Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Old guys, a 5 minute story
Older guys tell me stuff. These guys are anywhere from 5 to 40 years older than me, and I like them. At least, in the context of being a library clerk, I like them. It's a perfect context for me. I'm at home there at that front desk, comfortable, welcoming, and my expectations for fun and freedom are pretty modest, so if someone wants to entertain me I'm all in. Plus, and perhaps most importantly of all, everyone is limited to, very roughly speaking, about 5 minutes maximum with me. All of this seems to engender a certain amount of formality, and, if the chat is going well, a certain amount of not entirely satisfied interest and enjoyment. This makes us happy to see each other the next time we meet. Also, these are people, so terrible deeds and darknesses of all kinds lurk in the corners. But I don't usually get to that stuff in five minutes. I just get highlights: one man's long travels in Europe, bar stories from distant, historical versions of my own cities, a lawyer's work stories. Could they become evil or boring? Sure, but not in five minutes. And I am no great interviewer, but again, in five minutes I don't have time to ask the wrong question or start to tell one of my own stories, breaking the flow. They give me a best of, and I am attentive.
Just the other day I got some interesting snippets from a man just back from Rome (this is a city I love, but I am still waiting to hear from someone who doesn't sort of hate it in the summer. The interesting parts were concerning his Roman cousins there, who were only there for a bit because they hate Rome in the summer too!). This lead to the next man picking up on the Italian stuff and telling me about enlisting in the Navy in WWII as an Italian-American. He said when war broke out they thought of putting Italian-Americans in internment camps like the Japanese-Americans until they realized there would be no one to fight their war for them. He said everyone wanted to enlist after Pearl Harbor, but he was underage so his distraught Italian mother had to accompany him on the bus downtown to sign for his enlistment. He said his mother, weeping, made the recruitment man promise to take care of her son. The recruitment man did promise, the man told me ruefully, a tone that spoke richly to many interesting stories of not being taken care of while fighting in the Pacific. But that was the end of it. People were in line behind him and we had to break off. Would I have liked to have heard all about his being in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII? Sure. Will I? I doubt it. Maybe I'll see him again in a week or a month or two. Maybe he'll tell me another five minute story. I hope so. I'm a big fan of five minute stories, after all, it's the kind I tell too.