Wesley Montrose was a pudgy, bespectacled fellow. I didn’t know him well. None of us at my alma mater did. It’s hard to get to know a fellow like Wesley. Let me rephrase that. It was hard to get to know Wesley specifically. There were no other fellows like Wesley. I don’t suppose there ever will be either. The reason it was hard to get to know him was largely because nobody could understand him. I don’t just mean that he had an eccentric non-social personality, although he certainly had one of those. We couldn’t understand him simply because when he opened his mouth to talk, pure gibberish came out.
This was most disconcerting, particularly when we knew he spoke fluent English. English was his first language…and his greatest love, evidently. His grammar was flawless, his diction was impeccable, and yet he spoke gibberish. For instance, he liked to proudly describe himself as a hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian quidam. That sounded like something we didn’t want living in the same dorm with us, so we threw him in the cold shower and held him there until he simplified the term. It took him three tries until he got it into verbiage that we could actually understand. The result was anticlimactic. Instead of admitting to being some sort of weirdo, he was basically calling himself an unnoticed person with an exceptional vocabulary. Well, he was certainly right about that. The guy knew words that nobody else had ever dreamed of. Even worse than that, he used them in every sentence.
The frustrating thing about it was that his words were always legitimate, and could all be found in some official dictionary somewhere. That made people like me who considered ourselves to be above average at language skills feel pretty ignorant. Before I met Wes, I had viewed myself as a Scrabble champion. But playing Scrabble with Wesley was like a three-year-old trying to beat Garry Kasparov at chess. It was humiliating on a visceral level. I only did it once. Nobody else was foolish enough to try. As a result, for Wesley, Scrabble became a solitaire game. That didn’t seem to bother him very much, though. He could play Scrabble with himself for hours.
On a positive note, Wesley was a great guy to know when you were working a crossword puzzle.
“Hey, Wes! Give me a five-letter word for a ball of ceremonial rice. First letter ‘p’ and middle letter ‘n’. ”
“Pinda,” he’d shoot back without a microsecond’s hesitation.
Or, “Hey, Wes, a nine-letter word, for silly, beginning with ‘d’?”
“Desipient,” he’d yawn.
Wesley was a career scholar. He’d been a sophomore for nearly a decade and a half. I think he purposely flunked the final exam of each semester, so that he would not have to graduate and leave his beloved enclave. I once asked him if he had any career plans outside of academia. I don’t know why I wasted my time. His reply was completely unintelligible:
“I eschew chreotechnics, and nummular pursuits are my pisaller. My habromania, however, is vortiginously appurtenant on an apinoid phrontistery, with untrammeled sufferance to sedulously and omniligently chymify illimitible pendects. That would veritably render me squabbish and blithe.”
How do you respond to something like that? I tried to tell him that he needed to come out of his nerdy little world and try being normal like the rest of us. That seemed to rile him a bit. To my suggestion, he responded that no matter how renardy I might fancy myself, a neanthropic clamjamfry like me simply was incapable of being caritative toward a pedantic dockhma like him. I was pretty sure he had a point there, but I had no idea what it was. From there, the dialogue degenerated into an exchange of insults. At least I think it did. I know I was trying to put him down, and by the look on his face, he seemed to be responding in kind, but I never would have been able to prove it by what he said.
“Your momma dresses you, funny!” I taunted.
“My cisvestitism is incidental, you valgus gynotikolobomassophile.”
“Oh, yeah! Is that what I am, huh! Well…well…you have dandruff.”
“Epicaricacy isn’t your forte. You jargogled your recumbentibus, you ichthyomancing sneckdraw, because, serene in my fecundity, I irrefangibly ostend my furfuraceous cranial vertex. Interregnum, I descry your fashious hircismus and podobromhidrosis.”
There’s something creepy about being insulted so eloquently and yet so obscurely. If he had cussed me out like a sailor, I would have felt better about it. As it was, I could only respond to his psychological profanity with the vocabulary equivalent of “phooey on you, you meanie!” Deep inside, I realized that I was way out of my league, but like an idiot, I wouldn’t admit defeat.
“Go ahead, descry all you want, but at least people can understand what I’m saying.”
“Oh, I wamble!” He whimpered. At first I thought I had him, then I recognized the sarcasm dripping from his voice. Evidently, he wasn’t really wambling at all, whatever wambling was. “Oops, I xenobombulated.” He continued with a smirk. “Funkify, before you wane agroof, analagous to a nimptopsical muckibus, you dasypygal creodont!”
At that point, I mumbled something and left the room. As I did so, I had a nagging intuition that I was funkifying, but I didn’t care. It was time to cut my losses.
Gradually, I began to develop an odd fondness for Wes. In spite of his eccentricity, I grew to realize that he was a human being too. Perhaps the thing that softened my attitude the most was when I began to notice him gazing at female classmates from time to time with the universal tell-tale wistful expression. It had never occurred to me that Wes might want to date. I had always assumed that he had no interest in girls, absorbed as he was by his passion for words.
I broached the subject with him. With the help of a pocket dictionary and some creative negotiation, I was able to verify my suspicions. Wesley Montrose was lonely and he did indeed have romantic aspirations. After a fair amount of persistence, the two of us were able to hammer out a communication system. Eventually, I was able to elicit the name of the girl with whom he was most anxious to become better acquainted. Her name was Ellen. She was gorgeous and captain of the women’s volleyball team. My instinctive reaction to this disclosure, rather set back our relationship for a few weeks, but I determined to make up with him, and I had the perfect plan for doing so.
It took all of my persuasive powers, but finally I managed to secure Ellen’s agreement to let Wes take her to Big Bob’s Putt Putt Course and Burger Barn, on the condition that I would come along as chaperone and interpreter. When I told Wes the good news, he was so shocked that he began to speak normally. The biggest word he used for half a day was “unbelievable”.
By date time, however, he had fully recovered. In fact, his nervousness seemed to bring out his most preposterous vocabulary. When Ellen finally emerged from her dormitory and slipped into the passenger’s seat of his waiting car, Wesley might as well have been speaking Tagalog. It was a weird evening.
“Ok, like, what’s he saying now?”
“Um…I’m not sure. Hold on. Let me check the dictionary. Hmmm… ‘osculate’… ‘osculate’… here it is. Well, Ellen…uh…it looks like Wesley is wondering about your opinion of kissing on the first date.”
“Yeah, that’s what he said.”
I tried to salvage the situation. “Yeah, I know. Crazy. You’ll have to excuse him. Wes is a little naive when it comes to the whole social protocol thing.”
“No. I mean you, George. Get out.”
“Get out of the car. Wesley and I obtest an interval to conduce suaviation. Our apanthropy is reciprocal.”
Last week I spent some time with Ellen and Wes and a couple of their grandkids. They’re about as proud as grandparents can be. It turns out that the youngest one just said her first word. Well, two actually: