how not to talk on the phone

“Hi,” I said. “It’s been a long time! How are you?”

“Good,” she replied. “You know how Christmas goes. Busy. Especially this year. Squirreling away everything for the big economic collapse.”

I said nothing.

“You know how it’s all going to crumble. No matter what they say.”

“Well, actually,” I said, “I don’t know that.”

“Oh, don’t get all philosophical with me,” she said. “You know what I mean.”

“Honestly, I don’t. And please don’t tell me this is another Obama-is-the-curse-of-the-twenty-first-century story.”

“Oh, Obama, Bush, I don’t care.” She retorted. “They’re all really nobodies.”

She paused.

“I mean, it doesn’t really matter who’s in the presidency. They all are working for something bigger.”

“Bigger?”

“Sure, you know.”

Pause.

“You know, there’s, well, I hate to use the word, but there’s a conspiracy. It’s all so much bigger than whoever’s the current president.”

“There is?”

“Oh, don’t sound so skeptical! You know, it’s all about globalization, one world government, you know. They all want it.”

“Oh,” I said. “That.”

Pause.

“Actually,” I said, “I don’t agree with your sense of ‘globalization.'”

“What this time?” She sighed. “Did I say anything controversial?”

“Look, I don’t agree with the Revelation/apocalyptic interpretation you put on it.”

“Oh come on,” she retorted. “Everyone, not just Christians like me, talk about globalization, Bon. You don’t have to read Revelation into it. Listen to the news. Read the paper. Secularists of any stripe want it. Everyone wants it but us few who call for the preservation of national sovereignty.”

“Well, not everybody,” I said. “I mean, look at the Muslims. They don’t want globalization.”

“Oh, come on, Bon! That’s who wants it more than anyone!”

“Excuse me? You’d think the terrorist attacks (which, by the way, are only coming from an extreme minority of radical fundamentalists) were against Western notions like globalization.”

“Look, it’s ‘first Saturday, then Sunday.’ They want the whole world to be Muslim. They want globalization, but on their terms. They want a global kingdom of Allah. Destroy first the Jews then the Christians. Global Islam.”

“Wow.”

“Oh, don’t use that tone of voice, Bon. Jeez, I’m not saying anything controversial, anything that isn’t already well-known. I’m just stating facts.”

“No,” I sighed, “You’re not. The notion ‘globalization’ is really ambiguous. Do you mean global economy? Global law? Global religion? Global health standards? It’s really easy to condemn globalization if you don’t have any hard-and-fast definition of whatever this bogeyman is. And whatever the notion is that you’re worrying about depends on an understanding read through a literalist interpretation of Revelation. I don’t buy that reading. So I disagree with you.”

“Well, fine.”

Pause.

“So how goes your Christmas preparations?” I asked.

“Jeez, Bon,” she retorted. “What the heck? Why do you have to make everything so controversial?”

“I don’t,” I said. “We just disagree on a lot. I don’t want to argue with you.”

“Well, we used to be able to voice our disagreements. But since the election, you’ve gotten really intolerant.”

“Ah,” I said.

Pause.

“I spoke with M this week, and we talked about you.”

“Really?” she asked, “How is she?”

“She’s well. You know, I think she’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever known. We’ve been good friends since first grade, you know.”

“She is nice,” she said. “We rode the bus to school together.” After a slight pause, she added, “What is it that she’s got, again? I want to say MS, but that’s not right.”

“Cerebral Palsy.”

“Yeah, that’s right. But she’s got it mild.”

“Well, yeah, but she sure was treated roughly for it in grade school. Actually, her disability had a huge role in the development of our friendship.”

“What, M?”

“Yeah, she had serious problems with teachers.”

“Huh.” Pause. “She’s got brothers?”

“No, sisters.”

“And they’re all normal?”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, jeez, Bon, don’t get all PC with me! You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Come on! Normal, you know, without disabilities.”

“Look, every person in the world has a disability of some sort. Only some are more visible than others. So if you mean ‘without disabilities’ when you say ‘normal,’ then no, they’re not.  If, however, you mean that they don’t have CP, then yes, they’re ‘normal.'”

“Sure, Bon, everyone’s got disabilities. But you know what I mean.”

“Honestly, dear, I don’t. And I don’t want to get into an argument.”

She sighed loudly.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, whatever. I just don’t know how to talk to you. You make everything so freaking controversial.”

“Sorry.” Pause.

“Oh, you know when I was last back home and spent and evening with J and T?”

“Sure.”

“Well, J told me that you outed me to her. You said something like ‘you know she’s out, don’t you?'”

“What?” she exclaimed. “It was so much the other way around.”

“I don’t know. But you know it’s not cool to out somebody, even if you might think they’re already out. I mean, it’s not like the whole world knows simultaneously…”

“What do you take me for? I thought we’d discussed this!”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to make a problem, but I just needed to find out…”

“You know, this is infuriating to me. I would never!”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m glad you told me. I should reconsider though, friendships. I mean, that somebody would say something like that about me!”

