It’s a simple question really, but one your friendly bartender finds elusive. And of course amusing. So while you’re sitting there enjoying your Martini, dear reader, and trying as best you can to forget your day, ponder with me if you would this little imponderable. Do you mind? Good, now here’s our dilemma…
What is it about the word “calamari” that makes a regular Joe… a Joe not even close to a “Yo, Joey”… immediately go “Yo, Joey” when he orders that dish? Do you know? Any ideas? For “tomato and mozzarella” doesn’t do it, “Margherita pizza” keeps him sane, but add a plate of calamari to the mix and your man is immediately an extra in a Martin Scorsese film. He’s Mambo Italiano from the Ravenite Club. Yet he belongs to the Yale Club.
Yes there’s something about the word “calamari” when spoken by a male in public, that transports his very soul to the set of The Sopranos. For no male, it appears, can say that word without accent. Or at least not this guy….
Neil: When you get a chance?
Me: Of course, Neil, sorry to keep you waiting. You wanted to order some bar food?
Neil: (In precise elocution at home in the halls of Ivy) Ah… yes, my good man, thank you very much. Okay, we’ll have an order of your chicken wings, blue cheese dressing on the side. Two shrimp cocktails, one for the lady and one for me (a smile and a wink at the lady). Hmmm, let’s see, what else? A small order of french fries and… oh, of course, how could I forget? (Cue the theme from The Godfather) And let us have an order of fried c-a-l-a-m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r. (accent obviously on the “m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r”, no “i” in sight)
What the fuck? Is that you, Neil, or did the spirit of Lucky Luciano just do a “walk-in”? While I was looking down at my pad just now and recording your request for “french fries”, did someone sneak in and make you a “made” man? What just happened here? Maybe I should have you repeat it to see if I’m dreaming.
Me: I’m sorry, Neil, what was that last part again? It’s a little noisy in here.
Neil: (music up, cue the don) C-a-l-a-m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r, c-a-l-a-m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r!
Me: Oh, calama-re-e-e-e, calama-r-e-e-e-e! (accent, in my case, on “r-e-e-e-e” just to rub it in) But it made no difference.
Neil: Yeah, c–a-l-a-m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r!
And as I walked to the kitchen to place the order I was sure I would hear, “Capish?”, or at least the distant strains of mandolins. Ciao, ciao, Bambino!
But what really is going on, dear reader, and what the hell is this thing about ordering calamari? I mean I’d like to compare it to that thing in the Eighties when “croissants” first hit the fast-food scene, when people who couldn’t do the Daily News crossword were suddenly subjects in the court of Louis the Fourteenth. Remember?
“I’ll have a fresh craw-s-a-a-h-h-h-n-t,” they would say, mouths agape like baby robins’, butchering their accents in cartoon fashion while sporting a coif that was piled as high as King Louis’s. Yes I’d like to compare it to that Francophile mess but I can’t. This thing is different. This is gender specific. For women know how to say “calamari”… they add that final “i”… where men take care to avoid it to become “made men”.
Yet I do understand how “Italian” can be cool, even enviable in certain situations, and I certainly did as a fair haired boy back in Pittsburgh. Like in the summer when all my Italian friends were frolicking at poolside with tans, while I was hunkered down safely in the shade with enough zinc oxide on my nose to be spotted from the Space Shuttle. Or as an adult when I first hit the after hours clubs, blinded by white hi-boy collars and cuffs with glittering cuff links poking through them, owned by tutta-leone’s with a doll on each arm. Yes that, I admit, I thought was “cool” in a Dean Martin kind of way, but I never because of that fact tried to be that guy. Which brings us to the present.
If your friendly bartender was ever in a restaurant and pronounced the word calamari as “c-a-l-a-m-a-a-a-h-h-h-r“, he’d fucking blush. And he’d be waiting for the Dialect Cops to roll in and bust him. “All right, pal, let’s go. You can’t just drop your vowels like that and get away with it. You have the right to remain silent, in fact we demand you remain silent til you get a hold of yourself.” And then off he’d go!
Oh well, no sense in beating this to death, dear reader, I guess this is one of those things we’ll have to put up with… men seeking Tony Soprano in a bowl of squid. Like those assholes who seek Noel Coward in the word “mah-ve-lous”. Or those jerks who seek Jerry Seinfeld in, “Do the math”. Or those full-blown fucking idiots who… woops… I’m sorry, you have an empty glass there. Would you like another Martini? What’s that? You’d much rather have a cup of cappu-c-h-e-e-e-n?
Over and out from Sorrento… see ya’ next week-end.