I grew up in Iowa and, while I wasn’t exactly left to fend for myself in a cornfield, no one paid very much attention to me. (That probably had a lot to do with why I turned out to be an underemployed show-off on WFMU.) Mostly I was brought up by my Grammy Carlton, who was a very old-fashioned country woman. I got all my ideas of manners and proper behavior from her.
One thing my Grammy taught me was how to bake. I learned that any kind of homemade baked goods were much, much better than those dried-out packaged things you got at the store. Whenever guests came, we produced a hot coffee cake, or a fresh-baked pie, or something like that to serve to them along with the nasty, watery, percolated Midwestern coffee that everyone drank.
When I first came to New York, I rented a room with a private bath inside an enormous old apartment in the fancy part of north Park Slope. One day an acquaintance from my college came to visit me there, and I fixed some tea and put some little snacks out on a plate. As I brought the food to her, I said, “I’m sorry I only have boughten cookies,” meaning that my poor hospitality was due to my lack of a kitchen and not because I didn’t appreciate her visit.
Well, she laughed and laughed. “Boughten?!” she said. “What the fuck kind of word is ‘boughten’?”
At first I was confused. “It means store-bought,” I said.
“It’s not even a word,” she sneered.
So I looked it up, and it was in the dictionary, but it also said “chiefly dial.”
“Wow,” she said, “you speak dialect!”
So she ate all the cookies, and then I screened my calls and never answered the phone when she called, and in fact I never saw her again after that, not even once.
This past Saturday, Sluggo and I were at a memorial service at someone’s home, and everyone brought food and put it out on a big table. There was a gigantic coconut layer cake looming over all the other desserts, massive and lumpy and tipping a little to one side, with thick white icing and coconut fur making it look like an escapee from the Isle of Misfit Tortes. And far below it was a pretty little two-layer bakery cake with that perfect icing that goes on in a flat sheet, and perfect little icing flowers decorating the top. “Look at those cakes!” said a woman standing next to me. “I think the little one is boughten, though.”
I turned to see who’d said that. It was an older lady, thin and flat as a folded-up ironing board, with a short mop of white hair on top. “Oh,” I grinned, “I say that too! I say ‘boughten.’ ”
She peered at me through her old-lady glasses and made a face like she just drank a glass of vinegar. “I was joking.” she sniffed.
“I was joking. I would never say ‘boughten’. ” And she turned her face away from me as if my unfortunate English usage might be contagious.
“I guess I’m just country,” I said.
“I guess,” she replied.
But what I really wanted to say was, “To hell with you, you old bitch! I say boughten and I pronounce root so it sounds like good, and maybe I’m NOT as good as you are, maybe I’m BETTER! Did you ever think of that, you old harpy?!” And then I would grab her boney little shoulders and shove her face in that fucking perfect little boughten bakery cake.
So I guess I’m a little bit rock-and-roll, too.