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Thursday, August 7, 2008
If I hear a voice I like I tend to start talking like that. I'm a sponge when it comes to dialect. Maybe it comes from moving all over the country, from Colorado to Nebraska to Florida to New York to Minnesota to Georgia and back to Florida. It's human nature to try to fit in wherever you are. For years people had trouble placing my accent: "Hmmm, he sounds kinda cowboy like, but then he's got those long A's like the people in the movie "Fargo," but then he did just say 'fixin' to,' and the way he says 'hey' ... isn't that New York Italian?"
Call me Sybil.
Now I don't really sound like any of those places. Instead I sound like Eric Cartman and Mr. Wong.
Eric, of course, is the horribly mean, bigoted bully on South Park. And for some reason I have started talking like him. I really wasn't aware how much his voice tone had invaded my own until this past winter, when I was a guest lecturer in the creative writing department at the University of South Florida in Tampa. About two weeks into the class, one student raised his hand and said, "Mr. Hudler, I have to ask you, how much South Park do you watch?"
"Is it that obvious?" I asked, and the entire class nodded their heads in unison.
Then I met Mr. Wong, and my voice changed again. Mr. Wong is a still-obscure discovery of National Lampoon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVOsgu9xGGM I discovered his series of three-minute episodes one day while browsing in Blockbuster. Mr. Wong is the former 90-plus-year-old servant of Bing Crosby, who, after Bing's death, is sent to live with a very mean debutante named Miss Pam, who makes him sleep on a wooden plank and fulfill her every need. He asks for money for food and she says, "I thought you yellow people were so sly and clever -- can't you get your own money?" She's awful, really, but I instantly liked Mr. Wong's whiny voice: "But, Miss Paaaaaaam, don't make me drink that dirty tire water or I get malaria." The show is refreshingly non-P.C. and ... well, incredibly racist ... but he is too cute and funny. It is a guilty pleasure of mine. My family is aghast.
Of course few people know who Mr. Wong is, so people look at me quite strangely when I fall into his voice. I mean, a bald, 6-2, 230-pound white man sounding like a 1950s-era stereotype of a Chinaman ... wouldn't you think it odd? Last year, when we visited Asian-heavy San Francisco, my daughter warned me as we stepped off the plane: "No Mr. Wong voice, Dad. It's not appropriate here."
"Why?" I asked. "You no like Mr. Wong?"
And I heard the unmistakable sound of duct tape being pulled off its roll.