Funny stories in under 500 words.

Nolo Contendere



I’m waiting my turn at Starbucks. I’ll get a grande latte as usual but I am feeling peckish and want something to eat. I consider the low-cal turkey bacon, but what really appeals to me behind the glass case is the light-crusty pastry called the croissant. My problem is that I always feel self-conscious when I pronounce the word, pretty sure I am mangling it. Kwa-sont or somehow inserting just the hint of an r. In school I had similar troubles with Jean-Paul Sartre’s name. Sart? Sart-truh? Both went too far, in different directions. I had a girlfriend who had trouble with Debussy’s name. Deb-you-SAY. Duh-BYU-see. I blame it on growing up in Potawatomi Rapids, in the insular Midwest. Provincialism at its most provincial.

But in fact, the first time I ordered a grande latte at Starbucks, I ordered a “latte grande,” since in Spanish the adjective follows the noun, not the other way around. Italian too, I assume. The barista (and where does that word come from?) looked at me like I was nuts.

There are muffins and bagels and scones and doughnuts but I want a croissant. My turn comes and I hesitate before ordering the reduced fat turkey bacon breakfast sandwich and feel like a coward, like J. Alfred Prufrock himself. Do I dare to eat a peach? Afraid to say “butter kwa-sont” or “chocolate cra-sant.” Or I could just point dumbly and say, “One of those.”

I remember my father, a lawyer, regaling dinner guests with then story of the client whom he advised to plead “nolo contendere,” a Latin legal term meaning “I do not wish to contend,” A plea of no contest, but not admitting guilt. The client was so intimidated by the words and could only mumble them when the judge asked how he pleaded.

“Speak up! How do you plead?”

“Nuh cud ray,” the man mumbled again, blushing.

“Sir! Speak up! How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your honor!”

The girl in the ballcap and apron looks at me expectantly, while I zone out in a fugue of memory.

“What can I get for you, sweetie?” she prompts after a moment.

“A venti latte,” I answer boldly, snapping out of it, then falter before muttering, “and the qa-sunt.” Then I add, “almond.” And I point.

She smiles at me pleasantly and confirms my order. “Venti latte and almond croissant.”

“Guilty, your honor!”

The barista laughs and rings up my order.

This story was written by Charles Rammelkamp, editor of the the online literary journal, The Potomac, and is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore where he lives. His latest books are MIXED SIGNALS, a poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press and MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, a collection of poems published by Apprentice House (Loyola University).




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