There’s a sign in some antique stores that reads, “The only person who cares what your grandma had is your grandpa.” It’s not that the antique dealer is a mean person, but that they know what they’re selling is an item that was once common and now old. The desire to tell the story of how you remember it when grandma had it is common as well, and beyond pointless and boring. There is just nothing of interest about it.
How do I know this? Meet my Healey.
On most Tuesdays in the summer, I take it to cruise night in Oyster Bay, where I meet up with Steve. Steve used to have a Healey, what we call a 50 footer, but lost it to Hurricane Sandy. Still, he comes to hang out with me. Steve is divorced, has no kids and lives alone. He is, well, bored, and looks for any opportunity to talk to people.
We park our cars, nose out on a diagonal, on Audrey Avenue, while people stroll and look. There is a rule of etiquette that no one touches the cars uninvited, and it’s a pretty hard rule. Between guys with chains hanging out of their back pockets and women whose very large bags bang into everything, keeping the tourists from scratching the cars is a constant issue.
Then there are the parents who carefully watch their kids, reminding them to keep their hands to themselves. Whenever one of these youngsters ogles the Healey, looking hard without touching, I invite them to get into the driver’s seat as the parents take a picture of a kid grinning from ear to ear. There are few things that warm my mean old heart more than making a kid happy in the Healey.
But the adults? Most give us a wink, a thumbs up, and a “nice car.” We smile, wave and thank them. Some want to tell us about how they had a Healey, which is pretty much what the sign in the antique store is about. You had one. Lots of people had one. I have one. Point? But I listen dutifully, nod and occasionally utter “hmm” or “ah.” Then they go away.
But then there are the people who feel that same compulsion to talk, with two basic variations.
- They didn’t have a Healey, but someone they knew had a Healey 50 years ago.
- They didn’t have a Healey, but had a car that wasn’t a Healey (say an MG) but they still feel the need to tell you about.
This is where Steve is my savior. Steve will sit there, listen attentively, nod his head whenever appropriate, and even exclaim amazement at the fact that this individual was one of the 50,000 people who owned a particular model car years ago. Some talk about how much they loved it. Some will talk about how theirs was a mess, and assume that all Brit cars were exactly like theirs so as to seek confirmation for their decades old feelings of inadequacy.
Last Tuesday evening, I was sitting there, behind the Healey, when Steve took off to hit the john and left me alone. A fellow who was looking at the registration sticker called over to me, “is this your car?” These are the dreaded words.
“Yup,” I said, knowing that I should have denied any knowledge of the car.
He walked over to me and launched into a story about how he almost bought a Healey twenty years ago but bought a Triumph TR-4 instead. Oh crap.
Triumphs are nice cars. I like to look at them, although you don’t see many as they rusted out, fell apart and most disappeared off the face of the earth. But they hold no fascination for me as a subject of discussion, and why would they? The fact that I have a Healey doesn’t mean that I have some deep interest in discussing some random guy’s story about a Triumph.
Still, I dutifully listened and nodded, in that way that sent a social cue that I couldn’t care less but wouldn’t be rude enough to tell this self-absorbed dolt that his story had nothing to do with me or anything that could possibly be of interest to me. Until he crossed the line.
“Where do you live?”
Huh? What part of your boring me with your Triumph story made you think I’m now required to give you personal information? That’s when he finally took the cue from my glaring eyes, reinforced by my saying “what the hell business is it of yours where I live?” By that point, Steven came back from using the bathroom and I looked at him with pleading eyes to save me.
Triumph guy, sensing that his question would neither be answered nor met with the interest he expected toward whatever point he would eventually get to, then said, “Fine, I’m bored with this too,” and walked away.
Steve shook his head at me and reminded me “they need their catharsis.” He’s right, of course. People need to get this stuff out or it will burn within them, but must I have to listen, for the thousandth time, some random guy’s story that means absolutely nothing to me?
“That’s why I need you, pal,” I replied to Steve. And I do. Thank you for being there, Steve, and saving me from the stories that make me want to stab my eyes out. I don’t know what I would do without Steve.