Fear not — I know what is troubling you

My Dear Reader,

If you felt an inexplicable amount of angst over the past hour, I hold the secret to your discomfort.

I just spent the greater part of the last sixty minutes at a wonderful little luncherie in the hip Poblado district of Medellin, Colombia. I’d been there once before, and I tell you with pride that I am on a first-name basis with the cute Colombian wait staff there. Their English, unlike my extremely broken Spanish, is conversational at the least; if they were not so shy in the presence of a large Canadian man sporting an ever-poofier blonde mop, I’m certain we could’ve shared a laugh or two at one of many things, not the least of which I am sending this message to describe.

My lunch, intended only to be interrupted by the transcription of spontaneous thoughts into my recently-tattered notebook, was destined to be otherwise since even before I arrived upon that tiny, sun-kissed porch. As I settled into my seat — me being a creature of habit (though not, at least to my definition, one of superstition), the same one I had occupied not 48 hours prior — I was greeted loudly by a chap of about our age, one who I had had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting the night before at my hostel just one block away. And though this single occurrence proved how poor my timing had been, it became immediately obvious that my seat choice was even poorer; not only was I situated at the table next to his, but their table was such that his current compadres — two attractive young Dutch girls, one of a freckled complexion and the other bearing the white-gold cheveux typically reserved for Nordic lasses (whom he promptly ignored introducing, I may add) — held their backs to my chest in a formation seemingly-designed to project each and every one of this brute’s foul words into my disgusted-without-guise face.

Alas, given that I had my notepad with me and that all rivers of inspiration became immediately and completely sapped of the rich liquid as soon as he turned his short attention back to his victims, I began to tally something I noticed to be lacking in another, quite similar lad that this morning had been torturing both young Rachel’s ears and my own with his views on prostitution, education (or the lack thereof, in his case), and other socio-political items that he clearly felt was infinitely more important than the soft sounds of John Mayer I so desperately tried to enjoy while preparing my makeshift salad of an overripe banana and a generous portion of frozen blueberries, a combination I re-discovered yesterday and had devoured with alarming frequency since then:the practice of posing questions.

Sure, this afternoon’s orator had no trouble dispelling myths based on his own (extremely) limited knowledge of the history of Medellin, Latin American culture, and the several deficiencies of his waitress (and mine), Vanessa, claims which he vehemently contradicted whenever she was within earshot, going so far as to specifically request that she send his regards to the chef, for his plate of food (of which he had touched a quarter before setting his fork to rest), was “simply exceptional.” And while I was not altogether surprised by such brashness, given that last night, when this same bloke requested the whereabouts of my hometown, to which I proudly responded Toronto, he countered with, “Oh, the second best city [pause…] after New York.” Such a statement, while perhaps true if observing such a narrow field as “Largest Chinatowns in Northeastern North America”, was nevertheless not one I had expected upon meeting someone for the first time, yet its successor was what really threw me for a loop. “And LA… and Chicago… and New Orleans… and Houston… and Indianapolis…” Houston? Indianapolis? Clearly this was a young man deprived of one of a youth full of travel, access to Wikipedia, judgment, or (most likely) the entire trifecta. So it was then that I obligatorily shot him the universal if-you-really-believe-that-you’re-a-nincompoop look before looking away again, for up until that point the succulence of my pineapple had taken cognitive priority over the niceties of meeting yet another baboon with more hyoglossus than hippocampus, a less-than-rare breed that developed countries churn out with increasing prevalence, the type that prioritizes GTL over ABC. But no matter, with that look I waved his first of many naivetes away, since I was already two levels deep (laughter first, empathy second) into a conversation with his convivial female friend who, though I can’t be certain this next statement isn’t just a poorly-concealed form of self-padding, seemed to be enjoying the refreshing relief offered by the surprising casualness and of my presence.

So it was no surprise that over lunch today, which I gravely wanted to enjoy in solitude while he tried to engage the entire otherwise-cutesy patio in debate, both with the volume of his voice (think the radio in your car on a Sunday morning after driving home to the sweet sounds of your favourite playlist the night before) and the nature of his proclamations (with the statement Once a fool, always a fool in mind, extrapolate from his response to my telling him I’m from Toronto), that he asked just a single question of his Dutch companions. Was it a query fitting with modern English conversation, such as “What do you think about _____?”, or “Has something similar happened to you?”, both valid attempts to evoke the long-soughtdip that conversational experts preach in their literature about the subject, of which I happen to be well-read? Certainly not. In keeping with his nearly fictional level of narcissism, which I long knew to be far greater than anything I could endure in direct conversation for more than a moment or two, his query was exactly this: “Do you wanna try?” He said it brusquely as he motioned to the e-cigarette he slowly fondled in his right hand, the same tool he went on to tout as, “Amazing” and, “A savior on those long 4- or 5-hour flights, ‘cause it doesn’t set off the smoke alarms.” My children, we are doomed in a world where men like this roam free.

There are so many more intricacies I could expound about the scene — the increasing frequency with which his audience checked their mobiles, the 95/5 conversational ratio (95% him, 5% split between his two torturees), a single bead of sweat running down each of my temples, no doubt coming about in my body’s attempt to shut the ears completely in the same manner as one coughs to keep the lungs clean of a poisonous cloud. I will not digress, though, choosing my sanity over the detailedness of this account, and instead leave you with a single parting thought:

Ask questions of your fellow humans. Ask them what they think, how they feel, and to tell you their story. Believe it or not, they know things you don’t. Empower them to share their outer thoughts first, then their inner thoughts, then their secrets. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn.

And yes, it’s true, not everyone will know how you feel about that issue or on this topic, but does it really matter? Perhaps voicing an opinion is just a veil disguising your deep, inner lack of direction, your masked method of saying everything and believing nothing?

I can’t say for sure. I’ll listen and allow you to tell me.

More writing found at jrdnbshp.com

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