Question-Ending Up-Swingers

October 25, 2009


When I started graduate school in 2002 I made a promise to myself that I would make all of my classmates like me. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to become everyone’s bff.

But that friendship was not a two-way street. Although I wanted everyone to like me, I did not have to like them back. You’re already heard of my hatred for the hip air-quoting pirate, but there was one person who, above all others, drove me absolutely insane. Of course, I can’t use her real name, so let’s call her Polly.

Polly was from New Jersey, which in her mind, meant she was from New York. She’d talk about the summer she spent in the city work gratis from some world-famous architect. She’d also tell us all about how she and her friends drank themselves silly at her stupid little liberal arts college, whose full six name title she’d have to call out every time she mentioned it, which was about twenty times a day on average. It wasn’t even a very good school. I looked it up on-line and, as far as I could tell, it looked like a melting pot for ugly teenagers from the northeast whose greatest ambition in life was to see how long they could go without taking a shower.

But the thing that bothered me, and all of my classmates, the most about Polly was that, no matter what she was talking about, every sentence out of her mouth sounded like a question. And to add insult to injury, everything was asked with an awful New Jersey accent and an extra upswing on the last syllable. You’d ask Polly about her weekend and she’d say “It was GOOD? I had a nice weekEND? How was YOURS?” Generally, I would stand there staring at her for a few seconds until I realized that she had actually just asked me a question and not made another statement dressed in questions clothing.

I’d sit during Polly’s project critique while she confused the visitor jurors with statements like “I tried to evoke Zaha Hadid with this deSIGN?” and “I think I accomplished all my design inTENTS?” and wonder what, in the name of dear sweet baby Jesus, would cause her to bastardize the English language this way.

It wasn’t because she was from New Jersey. Jersey can be blamed for a number of things wrong with this country. It’s responsible for the word orange to be pronounced “ahrounge”, dog to be pronounced “dawg” and that weird smell you can’t help but notice as you drive down the Garden State parkway. But I used to live in New Jersey and went to college from dozens of Garden Staters and none of them were question-ending-upswingers.

And it wasn’t because she was a nervous or insecure person. For someone so short, unattractive and utterly obnoxious to be around, she thought she was the life of the party, the smartest girl in the program and the hottest thing to hit the runway since Heidi Klum all in one. However delusional she was, it always proved fun people watching to witness her trying to seduce some guy at a bar or her trying to argue with one of our professors. She’d say things like “Throw me a BONE?” and “I don’t think you underSTAND?”

For three long years of graduate school I would sit up late at night wondering why Polly was the way she was. It wasn’t until the day of our graduation that the answer was revealed to me. We were all sitting in the lobby of the architecture building with our families after the graduation ceremony when I heard it. “Oh Polly, your dad and I are so proud of YOU?” “Yeah sis, congratulaTIONS?” It’s like I was Liam Nesson in Nell, watching Jodi Foster communicate freely in a totally different and unintelligible language. I never knew that the root of Polly’s question-ending-upswinging was familial. I had to see it for myself. I abandoned my friends and family and headed over to Polly and her equally unfortunate parents and little sister.

“Everyone, this is miCHAEL?” “Nice to meet you, miCHAEL?” Polly’s mother said/asked. “You must be glad you’re finished with SCHOOL?” Her father said/asked. “Polly’s told us so much about YOU?” her sister said/asked. I couldn’t imagine what she had told them. I spent our entire time together ignoring her. The only time I talked to her was when I wanted some ammunition to use against her when talking to my other classmates. “Polly says you’re from OhiO?” her mother said/asked. I answered yes. “I hope you don’t have one of those weird midwestern acCENTS?” her dad said/asked. “I don’t think so.” I said as I wondered to myself why he couldn’t see the irony in his statement. I excused myself and joined my family for the rest of the reception.

So, even though it wasn’t Polly’s fault that she was a question-ending-upswinger, I still hold her accountable for not remedying her problem. I mean, she had to realize that something was amiss when she went off to her six name liberal arts college and everyone looked at her like a moron when she said/asked something. Take control of your life, Polly, and all you other question-ending-upswingers and make a declarative statement!

My advice for question-ending-upswingers:

The English language is a beautiful thing, full of nuances, subtleties and a variety of ways of expressing emotions, feelings and attitudes. Please, don’t demean it all by turning everything into a statement/question. It’s a vast language, explore it.

My advice for everyone else:

When you run into someone like Polly, you have two options: run like hell or, after she blurts out her first sentence/question, ask her why she sounds the way she does. The only way to stop these people is to shame them out of it. It works for dogs, why not question-ending-upswingers?

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