Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker


I am now in Paris. An uneventful flight. I exchanged my seat with an old Frenchman so he could sit next to his wife, which meant I sat next to a thin scummy Chinese man in a three-days-old, three-days-worn tan crepe suit over a horizontally striped French-style t-shirt. He wore a platinum and diamond ring the size of tractor lugnut and carried a woman’s Louis Vuitton handbag. He fondled two expensive pens bought duty-free. His hair was half-peroxide auburn, half grown-out black. He stank of unwashed Chinaman and cigarettes. But when he asked me to fill out his disembarkment card, I did it anyway. He said “I no speak English” as if he’d spent more time listening to Tonto and Tarzan tapes than he had listening to native speakers. Or as if he was actually faking not speaking English, though I don’t know why he would. He pulled out his wallet and gave it to me. I went through it in order to fill out the blanks on the form. Two driver’s licenses, one from New York, expired in 1997, the other from New Jersey, expires 2002. So he’s at least been here six years. And that’s all the English he speaks? Seven credit cards. Same birthday as mine, but different year: July 16, 1957. I put “businessman” in the appropriate field, but I think he’s a snakehead on his way to spend some of his extortion money as the illegals he imported wade ashore off of Red Hook. The first photo is out my kitchenette window. The second is a look out the window on the stairwell. This is the stairwell itself.

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Grant Barrett