The Conversation

"What do you do for a living?" the woman behind the counter asked, begging me to reply...

"What do you think I do for a living?"

Pause. "Well, I was thinking that you look like an author."

"Hmm. I've never gotten that one before." I hadn't.

Another woman behind the counter, the one who had just taken my money for a Cheese Steak Hoagie and made up my mind for me about what to drink, chimed in her agreement with the other, apparently her boss. "See, that makes two people," the boss woman asserted.

We proceeded to make some small talk about how I was actually an author of sorts – an author of software, that is. She played along politely, but that clearly wasn't what she had in mind. I'd been told many times in my life that I "don't look like a programmer," which I always took as a complement. I'd even been told often enough that I look like a musician, but then that was probably because I wore an earring and had long hair – not because I actually am, also, a musician. Today, I have no earring, and short (graying) hair. But, I digress...

"It's probably the coat," I concluded, as I walked away to wait for my sandwich to be made. I was wearing a waist-length, burnt orange, corduroy, author-looking jacket.

"Yes. And the turtleneck."

And that was the end of that, until my number was called, and the cook said something about the "author" comment as well, so it started the whole thing over again. So I continued.

"So what kind of stuff do you think I should write, being the author-looking type?" I asked the boss lady again. "I mean, do I look like the Stephen King type? That's probably pretty scary."

"Actually Stephen King is a pretty regular guy in real life," she says, "so it wouldn't be such a bad thing." Tilting her head at the cook, though, she remarked "he likes true crime stories, so maybe he's biased." The cook nodded his agreement.

For some reason in all of this, I found myself standing there filling two plastic cup things with ketchup while we talked. Lost in the ozone, I guess – I mean, why would I need ketchup with a cheese steak? So anyway, I took my sandwich, said my goodbyes, and promised to happily grant the cook's wish and give free copies of my novel to the folks behind the counter when I finally wrote it.

My sandwich was pretty damned good, too. Five or six napkins.

After lunch, I followed my feet towards the bookstore a block or two away (after all, where else would an author wander?). The owner was helping someone, and in passing she asked me if she could help me find anything. "You can help me find what I'm supposed to find," I replied playfully. But she was in a bit of a hurry.

It didn't take long for her to recover, though. I hadn't even gotten past soaking up the layout of the store, and browsing the "Language" section half-interestedly (no German, no Russian), before I overheard her apologizing to the other gentleman in the store for not recognizing him.

"I'm sorry, Tom – but I have that thing where I can't remember peoples' faces," she told him. Tom wasn't upset.

"I can remember faces," he said, "but I can't remember names."

At this point, I wandered closer to the checkout counter so that I could force myself into the conversation gracefully. "My issue is context," I said. "I can connect peoples' names and faces if they're doing the same thing, or are in the same role, as when I previously met them. Put them in a different context, and I'm lost."

The storeowner nodded and smiled, no longer in a hurry. "And years from now," she said, "when we recall this conversation, we can just say 'the conversation', and all of this will come back to us." To which, we all nodded our agreement. But I can admit to you now that I didn't quite get it at the time.

Somehow, the subject morphed, then, into how married people finish each other's thoughts. I told the story about how a long-ago, long-time roommate of mine (hello, Wayne) and I were once watching T.V. together, and at some point he stated absently, "Red. We should have done it in red." He was referring to a conversation that we'd had years before, and I was supposed to pick it up right then and there, right where we left off. I can't for the life of me remember the conversation now, but I do remember that I was, in fact, able to pick up right were we'd left off. Anyway, I connected this story with what we were saying in the bookstore by concluding that it was only really marriage if the thoughts are finished incorrectly, which got a laugh.

It was at this point that I mentioned to the bookstore folks that I'd been taken (or mistaken) for an author a short while earlier, and I told them that I would, in fact, write that novel, and it would be titled "The Conversation," and we were all in it.

Smiles and puzzled looks all around. So I finished with, "Well, I guess that's what I came in here for," and left, feeling quite pleased with myself.

Later, as I was entering a note-to-self about the whole thing into my phone's notepad while walking back into my place of business, I mentioned to a curious coworker what I was doing, and told him that he was now in the novel, too. And, of course, he is. Hi, John.

Note to self: don't forget the "It's worse than that" Appendix for John.  But that's another story.

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