I’ve been traveling and logging some serious people-watching time in airports, ferry terminals, taxis, and coffee shops. Sitting behind me on the ferry ride, three older folks made mundane small talk in response to every stimuli that fell within sight. Seagull, cabin on the cliff, boat, rocks, seagulls, ducks, rocks. Words carelessly tumbled from their mouths, filling an empty space which might’ve made one of them think the other was upset or ill. Something is wrong if it’s quiet.
I diagnosed them with a natural gas leak. They already caught up on how the kids were doing and which former classmate recently emailed. There were no more out-of-sight things to talk about. I was proud that my silence pipes were strong. I arrived at my destination where my uncle picked me up. I told him how my nieces were and how work was, and he updated me similarly. Shit, I just ran out of things to talk about.
To keep Uncle Bruce from thinking I was bored with his company, I started up the old observational conversation machine. The gas bubbled to the surface. Wow, I burped, those are big apples we just drove past. Are they for cider? What makes a good cider apple anyway? Huh. Interesting. More farts. What kind of tree is that? Hmm. Interesting. Well, not really. I don’t ever plan on making cider and will never be able to distinguish conifers. I’d sprung a leak.
I’ve been traveling, so I’ve been doing a little bit of boozin. In a serendipitous stroke of universal timing, I attended the premier for a independent movie directed by a friend. The dialoge-centric film followed a group of twenty-somethings over the course of a year. College over, careers began, marriage contemplated, and loss experienced, the friends shared most their time together with a drink in one hand. It looked familiar.
As the friends watched sports or sat in a bar, the alcohol corroded their pipes and natural gas leaked. Perhaps the LA Times movie critic (writing under the tired Hollywood nom de plume, Gary Goldstein) touched on this, opining the film “plays host to such an uninspired — and uninspiring — circle of friends and lovers it’s hard to invest in their mundane journeys.” Like lots of us with keyboards, the critic writes from up high, too far to smell distant leaks. But, like I initially did, Goldstein misses what’s really happening during a rupture.
The flow lubricates the pipes from which deeper communication travels. Substance pipes are blockage-prone. Emotional vulnerability and the imprecise translation of feelings into words damn the flow. Natural gas, in the aggregate, subtly erodes these damns through a process that mirrors sailing upwind, tacking. A question about the coffee table, which as it turns out was a family heirloom, meanders, and ultimately we’re discussing the trials of aging. Maybe talking about the weather or a touchdown isn’t so mundane after all.