Monday, August 20, 2007

John Belk and the fountain of knowledge


As an Observer reporter, Susan Jetton covered then-Charlotte Mayor John Belk in the early 1970s. She heard the off-the-cuff remarks that left his listeners laughing or scratching their heads. She compiled a lot of them on her old Royal manual typewriter. The pages have yellowed, but Belk's use of the language -- what she and others called "Belkelese" -- is as fresh, if confounding, as ever. Some examples:

-- "Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle."

-- "You can't be unreasonable about something until you get the facts."

-- "I always get a little mixed up when I have to stop and think."

-- "You don't have to confuse me because I don't know enough about it to be confused."

-- "Charlotte is behind on its future."

-- "We've got a lot of problems. But we're working on 'em. And we're enjoying 'em."

-- "The Lord expects more of Charlotte than of other cities 'cause he tests us so much more."

-- "Public officials live in a glass house and must answer the front door. And you have to be dressed right."

-- "He can answer that better than I can ask the question."

-- "You give me the impression you're educated beyond your ability."

-- "We ought to decide where our problems are and implement our own."

-- (On striking sanitation workers): "They will be persecuted to the fullest extent."

-- (On Charlotte's police department): "(It) has more top-heavy people with longevity than any other department."

-- "If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass."

**** Got a favorite John Belk story?

4 comments:

David McKnight said...

It's too bad that Yogi Berra could not have come to Charlotte to manage the Charlotte Knights baseball team for a couple of years. Professor Berra and Mayor Belk could have shared their secrets to the mysteries of conversational jargon.

And it might have contributed to the improvement of the business, commercial and residential appeal of life in Uptown Charlotte. For if one of the restaurants starts to hog all the Uptown luncheon business, you can just employ a favorite Yogi-ism:

"That restaurant is too crowded. Nobody goes there any more."

To which there is bound to be an appropriate John Belk addendum.

It's good to hear about former Observer reporter Susan Jetton, who was always alert to the interesting use of conversational speech on the campaing trails of North Carolina back in the '70s.

Yes, those were the good old days for candidates on tight budgets. Paraphrasing Yogi: if you could come up with an interesting turn of a phrase or figure of speech, then when you got your chance to speak, it might make the paper even if people didn't know if you had a lot of campaign cash or not before you said something worth a line or two.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I have a clip of the Jetton "anthology" of Belkisms that I've shared for years. But you left out one of the best parts, the headline:"Johnny, We Hardly Understood Ye". He was a marvelous citizen and a charmer who led with his heart AND head.
Bob Thompson

Anonymous said...

With the passing of John Belk the last bit of humanity and kindness went out of the Belk stores organization.

David McKnight said...

Here's a John Belk story, but it's fiction and not fact:

"I listened to that speech by John Belk..."

"And?"

"I didn't understand a thing he said. But I decided I would definitely vote for him for Mayor."

"How can you say you've decided to vote for him when you didn't understand what he said in his speech?"

"I figure if so far I haven't heard anything I disagree with, then that's reason enough to vote for him."