He told me to have a seat. He asked if he should turn off the TV. I never had much to say, and neither did he, though he talked way too much if the TV wasn’t on. So I told him to leave it on.
He left the TV on some show about fixing up houses. It was twin brothers that fixed up people’s houses.
Though I didn’t care, I asked, “What’s this show?”
“This one is Property Brothers. You like it?”
“No,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Dunno,” I said. “It’s a choice to watch these kinds of shows or not. I choose to watch something else or do other things.”
As I sat there dumbly watching Property Brothers, I couldn’t help but think a bit more. My feeble mind being the distraction – any distraction the only salvation from the mindlessness of the show.
“This is the entertainment equivalent of muzak,” I observed aloud. “I’d never choose to listen to elevator jazz in my car or at home. Not out of rebellion. Just because it doesn’t seem very good. I wouldn’t necessarily reject it because it’s so bad, I just wouldn’t accept it because I know there is Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.”
“So you listen to Miles and Coltrane and stuff like that?”
“No,” I said. “But knowing it’s out there, I wouldn’t subject myself to elevator smooth jazz in its place. If the muzak was all I had to choose from, I might switch it off and drive around in silence.”
I couldn’t help but imagine how Property Brothers was pretend entertainment, sorta like how Christian Rock is pretend rock and roll. But I’d already said enough.
“I can switch it,” he said, meaning the TV.
“Okay,” I said.
He stopped on a cooking channel. There were people running around a fake grocery store collecting food for some contest. Some meal they were going to prepare and have judged.
“How’s this?” he asked. “This is Guy’s Grocery Games.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So you like these kinds of shows?”
“No,” I said.
“You don’t watch them either?”
“How do you know if you like them or not if you don’t watch?”
“I’m aware of them. And that awareness doesn’t compel me to go any further.”
“You’re too refined for lowbrow stuff like this?”
“You’re aware of golf?” I asked. “And bowling and billiards?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Do you watch golf? Or bowling or billiards? Or are you too good?”
“I don’t watch them,” he said. “I watch football.”
“Then, by your logic, you must be too refined for golf or billiards or bowling. Or anything else you don’t watch, for that matter.”
“So you want me to turn the TV off?”
“No,” I said. “Just leave it here. It’s okay.”
He left the TV on Guy’s Grocery Competition. We watched as chefs scrambled around the fake grocery store looking for ingredients to prepare the judges the best healthy fried chicken dinner.
At the commercial break he asked, “What have you been up to?”
I said I’d been seeing our old friend Ralph.
“So who bought Ralph’s garage?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What’s the matter? You haven’t asked? Ralph owned that garage since his father gave it to him. I drive by and I can see somebody fixed it up. I wonder who?”
“I’m more interested in Ralph than his garage,” I said. “So I haven’t asked and he hasn’t said.”
“I always wondered if Ralph was going to go into a depression from having to sell the garage. But I bet he got a pretty penny for it. I’ve heard rumors of who owns it now and how much they paid. And I’ve heard things about what Ralph’s done with the money. Doesn’t sound like the money’s made him too depressed.”
I was more interested in the empty, facile show about the healthiest fried chicken dinner than the rumors, so I ignored his bait. I ignored it long enough to see if anything more than what was happening on Guy’s Grocery Competition or who owned Ralph’s garage might pop into his head. I waited, but it didn’t.
Finally I asked, “You like Ralph, right?”
“Yeah, he was always a good guy. And always took good care of me at the garage.”
He started telling me again about the time Ralph fixed his window for only forty bucks, while somewhere else was going to charge him a hundred and fifty.
I cut him off.
“Do you care how he’s doing? Or do you just wonder?” I asked.
“Sure. I care,” he said. “Of course, I care.”
“Then why didn’t you ask? Why did you ask about the garage and not about him?”
“I dunno,” he said. “I guess the garage is just the kind of thing people ask about. It’s the kind of thing people wonder about. I drive past it a lot, so I wonder.”
We went back to watching a bald, tattooed, ruddy-faced chef jog around the fake grocery store and toss ingredients into his cart. We watched and listened as the chef insipidly explained things about fried chicken that anyone would already know.
Then I asked, “You wondered why I don’t watch these shows. So why do you watch them?”
“I dunno,” he said. “They’re just the kinds of things people watch.”
I told him it was time for me to leave. I got up to go.
On the way out I asked if he wanted me to say anything to Ralph next time I saw him.
“Tell him I say ‘hi’. Tell him I said he ought to stop by sometime. Tell him I’ve always thought he was a good guy.”
I said, “You know, every time I see Ralph he asks how you’re doing.”
“That’s great,” he said. “All the more reason for him to stop by and find out. It’s been a long time. I’d love to sit with him and tell him all about it.”