Biff America: Phonetic mumbling |

Biff America: Phonetic mumbling

Jeffrey "Biff" Bergeron

Much of this column is absolutely true. The rest might be.

I hate words that are not spelled as they sound. Spelling has always been a challenge for me that is exacerbated by dyslexia and a Boston accent that inclines me to leave the “r” out of hard and dark but put them in idea and Alabama. 

Coupled with my spelling challenge is my total lack of culinary skills. My mate does the cooking; I do the cleaning and whatever else she tells me. Last week, she told me that I needed to go grocery shopping. And by way of showing her gratitude, she made me a list.

These days, before I venture out to shop, I gird my loins for battle. Since this is the part of the column that is true, I will correct myself by admitting that I left my loins alone, but I did put on gloves, a mask and wireless ear buds. 

The mask and gloves are self-explanatory in this virus era, but the ear buds are crucial, too, because that way I can get up-to-the-minute audibles from my mate on how many bales of kale to buy and whether to splurge on the six-pack of the quilted and scented 10-ply toilet paper. (To be clear, when I was single, I’d buy one-ply and just wrap it around my hand like a catcher’s mitt.)

This was a particularly frustrating shopping day. I know my way around the regular stuff — fruits, veggies, coffee and cleaning products — but Ellie threw me some curveballs. Lemongrass: Is it a fruit or something you mow? Oil of clove: Is it found in spices or automotive? And — for the love of Jesus, Mary and their donkey — did she really expect me to find Peruvian mustard powder? That stuff has not been around since Donny Sniffles left town.

A byproduct of this pandemic is the necessary isolation. By isolating yourself from the possible germs, you are also insulating yourself from your environment. Wearing a ball cap, a mask, ear buds and sunglasses, I was in my own world while I periodically badgered my mate over the phone: “Does coconut oil come in a jar or a coconut?”

The store was getting crowded, and I was getting hot and claustrophobic. I had one item left and that was thyme (unbeknownst to me, pronounced “time”). 

I asked a few employees where I could find it, but since I pronounced it how it is spelled, they were no help. As is often the case when I get frustrated, I talked to myself. And with my earbuds in, I’m not sure how loud I muttered.

“Thyme, thyme, what the heck is thyme? Why does she have to give me such hard stuff to find?” Not only was I unaware of my volume, but in my confusion I was walking a little too close to a woman who looked to be shopping for a survivalist compound.

She stopped and said something that I couldn’t hear, so I hastily pulled out one ear bud, gave her a smile (which she couldn’t see under my mask) and said, “Excuse me?”

I couldn’t see if she was smiling either, but I tend to doubt it. She said, “Will you shut up and give me some space?” It seems I’d been walking next to her for a while talking to myself. I apologized and moved on. Over my shoulder I heard, “It’s pronounced time not thyme. It is in the spice aisle.”

All that is true.

Here is what I imagine she might have been thinking:

“God this place is crowded. How did I get pressured into shoping for the entire group — five couples? This mask gives me a headache but necessary. If I get sick, I can’t work, and I just got back to work. I thought coming up to the mountains would be relaxing. It is beautiful, but I can’t stop worrying about everything that’s going on. I just hope I don’t get sick. Damn, this guy has been walking next to me for a while. I wish he would just slow down or speed up. And why does he keep saying ‘thyme, thyme, thyme’ real loud? He sounds like Rain Man. He’s driving me nuts. I can’t take it anymore!”

These are challenging times. The pressures and stress on all of us are unprecedented. We all need to be extra empathetic, sensitive and aware of those with whom we share this planet in an effort to soothe, not aggravate, those who are under near unendurable stress.

I need to practice what I preach. My bad.

Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at

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