Monday, October 18, 2010

How are you?

It's a rhetorical question, really.
'How are you?'
No one really cares about the answer.
It's asked more out of habit rather than a need to really know.
And yet, we ask it all the time.
We know in our heart of hearts, that if someone were to respond
with tales of their failing eyesight and acute lumbago,
we'd cringe and curse ourselves for asking in the first place.

Many years ago, I asked a colleague about his response.
As usual, I said good morning and asked how he was.
"Fine," he said, then proceeded to talk about something else.
I cut him off.
"Joe," I said, more than a little annoyed, "I just asked you how you were."
"Yeah," he says. "So?"
"Common courtesy dictates that you, in turn, respond with 'Fine. And how are you?'"

He looked at me, and with a small laugh, said "But, Mo, I don't care how you are."

I was insulted.
A million things flew through my mind,
all of which would have got me fired if I'd actually said them.

We stared at each other for a moment.
I could tell from his expression that he was waiting for me to get it.
And then I finally did.

He was right.
Of course he doesn't care how I am.
Why should he?
And I certainly could care less how he is!

So I stopped using the token response
and now only say "Fine" when someone asks.
Don't ask.
Don't tell.

If I really want to know,
and have time to hear the response,
I'll ask.

Not too long ago, I was working overtime.
Overtime at my office means
working with the night staff
(a group of secretaries who work the night shift,
assisting lawyers who are working late into the evening).
I call up the lawyer who is my assignment for the evening.
He answers the phone all cheerful,
knowing from the call display that it's me.
I have to admit that I'm immediately annoyed.
Fake jovial banter pisses me off.
We're not friends, you and I, and we both know it.
You don't need to butter me up.
I'm getting paid to do your work.
It's going to get done.

"Hey, Mo!" he says. "How are you?!"
It's like we're long lost friends.
I may have thrown up a little in my mouth.
"Fine," I say, waiting for him to get on with his instructions.
Time is money.
Chop chop.
Sun is shining.
John Deere combine's running.
Hay is waiting.
Let's go.

There's a pause.
Then he says, in his annoying, insipid way,
"I'm fine, thanks for asking."
(Insert Big Gay Al voice here)
And immediately carries on with his instructions.

Since then, each time I've seen him,
he ignores me.
We're standing in the lobby by the elevators,
waiting for a car.
He makes eye contact with me,
then immediately looks away,
says good morning to the building janitor,
(like they're best friends, no less)
then turns away and goes into the elevator,
never saying a word to me.

Ask me why I don't care how you are.


Anonymous said...

First, bravo for the Big Gay Al reference. Well done.
Second, upon being asked how I am, and I don't care how they are, I just say, "Fine, thanks!" in a cheery voice, which makes me less of a bitch, but still keeps me clear of pretending I give a shit.

Domestic Goddess (In Training) said...

Amen to that. I am sick of the obligatory inquiry that is met with a dismissive "fine." From now on, I am going to not ask and when I catch hell I am just going to say that Mo told me I could!!!