A smattering of constrictions

I often wonder at how our language binds us. English is often a very blunt language, very direct, which explains why it has become both the world’s preferred language of business as well as it’s preferred military language among pilots and others. The words we use to describe each other, the incidental boxes and all the baggage that comes with trying to read between the lines while using a language that offers precious little space between those lines for understanding. Not much for vagary, English, as it’s practiced in America, almost forces us to box things up, put a label on, be concise. In some matters, this is helpful, in others, however, I’m not so sure. Here’s something that happened the other night. It’s here twice. One accounting omits the precision that American English sometimes demands, the other does not.

A young woman with long dark hair and very pale skin, hauled a wheeled suitcase onto the sidewalk near me. She wore a pink sweatsuit with gold highlights and white flip-flops that had yellow trim. Frankly, she stood out in the light, evening crowds. It was a cool, winter night, and people were moving quickly, they had places to be. This woman, however, seemed lost. You know the look: head on a swivel, a little nervous, indecisive footsteps. I looked at her, she looked through me. I’d gone invisible, no doubt, it happens sometimes.

“Esuse me?” 

The woman she’d spoken to continued walking, ignoring the polite interruption. Other people flowed around her, drinks to have, shows to see, trains to catch. My train was going to leave the station at 5:40, I had about ten minutes of speed-walking to go in order to catch it. The early nightfall didn’t help. It tended to color the end of the day with a little desperation, time has been struck from our universe and we want to reclaim it. During the long winter months, the feeling of being late comes early every day.

She glanced around a bit more.

It is a pet peeve of mine when someone is asking for help and being ignored. Despite the perception that I had been passed over as someone worthy of providing aid, I stopped and turned. I hoped a smile and “can I help you?” written on my face would change her mind.

She took a few hesitating steps, trying to see if there was anyone else she might ask, then she went ahead in her thick accent, “Tassee?”

I struggled both with the word and not looking too confused. I tried the word out on my tongue, hoping to dope out what she was asking. “‘Tassee’?”

“Yes, I nee tassee.”

Ah, taxi. There was a hotel not a half a block in front of us. I pointed and smiled. “Taxi.”

She thanked me and headed for the cab, beating a straight path through the dark to what I thought could be her evening’s salvation.


And once more:

A young, Chinese woman with long dark hair and very pale skin, hauled a wheeled suitcase onto the sidewalk near me. She wore a pink sweatsuit with gold highlights and white flip-flops that had yellow trim. Frankly, she stood out in the light, evening crowds. It was a cool, winter night, and people were moving quickly, they had places to be. This woman, however, seemed lost. You know the look: head on a swivel, a little nervous, indecisive footsteps. I looked at her, she looked through me. I’d gone invisible, no doubt, it happens sometimes to black people.

“Esuse me?” 

The white woman she’d spoken to continued walking, ignoring the polite interruption, an air of indestructibility her armor as she left her offices somewhere in the financial behemoth we’d all found ourselves in front of. Other people flowed around her, drinks to have, shows to see, trains to catch. My train was going to leave the station at 5:40, I had about ten minutes of speed-walking to go in order to catch it. The early nightfall didn’t help. It tended to color the end of the day with a little desperation, time has been struck from our universe and we want to reclaim it. During the long winter months, the feeling of being late comes early every day.

She glanced around a bit more, maybe wondering what a six-foot tall, bearded and brown stranger might do to her.

It is a pet peeve of mine when someone is asking for help and being ignored. Being ignored, however, when offering help is just as grating. Despite the perception that I had been passed over as someone worthy of providing aid, I stopped and turned. I hoped a smile and “can I help you?” written on my face would change her mind.

She took a few hesitating steps, trying to see if there was anyone else she might ask, then she went ahead in her thick accent, “Tassee?”

I struggled both with the word and not looking too confused. Feeling put off by her tacit dismissal and otherness, I tried the word out on my tongue, hoping to dope out what she was asking, trying to be a better person and dismiss the popular opinion that told me she had it in for me because of my skin color. “‘Tassee’?”

“Yes, I nee tassee.”

Ah, taxi. There was a hotel not a half a block in front of us. I pointed and smiled. “Taxi.”

She thanked me and headed for the cab, beating a straight path through the dark to what I thought could be her evening’s salvation.


Is one recounting more honest than the other, more precise? Does it matter? How and why? What got me here? Will I ever not be here, will we, will our children?