Notta and the Vocabulary Lesson
Notta and the Vocabulary Lesson
Notta Louden called me recently. Since we neither have GED students to work with and the pandemic lockdowns, we’ve had little contact outside of the odd text or email. I think we are both delighted with the daylight that warmer weather and vaccinations have provided, but we’re tired all the same. There is so much catching up to do with people and activities. Some days there is simply too much.
And then there’s Notta, the classic Notta.
“I swear, I’m going to smack the next person who wants to know what I did with all that time I was home,” she told me. “As if it’s their business.” Here she took on a snooty tone. “’Oh, you didn’t learn three languages or memorize the Constitution? You mean, you didn’t write a book of insightful short stories or a masterful book of poems? You really didn’t learn regional Thai cooking?’” She snorted.
“I hear you,” I said. “Not everyone can write a masterful book of poems.”
“And who reads them?” Notta said. She paused for a moment. I tried to imagine her sipping tea as I was. Two minds reconnecting over a cuppa and Mr. Bell’s wires. “So what did you do?”
“A lot of knitting, a whole lot of reading and some writing,” I confessed. “Not nearly enough of the writing, but, then, I never have, so far.”
“Nobody to kick your tail to do it,” Notta said.
“Nobody but myself and I’m a bit lazy.” I waited, knowing she had more to tell me. “So what have you been up to?”
I could hear cushions shifting, a chair joint squawking: Notta settling herself in whatever she sat upon, ready to hold forth. “Increasing my vocabulary,” she said. I could see her proud-of-me smile and the ripples of smile creases radiating out from her lips. “I have lists of words and I’m working on using them every day.” She made a soft giggling sound. “It’s driving my husband crazy, but he needs to learn, too. We all do.” Then she gave an incongruous sigh. “Makes me miss have classes. I’d love to teach those kids some words other than the F-bombs and S-word and all that they pepper their conversations with.”
“I miss it, too,” I admitted. “So what words have you been learning?”
“Kuebiko,” she said.
“Okay, that’s one I don’t know,” I said. And I didn’t. I wondered a little defensively how many people did know it. Surely it couldn’t be that many.
“It explains the way I’ve been feeling since the lockdown,” Notta said.
“Well, it’s more than that.” Cushions shifting again. “Truth is, we watched way too much TV last year and it was exhausting. The news was all death tolls and new cases and hospitals overflowing and short-handed. You couldn’t get away from it. Everybody had to have something to say, and there was all that nonsense about government control. All that stupidity over just wearing a freakin’ mask, for crying out loud! As if looking out for your neighbor and yourself was so terrible!
She took a deep breath. “Then my husband would follow the stories about demonstrations and shootings and police issues before he turned on those movies on Netflix and Prime where everybody shoots or stabs or blows up everybody else.”
“That wears on me, too,” I said.
“Yeah, drives me nuts: the hero always seems to be the one who kills the most and comes out cracking wise.” Pause. “Then I started to think.”
“Uh-oh,” I teased.
“Don’t knock it until you have tried it,” she shot back. “What I thought was: if that’s what passes for a hero these days, why should we be surprised when people take guns into government buildings and attack everybody that looks different and try to kidnap or kill lawmakers they don’t like? You see that garbage, you do that garbage. Nobody seems to have any solutions but acting like some action movie hero because they’re so special and they get away with everything.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said, then winced at my teacher’s reflexive answer.
“Did you ever see one of those guys from one of those ‘action’ movies go to jail after he or she – yeah, there are women doing it now – kills all the bad guys and blows up a couple blocks’ worth of buildings?” Notta’s voice rose.
“The movies tend to end before all that,” I said. “So are you saying TV and movie violence beget violence in real life?”
“You think there are that many folks out there who can tell the difference?” she demanded. “’Real Life’ is just a matter of opinion, don’t you know that?”
“I’ve heard there are people who prefer to believe a lie than accept the truth,” I said carefully. “Mostly because it’s what their neighbors prefer.”
“And their so-called heroes prefer it, too,” Notta said. “Keeps people in fear and ready to come out shooting instead of talking. Or worse, instead of thinking. For themselves, not what they’re fed from the TV.”
“And those movies,” I said, echoing her sadness. “That’s an argument for censorship, you know.”
“People should censor themselves, if they can remember how,” Notta said.
We sat in weary, sad silence. “So how are you?” I asked.
“I’m exhausted,” she admitted. “Completely worn out with the violence that makes no sense and pundits telling lies that make no sense, and people being horrible to each for no good reason at all.
“And THAT,” she added – I could hear her smile again – “is kuebiko.”