Have you ever met a people person? Have you ever met one that knew what that meant? “I don’t know, I just like people,” the may say when you ask them. “I like being around people most of the time. I also like to laugh and take long walks around the lake, and I like to do that with the special people in my life.” I used to think this whole line of thought was so unusual. I couldn’t believe that it caught on as an accepted description healthy men, and women, used to describe themselves. Until, that is, I began hanging out at my friend’s liquor store, and worked in restaurants, and hotels. I realized that there was this whole cadre of people out there that walk into liquor stores to buy liquor with the hope that someone will speak to them. These people would “stick around” for a chat that could last hours. My first thought was that these conversations sprang up in a more organic manner, until my friend said:
“Nope! Stops in here, about every other day, and talks my ear off about the most inane stuff.”
Some men would frequent the restaurant where I worked, just to speak to one of the many pleasant, cute, young girls on staff. Some men memorized when the young women that didn’t mind harmless flirting worked.
“Why do you stop and speak to these creepy guys,” I asked one of the waitresses.
“You can tell he doesn’t have anyone,” she said. “And he’s harmless … trust me,” she said. “Plus, he adds a couple bucks to the tip when you take the time to chat with him.”
I thought these girls were wrong. I thought they underestimated these men. I didn’t want anything to happen to them. They were my friends. I was wrong. I over-estimated these guys. They were, in fact, harmless, at least insofar as there were never any incidents that occurred in my time there. These men weren’t just alone in life, they had holes in their soul. Some of them were old, but most of them were men in their prime that would get dressed up, perhaps sprinkle a little cologne on, and get regular, fashionable haircuts for the purpose of fostering their belief that they might have a chance to spend some quality time, between the breakfast crowd and the lunch crowd, speaking to young, attractive girls.
If the traveling businessmen that frequented our hotel were lucky enough to time their entrance into our hotel, so that one of the cute, young women on staff checked them in, they would remain at the front desk long after their check in was completed.
“So how you doing?” they would ask with the urgency removed from their voice. They, too, were harmless individuals that just wanted someone to speak with them. Most of them didn’t want to date any of these girls, or see them in varying stages of undress. They just wanted to chat. They wanted these girls to think they were just people people. They were so alone that they just wanted a couple of minutes of that girl’s time to break up the quiet, tedious monotony of their lives, and have just to have one attractive, young female on God’s green earth say:
“Hank, how you doing? How’s that God forsaken Cutlass Supreme holding up for you?”
When those conversations ended, be it through business needs or through the natural course of a conversation’s completion, I would watch that beaming smile on their face collapse, in a gradual manner, back into the expression of fatigue, sadness, and loneliness that the muscles in their face were used to supporting
The men at the hotels and restaurants appeared to be normal men, with normal and pleasant dispositions, and it seemed impossible to me that they couldn’t get some woman to pay consistent enough attention to fill that gap they needed filling. It taught me how fortunate I was in life to have people that wanted to be around me on a consistent basis. I’ve been alone in life, I think we all have, but I’ve been fortunate enough in life that I never felt the need to walk into an establishment just to get someone to speak with me for five minutes. Who are these people, and what do they do in life to gain some separation, some events in life, and someone to notice them long enough to have some sort of companionship? My experience has taught me that they are a lot more common than most people think.
“You’re afraid of your own opinion,” I told a friend of mine.
His ever present, sanctimonious smile would assure me that he was smarter than I am.
“Just because someone disagrees with you … ” he would say.
“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s the way you frame your statements. It’s your qualifiers. I never heard anyone qualify everything they say before, until I met you. It’s like your running for office. Do you qualify notifications that you’ll be using the facilities, in fear of someone, somewhere finding offense?”
Most people qualify provocative thoughts, because they know that most people like qualifiers, and most people want most people to like them. I’m not going to say that I am immune to this, but I prefer the thought-provoking ideas I hear to standalone. I prefer that thought-provoking, somewhat productive idea that hits people in the jugular and divides them. Most people cannot do this, but the people that lie on the opposite side of spectrum drive me insane.
“I have nothing against food gatherers, but … ” one has to imagine that one caveman said to other caveman to introduce his provocative thoughts regarding males that decided to gather rather than hunt. The point is that the need to qualify, to keep friends, is endemic to human nature, but in this age of Human Resources and PC language, most of us are afraid to speak, or to give voice to a thought that may be deemed offensive by someone. The human need to be liked is too overwhelming and too ingrained.
My friend’s whole life appeared to be an effort to prove Abraham Lincoln’s quote wrong in that he thought he could please all of the people all of the time. I will admit that when this guy spent thirty seconds qualifying everything but his trips to the restroom, it lent his opinions greater importance, but by the time he concluded a thought, I couldn’t help but think he never said anything of import. Everything he said was milquetoast dressed up in a carnival barker’s set of qualifiers.
And he could say nothing for long stretches of time. The few breaks in monotony this man provided his listeners were the qualifiers. He would qualify at the beginning of his oration, he would qualify throughout, and he would then find a way to wrap a bow on his thought with a qualifying wrap up. It was tedious.
Somewhere along the line, I’m guessing, this man was rewarded for his speaking skills. Whether he attended a broadcasting class, where he was asked to stretch it out, or a speech class where there were points given for bringing a speech to eight minutes. Whatever the case, the man developed an ability to cover for his inability to say something profound by clouding it in qualifiers that suggested there was something profound nestled in all those qualifiers, and if you couldn’t find it that was on you. Implicit in his tedious orations was an invitation for you to fear that you weren’t smart enough to understand it. My friend never said this, but it was more than implied.
I tried to find the perfect description for what I thought was one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. When it comes to music, Ben Folds is one of my guys, but I know he’s not for everyone. I’d never found much in the way of Shatner, as far as music was concerned, and I had never been a huge fan of his acting. When the two of them teamed up on a project called Has Been, it reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: mixing granola and yogurt. I am quite sure that banana flavored yogurt alone would be too sweet, and while cranberry granola product is tasty, I doubt that I would purchase it as a standalone. If heaven has a taste, one suspects that the perfect combination of the two might be the sensation one feels if they were to lean over and taste the floor. You don’t always get that perfect combination, as there are times when you have too much yogurt, and others when you have too much granola, and you may one perfect spoonful in one setting, two if your focus is more acute, but those rare occasions make the trip to the store, and all of the effort put into trying to get the perfect spoonful worth it. I realized how hard this idea would be to translate when I was at the zoo. At the zoo, I witnessed one gorilla remove dung from the anus of another gorilla and eat it. When that gorilla closed his eyes –a reaction I deemed to be that gorilla savoring that dung for just a moment before he moved on to another dispensing– I realized that taste and choice are so relative that it’s impossible to define musical tastes through flavor.
Humor Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
We all think we have a pretty good sense of humor. Yet, most of the laughter we receive, from adults, is conditional and polite. It’s a quid pro quo type of agreement we enter into that calls for polite giggles at another’s flavorless jokes, if you want them to return the favor with polite giggle at your flavorless jokes. Infants, and other young people, are not a part of this agreement. Try your sense of humor out on a baby the next time you’re in line at a Wal-Mart behind one. Test your best “baby laugh” material out on them to see how far you get. The baby will turn away at some point, but if you are funny, or unusual in a manner foreign to their world, you’ll get a second glance. If you don’t get that second look, and nothing exciting happens in front of this baby, you can go ahead and guess that you are not as funny, or as unusual, as you thought you were.