By Teka Lark
About 12 years ago me and and a bunch of poetry asshole types were hanging out after a poetry reading at Pete’s Cafe in downtown L.A. A person who constantly pronounced my name incorrectly overheard another person say my name correctly and in the ‘I’m just saying way’ asked me, “Am I saying your name wrong?”
I ignored her.
If you’re in L.A. there is no way I believe you don’t understand how to say my name or didn’t hear me say my name the first, second or 15th damn time I said it.
White people from Iowa can say my name right, Chinese people from Beijing can say my name right, but an ass from L.A. can’t hear it or understand my name? Even if you’re kind of white except when you need to be kind of other for grant purposes, no way I believe my name is too complicated for anyone from a major US city to get within the third try, but she was persistent, “/ˈtĕ-kə/, I really want to say your name right. Am I saying your name wrong?”
I suspected she was fucking with me, but it was one of those lulls in the conversation and everyone stopped and was waiting for my response.
I have never been one for teachable moments or taking the high road and as I was swallowing the end of my fourth drink I debated in my head what to say.
Against my better judgment I responded with a straight up honest answer, “Yes, you are.”
Then she said, “So, it’s /ˈtē-kə/.” And I said, “Yes, that’s the correct pronunciation.”
My fifth drink came and I took a sip, there is nothing more refreshing than cheap cold house gin at 10 p.m. on a Thursday —as I sipped I waited for it...I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t quite sure what it would be.
Then she said it.
She said it with a smug look on her face, “You’re saying your name wrong. I teach poetry in the inner city and the mothers there often spell their children’s name wrong.”
I, of course appreciated what she had just taught me, so I said, “Thanks for sharing your wisdom, asshole.”
She stared at me silently. It disappointed me that she didn’t give me the courtesy of saying you’re welcome to my compliment.
I asked her if I was saying asshole correctly and then I explained my educational background, “I went to an inner school and we pronounce a-s-s-h-o-l-e as /ˈæsˌhəʊl/, is that wrong? Do the Black mothers of the children in your poetry program pronounce a-s-s-h-o-l-e /ˈæsˌhəʊl/, wrong? Do we say /æsˌhəʊll/ in the inner city, wrong? Did I even spell /ˈæsˌhəʊl/ correctly? Please teach me as I am a poor street urchin from the inner city of South Central Los Angeles.”
She didn’t respond.
I ordered my sixth drink.
I guess we had both finished our lessons for the evening.
Some people say your name wrong on accident, some people say your name wrong, because they pronounce /ˈæsˌhəʊl/ differently than you do.