His name was “Doc”.
At least, that’s what his nametag read. Since Jimmie’s is a 50’s-style diner, the décor reflects that, and the servers all wear that period of dress: poodle skirts, bobby socks and big hair bows for the women, slacks, white shirts, bowties and soda jerk hats for the guys.
I don’t know what his real name was. I don’t know how long he’ll stay at that job. I don’t know much about him at all. That’s only fair. “Doc” didn’t know much about me, either.
That wasn’t going to change just by dropping in and having him serve me breakfast. It takes time and interest to form a friendship. I could do nothing about the time factor, but showing some interest? That I could do.
Being an early riser, I prefer eating an early breakfast. Not only am I good and hungry by seven in the morning, but there are fewer other diners. That’s important to me because I often take writing material with me.
This was one of those mornings. Doc and Peggy Sue gave the normal “Welcome to Jimmie’s!” greeting. Doc seated me in an otherwise-vacant area, brought me the requested coffee, took my order, and retreated. At first I was preoccupied with my writing, gathering my thoughts, shaking the overnight dew off the webbed ideas that had gathered while I slept.
I’m a people-watcher. I began to notice this young man named Doc. He circulated back and forth, doing his job and bringing me my food. Yet I noticed a reserve just beneath his professionally-cordial demeanor. He wasn’t brusk or sullen; yet he didn’t exactly sparkle, either. Scanning the section, I saw no one else there yet, so I waited until he brought the coffee pot to refill my cup, then sought his opinion about what I’d been writing.
“Hey, Doc, I have a question for you. It’ll help me with an article I’m posting.” I saw his eyes flick down to the writing pad and pen. When he looked back up, I noted again a faint distrust, a spot reserved from public display.
“Sure.” He even sounded tentative.
“When someone says, ‘How are you,’ why do you think people either say, “Great. Fantastic.” Or say nothing at all?” He didn’t even hesitate.
“They don’t really want to know. It’s like they’re just saying something vanilla to keep you at a distance.” I sat there making eye contact with him for a few seconds, absorbing his ready and real response. I could see the mild embarrassment in his gaze, for he’d used the same dodge. I told him I appreciated the directness of his answer. About then some hungry folks walked through the door and he left to serve them.
Here, then, are my thoughts resulting from that encounter over my corned beef hash and eggs.
Many of us lie almost daily.
“How are you?”
“Oh, fine.” With respect, no. You’re not. That’s CLOSED socially-accepted shortspeak for
- a professional brush-off, an automatic reaction to which no response is expected.
- a surface-level, shallow “relationship”, like a Facebook ‘friend’.
- it’s too painful to talk about
- I’ve been hurt too often, and I don’t want you or anyone else getting that close to me again.
Why CLOSED? Because each of these reactions shut out and close down any possibility of conversation. They are the verbal equivalent of crossed arms and a frown.
Possible real and OPEN responses:
- “Blessed and grateful.”
- “Got time for coffee?”
- “I’m dying.” (This one takes a minute to grasp: even in perfect health, we all are.)
- “I’m loving life!”
- “I’ll listen if you will.”
- “I’m excited about today, right here, right now.”
Why OPEN? Because each of those responses are thoughtful, and invite further conversation if desired.
I don’t expect long-held habits to immediately disappear. That takes time and effort. I do try to incite some mulling, however. All lasting change takes time.
I do know that Doc seems pleased when I show up at Jimmie’s, and he keeps my coffee cup full.
That’s a great start.
© D. Dean Boone, June 2018