Friday, July 2, 2010

Mystery Solved, Sort Of

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? I wrote about the phenomenon of "earworms," that is, songs or tunes that enter your brain and just keep repeating over and over again. I've had a similar experience for the last thirty years or so, but with words, specifically, a phrase and the beginning of a joke that I was concocting back in my lost youth. I think about them every day. Not compulsively, not to the exclusion of all else, but without fail, these things will enter my conciousness, not associated with any particular thought or activity, and simply sit there, poking me, until they go away. Now, one issue has been at least partially resolved.

In the early eighties, I was playing with a band on tour in the Southwest. Before a show in either Phoenix or Flagstaff, I can't remember which except that the town started with a eff sound, I was driving with the other guitar player from one place to another and saw the following bumper sticker on the back of a burgundy red Chevy pick-up truck:


"Hey, look at that. What the hell does that mean? " I said to my pal. " He peered at it through his turtle glasses which he only wore while driving, though he was more or less as blind as me and neither of us wore our specs while performing - how vain. He read and repeated the words aloud and said, "It's no Spanish I ever learned. Maybe it's Portugese. They're a little similar." The light turned green, the truck made a right and the image of that tailgate with that inscrutable message was burned into my mind forever. When we got to where we were going, I recall asking around. There were plenty of native Spanish-speakers, but no one had any idea of what it meant.

As time passed, that phrase echoed in my mind once a day, like a storm horn, only quieter. I would ask just about anyone I encounter, if I knew them a bit, if they had ever seen this phrase or whether any of the words might be something they'd run across in the past. No joy. I went to the library, asked the help of librarians, spoke to a Spanish teacher, a professor of Portugese, who told me that the word structure wasn't Portugese. My Dad, who spoke at least five Slavic languages plus German fluently and a little Italian, too, in addition to English, had no clue whatsoever. I had a girlfriend during that time who was brought up in an Italian and Swedish-speaking household and it rang no bells for her, either.


The phrase haunted me into the dawn of the internet age. Before there was Google, I searched out the phrase in whatever search engines or portals were available - AltaVista, AOL, Compuserve, Yahoo - you name it. Nuthin'. Later, I Googled it, many times over the years as the Google database grew and grew. Finally, I asked a Rican, a Puerto Rican, that is, who is fluent in their brand of Spanish, which, for some probably macho-nationalistic-my-fubol-team-is-better-than-yours-and-you-don't-even-have-a-team-puta reason, other Spanish speaker deride and denigrate. That's their battle: I just want to know what the heck this insidious phrase means, already.

So, here's what it means:

Don't beep (your horn), don't mess with me.

Alternatively, the second part of the phrase can mean "don"t f•ck with me" when used with emphasis.
It's simple, it makes sense and yet, no one could help me with this for thirty frickin' years? Hmm, maybe my PR translator is dead wrong. So, I asked around, but this time, I sought out Carribean Spanish speakers - a Cuban, a Dominican and another Puerto Rican. "Oh, si, sure I can tell you what that means," said the Cuban. "It say, don't press on me, don't bother me." Okay, so, his English wasn't so good, but that's close enough. The Dominican said, "You shouldn't say that to someone who speaks Spanish unless you wanna get cut. It means, like, 'don't push my buttons, don't whistle at me, don't f•ck with me'. So, like a girl might say that if you're, like, gittin' on her at the club, you know?" Thanks, Oskar. And finally, the proof that countrymen often stick together because they more or less are tightly bound by culture and history, the Puerto Rican told me, "Sure, that means 'don't beep at me and don't mess with me." It's not that hard to figure out. What was that? On a bumper sticker?" Tip o' the hat, Ramon.

Of course, now I'm wondering how this particular bumper sticker relates to history. Was it just a clever phrase like, "Please don't tailgate and we won't meet by accident"? Or was it the battle cry for some union battle or in defense of the rights of migrant workers or grassroots support for an obscure town council seat in a dusty Arizona or New Mexico hamlet. Three decades ago, that is, so long ago that contemporaries will have forgotten what the fight was about and, in hindsight, the contested matter was really not such a huge deal after all and so, in turn, no real record exists, except maybe for the Sun Star Herald Intelligencer's newpaper archives where a grainy, yellowed photo shows the sticker being proudly displayed at a rally of some kind by a youngish dude in a white straw range hat with a bristol-white smile and his future entirely ahead.

It's possible, I guess, but I'll probably never know for sure. It's yet another fact that I can't verify. Sigh.

At the beginning of this thang, I mentioned there were two things that had been stuck in my head and I will not disappoint you. The joke I started so many years ago and cannot finish, starts like this:

Two Jews walk into a bar.

Go from there. Go ahead. Try it. You will fail. I have failed, miserably. Maybe I should find another Jew and walk into a bar and just . . . see . . . what . . . happens. Not fer nuthin', but Tyler and Calvin, fairly typical, at least IQ-wise, inhabitants of "truth by consensus" websites like (notice no link, okay?) can't figure it out, either:

So, clearly, it's not just me. I will make you a deal, such a deal like you have never seen before in your LIFE! Help me put this last "brainworm" to sleep and I will do something nice for you. I don't know what yet, but I will figure something out. Now: GET TO WORK being funny.

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