A homophone, in case you do not know, is a word that has a different meaning for each different spelling, but always sounds the same; such as “be”, “bee”, and “Bea”. There are hundreds of these in the English language, and it is one of the first subjects tackled when teaching ESL. It is a subject that has been taught and discussed with absolutely no controversy for well over a hundred years.
Until now . . .
This week I was fired for writing a blog about homophones for an educational website.
“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you” said Clarke Woodger, my boss and the owner of Nomen Global Language Center. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”
I said nothing, stunned into silence.
“I had to look up the word” he continued, “because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.”
I nodded, mute.
“Good. You’ve done a good job on most things, but you’re just not reliable enough. I never have any idea what you’re going to do next. I can’t run my business that way. You’d probably make a great college professor, but since you don’t have a degree you’ll never get that kind of work. I would advise you to try something clerical, where you’ll be closely supervised and have immediate goals at all times. That’s the only kind of job you’ll ever succeed at. I’ll be happy to give you a good reference. Good-bye, and good luck.”
He rose, shook my hand, and left the conference room where we had been sitting.
I was out the door, at the bus stop, by 11:05.
After depositing my check at the bank I walked home along the Provo River Path. It was warm, but isolated thunderheads kept the sun in check. The river is low and smells of sewers. Trout are frantically leaping up the spillway by the Columbia Lane Bridge. Dozens of swallows have built their nests under the bridge; they describe wide, frantic circles and give high peeps when they land at their mud-daubed nests. It was pleasant to stop there – now that I have all the time in the world again.
Further along the path is a wild cherry tree growing up from the bank of the river. Underneath the cherry tree is a green wire bench installed by the Parks and Recreation Department. I sat down to rest there. The cherries are dead ripe and falling onto the pathway, where they are mashed by pedestrians and bicyclists. Wasps stay busy feeding on the sweet pulp. A homeless man, shouldering a towering backpack, his white beard stained brown with tobacco juice, came striding by, stepping right into the pulp and riling the wasps. One of them stung him. He turned to me, holding up a tree branch he was using as a walking stick, and cried “You bit me!”
I did not try to defend myself. Somehow, it seemed just about right – done in by a crazy old bum with a tree branch. But he lowered it slowly and turned back to his odyssey, mumbling obscenities. I continued to sit there another ten minutes, then slowly got up and went back to my room underneath the basement steps of a friend’s house, where I am writing this. I promised him I would be out of his house by the end of August. Maybe I should have followed the bum; he seemed to know where he was going.
When one door closes, it’s usually right on your fingers.
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