The Gow

Posted: July 3, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in About, Me & Mine
Tags: , , ,

When I first started writing seriously (“seriously” being a highly relative term) I used to write about the mentally retarded, the slightly less stupid average people (who don’t have an excuse), things, places and people that annoyed me, etc. I’m not a mean spirited person, so the context in which I wrote about the retarded was observational, and not harsh or mean. One example was that when I would visit my mother in western Massachusetts I’d have her take me to the super market with her. First, because she would spoil me. I could toss anything into our shopping cart and she’d protest ever so slightly, not accept any money I tried to give her and then buy it all for me. I also loved the super markets in New England which were like a paradise compared to the ones here in NYC. Pristine cleanliness, friendly staff, great selection etc. One thing I noticed was that the people who bagged the groceries were generally retirees and the mentally retarded. What blew my mind was that the level of service from the retarded supermarket employees was leaps and bounds better than that in NYC and the “normal” people they hired. Their attitude was a thing to marvel at. They were so friendly and so pleasant with a rarely seen level of professionalism. The basic rules of bagging groceries had been taught to them and they had them down to a T, didn’t cut corners and were thrilled to be working. Honestly, how many “normal” people in America take such pride in their work?

Another thing I wrote of was when I used to stay up all night or wake up early, make some coffee and go downstairs to wave to the bus of mentally retarded people going to school every morning around 7am. They were so psyched and would wave back frantically and try to talk to me as the buses driver would just scowl. That’s a positive way for a person to start their day.

I also claimed that a person could make a wish every time they spotted a retarded person. This was not the only circumstance that I deemed wish worthy. There are many others. If you find a bay leaf in your food. You get to make a wish. If you get the last shot from a liquor bottle at a bar…make a wish. Once while visiting my friend Gina in DC we spotted a retarded adult walking down the street with stiff denim pants pulled up to his arm pits and belted there. I pointed him out and told Gina to “make a wish”. She did so and also snapped a photo of him as he walked away. A woman observed us doing this and said with great disgust “You have got to be kidding me!” It became a line with Gina and I in regards to laughing at insensitive subject matter.

So I wrote about things like that.

Some people took issue with it. Others laughed against their will. Things we aren’t supposed to laugh at can be the funniest sometimes. I always tried to include that I was not ridiculing these people…well not more than I ridicule everyone and everything else, including myself. Hell, in some ways they had my life beat by a mile. They were happy. They weren’t jaded. They were leaps and bounds more stoic than I am. They took time to smell the roses.

It was around this time that I met my best friend and editor; Gow. Her real name is Jama (Jay-Muh) We met online and she had read some of my stuff and had liked it. Like many people with a unique name she was sensitive about it. I once made some reference to her being a “Bad Mama Jamma”, and she deadpanned “Yeah, never heard that before.” I could relate. I never liked my name; Scott. It was too easy to rhyme when others felt like picking on me as a kid. It rhymes with “Snot” “Pot”, “Twat” and lots of other things. Kids are musical creatures and they’d make up poems and songs about me. My step sister once sang “Scotty on the potty kissing with Dottie” and I practically cried.

I dubbed Jama “Gow” after a story I wrote about a group of mentally retarded adults I encountered at the eye doctors. She liked the story and started cracking up. I thought on the one year anniversary of my blog, I’d rewrite the story and dedicate it to Gow. I am so lucky to have such a friend and editor. Plus a great deal of my early writing vanished. I had posted it on MySpace, but never printed it out. After a certain amount of time Myspace deleted the entries and the originals are now gone forever. Gow makes sure all of my writing is stored on thumb drives now. Of course it is often human nature to romanticize the past and things that are lost. I think lots of my lost writing was probably pretty good and would have been even better after I had rewritten and Gow had edited it. A person once told me that they saw an improvement in my writing over time.

So, here is the story…rewritten from memory, hopefully better than the original piece.

The Origin of Gow

I was at the eye doctors on Broadway here in Astoria. While waiting for my name to be called I was flipping through magazines. The magazines were so-so. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I become very larcenous at doctors offices. I steal magazines, samples, rip off recipes, and when I make it to the doctors actual office I will pocket any and everything I can. It’s my petty little revenge for having to wait and for doctors and their staff never apologizing for keeping me waiting well beyond my scheduled appointment. It’s just a common courtesy to apologize for keeping people waiting. The fact that I never get an apology from the medical field just says to me that they feel their time is more valuable than mine. “Sorry to keep you waiting, it’s crazy here today” isn’t too much to ask.

