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Recent Work By Anne Walls

HOLLYWOOD, CA-

It started in childhood, of course. Everything does.

The year: 1987.

The film: THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Starring: Cary Elwes…and his steamy British accent.

Oh that melodious accent. It was scintillating. It was fatal. It was official: I was obsessed. From that moment on, I’ve considered myself an accent connoisseur (pronounced with the proper French intonation which evokes thoughts of sweet nothings whispered in a darkened chateau whilst clutching Bordeaux in vintage stemware). I love accents both thick and light, both guttural and pleasant-sounding. European, Australian, even Southern. Accents are music to my ears.

Now technically speaking, everyone has an accent. I mean, we Americans are considered the ones who “talk funny” to, say, the Irish. A very official (ahem, Wikipedia) search confirmed my theory. Groups of people develop accents because of geography, ethnic makeup, and social class. One interesting factoid I unearthed from Wiki: “It has been theorized that the accents of certain groups in the USA today resemble the English spoken by the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries more than it does the English spoken by most Britons today.” Sweet. We speak the same English that John Smith seduced Pocahontas with.

But let’s get to the nitty gritty: American accents, fair as they may be, are old news to my wanderlusting ears. Ever since I heard Cary Elwes utter, “As you wish,” to Princess Buttercup, I was done. Sign me up. In junior high, a British foreign exchange student named Christopher charmed me (and all the other girls) when he read a poem to the class about his parents meeting in “Smelly New Delhi.” But Southern California in the 1990s was not hot-accent central, unless you swooned when you heard horny guys saying inappropriate things to you as they drove past. I needed more, I needed bigger. I needed the real thing.

My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to study abroad. First choice: England, naturally. I nearly made myself dizzy when I first got there, drowning in the wide variance of British accents that London had to offer. Everywhere I looked, cabbies were calling each other “Cheeky bastards” as they raced through the London streets (on the wrong side of the road, no less). Surly bartenders were calling me “Love” but somehow not really meaning it. Groups of intoxicated, track suit-wearing rugby fans on the street were constantly yelling “Tosser!” at each other and asking me if I’d “Fancy a ride, sweetheart?” And since they, unlike the cabbies, were without means of transportation, their offer could only mean something lewd. But I still loved the accents.

When I got settled in my exchange house in Oxford, I was a bit disappointed to discover that my three male roommates were all from America. Borrrrrrring. But when I finally immersed myself in the dining halls and common areas of Hertford University, which was actually pronounced HART-ford (I think the Oxford dons did that simply to test of who really knew what they were talking about and who was just bluffing), I discovered the most pleasant-sounding accent of all: received pronunciation. Translation: that hot, snotty British accent. I know, I know. Snotty is not good. Trust me, I found that out the hard way.

These British boys, always named Alistair, Duncan, or George, came to Oxford from moneyed families older than my home country, wearing gold rings on their pinkies stamped with their initials, which were also their fathers’ initials, and his father before him. These boys drank and partied like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I soon realized why: because their whole life was already laid out before them. They had gone to the best secondary schools (high schools, in Brit-speak), passed their A levels (the Brit equivalent of SATs), and now were living it up at one of the most prestigious universities in the world before moving to London, getting a top job at a bank, and marrying their equally-rich (and very bitchy) female counterparts.

This is a generalization, of course. But it was disheartening to learn that the majority of these golden-tongued males were only out for one thing: slags (hooches, if you will). And this American slag wasn’t so down with that. Sure, I may have made a few social blunders that made it seem like I was playing their game – did you know “knob” doesn’t mean doorknob in British slang? It was very well-received. As was my declaration that I liked Duncan’s pants. Trousers were what you wore on the outside, I was told. Pants were underwear. Oops.

Even after being pursued by a Jason Statham look-alike whose real name was- I kid you not- George Burns, I started to miss American boys. Men, I mean. Our country grows them nice, I realized longingly from 3,000 miles away. And I had never appreciated them as I should have. After an exciting (and educational) year abroad, I was happy to come home to a country where the men played real sports (cricket does not a legit athlete make), dressed like males (nary a striped sock or pink shirt in sight), and loved passionately. Take that, Italians!

Sure, sure, I still swoon a little when I see a movie starring an actor with a deep and intoxicating British accent (Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, and the ephemeral Johnny Depp have the best accents in the business today), or hear an Australian accent in a bar (and trust me, they’re always in bars). But the accent I’ve come to love the most is one I never thought I’d hear, let alone be obsessed with: a little bit rough-and-tumble Maryland, with a twist of New York by way of Florida. This accent caught my ear with the very first words it uttered: “So, uh, what are you doing later? Can I take you out?” And it continues to bowl me over day after day. It’s the first thing I look forward to hearing in the morning and the last sweet, comforting thing I hear at night. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not the accent so much as the person speaking with it that I’m obsessed with.

