I’m just fine, thank you. Thanks for asking.
How are you?
Great to hear. Say hi to [name of significant other here.]
That’s how most of my conversations go, and that’s fine with me.
All of us engage in in these snippets of conversation. Yes, of course they are shallow, but there’s a valid reason: We’re busy. We’re on our way to work; we have to get home to cook for the kids. It’s our way of acknowledging we know someone, but at the same time, keeping an arm’s length away: not too much info, please, time is tight.
Look, this does not apply to loved ones or our best friends or co-workers. If someone I’m close to needs me for support or comfort or whatever, I’m there (just don’t ask me for money).
There are certain people we’ve learned the hard way not to engage with. We all know someone like this:
“Hey [fill in name]! How the hell have you been?” you ask, though you really don’t care. And then, you get that droopy-eyed beagle look.
“Not good. I just had a surgery. The doctor said my bloody stool . . . I have to get a bile sample from my esophagus . . . I’m really afraid that . . .”
Whoa Nellie! I’m on my way to get lunch. I really didn’t need the round up. A simple “good” would have sufficed. Almost as bad are the people who insist there is something wrong with you. These are usually females of a certain age, former hippies who have found that cleansing their bodies has enabled them to achieve a sense of purity, a healthy lifestyle that will assure long life.
The trouble with this mindset is their quest for a healthy lifestyle and long life began when they were 51. Before that, they smoked, ingested enough dangerous drugs to take down a cow, and slept with 200 biker dudes.
I have one friend named Sunshine who fits the bill. You know the type. Reeks of patchouli oil. Tattoos in all the places you can’t see and most of the ones you can. Long, unkempt curly hair — and that’s from the armpits. Here is a typical encounter.
Me: “Sunshine! You look great! Hope everything is cool. Say hello to Ramrod.” You almost get away but suddenly she embraces you, tears welling in her eyes.
“I heard you’re not doing good. Oh, my dear Rick. Let me comfort you.”
“I’m, umm, fine, thanks.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yeah, I am.”
“NO, you’re not. I can see the brown in your dilated pupils. There are impurities in your body. How long have you felt like this? Do you want an enema?”
There is no arguing with Sunshine, because what was once a dim light is now completely out in Sunshine’s head, the result of too much LSD, patchouli oil, and men named Snake, Razor, and Little John.
How do I try to explain that, yes, I have brown eyes — just like the day I was born.
Some people just insist on giving you too much information about themselves. It’s like they feel the need to bring you up to speed on everything that happened to them since the last time you saw them, even if it was the day before. The only way to curtail this behavior is to give it right back to them.
“Hey Rick! How have you been?”
“You mean, before the rash became infected?”
“Jeez! I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, it’s oozing pretty good now. Here, hold my belt and I’ll show you. Watch it though, this thing is contagious.” That usually does it.
There is the less personal route we can take when trying to make casual conversation without committing to a significant amount of unnecessary prattle.
“Hey, how about the weather?”
“It’s freakin’ hot!”
“Yeah , could sure use some rain!”
That’s it. All you have to remember is to adjust your salutation according to the season.
In theory, there really is no way you can get in trouble if you follow the guidelines, although every once in a while, you run into that fellow who will not be denied. You say, “Whew! How about this weather, huh?”
He says, “Look at my infected cyst. Here, put your fingers on it and squeeze.”
Folks, I hope you are all OK, and I mean that. And I know you feel the same away about me. But when our paths cross, let’s do each other a favor — let’s be “fine.”
Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.