By Tim Clark
I am not much of a conversationalist. It might be genetic, maybe environmental; but somewhere I was left off the list, or missed the boat, or didn’t get the memo. You choose the excuse.
I am okay with a monologue, as long as it is brief. There is little risk involved in talking. One of my real strengths is the comfort I take in thinking nobody really cares what I am saying, which is liberating. It opens up spaces closed to people who think somebody is listening.
I have tried, over the years, to improve my conversational skills. One time I was working in a little town in the western Nebraska. After work I showered and went to have dinner and a few beers.
It was a small town; they are all small towns in western Nebraska. And the bar was also the restaurant, and gathering place, and hang out for the kids. There was always somebody playing pool, or pinball; noise and commotion and laughter.
It was dark and cold and comfortable in the bar, and bright and humid and hot outside. The chill was magnificent.
“Tim!” I heard someone call; it was from the back, and the voice sounded familiar.
It was a guy I used to work for. He was in town because of a rodeo. I sat down and he bought me a beer.
He was a big guy. His red, curly hair was sticking out in small tufts from under his Portland Cement baseball hat. He smiled at me, he was happy to see the face of someone he knew. And I was happy because he was a good person, and now I wouldn’t have to eat alone.
“How have you been?” I asked. A prime conversational ploy.
He took a drink of his beer, and the foam stuck to his inconsistent, unkempt mustache; he wiped it away with the back of his hand. And then he looked away. A long ways away. Miles away.
His voice came from across a great distance; a cold, desperate, tragic distance. “I had to shoot my dog.” His voice broke, and his hand trembled, he set the glass on the bar.
I should make a note here. In that place, at that time, that was the way of things. He was putting the dog out of its misery.
He loved that dog; he had for years, it was his friend, and when you rode in his pickup truck you shared the seat with his dog. He couldn’t have taken the dog to someone else; it was not the way things were done. It would have been, to him, dishonorable.
For twenty five minutes I listened to the infirmities that tormented that poor animal, and my friend. I listened as he talked about the life slowly draining from her, the torture they endured together, and the agony he felt setting her free. And this big man wiped a tear from his face. This big man told me about how he had found her in the field beside his barn, a gift from the heavens. And he smiled at the memory.
Over cheeseburgers, French fries so greasy and delicious they might have been art and bourbon on ice, he talked about his dog. His heart was broken, and I was the one who had kicked off the conversation.
Finally he ran dry, and we said “so long.” When I got back to my small motel room I didn’t even turn on the television, I just laid in the dark and listened to the occasional truck scream by on the highway. I thought about my friend, and his dog, and how his dog was really my friend too. I didn’t sleep well that night.
Every conversation has the edge of pain, the potential for discomfort, often for agony. That is why I try to avoid them.
My name is Tim Clark, I am a blogger, a warehouse associate, a happily married man (for 28 years) and a father, from Columbus, Ohio.
I am an occasional and proud contributor to Street Speech, a local homeless advocacy newspaper, and am thrilled to be allowed to write a monthly column for The Wild Word. There are a few others, that can be viewed on my Contently page, here.