Remember those rambling conversations on Seinfeld when the characters are talking about two entirely different things – as if they are actually talking to each other? If the sound were down on the TV it would look as though the characters are engaged in a thoughtful exchange, but when you turn the sound up, Jerry is talking about not liking greasy food and George is discussing how annoying it is to have a loose button on his shirt. Writing that kind of dialogue probably wouldn’t be that difficult, performing it might be a challenge.
I think when my siblings and I get together we probably engage in parallel conversations a lot. I might be talking about teaching and some funny anecdote from the classroom, and my brother Pat could be talking about fixing up a wrecked car that no one else would have figured could be salvaged.
The last time I was at the doctor’s office I was checking the calendar on my phone when this odd little conversation occurred on the bench next to me. I am not very fast at the recording on the small keyboard with my thumbs. But I didn’t have a book with me and didn’t have anything to write with. I opened a new memo and text-typed this little exchange. I missed a lot, I'm sure. I probably looked deep in thought but was really just eaves dropping.
An older gentleman is sitting on the sofa waiting to see the doctor. Baseball cap, long sleeved shirt buttoned up to his throat, big worn out tennis shoes, age spots on the backs of his hands, big baggy trousers, rimless glasses, whiskery throat.
A little old lady walks in with a cane, parks herself on the opposite end of the same bench. She has her snow white hair up in a bun on the top of her head, pretty, flowered, old fashioned dress, white cardigan sweater, the kind of little round spectacles that make her eyes look big. Prim. She wears nice shoes with stout heels. Are they called pumps? They look to be about the same age.
“Never been out of South Carolina. Never saw the need,” she says, speaking in his direction. “Nope, never saw the need. Can’t see why people would want to wander around the way they do.”
“Yep,” says he. “It used to be like Mayberry when I was a kid. Mayberry. Things were simple. That kind of feeling is hard to find nowadays. It’s just not the same.” He looks straight ahead, but he seems like he is talking to her. No one else appears to be listening. He goes on. “Got rid of my wife back in ’89. She was always up to no good. Didn’t give me no choice, really. Just made a fool outta me.”
Little Old Woman seems to hear him and answers in her own fashion. “My little granddaughter called me and said to look outside at all that snow. I thought that was so cute. She was all the way up in Michigan. She just assumed that we had that same snow all the way down here.”
Little Old Man: “I live in a old trailer. It’s hard to keep that thing warm when it’s a cold outside. It’s hard to live in a trailer."
Little Old Woman: “Just imagine all that snow! While our weather is balmy, down right balmy. She looked out her window and said all she could see was snow. She gets the day off school.”
Man: "‘Bout thirty years ago I did have me a house. That thing was too much for me. Of course my wife loved it. She was always trying to make out like we was better than the neighbors."
Woman: “I guess we haven’t had a good snow down here for many years. Six years? Eight years? I don’t remember. I’m sure glad we don’t have that kind of snow down here.”
Man: “I would be a good maintenance man if my knee wasn’t so trick. I did it for ‘bout thirty years. It was ‘bout to kill me. I didn’t have no benefits though. No benefits at all. At least now I got me a little pension coming in.”
Woman: “I was a school teacher for forty-two years. Forty-two years. Been retired for over twenty years. Honestly, the kids have changed so much.”
Man: “I loved doin’ maintenance. Wasn’t hardly nothin’ I couldn’t figger out if it got busted or just wore out. They said I was a helluva fix-it-man. That’s what they said all right. One helluva fix-it-man”
Woman: “Back then, kids were respectful. Respectful. They had to be. If I whooped one at school, he got the switch when he got home as well. Yessir, parents backed you up.”
Man: “Never had no formal training at fixin’ things. Just hung around my old man. I suppose that was all the training a fix-it-man needs. Real world trainin’.”
Woman: “By the end of my time as a teacher you couldn’t even paddle the kids without signing a form and having witnesses and all.”
Man: “Even fixed a heatin’ and air unit once. Most people hadn’t even had no experience with air conditionin’. But, yessir, I figgered it out just usin’ logic. Logic is all it took. Never had no formal trainin’ at all.”
Woman: “Most times the principal did the paddling for us. I would rather have done it myself. That way the kids knew where it was coming from and for why.”
Man: “I fix all my own stuff now. Couldn’t see hiring someone for somethin’ I could do myself. Just takes a little common sense is all.”
Woman: “Nosiree. From what my niece tells me now you can’t paddle them at all. Not at all. Can you imagine trying to keep control without being able to paddle the ones who need it?”
Just before I left the waiting room, being called back into the inner sanctum, their conversations intersected.
Man: “Yeah, I guess that’s why I never felt so bad about never having no kids. Never had to do none o’ that kind of stuff. None at all.”
Woman: “Well I can tell you, sometimes a good paddling is just what those children needed. The good old ‘Board of education…”
If you had turned the sound down, it would have looked like they were conversating ‘bout somethin’ real interestin’.
And I guess it was interesting for each of them to hear their own words, but I don’t think there was much of an authentic exchange of ideas. More like two monologues running side by side.