And that is true music to my ears.

Part I: Always Use Your Napkin

I didn’t mean for it to end up this way. I really didn’t want to be standing at a rather nice wedding reception, glass of semi-expensive white wine in one hand, and napkin full of half-chewed, hastily spit out stuffed mushroom in the other. Sure, I knew my friends, the now-hitched earthy couple, erred on the side of unconventional and wanted their wedding to reflect that as well. It was taking place in what used to be the old Ojai Jail, a cluster of tiny, ramshackle cabins in the mountains above Santa Barbara. And yet, in the middle of this somewhat rugged mountain setting, my friends had imported stunning orchid arrangements, enough wine to baptize the whole city of Santa Barbara, and (my personal favorite) a wicked cheese platter.

There were even waiters gliding around, passing out tiny, delicious treatsies on trays. And after hurriedly hauling myself to Santa Barbara, surviving the van ride up the mountain with a driver who may have very well had one eye closed, and quickly pounding two (okay, three) glasses of the aforementioned very nice wine, I was starving. Add to the mix that fact that my ex-boyfriend and his new ladyfriend were not only in attendance but also in very close physical proximity, and you could maybe see how the wine would be priority Number One, followed by food.

I kept missing all the waiters, but finally saw a tray approach. Without even pausing, I happily grabbed what looked like a breadcrumb-stuffed mushroom and tore into it. As I chewed, I remember thinking how rich and flavorful it was.

“You know that’s venison, right?”

That would be my boyfriend’s ever-so-helpful but twelve-seconds-too-late information. I couldn’t help what happened next. It was like a gag reflex…literally. I made some sort of loud groan of displeasure then, under the watchful eyes of the Bride’s stepmother, proceeded to hastily eject poor little Bambi from my mouth and into a cocktail napkin.

Which brings us to here. Me. Venison in hand…and starting to soak through the paper napkin. How did I get here? Ah yes, I remember.

My parents.

Doesn’t it always start with them?

Part II: Goodbye Good Friday, Hello Dixie Dogs

My father was raised a Seventh Day Adventist. To clear up any misconceptions- oh, what’s that? You’ve never heard of them? Perfect. Allow me (and Wikipedia) to briefly explain: “The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination that is distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath, and by its emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. It is the eighth largest international body of Christians.”

They also don’t wear jewelry, don’t dance, don’t drink, and – you guessed it – don’t eat meat. It’s like the town from Footloose, only with no burger joints. So my darling father, who in adulthood isn’t a practicing Adventist, has never eaten meat. In his life. Ever. So we didn’t either. Which meant that my very Italian, Catholic mother gave up meat not just on Good Fridays, but permanently.

And hey, it was a pretty great, though meatless, childhood. I mean, when you’re raised not having something, you can’t really miss it, right? Sure, there were those days in elementary school when the McDonald’s truck would come and everyone would be feasting on Chicken McNuggets. I even had them a few times myself. Eh. Nothing to write to my dead-animal-free home about.

My parents weren’t overzealous about the no-meat thing, we just never had it in the house. If we wanted to order meat at a restaurant, they’d let us. My younger sister had a passion for the paper wrapped chicken at Shanghai Charlie’s, but was horrified when I told her the chicken was, as advertised, real chicken. To this day, she denies eating it, preferring her faux-meat of choice: Dixie Dogs. That was the thing about the Adventists: though they eschewed meat, they sure spent a lot of time making tofu-filled replicas of it. Growing up, our freezer was filled with Morningstar Veggie Burgers (called Grillers), fake bacon (called Striplets), and soy hot dogs on a stick (those would be the Dixie Dogs).

My childhood marched on, with brief, embarrassing pit stops on days when my mom would pack us a particularly hippie/vegetarian lunch of Fri-Chick sandwiches, which I always called Frick Chick. With good reason. I’d get made fun of whenever I’d unpack my lunch and my neon-red, fake bologna sandwich would catch some carnivore’s eye, or the cute boy would recoil upon seeing my limp, dilapidated Striplets poking out of my mom’s valiant attempt at a BLT.

Around 6th grade I started making my own lunch, sticking to PB&Js and every so often a Tupperware of pasta, enabling me to look down my nose at the ham and cheese masses with a worldly, “Oh this? It’s just penne with extra virgin olive oil, capers and sun-dried tomatoes. I’m Italian. It’s no big deal.”

