The Meandering Curmudgeon Episode
(an excerpt from the book My Brain Has A Mind Of Its Own)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When we run into each other and I say “Hi! How are you?” — I’m not, in fact, all that interested in how you are. And I’ll let you in on another rarely mentioned fact of life. When we run into each other and you ask me “How are you?” – you really don’t care either. That’s right, I (you) don’t give a hog’s goiter how you (I) are (am). It’s just a ritual we go through so that we can go on to talk about the thing we really care about—ourselves.
When I was in college, some friends and I ran a little experiment. We determined that whenever anyone asked “How are you?”, we would smile politely, look the person in the eye, and reply “Frogs thanks, and you?”
The results? I swear to you, as sure as my name is Stinky Pinwhistle, not one person ever noticed. Not one! (Okay, you caught me. My name isn’t really Stinky Pinwhistle. That’s my pet name for the fourth toe on my left foot. Just start at the big toe and count down four. That’s him, the one lording it over the fifth toe, Shorty Mumblepants. Someday when we have more time, I’ll introduce you to the other eight toes.)
Stinky is a very reliable toe, however, so when I swear by him, you can be dang sure I mean what I say. No one paid the slightest attention to how we were, they just asked for the heck of it.
Interestingly enough though, the subject we humans most often wish to expound upon is closely related to the initial query “How are you?”; be it physical or emotional, we want to give an update on our health. (Gosh, it seems like forever since I last used a semicolon. Really feels great. I hope that’s what they are for.)
We talk about the bad cold we’re getting over. We talk about the headache we had yesterday. We talk about the anxiety we felt choosing a new color of nail polish or the depression we felt when our tomato plants died of blight. We talk about the pain of our latest breakup or the pain in the small of our back. We are fascinated by our own health to the point of it turning into– dare I say it? –an unhealthy obsession.
After years of management positions at call centers, turning bright-eyed young high school grads into cynical, hard-bitten customer disservice representatives, my wife developed an interest in herbs and such, and, after considerable schooling, became a natural health practitioner. She is constantly talking to me about this herb and those minerals and how that amino acid is necessary for the absorption of these other essential nutrients, or how organ A needs supplement B to keep from overproducing biochemical C. And last, but certainly nowhere near least, how all this applies to her own state of wellness.
Of course, I don’t understand a word of it or quickly forget the little I do understand, but at least it gives her the illusion that we’re communicating and explains why most of my paycheck goes to the Natural Life Emporium.
I have a sister with diabetes who gives me daily updates on her glucose levels, an aunt who reports on her search for the best stool softener, a cousin who gives me the details of his recovery from laser eye surgery, and a friend who broke his arm in a car crash rushing to an appointment to have his adrenal glands palpated.
Of course, I do know people who have quite serious and troublesome illnesses and I am not without a deep sympathy for their conditions. Not totally without one, anyway. But, dear friends, relatives, casual acquaintances, and strangers on the street, I am sick to the gills of listening to you complain about your ailments. I just can’t stand it any longer. It’s bad for my health.