I rarely remember my dreams but last night, though the details are unclear, I spent my time dreaming that I was speaking and then being brought up short by the realization that I shouldn’t. I wonder if I was making noises in my sleep to match my dreams. I went to the movies last night (Moneyball, very good) and as I left I accidentally clipped the heel of the man in front of me and automatically said, or sort of aspirated, “oops, sorry”. First of all a dread descended that I had just ruined my voice by that simple utterance and all this surgery and silence was for nothing. Then I began to wonder why the clipping of a stranger’s heel elicited sound while dealing with my daughter’s moods or the necessities of daily life do not. We seem to be programmed as a species to be more concerned with what strangers think of us than what our family and friends think of us. Is it that we fear the stranger might turn on us while our families generally realize that the clipping of a heel is simply ineptitude or accident? Presumably the family, knowing they are stuck with us and we with them, let such things pass and we generally know the limits of patience of those closest to us. The stranger, however, may be volatile, perhaps he has had a very bad day and might decide that my clipping of his heel is the last straw and all the frustrations of his day will come bursting forth in an attack on the heel clipper. He might be particularly angered by a clipper of heels who blithely continues on without a word or, worse, a possibly lunatic clipper who is gesticulating meaninglessly, trying to communicate through signs and gestures in the middle of the entrance lobby of a large movie theatre while hundreds watch the strange pantomime, an embarrassing farce for all concerned. Far more likely that we utter apologies left and right because we know that it helps grease the wheels of our days and costs us little. Apologies within families are delicate negotiations, upon them depends the fragile balance that is required to keep the whole strange edifice standing, or at least no more than tottering.
I have noticed that people start whispering sometimes when I indicate that I cannot speak. I went into the convenience store over the road from our house and let the owner know I am not speaking and he seemed apologetic and started to whisper. He accompanied this whispering with a sort of cringe, a bowing of the body and a slight shuffling as though he was in thrall to my reduced condition. I could not work out if this was because he feared a loud voice might shatter something in me or worsen my condition even though it is in no way connected to my ears. His is not an unusual reaction though a little emphatic perhaps. Those who know me usually laugh. Someone as opinionated as I ought to be the butt of jokes at a time like this. I caught a snippet of Sacha Cohen’s movie “Borat” the other night and remembered my reaction to it which the snippet confirmed. Americans, or more specifically people in the United States, are unfailingly polite to strangers or to those they do not know well. Familiarity breeds mockery. The man in the store knows me and my family as the buyers of bottles of wine and beer, occasional junk food and emergency toilet paper and he does not speak much English. The people at my local coffee shop, those behind the counter and the drinkers, know me and my daughter as voluble and garrulous and sarcastic and react accordingly. All are sympathetic, of course, but sympathy can come in the form of quiet glee at my condition, an opinionated man free with his theories and notions brought low by a small growth that might have been designed specifically to humble him.
As I drove home this evening I saw a billboard for the local television news and I realized that if I had a voice and another person in the car I would venture the question: Why does anyone watch local television news? It is beyond awful. I mean Maury Povich is awful, a lot of the Disney Channel is awful, the E channel is awful but Povich, Disney and E are awful in a thrilling, truly exploitative way. Maybe not Disney. You should know that I think Jerry Springer is a genius, by the way. Local news, though. Who still watches it? Millions, I presume, who want to know how the latest supermarket opening went, how the junior high basketball team fared in Nowhere Suburbia. I can sort of understand why someone might watch the weather forecast in Chicago or Denver where they actually have weather, but why would you care about the weather forecast in southern California? I can give it to you now. Warm and sunny. Besides you can get the weather forecast any time you please on the internet without the dancing bear and the smug commentary from surgically enhanced nincompoops who think Johnny Carson was the height of western culture. Don’t get me wrong, he was very good was Johnny Carson, but you know what I mean. The reason that local news has prodded me into ranting opinion is that while not talking I notice things more. Self help books seem to advise that we should all notice the world around us more, take time to look and listen. I have lots of looking and listening time and it’s not a great improver of life. It’s mostly billboards advertising local news. Mind you self help books also advise letting go of your anger and that’s the last thing you want to do. Greatest force for change in the world. Maybe it will force me to campaign to get rid of billboards with people who have had plastic surgery.