Tag Archives: the single life

Single Inflection.


[ final edit. ]


Single — def.

  • not having, or including, another ; only one.


Defining words in any language is an exercise in understanding culture. This is unavoidable. So said the Swiss woman, at the head of the dinner table around which were seated: a younger, blonde French-Swiss woman; a middle aged, married couple from Kent, England, she with her brown hair rolled up away from her neck; a tall, good-looking, traveling salesman from Stuttgart; a young, bespectacled Scottish girl enrolled at university; and, one American woman of about twenty seven years; in 1984.

(There were no indigenous French represented at table, during that meal. Had there been, perhaps the conversation would have taken a decided turn.)

These had all convened around a common theme: one annual Bible Conference for the purpose of intensive study of the Word of God, held in a Zurich high school, complete with headsets and translators for those who had come from countries not fluent in Swiss-German.

I was the American woman.

That year, having embarked on my maiden voyage to Europe by way of Scotland, I was alone; meaning: nobody I knew personally had accompanied me on my trip.

Yes; according to a definition established by Merriam and Webster in the initial year of their copyright, I was a single woman. I knew it, most acutely, seated beside the two boys from Princeton on the flight to Frankfurt; the sassiest, plugged in to Purple Rain on his earphones, turned off to me as soon as I declined the gin. Failing the Test of Immediate Compatibility, here was a sure sign that I would be proceeding solo.

Not that I had any inclination to attach myself to either of the Princeton boys. I simply never figured in the equation established long ago by the Ivy League; their blood was blue, mine was too but, to them, a critical – if colorless – social component was missing .

The Swiss woman was dogmatic; the only way to truly know a people was through their language. One had to experience them in dialogue, to derive any understanding of their way of life. Inflection, the Swiss woman insisted, was the bearer of meaning.

(A decade hence, I would return to this table, after hearing a Japanese maestro articulate the meaning of his own name in his native language; he’d pointed out, none too subtley from the concert podium, that pronouncing his first name with the emphasis on the wrong syllable would render him nothing short of a hemorrhoid.)

I recall sitting and looking around that table at each guest, wondering, in my American English silence. Try as I might, I could not name a single descriptive adjective, noun, or verb in the language of my birth which, when pronounced differently, rendered a completely distinct meaning. I was able to call up several words, however, which had dual connotations but no alteration in their pronunciation. There were also words which were pronounced the same, but spelled differently according to their meanings.

With this realization came the sensation that singled me out: how could an American understand anybody from another country? Even the Brits, with their occasional syllabic de-emphasis, were a challenge to a fledgling on foreign soil. Here I was, singularly alone, and obviously about to make absolutely no connection whatsoever with any of the people in the room.

But, I had left a boy at home.

Long having moved on to pursue another skirt he had, however, managed to create a scandal in his wake. Here, in Switzerland, the home of his mother’s birth, I was supping with associates of the American employer she’d embezzled. Yes. I may have arrived alone, but there were those my presence represented who, after my departure, would remain; I had carried both of them with me, all the way to Europe, into a household diningroom of Christians in Zurich.

And, it didn’t matter to anybody that I wasn’t married to his mother. He would follow me for years thereafter, like a lurking shadow in the mirror, beginning the moment I left the premises. No one among any of those in attendance at the Zurich Conference, whether known to me or not, would be able to think of me in any terms thereafter without his name entering the conversation. Criminal behavior knew no cultural boundaries. No matter the country of origin; no matter the language spoken.

Recently, I became reacquainted with somebody I had only known in passing decades ago. A well and world-traveled American, he calls himself “single”. But, I beg to differ; his attributes draw the curious, the needy, the broken, the unfinished, the yearning. He works in the healing arts. His life has incredible, unmeasurable meaning in those of countless others. By the definition of any culture, he does not exist outside of their realm. He is, rather, spectacularly singular – part of the great Singularity.

None of us travels alone. We are never single, lest we attempt breath in a vacuum. If we do, we’ll be crying for help. And, we had better get the inflection j.u.s.t.right.






© 3/25/16 Ruth Ann Scanzillo    All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.










“No – ! You’re Fine!”


It was time for the match game.

Benjamin Moore had migrated to the remote outskirts, where people live who have lawn ornaments on the porch and keep dead cars in their yards. After fifteen years staring at #886 and #815, I had lost all desire to drive 47 minutes just for two gallons of #008. So, Yo, Ho-Ho, it was off to Lowe’s she goes, for the Valspar equivalent of The Best Paint Ever Made in 1993.

Those couple years in the art department had, apparently, stuck; with surprising speed and accuracy, I almost found it. “Pink Kiss?” or, “Apricot Pit?” They were open til 8; where was the attendant?

One register light, lit. One sack boy, willing to page Paint.

Oh, but there she was.

A shorter, if wider, woman, long hair, younger. Body pressed against the left end of the counter, facing north. Glasses, and a cell phone, and the bearing of one who would get her way without a peep.

I made my beeline – for the right side of the counter. And, pressed my slightly taller, slightly less voluminous body against the counter in tandem. And, probably said something out loud to myself and nobody in particular, within earshot of the woman on the left end who waited much more quietly, keeping her body especially still.

