I was having coffee with a couple friendswhen our conversation suddenly wentblonde. I can say that because I am blonde.
"Have you noticed all those Muster Areasigns outside stores and such?" Deenaasked. "What is a Muster Area anyway?"
"It must be a condiment thing." Moirasaid. "Maybe it's where they have barbecuesduring sales and such."
Deena and I stared at Moira. "What areyou talking about?" I asked, not a little fearfully.
"Oh. Forgive me. I forget who I'm withand tend to use big words sometimes.Condiments are just a fancy word for fixings.You know, like mayonnaise, or relish orketchup. That's what they should have puton those signs. Ketchup Area. Get it? Youstill have your condiment but now it has adouble meaning. It's both a place to addfixings to your hamburgers or hotdogs, anda place where you can catch up with eachother. Get it? Catch up? Ketchup? RelishArea would work too. That could mean anarea to relish the moment as you eat yourhamburger. I don't know why they'd call it aMustard Area though. Maybe that's ournation's favourite fixing."
"It's a Muster Area," Deena explained."Not a Mustard Area."
"Well that doesn't make any sense atall," Moira said. "I've never heard of a condiment sorry, a fixing, called musterbefore. Maybe it's a spelling error."
"Muster isn't a condiment," Deena said,her left eye starting to twitch.
"Well then what is it?"
"It's a word, you know, as in 'muster upyour courage,' " Deena told her.
"If you already knew what it was thenwhy were you asking us about it in the firstplace?" Moira asked, rolling her eyes at me.
"I know what it means but I don't knowwhy suddenly there are signs everywherewith 'Muster Area' on them." Deena replied.
I had been wondering the same thingmyself, but was reluctant to admit to it.Furthermore, the last time I had heard anyoneuse the expression "muster up yourcourage" was back in the '70s. Muster isnot a word you hear every day.
"Well that's it then," Moira said sippingher coffee. "It's a place for insecure peopleto go until they manage to work up somecourage."
"In a parking lot? What? How wouldthat even... Moira, you're an idiot." Deenasputtered, but not without affection.
"Kidding. If muster means to gatherup, then it must mean a place to gatherup. Like if there's a fire or an emergencyor something," Moira said, settingdown her mug.
That's the thing about Moira. Her pendulumswings from strange to smart with veryfew stops in-between. It's just one of themany things I love about her.
Knowing what a Muster Area is still begsthe question of why they would use thatword in the first place. Why not have thewords "Emergency Gathering Point" on thesign instead? It seems to me that an emergencysign is a poor place to be using languageno one has ever heard of. If terroristsattack or Bill throws a lit cigarette in thebathroom waste paper basket, you don'twant to have to think too much aboutwhere it is you're supposed to go. Runningfor your life is no time to be asking someonefor a dictionary.
"Maybe it's a government conspiracydesigned to wipe out the illiterate." I said.
"While all the book smart people are safelygathered at the Muster Area everyone else isstumbling around in the streets getting hitby cars and taken out by terrorists. Ormaybe it's just the opposite! Maybe it's ayouth conspiracy to gather everyone oldenough or smart enough to know what theword muster means all in one place andthen take them out. It would be like shootingfish in a barrel."
Now it was my turn to be stared at. Moiraused her index finger to make discreet circularmotions on the side of her head. Then weall ordered a burger. For some reason wewere suddenly in the mood for mustard.
Shannon McKinnon is a Canadianhumour columnist. You can read past columnsby visiting shannonmckinnon.com