I saw a guy on the train near Poznan , Poland ,with a shirt emblazoned with the name : CALIFORNIA . Poznan is a college town . Ada went to school there . The guy was , no doubt , a college kid , perhaps on his way home . Anyway : CALIFORNIA .
As he stood near me on the train I said : ” I’m from California ,” and got a wary blank look . I’d forgotton how people wear shirts but aren’t necessarily aware of what’s written on them . That’s certainly true in my case ; eg. hey , it was clean so I put it on .
Recently , in the San Bernardino mountains , a scruffy old man called something out to me from just behind my left shoulder . I didn’t get what he’d said and asked him to repeat . ” Swiss , Roquefort , or Calumbere ? ” he said ; and it made no sense . He read my expression and added : ” Your shirt . ” The back of my black T-shirt had large yellow block lettering : ” BIG CHEESE “. I try to avoid wearing that shirt out of the house , but this time I got caught .
My friend Phil , sitting next to me on the train , said to the CALIFORNIA shirt guy, ” Yeah , we’re from California .” Still a blank look from the kid . I don’t blame him . Not one old fart accosting him for some unknown reason , but now two old farts . Then I pointed at the word across the front of his shirt : CALIFORNIA . The first rule of international diplomacy , I immediately realized , I had just clumsily violated : Never point. He never looked down at the shirt , of course . Probably he didn’t want to take his eyes off of us . I didn’t blame him . But , we were getting nowhere .
What is that they say about assumptions ? I had assumed the guy would speak English , but evidently he didn’t . He kind of moved backwards to a seat further up the train . Phil and I looked at each other , surprised and defeated , and then settled back for the ride as the beast pulled out of the station .
My daughter-in-law once pointed at me ; stuck her finger out toward my chest and said firmly : ” You can’t say that ! ” She is a Polish woman with a degree in English , specializing in American English . She’s always on the lookout for idiom crimes . ” But I didn’t say anything this time , ” I protested .
” You’re shirt ! ” , she said .
I had on a heavy black t-shirt with a Guinness saying on the front . Something was grammatically wrong with the saying , apparently . ” You can’t say that ,” she said again . But , they had .
I’m wearing a “I Love New York” shirt today . My sisters and dear wife got it for me several years ago when the three of them flew across the land to Manhattan . I’m not at all sure that I do love New York , to be honest ——but it’s a great shirt . Light weight ; comfortable . Only once did I get a thumbs up-type passing comment. It emanated from an old guy with an east coast accent and a New York pace as he rushed along. He went away too fast for me to tell him that I didn’t really love New York . I don’t know New York .We’ve only had one date so far , and I’m not ready to commit. I once visited for a weekend , but that’s it .
I have a , by now fading , blue T-shirt that my youngest sister gave me when she lived in Florida . It says
Lewiston is a little place in southeast Florida . Great shirt ! Over the years I’ve confused hundreds of people , even thousands . Lewiston ? I see the looks . No one ever asks .
My old friend Fred Kail was the first one to point out to me the corporate takeover of the American psyche . Now , of course , it’s a world- wide phenomenon. I had bought a T-shirt that I thought was kind of cool . Back in 1972 , maybe .
I forget now what image the shirt had on it . Maybe a ” MIller’s ” beer can. Maybe something else . In those days men’s t-shirts were solid colors . Your real choice was , more or less : pocket or no pocket ? When I was a young kid I wore colorfully striped T-shirts , but the adult world has other demands and restrictions .Anyway , this shirt with the image cost me a few bucks more that the solid color shirts . ” You’re doing their advertising for them ,” Fred pointed out , ” and you’re paying them a fee on top of that to do it . ” I had to think that concept over for a minute ( because I’m a slow thinker ). He was right .
I met a guy in Poland about twenty years ago who had previously worked for two years in New York City for an old Jewish tailor . ” I warsht the stinkin’ shoits !” this young Polish guy said , in his finest American lingo —– I love New York .