Archive for May, 2007

Two Friends

One friend’s art flourishes.
The other friend works for her overbearing mother at a flower shop and finds happiness while watching movies.

There was a man who lived alone in a house in the suburbs. His house annoyed him everyday when he remembered that he could not brush his teeth, shave, wash his face or even drink a glass of tap water because there were no sinks and no shower in his house. The man would often wake up and remain motionless in bed before rising just to wonder why his house had a perfectly functioning toilet and yet no sinks. Furthermore, what made this crucial shortage of a water source excusable when he made his decision to purchase the house? Yes, he was short on money and the house was shockingly cheap for being located in such a calm and quiet neighborhood in the suburbs with an oval-shaped lawn in the backyard and some free furnishings such as a plaid couch that smelled like mothballs and a 1950’s style polished wood kitchen table, but still, there was not one sink to be found.
The economic benefit of spending such a small amount of money on the house was gradually depleted by the number of meals the man was forced to eat at restaurants. Since the man could only stomach cheap fast food every few days—despite his economic situation in life, the man’s palate had always been sensitive to the quality and flavor of his cuisine—he was forced to eat at delis, taquerias and places that cost ten dollars or less for a single meal. The man’s job as assistant manager at an independently owned bookstore—what he believed was the only honorable profession for a man who loves books but has yet to be commercially realized—produced an extremely limited budget. As time passed, the accumulated expense of restaurant outings and several instances of diarrhea at work, which he blamed on the questionable sanitation practices of modern eateries, forced him to take a desperate action.
Besides the price, the lawn, the couch and the table, the house in the suburbs pleased the man greatly because it allowed him to go on avoiding the greatest fear he had ever known in life: making eye-contact with another human being for more than two seconds. If the man tried to stare any longer—something the manager at the bookstore always encouraged him to do when he engaged customers—the skin between his fingers would start to sweat, the pulse on his neck would visibly shiver and beat with violence and everything in his vision would go blurry, as if he was trying to read a book with small print underwater in a heavily chlorinated pool.
Showers were provided by the local Y.M.C.A. but any other form of water was unavailable to the man, making the bulk package of Macaroni and Cheese purchased with the last bit of his meager paycheck useless to him. The man worked two full days without eating; all the while his eye contact with his boss and coworkers shrinking from two seconds to lightning bolt glances, his deliberate enthusiasm almost completely dwindled away. On his third day of fasting the man broke down and decided to knock on his next-door neighbor’s door with an empty gallon container and ask for some water— even if it meant looking a stranger in the face.
On his way across his neighbor’s perfectly manicured front lawn, with a wide variety of immaculate yellow flowers and a brilliantly sparkling bird-feeder that looked like it could have been intricately carved by hand from a block of granite, the man almost turned back when he realized that other houses on the street might have the same problem as his own. The thought came to the man too late because his neighbor, sitting in a large reclining chair pointed directly at the front window, had watched the man’s timid approach and quickly got up to throw open the front door.
“It’s you!” Cried the neighbor who the man had never seen.
The man forced a weak cough before looking up from his shoes to see who addressed him. A short, yet imposing figure whose bodily construction appeared free from the rigidity of bones—just a vertical mass of condensed, tightly-packed pudgy white flesh—stood on the porch with eyebrows pointed in a menacing “V” shape.
“You’re the guy who can’t drive. You backed into my azaleas, didn’t you?”
The man’s neighbor pointed to a small indent in an otherwise straight line of bushes facing the street.
“You can’t even look me in the eye; it must have been you!”
The man’s hands started shaking, rattling the container that he clutched tightly.

Friend: So…how was your weekend?
Me: Hmm.
(I think about all the insignificant details that construct a whole weekend. Which one of them is important enough to define the overall quality? Is it a combination of all the events? An absolution stating if the sum parts were a majority of overall enjoyment or down right negativity?)
Me: It was…good.
Friend: That’s nice.
Me: But that’s not really what I mean.
(I remember the pasta I ate on Saturday night. The pasta, rigatoni style, was not too hot, but the marinara sauce must have been served at a boiling temperature. I couldn’t wait for the delicious plate of food in front of me to cool down, so I stuck my fork in and proceeded to take a massive bite. Here I am, sitting in my last Monday class, and the roof of my mouth still feels tender from the burn. Although, I can’t forget or deny how good that crispy piece of garlic bread tasted once everything cooled down…)
Friend: So it was bad?
Me: No…it’s just kind of an intricate question when you really stop and think about it.
Friend: What? I asked you that forty-five minutes ago. Stop talking to me.

And here is my essential problem with spoken language. Typical speaking situations inherently possess time frames. There are definite time limitations that a person must meet in order to maintain a non-awkward, two-sided and healthy conversation. Unless the conversation is trivial, like when you can just fall back on repetitive formal responses—as I couldn’t even do in the example given above—a person must make quick decisions with flowing ease while choosing from a slew of possible words in order to convey the clearest meaning possible. Although thrilling at times, the high-risk life of a conversationalist usually proves to be difficult and stressful. Too often have I snatched at a word in the heat of a good talk, only to look back with regret and think about how I could have made myself clearer if I had more time to think about what I really wanted to say. Thesauruses and dictionaries are to spoken words what S.T.D. ‘s are to a first date: you just don’t bring them up. If you were to stop a political discussion and pull out a thesaurus to look up another word for “jerk”, “communist”, or “Gerald Ford” your conversation would not be recovered when you found the perfect word for your specific argument or point.
And that is why I sternly believe that sitting down, taking your time and clarifying yourself through the ancient craft of writing is…really, really…good.