“Just sayin’” is not just a Philly expression, but it might as well be. I’d love to know where it actually started, because it sounds to me as Philadelphian as an expression can possibly be. Just sayin’.
But what does it mean? Once all the Philly-ease and Philly accent is stripped away—that is to say, when one translates it from the vernacular to the highbrow, mutatis mutandis it might be rendered, “If you will permit me to broach the subject” or perhaps more directly, “Might I take the liberty of mentioning…?” And a person who would use such language might feign not enjoying talking about what they are talking about, however prurient his or her interest in the subject might be.
Along the same lines but more negatively, another person might use the expression haughtily. Such a rendering might be “If one really must descend to such considerations” or the like. Now this person might in fact share the same immodest interest as the person in the previous example, but he or she would not want you to know it; hence the apparent disdain. The topic is portrayed, of course, as well below that person’s normal level of discourse. Yet by pretending to be compelled to speak about it in this way, the person has an immediate out. That person enjoys complete deniability for, with the modal verb of compulsion, he has cleverly redirected the blame for the topic of discussion to a fictional conversational interloper or, worse, to you yourself.
But we have not exhausted the full range of the seemingly innocuous but actually quite potent expression “Just sayin’.” For there is also a rather crusty, even crude and inappropriate aspect to that declaration. Beneath the surface lurks a certain incongruity. In such a case, its user is essentially stating “I shouldn’t mention this, but I will anyway” (along with an implied, “I don’t care what you think about that”). This occurrence, what I am calling the “crude” usage, may actually be seen as an improvement over the first two because, on the surface at least, it seems more honest. It seems fresh, even brash; it seems to be ignoring the rules of proper etiquette, and maybe even smacks of a kind of “truth and nothing but the truth” of the courtroom or barber’s chair.
Indeed, this third category—the one involving the barber’s chair—seems to me the most interesting and is why I decided with this blog to broach the subject of the sometimes quite condensed but too often indelicate expression “just sayin’.” Don’t get me wrong: I like honesty and, like most people, I find forthrightness refreshing. But the bit about the barber’s chair, a place where sometimes truly complex problems are swiftly whittled down, whether to splinters or usable planks, that is the part that I would like to consider briefly here.
I begin with a disclaimer. I love barbers, I really do, and I love conversing with them. I shan’t ever forget Jerry, my favorite barber—though he is no longer a barber, so I’ve heard, and no longer attends my church—who gave me a haircut just before my eldest son’s wedding. Though I tried to pay him, he wanted it to be a gift to me for the wedding. I’ve never forgotten his kindness, and the touching simplicity of that gift. Nor shall I ever fail to remember the barber of my childhood in the “Four Seasons Mall” in New Hope, Pennsylvania. There I would go by myself as a child, for I had no father to take me, and I would sit in the waiting chair next to all the magazines and newspaper, glutting my eyes on The Sporting News, memorizing baseball players’ statistics and reading the articles that speculated how the Phillies might wind up their season. Then up into the chair I would hop, for it was a very large (or so it seemed to me at the time) chair. I had to do all the conversing with my barber myself, as I hadn’t a father to take me or to engage Mike—for as I recall his name was Mike—about sports, or the weather or politics. But that was years ago and a world away from where I now am, Italy.
Nevertheless, I was reminded of such erstwhile conversations when I arrived in Bologna, almost two two months ago now, to stay for a few days with my dear friend Piergiacomo and talk about hot peppers and Renaissance art (separately, of course) in his temporary “Man Cave,” for his lovely wife, Annamaria, and daughter, Margarita, were out of town. There the first thing I did, even before getting over jetlag, was seek out a barber to get a haircut, for I hadn’t had time to get one before I left. Somehow I found myself in the dingiest barber shop I’d been in for years, with music distortedly flooding the small square room through an iPhone speaker echoing off the high-walled ceiling. The lyrics seemed to me to be in Arabic—not exactly Rossini or Mozart—and the music surprised me by being in the rather modern sounding rap-style. Various magazines, well-thumbed and colorful, all in Arabic, adorned the small table next to the uncomfortable waiting seats.
I did not have to wait long. Kalam stood at the ready, inviting me with a less-than-welcoming glance to sit in the barber chair. A single light bulb on a wire string dangled above my head like the sword of Damocles. He held in his hands the implements of his trade, a straight razor and electric clippers. In very broken Italian with a thick Pakistani accent he told me he had come from Islamabad just a few months before. He didn’t like Italy much, he said, but you eat well here.
Kalam then asked me where I was from. I said Texas. He hadn’t heard of it. I said it’s a part of America, the south part of it. Ah America, he said, wielding his straight razor in a fashion that made me just a little uncomfortable. He went on to tell me of his hatred for Americans, but since I came from South America, he said, “That’s okay.” (What I had actually said was that Texas is in the southern part of America; he took that to be South America.) “I don’t hate South America,” he continued, “Just the USA. That is the great Satan.” As an accidental representative of what was to him a Hellish empire, I decided not to say much more, noting well the discomfiting combination of his palpable animosity toward America and the blade in his hand. Needless to say, I did not fuss over how ridiculously short he cut my hair, as bald fear in me produced in the end, a nearly bald appearance. Just sayin’.
Now will merely that expression “just sayin’ ” actually justify a story that might be deemed as Islamophobic? Indeed, it is thoroughly and quite literally Islamophobic, or at least Islamobadophobic. I was honestly scared as I sat in his chair, alone in such an off-the-beaten-track and quite shabby barbershop, while an insufferable coiffeur, in the course of reducing my head to little more than a lunar landing spot, wielded his blade, scratching away this and that bit of hair while he spoke between scratches of the evil decadence of the West and the great Satan, assuming all the while that a “South American” like me would agree with him.
But I leave that all aside to say that however baldly honest we may want to be whether about our political or our religious views, perhaps we would do well to recall that every once in a while it is good to leave them aside, every once in a while just to keep them to ourselves, especially when our most welcome allies accidentally, thanks to a minor misunderstanding, come from South America or, quite beyond that, in an election cycle when the candidates themselves are all too baldly dishonest in their honesty and vice versa. You never know when you might find yourself in the chair of an uncivilized version of the barber of Seville—no Figaro, him. Anyway, I’m just sayin.’