Red Queen vs. White Queen.

But, this wasn’t Wonderland.

Then, the White Rabbit. Zooming out of Aisle 5, heading straight for the counter – and, the woman on the left end. “Can I help you?” he said – to HER.

Decades of fighting my own battles, of winning some and losing many, bearing the weight of all the crap you’ve already read about for the past five months. Ye Gods; I could have just about had a baby in that much time about 30 years ago.


“I’ll be the bully here. I’m the one who called for the page.”

Yes. That was my voice.

And, then, inevitably, the ensuing guilt – of the same number of decades, for all the reasons you’ve, yeah you know.

Turning to the woman on the left end, I tore into my persuasive prattle. The part about being in a hurry. The next part, something about …but, she was already prepared.

And, she said it. Shaking her head.

“No  ! – You’re fine!”

She wasn’t in a hurry. She had tomorrow off. She had all day to paint. Yeah, well. I had hired a guy. Not strong enough to take a ladder, or lift the…..

But, get this straight.

I am not “fine.”

I am never all that. I’m a tiresome, oppressive load. A chronic melancholic. A self-obsessed compulsive with a preference for immediate gratification. One who longs for an ideal totally unreachable in our dimension. A hopeless romantic caught in the throes of gritty realism. No. Fine, I am not.

Now, she’d said it with the effortless inflection of one who likely did so every day, to at least two people, perhaps a shit load of abrupt customers at Wal-Mart. Well-rehearsed, she’d long since forgotten how it made her really feel to say it. Rather, she spoke the words with the conviction of one who had gradually, obliviously, become familiar with herself as a conforming little slut to political acceptability. No matter that the people to whom she ascribed the phrase were largely unforgiving, self-serving, adult brats; more importantly, she had polished the appropriate response to sinless perfection.

With deft efficiency, the paint attendant cheerily provided me the computer-matched gallons in place of “Pink Kiss” and, smiling, turned his red-eared back, and walked. He was done.

But, I wasn’t.

That poor creature stood patiently while I took her back to the year my long since ex-husband had first painted the walls of my house which we shared for that blip on the screen we called our marriage. How, color blind, he’d brought home #815 instead of #813, and joyfully presented me with a living room completely covered in aqua. Not ash blue. Aqua. “It’ll fade”, Lena, mum’s Italian dressmaking client, said when she’d come to pick up her niece from piano lessons. Lena knew something I didn’t. She knew that wall paint would fade – in seventeen years. And, she wasn’t about to tell me I’d be waiting that long. Enough just to have faith and accept, like a good Catholic wife.

I don’t know how many minutes passed at that counter, me babbling, she listening, me and my self-conscious drive toward the embodiment of a pathetic apology and she just letting it all play itself out, she with her day off all day to paint. She, the self-actualized single girl, one hundred per cent self accepting, just riding it all out and looking forward to her blue rooms that she would produce all by herself in the house that would become her spouse. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that part. Best that she just have faith, and accept, when the time came. And, it would, soon enough.

Meantime, by some act of Providence, I looked down at the counter. There sat my two gallons of computer-replicated #008, and my bag of dry plaster, just waiting, rolling their lids at me. I looked up. She looked back. OH? Wait! I’m done here! I’ve been done. It’s my turn to take my stuff and go now, to the sack boy in the lit register.

The White Rabbit was sly. He’d gotten me what I wanted, and left me with it, just to see what I’d do. Nice move, that. He’d been in this scene before.

“So, which do you prefer”, I laughed, embarrassed. “Passive aggression, or in your face, put it all out there?”

She looked at me and smiled, nodding. “I think I’d wait for “Nice.”

This made me crow. And, I did. I threw back my head, and indulged a deep one, right from the belly. “Nice”, indeed !! Yeah. I’d never been nice, either, I told her.

But, she probably had. Like being politically correct, she’d attended enough self-help seminars to know that “nice” and “kind” were the only two attributes that made people truly like you. She held the secret. That was why she could stand at the counter, and wait, and laugh while the rest of the world agitated their way through the scenes they were so compelled to create. To her, this was nothing short of the purest of Sunday evening entertainment.

And, so it was that she took what I said with a grain of philosophy. For a fleet moment, I saw her as genuinely nice, perhaps always nice, born sweet, a joy to everyone who knew her.

And, her paint was ready. I looked to the right, to the other woman who had gradually crept into the frame, waiting her turn with net neutrality, just tired, wanting to get whatever and get home. OMG. I tried a funny face. Charm was the device of the devil, and it worked every time. Only convincing the charmer, grand relief for everybody else in the room. Time to let the rude, remedially grown up bully babe gather her things and return to her fraught little existence.

I scurried away, glad to leave them both with a “nice”, tight punchline. Success. I had what I needed, I’d gotten there first, and now it was everybody else’s turn to tie up whatever remained of the value of the moment. My damage was long done. And, I’d accomplished it being neither nice nor fine. Like sand paper, coursely grained, just enough to make rougher edges smoothe, I’d just been a little bit real. In the end, after a good, sound spanking, God would bless us all. I had the faith to accept that much.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

copyright 4/19/15 All rights, in part or whole, those of the author whose name appears above this line. Thank you.