Say what? I punched the code for “Play this message again all the way from the beginning, dagnab it, even though all I want to hear again is the last second of it.”
This time my brain actually separated the blur of speech into its constituent parts: four ““ four ““ zero ““ one. Knowing it was coming made all the difference.
I sure wasn’t surprised the Big Guy had missed it completely in transcribing the message for me. Our ears don’t hear as fast as they used to.
It’s hardest getting set pieces: the things a caller says all the time, doesn’t have to think about, and unconsciously speeds up on. Nothing critical to the communication, of course. Just their name, the company or agency they work for, and their telephone number and extension.
About 15 years ago, recognizing even then that I was having trouble trapping phone numbers on voice mail messages, I started changing how I left my number, consciously slowing my default pace of delivery.
I’d say my name, take a breath, and say the number in three distinct chunks: two-eight-nine, pause, five-seven, pause, six-two. Then came my master stroke: “I say again,” followed by the number. Again. It was a “Zen meets military radio operator” protocol.
That little phrase — I say again — gets the attention of a listener fussing because they missed the number and will have to listen to the whole dagnabbed message again. It’s shorthand for, “It’s OK. I’m gonna say it again. Get ready: Here it comes!”
But it all depends on the Zen delivery: speaking slowly enough that an attentive listener has at least a shot.
Speedy speech doesn’t make just voice-mail messages difficult for those of us with slowing ears: It can result in baffling face-to-face interactions, too.
On a spring trip to Southern California, I went to the San Diego Zoo. The path from the parking lot to the front gate ran up a switchback ramp. A short, wiry black man had positioned himself right where people were slowing down to make the sharp turn. Wearing a stocking cap, jeans, and a jacket, he didn’t look threatening; lacking any identifying badge or insignia, neither did he look official.
He talked to people as they streamed past him. Well, he said something, and people answered or nodded, going with whatever the flow was. He didn’t seem to be selling anything, so when he made eye contact with me and spoke, I paused.
The rising inflection told me it was a question, but that’s all I got.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
I shrugged, smiled, apologized again. “Sorry, not gettin’ it.”
He looked at me for a second and then articulated the words slowly, “Are. You. Registered. To. Vote?”
Ah. “Yes, but not in this jurisdiction.”
I went on my way, all the more worldly for this exposure to how another political system builds its participation rate and confuses slow-eared foreigners. He went back to his civic duties, all the more effective for this interaction with an aging come-from-away. I could hear him speaking to the next wave of people, behind me.
As a naturally quick speaker who can become unintelligible when agitated, maybe I’m not well positioned to complain when others leave me in their verbal dust.
To that, I simply respond, “DoasIsaynotasIdo.”
“Say what?” you ask. Sorry, shall I say again?