By the way, Dan, today at work we sampled buffalo jerky, which I wasn’t sure about at first. Did the “buffalo” mean that it was buffalo meat, or that it used buffalo seasoning? Or both?* Considering that question led me to think of the famous sentence, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” It’s a classic grammatical formation that I learned about from my friend Jack. Here’s a translation, via Wikipedia, using “bully” for the verb and “bison” for the noun: “Buffalo bison Buffalo bison bully bully Buffalo bison.” Or, with a few extra words: “Buffalo bison (whom) Buffalo bison bully (themselves) bully Buffalo bison.” That’s a good way to learn what it means, but in the end, it’s better to stick with the original [say it out loud this time]: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
*Apparently the former.
When this topic came up at work, no one seemed to know anything about it. I wanted to talk about it with people, but my precise understanding of the phrase was hermetically sealed in some nook in my brain, along with the proper use of augmented sixth chords and logarithms. I used the opportunity to burnish this nugget through constant usage, basically walking around saying, “Hey did you know that Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo?”* At least one of my co-workers gave the requisite, “please stop”, and it’s as likely he was not kidding as he was.
*I’ll have you know that I’m retyping the sentence “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” every time, not just copying and pasting it. If you have to keep reading it, thereby stripping the word of all meaning, then I have to keep writing it, causing the mere combination of letters to become an abstraction. In fact, I beseech you to read the sentence each time to give my work meaning. Treating each recurrence of the sentence as some kind of metaphorical ellipsis in the writing only delays the inevitable, as I plan to write the sentence at least a half dozen more times.
I was not engaging in mindless repetition of the phrase, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” but truly trying to get people to understand it. Once you deconstruct it so that it makes sense, it’s a kind of joyous moment. “Something abstract became tangible! Yay!” We often experience a sense of consternation when confronted with something so abstract, thinking that it’s beyond our grasp, so situations like this are great opportunities for some joy: “I learned something!”
But back to the actual story. My post today is less about how Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo and more about something else that happened at work. I’m struggling a little with how to relate the story without being either crass or spiteful. You see, today was a fantastic day. I had a lot of wonderful customers with a lot of wonderful knowledge and stories. Some people I knew already and some of them I met for the first time today, but all of them made a positive impact on day that lack of sleep could have hampered.
One customer (my last customer before departing, in fact) made his best effort, through an arrogant and generally nocuous attitude, to set me off. Typically, when a customer treats me badly I give the benefit of the doubt. The person is probably having a bad day and I want to change that, not reinforce it. If they have a complaint, I’m there to listen, and if they have a need that I can meet, I will meet it. At the very least, I will smile and say “thank you” because that’s what I do. I had a customer today, though, who tested my limit. In the “who knows what’s good or bad?” department, though, we might have gained a new catchphrase. Here’s the story:
I was just about leave for the day and had my apron half removed when a customer approached with some recyclables: “Will you empty the plastic bottle machine for me right now?”
I responded, “Actually, I’m not sure that it’s full. We’re having a lot of issues with false full messages lately. We’re hoping to have that fixed. I can take those bottles here, though, and give you your deposit back.”
“No. I want the machine emptied. Now.”
“Well, I can check, sir, but I think it’s just not working properly.”
He indicated that he wanted proof that it was broken, and for it to be fixed immediately. I had checked the machine the day before, and being only half full, I was fairly certain that it was not full.
I was wrong, of course.
After getting the keys, and a sanitizing wipe to clean the electric eye that tells the machine whether it’s full or not, I walked out into the cold with the man and opened the receptacle.
“See?! It’s full. Just like I said. Full.”
He knew which buttons to push and I was getting a little annoyed. I pulled out the bin and started to empty it.
“You have to admit that I was right.”
I stopped what I was doing, stood up from my kneeling position, turned around and looked him in the eye, “Sir, I admit it. The machine was full.”
I turned back to the task as he said, “You guys are going to have to empty this now.”
“Oh, there’s no you guys. There’s this guy,” I said, pointing to myself.
It’s not a difficult task. I emptied the machine, declining his offer to help for fear that he would injure himself and sue. I brought the full bag to the recycling area around back, then returned past him on my way to getting a few empty bags. When I returned, one of my co-workers was telling him that we would be happy to redeem the bottles inside for him at the customer service booth (where we had initially met). He declined. I filled the bag and watched as he put in his four bottles. Yes, I said FOUR bottles. 4! As in the number between three in five. As in the number of aces in the deck, leaves on a lucky clover, score (along with 7 years) between the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, Tops, squares in Four Square, and Beatles not including Billy Preston.
He explained that the bottles he was depositing only worked in that machine because he had made the extra effort to call the company that services the machines and have them add the UPCs. Without him, people throughout the state would be unable to deposit their Kombucha bottles!
Then (and here is the moment that I want you all to remember) he said, “As a former town recycling chairman, I blah blah blah.”
“As a former town recycling chairman”? “A former town recycling chairman”? Now, I’m as familiar as the next guy with taking yourself too seriously, but I would say that takes the cake. I’m VERY serious about recycling. I dig through the garbage at work, and enforce rules that make others do the same, but I’m not going to invoke language like that to describe it.
In fact, next time I take myself too seriously, I want whomever is with me to say, ” I know you are a former town recycling chairman and everything…” and then proceed to put me in my place. That is, if I can hear you over our laughter.
I didn’t give A Former Town Recycling Chairman the business like I wanted to, but I didn’t let him buffalo me either. Only Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Schuyler Dunlap.