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Correspondence

A Manner of Speaking

On a hot day in late June, looking to buy some cheap tires for an old car of mine, I pulled into a tire shop on a stretch of highway near Fort Worth.  We’d recently had a lot of rain, and the sun was glaring, seeming to draw a screen of haze off the pavement at driver’s eye level.  It was going to be one of those days when your clothes start sticking to you quickly, and you feel a film of moist grit on your skin.  The shop was one among many along a strip of used-car lots, gas stations, and auto-parts stores, the clientele working class, many black or Mexican.

It didn’t take long to find tires for the car, and I was waiting as the two young men behind the counter—one black, his hair in dreadlocks; the other a Mexican-American—were writing up other customers, including an older black lady.  The black guy asked her how to spell her name, and the Tex-Mex guy laughed and said that could be a problem in here sometimes.  “How so?” asks Dreadlocks.

Tex-Mex hesitated . . .

“Oh,” smiles Dreadlocks, “you mean with the black people!  Yeah, it’s a problem for me, too.”  He smiles at the black lady and asks her, “How do you spell, say, Shantaveous?”  We all laugh, and the black lady, beaming, tells him that she used to be a schoolteacher and had to call roll every day, tripping over names like Quanesha...

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