I haven’t had my hearing checked lately, but maybe I should. After all, I was a disc jockey for about ten years, and I kept those headphones cranked up high. Each year, when we have our reunion of old disc jockeys, the voices keep getting louder, but I think most of us are reading lips by now. It’s like that old joke about a couple of guys, both hard of hearing. One says to the other, “I just got a new hearing aid! It’s great, I can hear everything! “Wow,” says his friend, “Maybe I should get one, what kind is it?” The first man looks at his watch and replies, “Oh, about a quarter to six.”
Of course, I’ve always had trouble understanding people. Maybe it started in our family store. Being raised in a rural Southern community taught me a language that was reinforced every day on TV. All those people on “The Andy Griffith Show” sounded perfectly normal to me. Later on, when broadcasting became my career goal, I realized I’d better work on sounding more like Johnny and Merv, and less like Barney and Gomer.
(No offense intended for my recently deceased Channel 3 friend Jim Nabors. He talked like Gomer Pyle for a long time, and was able to buy a ranch in Hawaii.)
I do remember some embarrassing moments from my country store days. I couldn’t have been more than ten years old, but I was at the counter when some folks from up north came in. They looked around, and asked me, “Where’s your pop?” I pointed to the kitchen in the back, and said, “He’s back there with my mom.” They looked at each other, then back at me, and said, “No, no. We mean where’s your soda?” I pointed toward the grocery shelves and said, “Arm and Hammer is on this aisle.” They looked at me like I was crazy, and said, “No, not that. We mean soda pop. You know, like Coke!”
By then, I figured it out. “Right! Our Co-Cola box is over there by the window. We’ve got regular Co-Cola, grape Co-Cola, orange Co-Cola…” They hustled over, paid for a couple of Co-Colas and went on their way, not lingering to chat much longer. I can’t imagine why.
On another occasion, one of our regular customers, who I’ll call JB, came in and said, “I need a batcher.” “A batcher?” I replied. “Yep, where do you keep your batchers?”
I thought I knew where everything was, but he had me stumped. “What exactly is a batcher?” I asked him. He too, looked at me like I was crazy. “It helps you start your car,” he said. My head was spinning. I thought he meant a key, or the ignition, which was all I knew about starting a car. “Hang on,” I said. “I’ll go ask Dad.”
Dad was in the back, so I tracked him down, and with complete confidence, I asked him, “Where do we keep the batchers?” He gave me that same bewildered look that was becoming so familiar. “The what?” he said. “Batchers,” I said impatiently. “Where are they?” He paused for a second, and said, “Son, what’s a batcher?” I gave him that look that everybody was giving me. “Dad, it helps you start your car!” I exclaimed.
“Who wants one?” he asked. This exchange was becoming ridiculous. “What difference does that make?” I replied. “Do we have batchers or not?”
Again, he said, “Who wants it?” I said, “It’s JB, but why does that matter?”
“Oh, now I get it,” he said. “JB was in here yesterday and said his car wouldn’t start. I’ll go get him a battery.”
I was reminded of this recently when my lawn mower wouldn’t start. I took the battery to an auto parts store, and it tested fine. But the guy at the counter had the solution. “It’s probably your cellanoid,” he said. “My what?” I said. “The cellanoid,” he repeated. “They go bad sometimes. I’d go home and check that cellanoid if I were you,” he said.
I didn’t know what this “cellanoid” was, so I went home, Googled “cellanoid,” figuring I needed a new one. I couldn’t find one online anywhere. I guess all my cellanoids had worked until now.
After a few hours of research, I found the word, “solenoid.” It turns out it’s a switch that allows electricity to flow to the starter. And according to the dictionary voice guy who pronounces words on the Internet, it’s pronounced “SO-la-noid,” as in soul music. Except in certain auto parts stores.
Despite my hearing and comprehension problems, I’m glad some people still speak Southern. If my “pop” hadn’t been in the store that day, JB would still be waiting on his batcher.