Sunday, June 24, 2018

Working hard or hardly working?

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(I admit if you are not a librarian like me or have teenage children, you might not have gotten that reference. This will clear things up.)

. . .

The other day, a guy I didn’t know asked me, “Working hard or hardly working?” Now, I like a banal exchange as much as anybody, especially when translated into dude. A dude who asks this question is really just using it as misdirection while he does the two-second full-body scan and decides if he can take you. All dudes do it unconsciously. Men are like puppies in this respect, and several other respects, actually, if you bring food into it. 

He was quite old, with long white hair and beard, like a hippy Santa who could definitely not take me. Unless he had those ninja throwing stars, which I gauged to be unlikely. These days you can never tell, though, who is going to whip out throwing stars with little swastikas on them or something. Don’t you curtail my freedom of speech! Thwack! Money is speech. Thwack! Shouting down speeches is speech. Thwack! Throwing stars are speech. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

We were in the library, not far from boys on the public computers blasting each other in computer games. Santa lamented the virtual violence which children seemed to glory in, and worried what would become of them when grown. “Stalin and Pol Pot never played,” I said back to him only in my head. 

“Maybe they are getting their aggressions out this way,” I said, “so they don’t have to do it in real life.” He was skeptical. Unlike me, he’d never played.

I daresay as a boy he ran through forests or back yards with a stick as a gun, mowing down friends who played the parts of Nazis or Indians or communists. Yet he did not end up with a rifle in a clock tower, or lighting up the halls of a school. I fired a few sticks myself in my youth, but I turned out all right. It did not go so well for the communists. Or the Indians. The Nazis are hanging in, though.

His “hardly working” question made me ponder all the other mindless blather people say to each other to avoid the only real question there is—“So how do you plan to keep from dying?” 

Let’s face it, all other questions are filler. 

I had this epiphany when I was a kid. I went to my dad. 

“Dad!” I said. “I’m never going to die!”

“Oh? Why’s that?” he asked.

I looked him right in the eyes a second so he would see I was the brightest son ever. 

“Because I don’t know how,” I said.

In my world, to do long division you had to know how. To conjugate verbs, you had to know how. I thought I had found the loophole, overlooked by every prior human generation. 

I will never forget his sad laugh. I don’t remember the words he used to dissuade me from my certainty. But I do remember that laugh.  

I am still working on the problem. How do you plan to keep from dying? You might say, how about living to the utmost while you’re here? Sure, if you want to keep it superficial. I am hunting for an actual loophole. 

“Hot enough for you?” is just unspoken code for “How long do you think I’ve got left?” 

“How d’you like them Dodgers?” I am sure you’ll be fine. For a while. Then not at all. 

Meeting strangers, we ask the generic ice-breaker, “So what do you do?” Maybe what we should really be asking is “So how are you doing? I mean, under this crushing weight of mortality?”

Whenever I am asked “What do you do?” I want to answer, “I ponder. I muse. I work the angles. I do my best to try to make mortality nervous. To keep it looking over its shoulder.”

Working hard or hardly working? Yes. Thanks for asking.