Talking to Montezuma



I got a text message from one of my nieces recently.  She was on the way to a conference of some kind in the States. I read out her message to my domestic associate, Mr. Wood. ‘Have to be honest,’ Signe wrote. ‘I’m in Springfield, Ill. Having a conversation with Montezuma that goes on and on. Hope tomorrow is better.’

“What do you make of that, Woodo?” I said. “Do you think Signe’s drinking again?”

“Well.” Mr. Wood had been working on one of the lists he’s endlessly constructing, but he put down his pencil and looked up. “Montezuma was an Aztec, right? Are there perhaps Aztec ruins there?”

“In Illinois?” I said.

He shrugged and went back to his list. “She’s your relative,” he said, I thought belligerently.

“You don’t suppose she was referring to Montezuma’s Revenge, otherwise known as the traveler’s complaint?”

“In Illinois? I thought that was only in Mexico.”

I shook my head. “You can talk to Montezuma anywhere.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that I began to think about Signe’s introductory phrase. ‘I have to be honest,’ she’d texted. I’ve never found Signe to be anything but honest so it seemed odd, until I finally got it. Abraham Lincoln, known as Honest Abe, was born in Springfield, Illinois. At least there’s a museum in his memory there. That’s where Signe was texting from. Mystery solved. Almost.

One puzzle remained, and it was this: how is it that a person like me, a writer who spends endless amounts of time with words, should struggle to interpret the irony in a simple text message? The answer came to me almost instantly.

‘R U home now? What R U doing?’ This is the level of language usually involved in text messaging. I didn’t expect irony on my cell phone so I didn’t know what to do with it when I encountered it.

Heaven knows I have enough to worry about already. In my extended family (not counting Signe who is a free-thinker and itinerant nurse), there is Kelsi,  a Christian radio talk show host who is currently in hot water because she criticized the practice of drive-through communion, Arimantha, a fortune teller who has lost all faith in the future, and my bachelor nephew Harley. At the age of fifty he has decided he needs to find someone to marry and have children with because, as he puts it, “I’m a biological time bomb and I’m ticking.”

Now I have something else to keep me awake at night. If texting and tweeting and some even briefer T-word after that become our primary forms of textual communication, what will happen to the written form of this language I love so well?

I wonder if Montezuma has anything to say about that.

Ho

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