“I just can’t get it this week.”
That’s how I open the conversation.
“I’ve been trying and trying and I think it’s beyond me.”
“Here, listen again.”
I pack cartons of milk into my bag and listen again as the check out guy whistles a little more of his tune. He makes a warbling milkman-ish kind of a sound.
“I really feel I should know it.”
"Will I tell you?"
"Go on so."
“”And then I go and spoil it all…"”
“No! I should have bloody got that.”
“I love the Robbie Williams version… you know with yer wan.”
“I don’t like that version at all. Robbie did a cover of Mr. Bojangles that was possibly the worst thing I ever heard. It’s got to be Frank for me.”
“Frank and Nancy. Your receipt.”
“Thanks. See ya.”
I don’t get the same check out guy every week but, when I get the whistling guy, we always chat about something. If there’s a good voucher in the paper, he’ll send me off for one and he’ll find it and tear it out and apply the deduction to my bill. Or else he'll be whistling a tune and I'll try to name it. Always something.
Another one of the check out guys is a great science fiction movie fan. He was troubled by a childhood film he remembered clearly but could not track down. He described it to me and I found it for him and had the information for the next check out. It was called ‘Wild Wild Planet’, in case you're bothered.
We chat warmly and with mutual interest, the check out guys and me… until the groceries are all checked out. Then it’s over. We both move on. We both have other things to do.
I’ve come to realise that there’s a truism here that applies to my life in general and perhaps particularly to my Social Media interaction.
I love the small encounters. The brief chat, vibrant and engaged and, crucially, with a visible end clearly in sight. The more off beat and odd the conversation, the better. In ‘Godot’, Vladimir implored Estragon to ‘return the ball once in a way’. I love it when people ‘return the ball’ conversationally like that. I fling out a wild veering ball and they magically get a foot or a head on to it and somehow get it back.
I embrace the shorter form of encounters.
And there’s the converse, as there always is.
I tend to ease myself away from any situation with the potential for a long drawn out exchange. Brevity, for me, is the soul of wit. It’s grown to a stage where I will actively try to avoid being cornered or drawn into something long. If I can get in and be secure in the knowledge that I am getting out again soon, then I am yours (for a finite period). But if you need me for the next couple of hours then, in the words of Bob Dylan, “it ain’t me, babe" or, in the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, “We’d have to be talking about one charming… pig.”
That’s why I like the check out guys. They only want to talk for as long as it takes to ring my vittles though but, for that exact length of time, they’re well into it.
I'm heading there now. I hope it’s the whistling guy.
I fancy a short tune.