24 September 2014

What's His Story; I'm Fine Thanks and You?; And Again I Complain About Motormouth


“Of course I talk to myself. I like a good speaker, and I appreciate an intelligent audience.” - Dorothy Parker.

You see that guy over there? The one with the porkpie hat on? Looks like he might be your classic hipster? Yeah him with the goatee, wearing the glasses. Wonder what his deal is. Maybe he’s recently engaged to be married. Or maybe he can’t get a date to save his life. Maybe he’s recently completed a successful business deal or perhaps he’s on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. Could be suicidal or on top of the world. Seriously, he may intentionally overdose on prescription drugs tonight. You don’t know.

I suppose that statistically the greatest likelihood is that he’s part of that great middle. He’s doing okay.  Has what he needs but there’s plenty out there he wants. He’s screwed up a few times in a big way but also made a success of several things. But you don’t know. You just don’t.

There’s a man who frequently rides on my morning train who is unfailingly jolly. He’s an older gent — or at least looks to be — maybe in his late sixties. Gets around with a cane. Has a large belly. Doesn’t dress particularly well but it seems more a matter of choice than a function of his circumstances. He doesn’t have much hair left. He could be the type of person who has eschewed exercise since childhood and has a desk job. I don’t get the impression that he’s very healthy. I’m not sure if he’s always as happy as he seems. How could I be? Some people are very cheery in public, friendly and gregarious, but behind closed doors they are beset by a pervasive gloom. Could be the case with this guy. Maybe he lives alone with a cat. Then again maybe he’s got a wife at home and grown children and regularly sees his grandkids. Who knows.

He’s always got a friendly word for everyone and always seems to find a person to chat with during the train ride and not just the same person each day. I’ve never had an exchange with him as I only see him on early weekday mornings before the first cup of coffee. I don’t suspect that we’d have a lot in common but can’t know that for a fact. I like that he’s around because of his genial manner, although I never like seeing overweight people. Overweight older people who get around with canes could be depressing -- although I don’t let it bother me too much.

We go through our lives presenting facades to one another. Everything is fine all the time. What percent of the time do we answer the how are you question with the word fine or a version thereof? It’s got to be in the upper nineties. It’s automatic. “I’m fine thanks how are you? “Just fine.” We’re all fine. I remember once an acquaintance asked me the old how are you and I revealed that I was suffering from a mysterious illness. I refrained from giving a lot of detail but said it was in the nature of a cold. He stared at me in stunned silence as if I had just described a recent bowel movement. Then he abruptly went on his way. I was about 24 years old then and in the intervening years have never made the mistake of telling anyone save intimates when I’m under the weather. Actually, owing to my Finnish ancestry, I don’t particularly like anyone to know when I’m less than 100%. This was a characteristic of my dad too who always claimed robust health (usually because it was the case) and would be mortified if anyone knew he had so much as sneezed recently. There was nothing phony about my father but like most Finns he put up the old everything is peachy keen front. Not only that everything always was and everything always will be. He developed a selective memory and in later years could not recall a single instance of my brother or I being anything other than perfect children. I can sense the same thing happening to me. My recollections of my children's younger years are pretty much an unending series of delights with both walking around under halos. My wife has tried to remind that this was not actually the case. Point being no one needs to know if I've got dengue fever or beri beri or amoebic dysentery or yellow fever or typhus or cholera or ringworm or bacterial meningitis.

I have a co worker whose mouth is in irritatingly constant motion and I once heard him tell a teacher who had just started about a recent illness he had suffered. It was not even in answer to a question. He just let fly with the details as a conversation starter. Actually that’s quite inaccurate for he wasn’t starting a conversation, he was merely beginning to bore someone else with a nonstop monologue. I am continually perplexed by people who babble incessantly. How a person can be unaware of the fact that they are doing 70-100% of the talking is beyond my comprehension. I should think that when the person you are talking to falls asleep it might be a clue. But he is more than happy for someone of very recent acquaintance to know the A to Z of his recent medical history. That they don't care is of no concern. I avoid him like the plague that he is. My grunts and shrugs in response to his comments to me have convinced him to find easier prey. Someone new on the job is vulnerable. They are trying to be nice to everyone and don't yet realize that this guy has all the style grace and sophistication of a broken spatula.

As a teacher there is for me the constant temptation to prattle on and on. Especially when I’m on a roll and students are interested or chortling or furiously taking notes. You can be seduced by the sound of your own voice. This is dangerous. For one thing you’ve got to leave on a high note. Doing so means a greater likelihood that what you said will be remembered and that the effect of any entertainment you provided will not be sullied by over staying your welcome.

Over staying your welcome. That’s what I’m about to do if I don’t put a sock in it right about now.

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