Words in Time

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Short Short Stories
Tags: , ,
By means not germane to this anecdote, a man disappears from his living room in New York City late in the afternoon on a sunny August day of 2011, and is transported to a sidewalk bustling with people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the same month and day, but in the year 1840.  In a state of shock, he has absolutely no idea what has happened or why he is there, but when he sees his reflection in one of the store windows he is frozen with shock by his appearance as he is dressed not in the clothing of only a moment before, but is now garbed in the same manner as other men who were passing him on the street — if not more elegantly, he reflected with a peculiar pride.  But he was relieved to at least see his face staring blankly back at him.  He noted that his clothing — complete with a stove-pipe hat and a riding crop — appeared to him at least, to be the height of fashion.
As he slowly turned around to survey his surroundings, his hand wandered into the right pocket of his elegant calf-length coat and his  hand encountered several large coins.    Pulling one out to examine it he was astonished to see that he held a twenty dollar gold piece.
 Just then he noticed what looked suspiciously like a bar across the street, as evidenced by a man followed by a waft of smoke, staggering out through two of those iconic swinging doors.  With his heart racing and his mind reeling, he decided that a few beers might be the ticket right about now.  And he certainly now had the means to pay for it, because not only did he have the coin in his hand that could probably feed a family of four for a year in 1840, he had a pocket very heavily full of such coins.   So, he stepped off the boardwalk onto the cobblestone street and headed in the direction of those swinging doors.

Once inside, our traveler found his way to the bar and ordered a glass of beer and as he did he asked the bar tender:

“ I am sorry sir, but I am not from around here, could you tell me the price of a beer here?”

“Five Cents”, barked the bartender, “if that ain’t fair then go somewheres else.  And you sure talk funny.  You ain’t from around here are ya?”

“Uh no I’m not,” he stammered, “I’m from New York City.”

With a somewhat astonished, somewhat doubtful look on his face the bartender said, “I never heard no folks from New York talk like that”

He started to answer with “they will”, but decided instead to say, “oh its just a family thing, my folks are from the old country” and before the bar tender could question further, he quickly went on:  “But anyway how ‘bout that beer?”, he said as he lay the twenty dollar gold piece on the bar, “ and I’d like to buy a round for the whole bar.”  The “whole bar” consisted of thirteen people including bar tender and our philanthropic traveler.  A  great cheer of affirmation arose from all and everyone immediately forwent further criticism about the funny way he talked.

As he sipped on his beer that tasted like nothing he was used to or had ever even sampled in in his many visits to various exotic brew pubs in The City, he became aware of two gentleman sitting next to him, one  just starting to relate a story to the other, so he listened in.

The story went on for about fifteen minutes detailing how the story teller had risked his life and limb to save a bunch of people from a fiery train wreck.  Whether the story was true or not, with a red face and wildly waving arms the man wove a terrific and exciting tale that soon had all in the bar listening intently.

When the man finished the account our traveler who was also very impressed with it, blurted out.

“What a fantastic story!”

Much to the travelers surprise all eyes turned toward him and for a moment there was total silence in the bar.  Then the story teller jumped to his feet and shouted, “Choose your weapons sir!  No man calls me a liar and lives to tell the tale.

Stunned into silence our protagonist’s mind raced through what to say.  He  suddenly realized his error.  In 1840 fantastic meant unbelievable, instead of, exceptionally good, as the meaning of the word has evolved to mean now.  So after about a five second pause he said with great deference and with his hands forward and his palms down in supplication :

“No, no please, I meant no offence.  I do not think you were lying.  Please excuse my strange manner of speaking, what I meant was I was very moved by your story and it was a perfectly awful!   So please let me buy you another beer!

To this the man said, “ Well in that case, thanks for the compliment and sure I’d like another.

  1. theuglymoose says:

    I want to walk around all day in a stove-pipe hat.

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