Thursday, November 16, 2006

Small Talk

I call Sam. His wife answers. I have never met her though I know her name is Sandy. Sam has been complaining loudly about her lately. I ignore it when he says stuff like, "She's trying to kill me." He doesn't say it with a smile. He seems to mean it. He says things about his wife like you'd expect Archie Bunker to say, or the kind of things I used to expect from middle-aged people who'd gotten themselves into dead-end marriages. I used to think all marriages were dead-end. I never wanted to do anything that would last very long. I couldn't imagine something being interesting for any length of time. I loathed and feared the term "settling down." I even wrote about it in 12th grade.

Sam seems to be someone who "settled down." I remember him saying once to someone who had called in on the hotline, "Well, if you want to marry her, make sure her kids like you because a woman won't ever choose the guy over the kids."

Sam is pragmatic. He likes to go to happy hours where the drinks are cheap. Pretty much everything in his world boils down to money. He said a week or two ago to someone else who called in, "Well, you say you want security, well, that means money, right?" Like it was a no-brainer.

He calls his wife "the wife." He calls his daughter "the daughter." His son "the son." He smokes. He drives some kind of pick-up. He's kind of handsome. He wears jeans and tee-shirts. He has thick black hair and a fresh healthy-looking face. Boyish.

I call him tonight because I got invited to a group lunch to celebrate Rick who's retiring. I called the organizer of the lunch this morning to say I couldn't make it and she said she'd reschedule the lunch and asked me to call Sam to find out when he can make it, then call her back etc. etc. I found myself knee-deep in group miasma, but still wanting to see if I could swim to shore.

So I called Sam tonight and when his wife answered I didn't say, "Hi, Sandy." I just said who I was so she wouldn't think I was some girlfriend and if I could talk to Sam.

He got on the phone. "I'm outside," he called into the phone. "I just started a fire." I wasn't sure what he meant but I didn't ask.
We said what we had to say about when we could maybe do this group lunch thing and then Sam said, "I don't like that new guy on our shift."

A new guy, fresh out of the training, had just been put on our shift the week before. He was a nice guy, but we didn't need another person. There was barely enough to do as it was and Sam has been on the verge of quitting for the last couple months anyway.

Last week I'd said to him, "Well, maybe you and I could switch off. You come in one week and I'll come in the other."

"Yeah," he'd said. "But I like working with you."

Which scared me a little. I didn't want things to get that personal.

On the phone when Sam says he doesn't like the new guy I say, "But he's a nice man." The new guy is a nice man. A bit of a good boy. A little docile, but very sweet and someone I tried last week to make feel welcome, as if he appeared to me fragile, feelings easy to hurt.

"Yeah, he's nice," Sam answers, "but he's no fun."

I laugh. It is a little true.

I wonder if I should let myself be friends with Sam. It scares me a little. But I do like joshing around with him. There were a few months there where Sam, Rick and I enjoyed working together. I was the new kid on the block and I found myself often just sitting with these two guys when the phones were quiet and just talking about nothing important -- just movies or food. And I enjoyed it so much.

I remember once my father telling me what small talk was. I was about ten. A man and his wife had visited us for lunch and then my father and I drove them to the train station. Afterwards my father spoke of the two people scornfully. "Did you notice the silly things she was saying?" my father said as we drove home. "That's called small talk."

I didn't want to ever make such a mistake, but as I grew up it seemed like everything I thought of to say was small. Small talk. And I kept quiet.

Sitting with Sam and Rick was new for me. Chewing the fat. Shooting the breeze.

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