Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bob's Your Uncle

So I went to my local chapter of Starbucks today. I realize I'm supposed to be unamused by the corporate giant, but I like the people who work at the local chapter, which happens to be a destination point on my urban hikes. At any rate, one of the workers there was expecting me to order my usual espresso macchiato, doppio, an Old School drink, but then I said I wanted a tall green iced tea with one splendid splenda, and then I said, you know, that cup looks like it's short to me, not tall (not complaining, just observing), and she said, "Well, we don't have short cold-beverage cups," and I thought but didn't say that this, then, was a categorical problem, or maybe an aesthetic one: my sense of short does not dovetail with Starbucks', but instead I said, "Well, there you go," and she said, "Bob's your uncle, as my grandmother used to say." And I asked, "Is your grandmother British?" ["Bob's your uncle is, of course, a Britishism], and she said, "She aspired to be." And we laughed.

Isn't that marvelous? "She aspired to be British." I think some Americans still aspire to be British, especially those with vague upper-crust leanings. I've even known a few American academics who try, with horrific results, to adopt some kind of British accent. And of course, T.S. Eliot and Hank James turned themselves "British." Naturally, trying to turn yourself British is a quintessentially American thing to do. In the world of poker, it's known as a "tell."

Anyway, I like those toss-away phrases like "Bob's your uncle." They're not really cliches. They're just sort of generic pieces of language we stick in there from time to time. My father and his cohorts often said, in response to mildly surprising news, "Well, I'll be a sonofabitch." They meant "Bob's your uncle," which is to say, they meant nothing remotely connected with bitches and sons (although I recognize the misogyny lurking in the phrase). They didn't view themselves as vulgar, unless they were around women and children they didn't know. They didn't believe themselves to be sons of bitches anymore than people think Bob is their uncle, unless of course Bob is their uncle, in which case they may not use the expression, even in England.

It might be kind of fun to write some poems that take such expressions literally. What kind of poem might one write with a title, "Bob Is Your Uncle"? Ah, the possibilities.
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