Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Talking with Strangers

I have mentioned my friend Rick, a former IBM colleague. I left the IBM job a dozen years ago, but five of us from the department have lunch roughly once a month, and Rick and I go to a movie and have dinner, also roughly once a month.

I'm not sure whether it's just shyness or what, but he really doesn't like to interact with strangers and doesn't like it at all when I do.

Several years ago we were having dinner in a restaurant and talking about movies in general, and neither of us could remember the title of a Brad Pitt movie. It was a well known movie, and at some point I turned to a middle aged couple at the next table (Rick, mumbling: "Oh, Christ") and asked whether they knew the name of the Brad Pitt movie involving vampires. It turned out they were British, pleased at being acknowledged, and were in the same boat - they'd seen the movie but couldn't remember the title.

Rick and I resumed our futile attempts to come up with the title. I began to become annoyed with it all and scanned our neighbors for likely prospects. Perhaps ten feet away there was a booth occupied by six young women. Now at that time virtually any young woman in the English speaking world could tell you whatever you needed to know about Brad Pitt, and I said to Rick "I *have* to know the name of that movie."

I stood up, turned toward the young women, and managed to avoid cracking up when I heard Rick say, "Oh, Jesus." I walked over to the booth and was greeted by six upturned faces, no paranoia, just curiosity and friendliness.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I'm sure you can tell me something I need to know: What was the title of the Brad Pitt movie about vampires?"

Six women, in concert: "Interview with the Vampire."

"I thank you, and I'm just going to stand here for a few seconds and ramble on about nothing because for some reason my doing this embarrasses my friend."

Giggles from the six of them, and I returned to Rick, who was very well hidden by the menu he was holding in front of his face, and was greeted by "I can't *believe* you do that."

"That's nothing, watch this." I turned to our British neighbors and told them the title, and they responded with delight and thanks.

We got through the meal (Rick suffering no indigestion due to my activities), eventually paid the waitress, and as we put on our overcoats (it was winter) I said, "I have to thank them."

Rick rolled his eyes and I walked back to the women once more. "I thank you once again, and thank you for helping me embarrass my friend." We all turned to look at Rick, who was . . . gone.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's What I Do

A bit of dialogue from a scene in the movie Van Helsing, a farcical Dracula story:
    (Igor is poking a caged werewolf with a cattle prod.)
    Dracula: "Why do you torment that thing so?"
    Igor: "It's what I do."
A trait passed down to me by my father is a fondness for teasing. Not all the time and not everyone, but when the perfect opportunity arises I'm there.

Nat, a coworker at a firm in Virginia, was an Irish Catholic, a transplanted Illinoisan, and a *big* Notre Dame fan, especially during the football season. He was so partisan he was blind to reason. I once heard him complaining about the treatment of Notre Dame football teams by sportswriters.

Now let me tell you, over the years no team has received better treatment from national sportswriters than the Notre Dame football team. At least once they have been ranked in the top ten with a record that included *two* losses.

Nat left us to return to Illinois and get married, and it happened that his departure coincided with the football season. A few weeks after Nat left, Notre Dame, favored also by post-season bowl committees, had been given a berth in a bowl game despite a 6-5 record. Not unexpectedly, they lost.

I cut a column out of the next day's sports section of a local newspaper, did a little shopping, and found the perfect sympathy card, a "Sorry for your loss" sort of card, vague about what the loss might have been. I signed the card, took it to work, and got everyone there to sign it.

I sent the card to Nat, the column about Notre Dame's loss enclosed. Several evenings later the phone rang.

Loudly, and with outrage:

Don't you have anything to DO? Don't you have a fucking JOB?