It all began at a retirement tribute to Max Baxter, a superintendent who directed operations at parks and public campuses all over the city. I was in attendance. We'd just been served a politically correct entree which, like all politically correct entrees, was constructed to offend everyone's sense of dietary rectitude. I believe it consisted of guacamole, brown rice, black beans and Portland cement.
The labor foreman stood up to propose a toast: "I just wanted to take this opportunity to say no man has better earned or deserved the respect of those privileged enough to have worked with him. Ladies and gentlemen, let's raise our glasses to Max Bastard!"
Ok, you try saying Max Baxter real fast two or three times. My examination of this mispronunciation has taken me on an historical odyssey of social gaffes, gaucheries and miscalculations. There was a time, during the ultimacy of class hierarchy, when such human errors were legally actionable. Most people wisely kept their mouths shut and avoided retirement dinners, but there were still incidences.
Over this essay is a mural from Pompeii. It shows a group of seven men in an ancient Greek ΠΟΚI (pokey). They are there for claiming a tyrant and a τύραννος are the same thing so there might as well be democracy. There are no walls or iron bars in their ΠΟΚI. Those are modern inventions. It sufficed back then to simply usher offenders to a sheltered place, give them food and blankets, then glue their sandals to the ground. There were no recorded escapes, but many rumors of guys running home barefoot with new blankets over their heads.
This led to municipal gardeners getting assigned to create and maintain obstacle courses for Law And Equity classes sponsored by the state. High school students would enter these programs to get fit enough to become peace officers. I worked closely with clubs like FPOA (Future Peace Officers of America) and FFA (Future Fugitives of America, which the former chased) to lay out and grade these athletic courses with my tractor. I always made them end in a sheltered place. Max Baxter used to ask me why I did that.
I said, "Well, that's where the pokey goes, Mister Ba...uh."
"Just call me Max."