Start with a simple question--"How are you?"--and go from there. It's a thoroughly useless question 95% of the time, a mere courtesy and not a genuine inquiry. Heavens, the last thing people want is an honest answer. Honest answers can be unpredictable. "How are you?" I'm alive. I used to consider this a positive, cheery, and irreverent response, but it tends to creep people out. How are you? Miserable. Nobody wants to hear this. Nobody cares. It's the strangest little question: everybody asks it, and few actually cares about the answer. Among those who do care are the occasional boss or co-worker who will actually think less of you as a professional if you answer them honestly and not pleasantly. I ran into a new standard this morning. It was a simple question: "How was your evening?" Now, we all know there's nothing like a vague, qualitative question from someone itching for a fight. Nonetheless, I didn't duck it. Nor was I hostile. I gave a straight answer. Pretty boring. Now why was last night important? Actually, it's only important to this discussion because yesterday was Tigger's birthday. She got off work, went to the bar, came home, stood in the driveway for an hour talking to a friend, came inside, and climbed into bed. I know she talked to me for a short while, but as she always does, she talked during the program (e.g. the presidential debate) and sat raptly during the commercials. No big deal. But by the end of the debate, she was asleep. So having abandoned her plans to enjoy her birthday (apparently we didn't have enough drugs in the house, or something), she slept. No complaints. Whatever. That all is beside the point. So she got up this morning eight minutes before she had to be out the door; she doesn't set her alarm regularly, which means I have to wake her, which means she's going to yell at me for doing so. Additionally, eight minutes? Oh, hell, my bad. Usually I have her out of bed ten minutes before she has to leave; anything earlier than that, and she'll take the time to throw a punch and spend twenty words cussing me out, but, hey ... she won't get up. No matter what time you wake her in relation to when she wants or needs to be up, she always wants, "Just another minute, and then I'll be up," which means, "Keep bugging me, since I have no intention of getting up until I'm so pissed off at you I could hit you just for being in the room." We underestimate June Cleaver and Carol Brady because we believed Ward and Mike actually liked going to work. However, that's beside the point. After trying to cram fifteen minutes' worth of ... um ... whatever it is she does into eight minutes (no matter how late she is she has to take a blowdryer to her hair, even if she hasn't washed it), she comes hacking and wheezing loudly enough to be heard outside the house at five in the morning and asks me to get her a Kleenex, and then snaps at me for attempting to do so. Apparently, I was headed for the wrong box of Kleenex. She wanted me to take three steps instead of seven so that, instead of looking for Kleenex in the kitchen, I could take it out of the box that was within her arm's reach. At which point she was upset at me for putting too much work into getting her Kleenex--she thinks everyone carries grudges like she does--she says the oddest thing: "Sorry about passing out last night. How was your evening?" Sorry? Why? You come home and pass out every night. Nope, didn't say it. Sorry? You? You're never genuinely sorry about anything. Not a chance. The obvious is of no utility in this case. Oh, you know. Pretty boring. The truth? Why the hell not? It's easier than anything else. And it's true, to boot. And really, that's all there is to it: write a post, smoke a cigarette, feed the baby, change the baby, love the baby, read the news, do some laundry, change the baby, play with the baby ... life ain't bad, but yeah, that's just another boring night at home. And this answer apparently is offensive. And the only reason it's offensive is because it was her birthday. Or so it seems. After all, I find this rather quite confusing. Or not. Fighting is what she likes to do, I think. Because important questions, relevant questions, straight answers, relevant answers--these are anathema. I suppose I could have asked, "Why are you apologizing to me? It was your birthday." But that doesn't quite cover it. Being thoroughly useless on your birthday is an American right. I don't know. I never realized that asking your partner how an evening spent taking care of your child falls under the same classification as asking a co-worker how they're doing, or what's up. But then I started thinking of of the classics. "Do these pants make me look fat?" "Was it good for you, too?" No. Yes. These answers are obligatory. Anything else, honest or otherwise, is anathema. But, "How was your evening?" "Boring" includes the lack of babyshit smeared all over the television, or slicing open one's wrists accidentally while pulling toys and such out of the heat ducts. Boring includes the lack of an exploding car or gas heater, or terrorist attack. It includes these things as much as it does a lack of getting laid, getting drunk, or, in some people's cases, not having anyone other than a baby to talk to for days on end. And while the kid's great, that's too much a burden to drop on her. At any rate, if you're still reading this ... um .. I guess that's your fault, or something. Hell, I admit I don't get it. Once again, I need to check in for some contrast with reality: Is the whole of society becoming oysterly truculent? I mean, really ... how do you answer the question? "How was your evening?" Umm ... the house didn't burn down ...? What can be said? "How are you?" "I'm alive." I've been thinking about recording everything I say over the course of a day. I think we'd all be amazed how much of it is courtesy response to things that shouldn't be said. "How are you?" Do you really care? Or, "Sorry about passing out last night. How was your evening?" You're kidding, right? or Why bother today? Frankly, it didn't occur to me that, Oh, you know, pretty boring, was so problematic an answer. I wasn't up for subtle poison. I wasn't short or blunt like Dick° or anything. So ... what the f@*k did I do wrong this time? No biting tone, and I even thought it was an honest answer. What's wrong with being honest? Think about what happens when the most basic elements of our interpersonal praxis are formal, ritual (otherwise known as "customary") lies and apathy. No, seriously, give it a whirl. Try to envision a world in which the most basic elements of how people associate with one another are cheap formalities. It's not much of a stretch, as it looks pretty much like the United States today. Anybody tries to blame that on the Democrats, and I'll whip out an equally tacky response pinning the problem on Christianity. Laugh. That last was a joke. Don't get me wrong, I mean, yes, you can make a superficial argument based on the common story of the "fish symbol" in Christianity by extrapolating the clandestine greeting of one's fellows into the modern world in which people ask questions that aren't any of their business ("So, Bob, what do you do?") while concealing truth from one another as a formalized ritual of greeting. But really, it was a joke. I needed to crack one there because, unfortunately, the first portion of the post, up to that very sentence, is not a joke. ____________________ ° I wasn't short or blunt like Dick - Cheney. What were you thinking? No, wait. I probably don't want the answer to that question.