|jeece Brooklynese (unattested) 1950s.
Beginning softly like distant thunder, jeece intensifies in an arching trajectory, energized by what singers call "chest voice." With enough practice, I suppose I might be able to utter this word properly. But I'll never be qualified to use it.
my first visit to Noo Yawk in the summer of 1959, I got to gaping and made
a wrong turn onto a clamoring thoroughfare. My open-top Ford and
I sought refuge at the curb. As I craned and squinted for a street
sign, a panel truck squealed to a stop next to me, accompanied by a trailing
chorus of horns. "Whadda ya lookin' for?" shouted its driver, a beefy
guy in a duck-billed cap, who could have been played by Wallace Beery.
"Van Wyck Expressway," I replied, pronouncing the y as in cyclotron.
"Where ya goin'? Idlewild or what?"
I pointed at a 707 screaming overhead. "My family's on that plane."
"Jeece! Youse gotta get on the Van Wyck Expressway," he said, pronouncing the y as in sycamore.
"At the Queens Midtown Tunnel, I missed a turn and -- "
"Hang a left at the loyt, and then..." The man shook his head and grimaced. "Follow me!"
The next half-dozen minutes were a blur of lane changes and turns, side streets and alleys. I began to think this was a game played by locals on people with California plates. Either that or the guy was rushing to complete his delivery route, having forgotten about me careering along behind. Suddenly he braked and stuck his tattooed arm out the window, waving me to pull alongside. "There's yer Van Wyck," he hollered, pointing to the highway just ahead. "Make a royt."
Though intimidated by the honking from behind me, I grabbed a five-pack of Rum Crooks from my shirt pocket and reached toward his window. "Much obliged," I said.
"Jeece!" he exclaimed. "Read my soyn." I watched as my new friend whipped a U-turn behind me.
The lettering on the side of his truck said, "William Penn Cigars."
In the sixties, I took a red-eye into Idlewild, by then renamed JFK. Arriving at dawn, I stepped aboard a hotel limousine, which in those days was really a full-sized bus, remember? "Statler Hilton," I told the driver, who could have been an understudy for Jackie Gleason's role in The Honeymooners.
"Four dollas," he replied.
I handed him a twenty.
"Jeece!" he exclaimed. "Whud-dam I, a bank?"
"Sorry," I said. "It's all I have on me.
The driver stomped off the bus and into the terminal, returning with a wad of bills that he thrust into my hand. Flumping into his seat, he clashed the gears and gunned the Diesel. "Jeece," he muttered.
Following a jostled slumber, I awoke from a tangle of hostile dreams to find the busdriver crouched in the aisle tapping my knee gently. "Statler Hilton," he whispered, unsmiling.
Oh right, there was this other time: I had an interview with C. R. Smith, president of American Airlines, in his office at 99 Park Avenue. Full of self-importance, I declined to hail a cab and strode along 54th Street -- in the wrong direction, as it turned out. At Seventh Avenue, I stopped and allowed myself to look puzzled.
"Wadda ya lookin' for?" asked a man in middle years. He might have been selected by Central Casting from the file marked "non-descrip."
"99 Park Avenue."
"Jeece!" he exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" asked I.
"Yer goin' the wrong direction," he replied, pronouncing the first syllable as "dire."
I turned on my heel and resumed my walk.
"T'ree blocks -- take a left," shouted the man
"Thanks," said I over my shoulder.
Now, nobody had told me (a) that Park Avenue is really Fourth, (b) that Avenue of the Americas is really Sixth, and (c) that avenue blocks are thrice the length of street blocks. At Fifth Avenue, I looked at my watch and picked up my pace. From behind me I heard footsteps. Someone was gaining on me.
"Hey," shouted a distant voice.
I stopped and turned around to see my Seventh Avenue guide bent forward, palms on knees. "Jeece!" he gasped. "Youse sure walk fee-ust!"
"I shoulda told ya ta take a royt at Park Avenue, not left." He turned back, mopping his brow.
My favorite Big Apple story also took place in the sixties. I was the project engineer for a first-generation, multi-computer system being installed at 25 Broad Street to serve hundreds of newspapers and thousands of stock brokers by teletype all over the country. In keeping with the Wall Street dress-code, I wore a three-piece suit, striped tie, and wingtips while scurrying about the building at full frazzle. Events during that project inspired a lament which has since become a metaphor for many deadline-driven endeavors: "We're painting the walls while the plaster is still wet."
One morning, I faced a crisis: The telephone people were scheduled to bring in dozens of lines, each to be connected to a wall-mounted termination assembly, which was still in its shipping container. With nobody on the project available to do the job, I took electric drill in hand and headed for the back wall behind the computers.
There, squatting on a low stool in a corner of the main computer room, was a rotund fellow with balding pate wearing Bell Telephone drab. His belly bulged almost to his knees. His lineman's belt was festooned with handtools holstered in leather pouches. A bulky phone rested on his shoulder. Dozens of twisted wires were splayed at his feet. He looked up and nodded to me, then muttered, "Yeah, that one," to his partner, who must have been crawling around in some subway vault below the building. For the rest of the day, they would be working as a team, pulling and probing bundles of rainbow-colored phone lines.
Suddenly, I was struck with an idea. It was straight out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Without saying a word, I positioned the termination assembly, which was about the size of a blackboard, and began making pencil marks on the wall. My solemn efforts were sure to catch the lineman's eye.
"Jeece!" he exclaimed. "Wha's 'at s'posed ta be?"
"Graybar termination strips," I replied. "For those wires you're pulling -- it's the project's responsibility to put 'em up here."
"Hey, I know 'at, but it won't woik. Ain't youse never hoid of 'red-ring-royt'?"
"You mean, like in 'tip-ring-sleeve'?" asked I, referring to the three parts of every telephone jack that operators used in the old days ("Number plea-is").
"Yeah, smart ass. Ring wires always got a red tracer -- "
"And ring gets connected on the right, am I right?" asked I wide-eyed.
"Not the way yer holdin' it."
The way I was holding the assembly against the wall would have resulted in mounting the strips horizontally -- each terminal pair would thus be vertical. There was no "royt." I smiled at the lineman and shrugged. "Can't you just tilt your head?"
"Gimme that thing," he said, rising from his stool
To his partner in the subway, he hollered, "Get yer ass up here and gimme
a hand. We got a dumb joik wearin' a necktie. He's hangin'
his Graybar all wrong. Jeece!"
Epilog A number of readers have pointed out that the word "jeez" appears in dictionaries as the accepted spelling for an exclamation.
Scholarly references describe it as a softened version of shouting out "Jesus!" and warn that some persons are offended by the use of that name in anger or frustration and allow that others consider it a naturally evoked response, a calling out for help.
"Jeece" is not the same word at all, either in pronunciation or in usage. The cases cited herein express neither anger nor frustration nor calling out for help but more a synthetic form of playful exasperation, something like what I feel when readers don't appreciate the distinction.