The bar I work at makes their own pizza. It comes in several sizes that are priced by the length of their diameter. 10”, 15”. 20”. etc.
When having conversations with customers for the first time about our wares, it is common and completely acceptable for them to say something along the lines of “Do you have a large? How big is that?” However, I am constantly put into the position where the customer will ask “I am thinking about the 15”. How big is that?”
The correct response to this question is “Fifteen inches.” Even if you’re not making fun of them. That is the answer.
Any job in which you interact with the public will result in answering the same questions thousands of times. Retail is excellent practice for living with an Alzheimer’s sufferer. My goal becomes to find ways to streamline these exchanges, freeing up more time to focus on other tasks. Unfortunately, I have hit a wall with this pizza conversation. It appears to me that my work has chosen terms of measurement that, I was under the impression, everyone in this country had been taught. I have taken to holding my hands awkwardly out in approximation of the stated length, but this almost never satisfies their minds. They glance at my hands, and frown in continued confusion.
And so day after day I stand around, hands out like I’m telling a fish story, seeing sufficient geometric representations in my mind’s eye. Just because my inability to sufficiently communicate this information is not a problem for the ages does not make my struggle any less real or important. Better luck tomorrow.
The second largest piece of culture shock I’ve encountered in my four months in Louisville is my peers preoccupation with high school.
Specifically their mates and neighbors behavior in that time. On a long enough timeline all conversations with the strangers and friends I’ve met here meanders towards a story about high school, often with a cast of characters I have never heard of, regardless of the storyteller’s age. I suppose our strongest opinions and friendships are frequently forged at that point in life, but I talked to a man in his fifties at length about football games that happened when he went to school down the street from where we were standing. And the upsets and victories were delivered with encyclopedic knowledge of the people who were there and their flaws.
It seems to work for them, but I can’t help feeling relief that nobody is dwelling on the actions of a sixteen year old version of myself. The decisions and antics of that primitive mind are kept whole only in my head, preserved in a brine of embarrassment. Distance from my developmental years eases my ability to learn from them. The idea of overhearing decade old gossip about myself seems exhausting. Running into an old classmate when home for xmas has never been disagreeable for me because I don’t know anyone from my graduating class that would care about or even remember anything I did back then. I have heard Louisville described as a metropolitan hamlet, and this aspect more than anything else illustrates that. And now the generations coming up have social media platforms to better organize their efforts.
The biggest culture shock, however, is that everyone here eats pizza with a fork and knife.
On my walk to work I heard a man singing in the distance. It was my luck to find I was headed directly for him and eagerly increased the pace and volume. This man, whose name I never got, was outside my restaurant with bags of his every possessions strewn on the ground. He pressed the buttons on his shirt to his chest and tilted his head towards the sky letting out everything in his lungs and soul. There was nothing traditional about his style or lyrics, but I was enraptured. Upon my approach we exchanged greetings, and I immediately asked him to keep singing. I had a few minutes before I was due for my shift, so I turned around and headed back home. I wanted to repay this man for sharing his gift with me by providing one of the few that I have: arranging and distributing food.
I put together a nice lunch in a bag and threw in a pair of clean socks, all of which he was extremely pleased to receive. He thanked god for me which I always appreciate despite being an atheist, and I was on my way to clock in. But before I could leave he began to elucidate his claim regarding how great god’s acts were and everything god does for us. For the first time since my reactionary teens I was annoyed by someones religiousness.
We left as friends and I was on time for work, but the more he spoke of his diety’s work the more it robbed my act of meaning. I am not upset that I lost credit for my actions, I miss the connection I made with him as a human being. I have never experienced faith personally, so perhaps there is a complexity to it that I simply do not understand. But from this person’s perspective am I not merely delivering god’s parcel? A mindless vessel fated to make a pb&j at 10:23 that morning.
It is important to state that even if I knew he would behave this way, he would still need those things, and therefore I would still have given them to him. The point of the entire process is to make his day slightly better, regardless of how it affects me.
I suppose more than anything I yearn for understanding. I want to see what his god has done for him besides keep him in the streets well into his sixties. I am eager for any chance to expand my impression of this world. Eventually I want to be the sort of person who asks strangers these kinds of questions without the fear that I will seem rude or insane.
How To Disappear Completely by Doug Richmond
Mount Laurel Library Sale ($0.99)
The cover is probably the most competently done aspect of the entire book. I picked this up excited at the idea of hearing about someone(s) that successfully dropped their identity and became someone else in another part of the world. As a frequent traveler, I understand the benefits that come with this sort of fake death even if mine is comparably a half measure.
We are instead given the author’s fanciful accounts of things that really don’t seem like they happened. If you cut away all the fat, there are two chapters worth of actual useful content. Accept that this was written in 1986, and that drops to one chapter. Most of which are things I could have thought of if I had simply spent a lazy afternoon dreaming about how I might hide my tracks.
This book made me laugh the hardest I’ve ever laughed while completely alone. I would continually put the book down for a moment in order to regain composure. The back cover text speaks of a fact seeking journalist, when he is actually a drunk offering batshit insane ramblings about people and things that became so unbelievable that I didn’t believe it any longer. He mentions on the first page that no one he talked to would consent to being tape recorded, which made sense to me, so I was expecting dry recounts of specific details that would help facilitate whatever he was explaining. But these feel like unpolished narratives that bend over backwards to support the details he was more excited to talk about. More than two of these accounts are a random encounter at a bar with someone who opens up to him about their past life before they disappeared. These stories are couched in basic tips and information including how it would be counter-intuitive to talk openly to anyone about your past life.
A more unfortunately entertaining aspect of this read is that our author is a backseat misogynist who barely hides his contempt for the gender responsible for all of these people eager to disappear.
The first taste of his disdain towards women comes on page six. All hypothetical situations mentioned contain a very telling connection. It isn’t long in each one before the wife is conniving to have this man disgraced, forcing him to do what any sane man must. Disappear, and never be found.
This book went to fourth edition, so please don’t exchange any more money for it, but it is a short read worth your time. Flip through it if you find it in a library or a box somewhere. I cannot emphasize enough how much wholehearted malarkey is contained in these quick pages. It feels as though you’re reading a fading man’s myth of himself at the end of his life. Half this book’s heroes were written before he put the paper in the typewriter. Their successes, their charm. Daring to do what he never could. Tell their wife what they really think about them and celebrate with a cold beer.