“The Hunger Games” Meet the Voices in My Head

I’ll admit it, I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of trends.

Take for example, the fact that “The Hunger Games” movie came out the other day, and I’m just starting to read the book.  Actually, I’ve been reading the book for a while, it’s just that between blogging and working and drinking, there isn’t too much awake time left for paperbacks of “The Lottery” meets “A Coalminer’s Daughter” meets “Futurama”.

I’m not a literary critic, so I’ll try to stop that.

When I started reading that book, I couldn’t help but notice that the words on the pages were echoing in my head in a British accent.  If I’m reading a P.D. James mystery or Thomas Hardy novel, the same thing happens.  I’m not sure if it’s due to my knowing  that the authors are from jolly old England, or if it’s because they write in a British style – I just know what the narrator’s voice in my head sounds like.  For the record, when I read the works of Stephen Hawking, the voice in my head takes on the automated sound of computer generated speech.  I know who wrote the piece, and it adds to my reading experience.  Besides, it adds an element of entertainment to the chore of reading the otherwise incomprehensible work of a mega-genius.

"I say, old boy, I believe my favourite smoking jacket is at the tailor's shoppe. Be a sport and toddle down to wardrobe and fetch me a new one, won't you? Also, I'm simply parched, would you mind bringing me a glass of port as well? Jolly good of you!"
(Image from kued.com)

As for the accents, it’s usually my voice, but a decidedly British version thereof.  If I close my eyes I can practically see the Brit version of  myself, sitting in a wing-back chair with a snifter of something brown on the table next to me with a doily beneath it.  There’s a tasteful lamp barely lighting the dark wood library behind me.  My pipe sits prominently in it’s holder next to the snifter.  My legs are crossed in the more feminine vertical fashion and I appear to be wearing some kind of Hugh Hefner/Don Draper smoking jacket.  I tilt my head slightly in an intellectual fashion and smile gently at the camera, revealing my crooked yellow teeth.  A dusty, leatherbound edition of “The Hunger Games” is open in my lap.  I regard the camera one last time, put on my trusty wire-rimmed reading glasses, look down to the pages and start reading.  You could practically smell the steak-and-kidney pie and scones baking in the nearby kitchen.

I needed to confirm my suspicions that the author of “The Hunger Games” Suzanne Collins, was originally from England, or had at least spent some serious time there.  I looked for a quick explanation, flipping my paperback over to find the usual all-about-the-author blurb.  You know how those go:

“R.I.P. Skippy – We Miss You!” is David Lovett’s 4th blockbuster novel.  He lives with his wife and several beloved pet iguanas in a small cabin in the Azores.  Born in Illinois and raised in the hard-scrabble streets of suburban New Jersey, he attended several American Universities earning degrees in fields which he eventually abandoned in favor of writing blockbuster novels.  Look for his next action packed novel “A Hangover Dissected” hitting shelves in Early 2013.

I was unable to find anything on the book cover and had to look online to find out whether Suzanne Collins came from Oxford-Hamptonshire or Hastings-On-Kent.  I was amazed to discover that she doesn’t appear to have a single tie to England whatsoever (She did work as a writer on the Nickleodeon show “Clarissa Explains It All” – which may or may not explain why she wrote a series of books about teenagers hunting and killing each other).

I was stumped.  The British voice in my head was still there.  Was it the bleak, Dickensian setting of “The Seam”?  Was it the weird names the characters had?  One’s named Katniss, one is Peeta – her bio says she’s adopted feral cats – are we surprised?  Anyway, back to the voice in my head.  I was having a hard time enjoying the book, because of reading each sentence multiple times.  The first time would be in a stiff, formal British Parliamentary kind of tone, the second would be more on the Cockney side (Eh Guv-nah?), then the third would be in my own glorious American accent.  By the time I’d read a given sentence three times, I’d have to go back and read it a fourth time because I was too busy affecting an accent to actually absorb the meaning of the words.  If you’ve read the book, you know these are not generally sentences which improve with multiple readings.

Luckily for me, lots and lots of people have read the book.  Even people who almost never read seem to have read all three of “The Hunger Games” books.  I began asking people who I work with whether they had had similar experiences with the whole British accent thing.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that not one person understood what the hell I was talking about.  Despite being rabid fans of the books, almost all of these people wanted to drop the topic of Katniss and company and talk instead about the voices in my head.  Many of them became convinced that I have some kind of paranoid schizophrenia and a few seemed a little frightened of what the voices might say to me.

“Is the voice in your head a man’s or a woman’s?”

“When the voices speak in accents, do they tell you to hurt yourself?”

“Does your dog ever tell you to do things?”

After a day or two of this, the voice in my head told me to stop asking people about the voices in their heads.  It went something like this: “I say old chum, it seems these blokes think you a bit daft.  I suspect you’d be better off not chatting them up about what I say to you.  Wouldn’t want them committing you to some sort of ‘looney bin’ as you Yanks like to say, what?  Now then, let’s not tarry, we’ve got rope and shovels to buy and a list to finish”

My Life As A Wise-Ass

I’m a wise-ass from way back.  I have the natural inclination to look at things through the cynical, mischevious eyes of a true ball buster.  If there are no balls available for busting, I’ll look for something smart-alecky to say about whatever’s handy.