Part III: The Beef Touchdown

Sure, peer pressure came knocking in high school, as it does for many. The cool place to hang out in the heady days of my freshman year was one of those unintentionally-ironic 1950’s diners that were really big in the ’80s (totally stealing this joke from The Family Guy). Our diner was called Ruby’s and everyone who was anyone ate burgers there on Friday nights before the football games. Eek. I wanted to fit in, of course, and put my Frick Chick lunch days long behind me, so I ordered a cheeseburger too. I liked cheese, I liked buns, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Taste-wise, it was fine. Good, actually. Very different from what I was used to, but I had to keep getting the image of a screaming cow out of my head.

“I enjoy your milk, now I will enjoy your muscles,” I told myself as I chewed, pretending to listen to whatever my friends were giggling about. The burger went down alright and I realized, with relief, that I didn’t have to be a weirdo vegetarian if I didn’t want to.

But about twenty minutes later, I got an emergency message from my digestive system. I hadn’t given them the heads up about our little moo-cow visitor, and let’s just say the natives were VERY restless that night. I missed the football game, overalls around my ankles in the high school gym bathroom, listening to the crowd roar between stomach spasms of pure, beef-induced terror. That was it. Peer pressure or no peer pressure, when it came to meat, I had to just say no.

Part IV: Sake It To Me

Imagine my surprise when, as I hit college, I found out it was actually “cool” to be a vegetarian. Thank the tofu-loving Lord. I was finally not a freakshow, but a forward-thinking, considerate animal-lover. But I felt a little guilty. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, but I also owned Doc Martens and a pretty sweet leather jacket I wasn’t planning on parting with. Did I now have to wear them in secrecy? Lounge around my dorm room wearing my beaded leather belt I got in Colorado from a real cowboy shop?

Luckily, most of my fellow collegiates were too drunk to notice my leather indiscretions. And since the university rite of passage wasn’t a burger joint, but a decadent cookie shop called Diddy Reece, I was pretty safe on all fronts.

But in my sophomore year, something strange happened: I started craving protein. Not meat, mind you. I was permanently scared off beef, and chicken reminded me way too much of what human flesh would look like should we all turn cannibalistic or just get in a really bad spot like the plane crash guys in the movie ALIVE. But I yearned for some sort of culinary satisfaction I couldn’t get, no matter how many bean and cheese burritos I ate.

Then it happened. Sure, I can blame the underage drinking in my college town that forced us to go to some pretty out of the way establishments famous for not carding. Or I can blame it on the fact that the most popular of these establishments was a semi-sketchy Japanese place called Cowboy Sushi. Maybe it was the copious sake bombs I imbibed, maybe it was the excitement of feeling like a real grown-up ordering grown-up drinks in a restaurant for the first time. Heck, maybe I was just hungry.

I ate sushi.

And it was delicious.

I didn’t go too Bonzai Samarai my first time. I stuck to pretty basic stuff: California Rolls, maybe a Spicy Tuna Roll. But I was in love. Raw fish filled a flesh-shaped void in my heart I didn’t even know was there. From that day foreword, I have proudly borne the label of “Pescatarian.”

Part V: The Fishy Aftermath

Yes, since that revolutionary day I’ve gotten in many verbal sparring matches about how fish are meat, too, and if I’m a vegetarian because I’m trying to make a statement about meat how can I be so hypocritical, yada yada yada. But that’s just it. I’m not really trying to make any statement. Yes, I think keeping baby cows in tiny cages to make their flesh soft enough for veal is terrible and the living environments of most chickens is an outrage.

I recycle and buy free-range eggs and don’t drive a gas-guzzler. And yes, fish are animals, too. But somewhere in the murky grey area I rationalize that they aren’t cute and cuddly like lambs, covered in fur like my two beloved Terriers, or a peaceful citizen of the forest like Bambi. Also: I’m a human, another animal. And this animal needs protein to survive.

Tofu is fine, but I get a little bored with it (and I suck at cooking it). Plus, being a Pescatarian has saved me from many a social pickle, i.e. a business dinner at a restaurant that has no vegetarian options or at lunch with my boyfriend’s parents in the South where every single thing on the menu has both eyeballs and a mother.

In closing, fish are delicious sea creatures and…I love the taste of lobster! There. I’ve said it. So I will endure my existence in the semi-vegetarian, semi-carnivore gloaming, spitting out venison-filled mushroom caps but happily gobbling calamari and salmon filets, fresh from the fish market. I will continue buying my free range eggs and being able to split the shrimp fajitas with my boyfriend and ranting to anyone who will listen that you should adopt a dog from the pound before paying exorbitant fees to professional puppy breeders. Because that’s what life is all about: compromise. Doing the best you can. And the best I can involves tuna melts.

I guess the Dr. Seuss book is true: One fish, two fish, red fish, tofu fish. To each, his own. Except for that red snapper. That sucker is mine.