“Let’s talk about this guy who ran a trout stream through his house. What if the Mayflies hatched all over his living room?  Would he be able to dangle a dry fly from his easy chair?”

“Stow it. All right, Scritch?” I pleaded with my buddy.

“You’re the one who introduced me to talking.”

“But you’ve been at it, non-stop, for a solid week and half of the twelve-hour car trip home. Give it a rest. Please.” I pleaded.

I wondered if his wife Patty would recognize her husband who left home conversationally-challenged and returns chatting like an all-night radio station. Why couldn’t I have left well-enough alone?

It all started when we stopped for gas on the way up north.

“Four dozen worms,” Scritch declared in his typical minimalist communication style.

“Dew, baby crawlers, or leaf?” the salesclerk asked.

“Forget it. You talk too much,” Scritch growled.

I have my theories on how my buddy got so word-stingy. When he was growing up his parents kept a jar on the kitchen table and every time he used a word he had to put in a nickel. It’s no wonder his first job was writing telegrams. He paid his way through college writing headlines for the local newspaper. Maybe his vocal shut-down began in the third grade when our teacher said his voice sounded like chalk scritching on the blackboard.

In any case, no matter how he came to be verbal retentive, I felt an obligation to adjust his mindset, to help him see dialogue as more than a spectator sport. I would do what any good buddy would do and introduce him to the fine art of conversation. After all, he had taught me to play golf and start a compost heap.

“So, Scritch,” I began, “have you ever thought of taking up talking as a pastime?”

A negative sounding grunt emanated from the passenger seat.

“Some people talk to explore ideas, to share feelings,” I pushed on.

“That’s what the marriage counselor said.”

“How’s that?”

“Patter complained that I never talked to her. She said that if I were a radio announcer I could make a fortune recording one-word commercials like: ‘And now a word from Hannah’s Grill—Eat.’ Or ‘Now a word from the Edgewater Motel—Sleep.’”

“Cheap shot,” I commiserated. “What did the therapist say?”

“Something about my wife feeling ignored and discounted which encouraged her to whine, ‘He hasn’t told me that he loves me since the day we were married 32 years ago.’”

“‘Hey,’ I says to him. ‘I told her I loved her when we got married and nothing has happened to change my mind since, so why should I repeat myself?’”

“I see,” I empathized. “Still, it would add another dimension to your personal repertoire if you could hold a conversation with someone.”

“I guess.”

“So, why don’t you let me walk you through the drill?”

Silence.

“The first thing to remember about conversation is that it doesn’t have to be about anything important. Take that critter for instance.” I pointed to a woodchuck, belly-deep in roadside weeds. “Wouldn’t it be great to crawl out of your hole and find food all around you? All you can eat. Just move your head and chew.”

“There’s a Burger King at the next exit.”

“I’m not hungry, Scritch,” I explained. “We’re not talking literally, here. We’re exploring the idea of having food at your fingertips.”

“There’s finger lickin’ chicken there too.”

“See, Scritch,” I tried to explain slowly and carefully. “Conversation isn’t math class—problem, solution. Dialogue is more like an essay question—compare and contrast.”

“Hated English,” Scritch grumped.

I plugged on. “So, we let our imagination wander a little. Explore the situation. Wouldn’t it be boring to eat clover and grass all day? You wouldn’t have to worry about fat content and caloric counts but there would be none of the excitement of ethnic foods and exotic dishes…”

“Talk about woodchucks,” Scritch interrupted, “I like chuck stew.”

“How much chuck, would a woodchuck chuck, if a wood chuck could chuck stew?”

“You lost me,” Scritch said.

“That’s part of the fun. You don’t know where a conversation will go. Like hunting. You’re looking for tracks or clues that the other person leaves. Conversational spoor, so to speak. And when a thought leads you down a trail, you follow it for a while.”

“What if you get lost?”

“So? You’re not going anywhere to begin with. You’re just out for a hike in the words.”

Scritch made a face.

“Let’s try this trail for a while. Think of yourself as a woodchuck waking up with clover right under your nose. What if we woke up in the morning with pop-tarts hanging in front of our face?”

Scritch’s eyes lit up. “And what if we had coffee tubes hanging down like grease guns in a lube shop.”

He was catching on. And once he caught on, he went on and on. All the way to the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie and over and up to North Bay. We talked about freezing versus canning and comfort food versus adventure food and beef versus venison.

Which brings us back to waiting in line to go through U.S. Customs.

“So, is it ecologically sound to divert a stream through your house? What if everyone did it? What if you built a whole development on the theme of flow-through condos? Could you build waterfalls into a duplex? Could you get insurance against spring floods?

“How long have you been in Canada?” the customs agent inquired.

“A week,” Scritch answered.

“A month,” I mumbled under my breathe.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

“Nope. Nothing to declare,” Scritch replied.

I hoped he meant that for the next six hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hated English,” Scritch grumped.

I plugged on. “So, we let our imagination wander a little. Explore the situation. If you were a woodchuck, would it be boring to eat only clover and grass all day?

“Talk about woodchucks,” Scritch interrupted, “I like chuck stew.”

“How much chuck, would a woodchuck chuck, if a wood chuck could chuck stew?”

“You lost me,” Scritch said.

“That’s part of the fun. You don’t know where a conversation will go. Like hunting. You’re looking for tracks or clues that the other person leaves. Conversational spoor, so to speak. And when a thought leads you down a trail, you follow it for a while.”

“What if you get lost?”

“So? You’re not going anywhere to begin with. You’re just out for a hike in the words.”

Scritch made a face.

“Let’s try this trail for a while. Think of yourself as a woodchuck waking up with clover right under your nose. What if we woke up in the morning with pop-tarts hanging in front of our face?”

Scritch’s eyes lit up. “And what if we had coffee tubes hanging down like grease guns in a lube shop.”

He was catching on. And once he caught on, he went on and on. All the way to the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie and over and up to North Bay. We talked about freezing versus canning and comfort food versus adventure food and beef versus venison.

Which brings us back to waiting in line to go through U.S. Customs.

“So, is it ecologically sound to divert a stream through your house? What if everyone did it? What if you built a whole development on the theme of flow-through condos? Could you build waterfalls into a duplex? Could you get insurance against spring floods?

“How long have you been in Canada?” the customs agent inquired.

“A week,” Scritch answered.

“A month,” I mumbled under my breathe.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

“Nope. Nothing to declare,” Scritch replied.

I hoped he meant that for the next six hours.

 

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