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Friday, June 10, 2011

Goldernit: Cottonpickin' prospectors ain't got a right proper vocab

Cottonpickin' prospectors all look alike.
This prolly ain't the one I met, but sure looks
the spittin' image.
The visit started innocuous enough, but it got weird real quick.

"How you doing this afternoon?" I asked the man with a gray handle-bar mustache that attached right into his sideburns. He had just walked in to the fine art gallery where I work most days.

"Eh?" he responded, one eye bigger than the other as he cupped a hand around his ear.

I repeated myself a little louder.

" 'ell on a sca' o' one uh teh-yen, I reckon roun'abouts six an' se'en aiths."

I filtered the melee of wordish thingies through my universal translator and thought he said: "6 and 7/8." I went with it.

"I like how precise you are," I told him.

"Tha'sa wuh-ay uh be," he spewed like a computer attempting to read Swahili.

"Let me know if you have any questions." This was my way of dismissing myself from a conversation in which I was pretty sure I'd be the only one speaking English.

He immediately began coddling the wood work of one of my artists, telling me it was "mahty fahn" over and over again. Before long, my brother who I work with came into the conversation, asking if the man was finding everything all right.

"Eh?" he asked again. After my brother repeated himself a little louder, the man decided us gallery guys could probably help him with his dream.

"You woodint heeappuhn uh know wheres ah could find mahself a lid fer mah mercureetort?" he asked like we would know what in the heck he just said.

"A what?"

"Mercuree-eetort," he enunciated. Running it through the translator and asking for spelling, we finally figured out he was asking for a new lid for a mercury retort. We still had no flippin' idea what he was talking about.

"Ah wuz uhfrehd o' tha'," he said. "Ain't one eein teh-yen peeple I talks to what knows what a mercureetort eeis."

I silently marveled at how well he could slur together mercury and retort. I was starting to understand this guy, though I still wasn't fully convinced he was spouting English from his talk hole. He could make three syllables out of one and one syllable out of five. Ain't no way to fake an accent like that, goldernit.

After a quick Google search, my brother brought up pics of real live mercury retorts to confirm what the man was looking for. It turns out a mercury retort is a prospector's tool used to strip mercury of its impurities so you can use it to amalgamate gold flecks into nuggets, as I understand it. Click here if you want an actual doctor's explanation of this. After meeting this fellow that came right out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon, I have a hard time believing a doctor wants to be a prospector, but there's the proof right there.

Anyway, when we showed Yosemite Sam the mercury retorts on the screen, he lit up like a shiny gold nugget.

"Them's mahty fahn stuff," he said, ogling the computer screen filled with ugly metal pipes like a teenaged boy might view more, um, questionable portions of the Internet. (I double-dog dare you to click that link...)

"Lookithere," he kept saying in absolute awe of what he was seeing while pointing at the computer screen. "Cottonpickin' lookithere." Yes. He actually said cottonpickin'. Repeatedly. He even fit a "goldernit" into conversation, fitting the holy trifecta of prospector swearing into our brief conversation: daggum, cottonpickin' and goldernit.  I think "cottonpickin' was the word I heard out of his mouth more than any other during our "conversation."

When my bro asked which one in specific he wanted him to look at, the prospector had high praise for the whole screen.

"All-oh-i's good," he said. "Them's mahty fahn newfangled mercureetorts. Nah-yow, you says all them's jee-ust on thee-at Google thang? Daggum, I'ma hafta steal mah wahf's compyuooter! Ah could look at them thar mercureetorts all day!"

I'm not even making this stuff up. This is an actual experience. I have witnesses, half of them sane even.

Craziest of all, the guy almost bought a bronze from us after eying those retorts. I was surprised to know that someone I could hardly understand would find pleasure in art. Turns out the guy is a welder by trade, but loves to prospect by night, or vacation or whatever. He had a wad of $100 bills in his pocket nearly two inches thick, and complained to us that "Iffen I bought that, ah'd barely be able to make it to Coloradee, much less home agee-uhn." We're guessing the guy distrusts banks, so pretty much carries his life in his pocket and a bunch of small glass vials filled with gold flecks. His goal was to make it to "Coloradee" because he was sure he'd find a lid for his mercury retort there, what with all the mines and such in ghost towns down there.

It may sound like I'm making fun of this guy. I may be making fun of this guy. But I frankly liked him. He was engaging in the craziest way you can imagine. I didn't know people like him existed outside of cartoons, but goldernit, I'm glad they do. It makes my life a little bit more golden as I see the colorful characters that cartoons are made of.

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