Across from me in the waiting room were 4 or 5 mentally retarded adults. I believe the politically correct term is “developmentally disabled” but PC language is bullshit. It doesn’t slip an ace into the cards they’ve been dealt. Plus, it is a highly inaccurate term in my opinion. I think everyone has some developmental disability. There are branches of mathematics being taught to 3rd graders today that I couldn’t understand after taking 5 classes as an adult and failing or withdrawing from all of them. Other people are brilliant in terms of IQ and intellect, but are simply clueless socially. These are, by definition, developmental disabilities.”Retarded” is what I grew up hearing, and it’s pretty simple language. Nothing wrong with it. “Slow” is another term I am fond of. These people weren’t slow. They had a physiological condition in regards to their brains/bodies. With them were three or four what I used to call “Tard Sheppards”. Adults who kept an eye on them, helped them with assited living, got them to the eye doctor etc. I enjoy bestowing nicknames on to friends and strangers alike. The first retarded guy I dubbed “The Burger King” because he kept talking about going to Burger King, and one of the sheppards was actually arguing with him about it.

“I wanna go to Burger King, and you said we could go.”
“I did NOT say dat!”
“Yes you did an’ I wanna go to Burger King.”
“You aint got no money fo’ Burger King.”
“Yes I do…”
“I took you to Burger King on Monday.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did!”

Really, who argues about these things? Children maybe. It made me wish there was a BK nearby so I could step out, grab him a whopper, fries or whatever and totally make his day.

The person next to His Majesty, The Burger King and The Royal Fool was the most severely disabled of the group and he kept rocking back and forth, biting his hand and arm and then, embarrassed, he would “hide” his hand by sitting on it. There is nothing funny about this, and it’s kind of sad, except I will say that occasionally when I am very upset or shocked that I bite my arm and rock back and forth. The people around me find it highly amusing.

After Rocket Man was a little old woman who seemed catatonic, and batting clean up was a young woman in her twenties who kept saying “Gow” over and over. What was interesting was that the sheppard next to Gow was having a very matter of fact conversation with her. It was as if she understood the subtle nuance and tone of the various gows.

“Ummm, I think we’re having meatloaf tonight at the house.”
“Gow Gow Gow.”
“Mashed potatoes, string beans and apple brown betty.”
“Gow Gow Gooowwwww!”
“I know you don’t like string beans…you have to eat some kind of vegetable.”
“OK. corn it is”
“Gow G-g-g Gow?”
“I think we’re next”
“For new glasses.”

Finally, my name was called and I went in for my appointment.

Jama, as I said, liked the story and started saying “Gow” in lieu of “Hello” when she called. I started calling her “Gow” or “Little Gow”, which I think she liked, given her sensitivity to her name. It became an integral part of our friendship. “Sad Gow” became her expression when she was disappointed with me. We speak every day and when one of us doesn’t have the chance to call.

“Hi Gow…what’s up?”
“Sad Gow”
“Why Sad Gow?”
“Cause you didn’t call me”

It was a visit to adolescence. “Sad Gow” became synonymous with a disappointment. Gow once even said it out loud at work when her lunch room didn’t have the fish she dines on every day.

I ask her often if she likes being called “Gow” and she answers in the affirmative. It seems I need regular assurances. Gow does too sometimes, and that might be part of why we are so close. She never had a nickname. I have had some, but never cared for them. They were always a means to get under my skin and the only thing that made them marginally tolerable was that they were used by close friends.

This piece may not be my funniest, or most clever…if ‘clever’ is a word I may use to describe my self and what I write. But it’s important to me because I wanted to write something for my best friend and editor..something that would make her smile, something that would make her Happy Gow.

  1. Ruchika says:

    You seen those movies where…. take this for example-
    The heroine’s got a letter from her lost love. They make it like that that you just see the heroine’s face while the lover’s voice speaks out the letter. The film has basically stopped for the mean time, of course with the exception of those eternal unstopping tears. Then he says sth like “Yours forever, Will.” and the heroine looks up and the film continues.
    It’s been sth like that for me. (Of course, minus the tears, background score and lost love part.) I could almost hear you speaking next to me. Which is a wonder since I’ve never ever seen you. But the point is. It was THAT EARNEST.
    Do I still need to say I loved it?
    But then the movie had to start, and the story ended and I took my mouse to the Like button.
    Sigh. You’re good.

  2. asklovegigi says:

    Love it! My “Gow” in HS was the kid on the bus who always screamed “Fuh Fire Fuh Fuh” anytime he saw anything red go by…..which made us change any F word to begin and end with Fuh Fuh Fuh….”do you want to split some fuh fries fuh fuh?” or “fuh f*** off fuh fuh”…….

    By the way, I have a sharp eye when it comes to wish making, but you spotted that guy in like in a tenth of a second!! It was amazing!! (Meanwhile, he was probably going to a respectable job — we went to the condo and watched a Little House on the Prairie marathon!!!)

    Great writing – you should never stop!!


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