Large fries. Large coke.
Is that all, sir?
We’ll look into it.
Thanks. But please do it quick.
Conversations these days are either snippets or monosyllables that are supposed to mean something concrete to which according to their users allow them to maximize the use of their time and the other person’s. Time is money. Efficiency is everything. If you fall short based on the metrics, it’ll mean lower productivity. It’ll mean losing your job. Conversations are done hurriedly, mechanically, lacking any attempt on establishing close human contact, aside of course from accomplishing the object of sending the message across.
Sad, but most often, as is the case of most sad events, they’re true.
I’ve been reading the first few pages of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. The book which is lent to me by one of this blog’s readers is about a man named Alexander Portnoy having a conversation with his psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogelman recounting his experience while growing up in a Jewish family dominated by a strong mother and a voiceless, insurance agent of a father.
I can only spend a little time reading the book whenever I ride the train going to work or during break time that explains why I am still in the earlier chapters. Furthermore, it is a kind of book that does not lend itself to a leisurely reading not because it is a boring read but because it was written well and the images used are so crisp and true-to-life that you do not want to miss even a line.
Although the story is set in the earlier half of last century, one will notice the similarities between our time and the time the man lived as a growing up teenage boy in the U.S. This is a novel that delves on the subtle hegemony in the home that vicariously seeps into the child’s psyche. This ultimately decides his own conduct for the rest of his life. His mother, a domineering woman that goodness is imposing on people around her is reminiscent what is happening in our time.
Everyone seems to want to sound courteous and proper that his goodness imposes on us to respond in a certain fashion similar to the attitude of the sender of the message. We are made to believe that acting in accordance to one’s will is possible but this is only to feign liberty. In reality, there is only a single way of responding to this propriety and courtesy expressed in meaningless monosyllables.
If your response is not the anticipated reaction then you are either marked as snob, ill-mannered, unprofessional, or crazed.
But then again I shall remain unfazed amid this world wallowing in widespread fakery and acted out goodness.
* * * *
While on my way down to the fast food downstairs, I met in the elevator a former student of mine in UP Visayas. He’s on his way to their unit. But since he is a batch mate in college and a student in a Journalism class I taught, I cajoled him to spend a little of his time for some catching up. I notice he has gone even thinner than the last time I saw him. The life in the city must have taken toll on him.
We asked the usual questions—work mainly, length of stay in Manila, place of work—and some more personal ones. How we cope with our lives, how we deal with stress, plans for the future. It was a conversation I realized I have not had for a long time.