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Almost Fiction: Questions unanswered

By Sam Jones

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“Is that your Harley parked out front of the bar? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Did you ride it all the way here or are you one of those trailer guys?” I never ask anyone these questions. It seems too personal. I also never inquire about a person’s marital status, kids, how much money they make, if they own a house, how old they are or how much they weigh. However, just because I do not raise those questions it never stops others from soliciting the same personal information from me.

“Is that your Harley out there?”

“Yes.” I answer that one, but if the inquisition continues my mood turns brusque and the transfer of information is less than forthcoming.

When it comes to this meddling, men are somewhat less intrusive than women. Women in bars who have had two drinks are the worst. “Is that your Harley out there, are you married, divorced, do you have kids, own your own house, what do you do for a living,” yak yak yak. Buy a woman a drink and they want to hear a rendition of your entire personal memoir. They need these facts so that a nice little pigeonhole might be manufactured in which you might fit.

One of two moods rises within me on these occasions. In one I lie, telling the most outrageous fairy tale I can come up with. If the other mood strikes, I just refuse to answer.

“Well you don’t have to cop an attitude. I just wanted to know who you are.” Under the assumption that after two drinks it is possible to know someone you meet in a bar. Decide to go to bed with them, sure, but know them, not likely.

“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“Yes, I do mind.”

“Just tell me this.”

“No.”

“I don’t want to pry. I just want to get into your head a little.” Somehow, the idea of being in someone’s head has a positive connotation. It has never occurred to them that there are people that do not want them in their head.

The Natural, a baseball movie starring Robert Redford, was on the other night. He is a talented baseball player who arrives at the big leagues as a middle-aged rookie. It is improbable that he comes from nowhere and has never played pro ball. Therefore, everyone asks him personal questions. He has a past, does not

wish to share, so becoming evasive he answers no one. Someone accuses him of wanting to be mysterious; he says he just wants to stay private. The idea of a person wanting to remain private seems incomprehensible to everyone. I, on the other hand, thought it made perfect sense.

“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“Yes, I do mind.”

“Just tell me this.”

“No.”

People do not know what to do after hearing a simple declining retort. They sit confused, waiting for a further explanation of why I do not want to endure their cross-examinations. The fact that I have asked them nothing about their past seems to be meaningless and the more I fend off invasive interrogations the more they seem compelled to crack the nut and find the deep dark secret that I might be hiding.

In actuality, I am hiding nothing, or at least very little. Sure, like everyone, there is a skeleton or two that should remain packed away but spilling my guts is not likely. “Who, what, where, when and why” I just do not think it is anyone’s business. You learn nothing from grilling strangers about their history. People get to know one another by spending time together in the present and if they are lucky enough to share a bit of commonality, maybe, with the passage of time, a little past can creep into the relationship. Possibly, with hard work and some trust, a bit of the future might be mixed in as well.

What is it about people that makes them think that because they have asked a question they deserve an answer?

Once upon a time, I was sitting in a bar when a halfway attractive woman, who was about 75 percent drunk, sat down next to me. She had a drink in her hand so I did not offer to buy her another. A conversation started about the Dodgers who happened to be on the TV. Eventually she told me her name and being polite, I made one up.

Becoming intense and implying total genuineness, she told me that she always told the truth and did not play any games. This was the place where the script called for her to state her truth and glean from me my truth. Instead, I put forward the concept that “not playing any games” was a game. “We all play games. I like playing games,” I suggested.

Straightening herself from a slouch to a stalwart posture, proving her wholesomeness, she said, “Well, I don’t play games. I never lie and always tell the truth.”

“Really? I have a theory about that. If you always tell the truth, you have to know what you are talking about. If you mix the truth with a lie, you have to remember to whom you told what. However, if you always lie, you can tell any story you want. Therefore, I always lie. What sort of story would you like to hear?” Staring at me, she had no response, just pounded the rest of her drink and left the bar.

Perfect; now I could watch the rest of the ball game.

Of course, it is my own fault. What do I expect? It is silly thinking that you can go into a bar and strike up a conversation about Hemingway’s use of the simple sentence, whether the Treaty of Versailles was the real cause of World War II, or if February is the best month to plant bare root roses and at the same time keep your personal life to yourself. It is a bar. There are drunks in bars. Drunks do not want real conversations. Want a real conversation, park your Harley in front of the library and talk to a librarian. Of course, come to think of it, that might not be such a good idea either. If you check out a book, she will want to see your library card.

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