They’re talking in tongues again.
I have been in this meeting for 30 minutes and have managed to absorb only two things: One, many of us have not had enough coffee for such goings-on; and Two, I’m not as bright as I think I am.
The first one I knew.
The second one? Well, frankly, I’m shocked.
I sit at my desk afterwards, trying to take in this latest discovery. I mean, look at me, with the straight spine, with the eyeglasses and the mostly-straight teeth! Do I not look intelligent to you?
Have I been fooling myself all these years?
“You look,” she says, “bewildered.”
I look up at my boss, try to wipe the bewilderment from my face. “Do I?”
I consider this. Am I okay?
I decide that I am not.
“Can I help?” she says.
I consider this. “Sometimes,” I say, “I work side jobs, serving at banquets. One of the places I work, the clientele is overwhelmingly Lebanese and they speak a multitude of different languages there. So one day, a good hour or more after dinner service, a new man joins one of the tables. Another man at the table waves me over – a very handsome man! – and asks me if I can round up a plate of food for the newcomer. I tell him I’ll do what I can, but that the kitchen is already closing. “Oh, well,” the handsome man says to me, ”Do you speak Arabic?” I tell him, "La'a. Ana a’asef’, which is, of course, Arabic for ‘no, I’m sorry’.”
Stacy gives me a look. I shrug.
I can also ask for the ashtray in Russian, but I don’t like to brag.
“Anyway,” I say, “the handsome man says a phrase in Arabic and then looks at me expectantly. I’ve exhausted my Arabic, however, in that one little phrase. ‘Can you say this?’ he says, and he repeats himself. I can’t, though. I can’t even hear it properly. It’s as if there’s nothing for me to hold on to, no starting point.
"I had laughed politely, in that Minnesota way. I mean, he can repeat it as he likes, but I cannot repeat the string of words he’s just said.
“It’s a saying,” he smiles. “I said, ‘He can sit at the table, but he will not receive a plate’”.
Stacy continues to stare at me.
“I’m sitting at the table,” I say to her, “but I feel as if I might not get a plate.”
“Plus,” she says, “it sounds like we’re speaking Arabic.”
They’re talking in a language for which I have no reference point.