Freshman year in college I had a dorm-mate by the name of Bill. One night we were hanging out in his room having some discussion or another (topic now long forgotten). After a while the phone started ringing. By ringing, I mean that he would take a call, and twenty seconds later he would get another one. Phone call after phone call after phone call — wrong numbers, quick questions, whatever. None were very long, but it quickly became an irritation as he was wasting so much time answering the phone that we couldn’t actually carry on a conversation. After a while we were laughing at it — his phone was so unrelenting it seemed like someone had to be playing a joke or something.
After a while he started prank answering his phone. *RING* “Pizza Hut — may I take your order?” *RING* “Earl’s House of Lust — what’s your pleasure?” *RING* “Kappa Kappa Kappa, can I hep’ ya hep’ ya hep’ ya?”
That last one was a bit striking (or not) as we were in the deep south. Bill, however, was not a southerner.
*RING* This time my hand shot out and grabbed the phone out from under his reaching hand. “Tri Lambs, Lamar speaking.” (If you know the reference, you can easily imagine the accompanying voice — I’m a pretty good mimic.)
The next instant is the only reason I really remember this story at all. It was a good thing that I wasn’t sitting across from Bill, because it was (and is to this day) the only time in my life I have ever seen somebody do a genuine, bona-fide, across-the-room spit take.
Then there was this other guy — let’s call him Ted. (for t’was his name)
Ted was a self-conscious Personality. By that, I mean that he was a unusual personality at least in part as the result of conscious effort. Upon arriving on campus freshman year,Ted picked up a copy of the newly distributed Freshman Student Directory — which included a photo of each student — and memorized it. Well within a week, word had spread of the guy who knew your name even if you didn’t know his. You’d be walking around campus and this random guy would perk up at the sight of you and say “Hi Bob” in passing (assuming, for the sake of example, that your name is/was Bob). You then either had heard of him, and knew that this must be that “Ted” guy, or suddenly started walking a little faster, wondering if someone had surreptitiously slapped a nametag on you somewhere.
I, as it happened, was a procrastinator. I was such a procrastinator, in fact, that I had neglected to send the school my photograph in time for its inclusion in the aforementioned Freshman Student Directory. Thus, to the man whose vast storehouse of vicarious student familiarity came from the memorization of said volume, I was an enigma. A cipher. An unknown. And that meant that in the Ted-screwing-with-my-head game, I had an edge.
It was thus hugely amusing to walk past him in front of the UC about five days after arrival and deliver a cheery “Hi Ted” in passing. He gaped a bit at me and his eyes leapt a bit wider. That little puzzled crinkle appeared in the center of his brow. Almost instantly it vanished, and he returned with an only slightly hesitant, “…Hi.” I simply grinned and continued on my way. Turnabout and all that.
The next day we passed in roughly the same spot, and without further ado, I was the recipient of a friendly, yet conspicuously deliberate, “Hi Steve.” I returned the greeting, and again we both continued on our way. Turnabout indeed. I still don’t know how he found out who I was out of a couple thousand students on campus. That was just Ted. He had his ways.
It later came to light that Ted had another unusual quality (beyond being a fan of cheeseless pizza — which can be quite good, by the way; you should try it). He spoke 24 languages. That’s not to say that he was fluent in all of them; though, if memory serves, he was fluent in about 4 of them. No, his linguistic breadth was inversely proportionate to the depth of his knowledge in those diverse languages. Specifically, he could say, in those 20 tongues in which he was not fluent, one particular phrase. Testing this claim made for an interesting experience — a bunch of us hanging out in the dorm lounge one night, various people at random intervals throughout the conversation calling out a language, and his immediate responses. Gaelic! Russian! French (easy)! Mandarin Chinese!
The phrase in question was: “My cat is on fire”.
By the time we graduated, he had reportedly expanded his repertoire to 36 languages.