They Put TVs in Restaurants to Make Us Feel Bad

by John Gallaher

I was having dinner with a friend last night, and he told me his father
is dying of lung cancer. He never smoked. No one has an answer,
the anecdotal answer, of where the cancer came from. Answers, suitable
answers, are necessary, I’ve read. And even if we find out later that
the answer is wrong, if we don’t get a suitably fitting new answer, with
a convincing story, to replace it with, we’ll default back to the answer
we know is wrong. They proved it, the story said, in a study about a story
of a burning building, using paint cans and paper. So my friend tells me
he’s writing his father a letter, because his father likes letters, and my friend
wants to ask his father if he thinks life is absurd. And while he’s talking
to me, there are two TVs playing, one over his shoulder with a commercial
for a new action-adventure version of Hansel & Gretel, where ‘’REVENGE
IS SWEETER THAN CANDY.’’ And on the other TV, the one over
the bar, there’s an interview on ESPN with some sports people talking
about a college football player who had a fictitious girlfriend whom he loved
for three years, whose love transcended her obvious lack of existence.
So here we are, my friend. It’s time for dessert. Tonight’s special is death-
flavored ice cream. At least that’s what I imagine they’re saying to us
right now. Truth of the matter, he doesn’t send the letter. He decides
a dying man doesn’t need to answer that question, and now, this morning,
I’m thinking that conversations feel like Scrabble mostly, another thing
we never master, being enticed more by the flights of what we say than
the strategic demands of where we find ourselves, how steep the angle
leading from an important square, one we wanted, one that becomes
us sitting there rattling off numbers, calling it joy, or friendship, and
at this moment, it is. It’s 7:00 in the morning. I’m stirring my coffee
and become interested in the sound of the spoon striking the sides
of the mug in time to the radio, and the resonance of the room.