For someone who bills herself as a writer, I'm a dismal failure when it comes to observing and recording entertaining scenes on the street. I don't even own a Moleskine. And I feel inadequate about the fact that I rarely overhear anything on the bustling streets of New York that's entertaining enough to pass along. There's actually a whole Web site (though a bit meanspirited and unverifiable), devoted to the topic of overheard New York conversation, featuring acres of fresh posts daily. Who are these lucky tipsters who pick up these polished, urbane gems? Assuming they're true, that is.
I do overhear things, they're just sort of pointless. Yet they wedge their way into my head, and I sometimes find myself repeating them, compulsively and silently (or so at least I hope) for a block or two after the person has passed. Like this bit from a woman talking on her cell phone in the east 70s last week:
"She's a friend of Opal's
who works with Opal's mother
when Opal doesn't work ..."
It has a certain poetry to it, no? It lodged itself in my mind, the sound of the words taking precedence over their actual meaning, so that it wasn't until much later that I wondered: Her name is Opal? She works six days a week? With her mother? Poor dear.
As anyone who's had to spend time shopping or watching TV with me knows, I get phrases, songs, jingles and theme songs stuck in my head at an alarming rate, and am doomed to go around warbling them aloud like an autistic child for longer than is healthy for me or my poor companions. So I was excited to learn about this new language-learning program that seems tailormade for a person with my condtion: Earworms (site not Firefox-friendly, alas).
The idea behind this software is that you can pick up chunks of language -- handy traveling phrases and such, divorced from the grammatical rules and rote memorization associated with language acquisition -- if they're paired with a catchy soundtrack and repeated, until you find yourself internalizing them without realizing it. They offer lessons in major western European languages, with Japanese and Arabic to come. I decided to give it a try with the German demo, a language that has eluded me despite my best efforts.*
A sexily-voiced British pair, male and female, intones the phrases soothingly, first the English ("Ex-CUSE me"), then the language ("Ent-SHUL-di-goong"), over a gently pulsing, vaguely porno soundtrack. It repeats, adding new phrases along the way, as the music does its thing. The result is an odd cross between a European art film and that Electric Company segment where the male and female lips each utter half of a word and then articulate the whole word in tandem: "Pu-" ... "-sh" ... "Puuush." (And what a relief to learn from Maud that I wasn't alone in finding this weirdly sensual as a child! Maud, I owe you several therapy co-pays.)
The Earworm approach is sort of ingenious. For me, I think it might be more effective over, say, a bad Journey tune or the theme song to Antiques Roadshow, but I guess they haven't got the music rights.
Anyway, I do give the Earworms site credit for getting the phrase ent-SHUL-di-goong lodged into my consciousness. Too bad it's currently competing with this awful yet visciously catchy Slade song (you have been warned!), the unfortunate result of a tipsy conversation at a Greenpoint bar this weekend that, while very entertaining, is unlikely to make its way onto any clever Web site.
*Fun fact from Wikipedia: the term Earworm itself is derived from the German Ohrwurm. Insert obvious leave-it-to-the-Germans-to ... joke here. I think I prefer the alternate, "melodymania."