“No, that’s not what I intended.”

“I know, but…”

“No, really. I don’t mean to drive any wedges.”

“Well, you told me that your sister thought she was kind of odd…”

“No!” I sighed. “At the time, you knew her better than I do. Now I know her much better. You’ll recall I was concerned about how to interpret her, only now I know her much better, and I like her a lot. She’s a good person.”

“Well I don’t know.”

“Please!”

“I’m just going to have to reconsider some things. I guess I should talk to her.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. And I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, I’m glad you did!”

Longish Pause.

“I have to tell you about how I accidentally stunned somebody again.”

“What’d you do this time?” she asked.

“Oh, same old. I speak before I think, generally offing with some zinger or another.”

“Yeah?”

“Well you know how I pun or play off comments—like at the 20 when M and I were talking, and S walked up in an extremely revealing outfit…”

“I’ll bet.”

“Anyway…”

“No, you have to know, she’s on drugs.”

“Oh.”

Pause.

“Anyway, we were all amusing ourselves with the oddity of staying with our parents and borrowing their cars—it cracked a bunch of us up to say ‘I have to get home by such and such a time; my parents are waiting up,’ or ‘I have my dad’s car, and I’m kinda nervous driving it; he’d kill me if I wrecked it.’ “

“Yeah.”

“So, anyway, S comes up to us wearing this outfit that she’s all but falling out of, and she says to us, ‘I wore something else tonight, but then as I was getting ready to leave the house, I thought my dad would never approve. So I had to pick something else to wear.’ And I said, ‘So you picked that.’ M about fell over from laughter.”

“She really has a problem. Meth. Been doing it for years.”

“Oh, I doubt that. Her skin and teeth are  fine. But she was loopy as all get out that night. I think she’s hilarious.”

“No, Meth doesn’t wreck everyone’s skin. She’s on meth and speed—you name it. You should have seen her at the summer party. She’s on drugs, I tell you. And L told me that she and S used to do drugs together, but S has gotten so messed up that even L won’t hang with her anymore.”

“Oh. That’s very sad.”

Pause.

“She is such a liar. She isn’t all that she says she is. You know, she’s a hair stylist and she went on and on about how she could fix my hair. I wouldn’t let her touch my hair. I mean, what kind of life? And you know when she was at the party that summer, she was all about getting ____ to go to bed with her, and finally he relented, and then he felt really gross and had to go get STD tests. I’m sure she gave him plenty. She’s just a total mess. Did I tell you that she…”

“I was actually talking about what I said the other day.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Anyway, I had these friends over for dinner, and he was trying to get my cat’s attention. She was not interested. And finally, he looked up at me, exasperated, and he said as if speaking for the cat, ‘I come for no man!’ And I replied, ‘Yeah, me neither.’ “

“That’s funny!”

“Yeah, but I think I embarrassed him. I mean, other people would laugh, but his response was a sort of blink…..blink. blink.”

“Oh, people are just too sensitive.”

“Maybe. But I was kind of embarrassed myself, considering maybe I should think before I retort. I need to be more sensitive.”

“Oh, people just need to accept you as you are.”

“Oh, they do. These are wonderful people.”

“Do they know?”

“Of course they do! Jeez, you think I’d have cracked that joke as a coming out line?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

Longish pause.

“So you know I’ve been working on that whole job search. And I filled out the most ridiculously long and convoluted online application for ___ college.”

“___!” She exclaimed. “You can live here!”

“Well, I haven’t got the job. And I may not get it.”

“Ah, but you can move in with us! We can rent you a room and give you a spot in the garage!”

“Aw, you’re sweet, but no thanks…”

“No, really! There’s plenty of room here! My son’ll be moving out for college, and you can have his room!”

“Thanks, but really, I can’t live in a single room.”

“No, really! It’s a big room, and he’s got it all set up like a dorm room. You’d love it!”

“Look, I live in a house. I have a lot of stuff, and a whole library of books. But….”

“Oh, come on. It’d be perfect! My kitchen is huge, and we’d give you a shelf in the pantry, and a cupboard…”

“Look,” I sighed. “Pretend for a moment you’re not married and don’t have kids. Now. Could you live in a single room, comfortably?”

“I just don’t get you, Bon. I thought you were all about saving money!”

“No,” I said, “I’m not. I’m about living simply. But I’m not going to save money just for the sake of saving money. And I appreciate very much the thought, but I won’t be living in a single room.”

Pause.

“Well, you could always put your stuff in storage.”

“No.” I said.

“Well, fine. But it’s not going to get any better in the financial market, so you might want to reconsider.”

“Okay.” I said.

Pause, in which there’s muffled talking in the background.

“Oh, okay. I have to go, Bon. Movie night with the kids.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Have a fun time.”

“Okay,” she said. “It’s always nice talking to you.”

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