Hats off to my orthodontist! Those Invisaligns worked wonders!

If you’re lecturing me in a seminar, please don’t have on a bad toupee or speak with a goofy accent – I won’t be able to focus on a damn thing you’re saying.  If you’re going to say something which could unintentionally send 13 year old boys into fits of snorting laughter, try not to say it in front of me (think Beavis and Butthead with careers and mortgages).  I have just enough self-control to keep from snickering, but I also have the rotten impulse to make my fellow audience members start cracking up if at all possible.  If I can’t find a willing audience member to listen to my side-splitting commentary, I’ll text someone.

It’s not that I’m a bad person, I’m just a firm believer in laughter being the best medicine.  The way the world presents me with crap to poke fun at, the people who surround me could quite possibly live to be 150 years old.  The thing is, I won’t likely be joining them.  I don’t actually laugh all that often.  I’m more of a pusher-man of laughter than an actual user.

I’m sure all of you armchair psychoanalysts out there will see my comedic stylings as a sad attempt at making myself popular. It’s likely rooted in my being shunned as a child due to my eczema and pathetic inability to keep from crying for no particular reason. My derisive comments are clearly a desperate cry for acceptance. Perhaps I use my barbs to build a wall around my soft inner core, like a partially frozen Three Musketeers Bar.  Good for you Sigmund, but let’s talk about your wacky accent;  you sound like the kindly old shepherd caught in a cheap motel with a cute little lamb from your flock.  The two of you look so cozy, smoking cigarettes and watching Animal Planet on cable as you lay in the tangled sheets.  Get yourself some help, you sicko!

In most workplaces, my humor tends to be more subversive. In one particular job, my boss was an aging hippy named David (Never Dave – like me, always David – like me when I’m in trouble).  I guess he was more “new age” than hippy.  He would have these meetings and I couldn’t focus on anything he said because he was such a screwball.  I began to think that irrespective of the topic of discussion, it was only an elaborate scheme to eventually try to convince everyone in the meeting to become vegans.  I started sharing this theory with my buddies in the office.  Since people are fundamentally bored in meetings anyway, the concept of us being pawns in the clandestine recruitment program of radical vegetarians caught on.  We got to the point where no one could really focus on anything the guy said.  We would all just cast smirking glances at one another whenever David would stroll into the meeting in his funny looking, leather-free shoes and carrying a platter of edamame hummus.

For reasons which probably had nothing to do with people not listening to what he said in meetings, David moved on and was replaced by another manager, named Michael.  Michael was quite different than David.  He was an old-school businessman and looked like he might be having a stroke at anytime.  He spoke with a distinctive accent which I quickly pegged as being nearly identical to that of William Daniels, playing the voice of Kit the Car in Knight Rider.  If you could get Michael to say his own name you’d swear you were sitting right there in the passenger seat next to Hasselhoff (say it with me now – My-kull).  True to form, I wasted no time in pointing out this similarity to my colleagues.  Michael’s meetings soon provided us with endless hours of amusement.  It didn’t hurt that Michael was fond of using some really bizarre phrases.  Imagine this one in William Daniels’ voice, emanating from the flashing dashboard of a Trans-Am “..well, if they don’t like it, that’s just hard cheese“.   I’m not kidding, he’d actually say that.

I moved on to bigger and better things.  Their laying me off proved to be a blessing in disguise.

I left those lofty, professional ranks for the position of bartender – worse hours, better pay.  There may be no career better suited for the terminal wise-ass than bartending, except perhaps morning-drive disc jockey or United States Congressman.  People don’t normally enjoy being mocked, but in the world of alcohol consumption, it’s close to an honor.  For an accomplished wit such as myself, mocking the booze-addled clientele was like shooting tipsy fish in a barrel full of vodka.  If you’re a regular at a given bar, the staff, particularly the bartenders, should point out any of your flaws on an hourly basis, or even more often if you’re a good tipper.  If, as a customer, you’re greeted by a demeaning nickname despite repeatedly asking not to be called that, then you are officially bar royalty.

Despite being so well suited for the career, I was smart enough to see the lack of long-term potential in bartending.  Besides, I kept getting canned.

The years have flown by since those halcyon bartending days.  I’d love to tell you that my wisenheimer ways have mellowed with the years, but no one I know seems to think so.  I like to believe that my taste has improved to the point where I’ll wait for the best opportunity to lay out a primo snappy remark, rather than forcing my humor wherever I can cram it.  These days, the amount of ridicule I heap upon my superiors is tempered by the delicious smell of money and the comforting arms of job security.  I end up relegating my mocking and busting of chops for the select few who I know to be able to take a joke and those clueless enough not to realize that they are the brunt of one.

I remember hearing in an art history lecture about an artist who went to be with his mother as she lay on her death bed.  He was frustrated with himself because though he was at her side, he couldn’t help but study the light and shadow on her face.  I would tell you who the artist was, but I was almost certainly too busy coming up with something funny to say to pay sufficient attention to learn that part of the story.  With that story in mind, I know that when I’m laying on my own deathbed, with some clergyman trying to give me last rites, I’ll be listening to his words and hoping I get a chance to crack wise before I croak.  You want to leave them laughing.