Monday, May 22, 2006

Confessions of a public masticator

I was enjoying a sandwich at my desk when my colleague walked in and sat down.

He countenance was grave; his manner direct: "Have you ever masticated in public?"

I was shocked by this question. I fought the urge to panic and flee. Since I could see no easy out for me, I felt I had to confess.

"Yes," I said.

"When was the last time?" he asked. (What did he know? I wondered. What did he suspect?)

I felt full disclosure might was the only safe course: "A week ago Saturday night," I answered. "In Champaign, at a restaurant."

"Did you feel dirty and guilty when you did it?"

I had not expected the moral question. On reflection, though, I found I did not feel either shame or guilt. "No," I answered. "It was the only way for me to swallow my food without choking on it."

My colleague threw back his head and laughed. "When we're gone," he said -- meaning our generation, not us two in particular -- "it's all over for English. The younger people neither use nor know the language."

To masticate is to chew. What did you think we were talking about?