of a millennium and could dominate the baritone in her church choir. The other, same. They appeared 70 but could have been 30. Age elasticity is such a charming benefit of smoking.
I eavesdropped, of course, (hoping to overhear Y’aawright, guvnor?), but the novelty wore off, and I returned to writing. At last, I became saturated with inspiration and realized it was almost time to meet my parents.
I was meeting my parents in the pub next door. Yes, there are two pubs next to each other (see above re: Westminster and UK Government). Why I didn’t go here first . . . no idea. Variety? Artistic impulse? Yes, those. I’m a writer.
I ordered a beer, it being noon, and three steak pies. My parents would arrive within the hour, the meal within the half-hour. A principle of British eateries being if you don’t wait a half-hour for food, you don’t have what it takes to eat it. I got a look that said, “We survived the Blitz. You can wait,” every time I tried to expedite the process.
I had just settled in when, to my amazement, who should enter but the same two women!
They went to the bar and got drinks. They hitched up to their shirts and sat on the stools and kept chatting.
Once again, they were near, and once again, of course, I listened. I get some of my best material from day drinkers! This time it was more interesting (I’ll translate):
“You get a better class of person . . . the punters. Tourists.”
“I wouldn’t want that day job . . . all that sitting and waiting.”
“But they do dress funny. Mind you, they’d do a better job than Wellingtons. And them teacups.”
“I’d have never paid for that. Our Roger, he paid. He never heard the end of it!”
“Prozzies everywhere. I don’t know.”
They looked at me and — despite my jejune outfit and despite, clearly, being the kind of person who says jejune — gave me a diminishing once-over.
The words slowly fell into place like graceful snowflakes on a . . . HOLY SHIT! These nutters are talking about ME!
These crazy Cockneys think I’m a PROSTITUTE!
The fact that they could think that I sat in pubs wearing teacups and teapots and rain boots, hoping to attract men to pay me for sex, was ludicrous. I lost no time in ridding them of this notion.
“I’m waiting for my parents. They are at Westminster. We’re American. They are visiting, we’re having lunch. I’m reading the New Yorker. I’M A WRITER!”
That should do it. Drinks all around. Laughing it up with my new Cockney friends!
Except . . .
In my flummoxed state, I forgot I was American and wouldn’t you know . . . along comes Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins, and I start talking in the most horrendous Cockney accent since, well, Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins.
It wus ‘orrible.
“Im a sittin ere, wai’in for me parents, allright babs? Th’er at Parlement. I’m American. Th’re vis’tin ere, like, we’re ‘aving a kidney, reading the rag. Whatcha on about?! Y’aawright…..guvnor?”
I Dick Van Dyke’d these poor women. They were shocked. I was mocking them. Worse, I had done nothing to convince them I wasn’t a prostitute. Except now they probably thought I was cheap as well as easy.
They wanted nothing to do with me. They threw a few words my way, which I will not translate, and left.
I ordered more ale, stuck a pen in my hair (a universal “not a prostitute” sign), and my parents arrived.
“Oh good, you’re here! How was it? Are you OK?” Mom feeling guilt at leaving her child in a bar and relieved I had not been taken by Gypsies.
“Yes, funny thing, some ladies thought I was a pr…“ I stopped. No father wants to hear his daughter say “prostitute,” let alone announce she’s been mistaken for one.
“ . . . probably Canadian. They thought I was Canadian. I get that a lot, my Midwest accent. Everyone always thinks I’m Canadian!”
We ate our pies. They told me about Westminster. And the Churchill War Rooms. In their Canadian accents.
But first, “Can we move to the window seat? There’s more light.”
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