My dad had an incredible sense of humor. It wasn’t something he wore on the outside, it was more like a lil gift you received if you were able to crack the code of his language and delivery. He had the type of clever, dry wit that zings you when you least expect it.
One thing he did throughout my lifetime that equal parts embarrassed and thrilled me, was his response to anyone who happened to ask him ‘how he was.’
How many times a day do you think you answer that question? My guess? On a day that I am moderately interactive with other humans–5 to 15 times a day. Parent I barely know at school pick-up, ‘hi how are you?’. Neighbor, ‘hi, how are you?’. Grocery clerk, ‘hi, how are you?’.
Most people respond with something like, ‘good, how are you?’ to which the original speaker says, “good.” Riveting interaction.
I can guarantee you that in the majority of these interactions, the person asking the question doesn’t care at all how you are. It has become an extremely common pattern of speech to just tack on the, ‘how are you?’ to a greeting.
The flight attendant doesn’t give a hoot how you are. He is only asking because it has become a part of his speech like the rest of us. This is not to say that the flight attendant is a bad person who doesn’t care about his fellow human’s well being. I’m just saying that this coda to ‘hi’ has become an American tic.
If you benignly ever said, ‘hi how are you?’ to my dad, you know what is coming next.
Tom Fauls always answered this question sincerely with a side of snark. Any time he received this greeting, he would answer honestly.
Guy at Home Depot: “Hi how are you, welcome to Home Depot.”
My dad: “Well I am a little bit better today, thank you for asking.”
Guy at Home Depot (acting confused and slightly annoyed that a conversation has ensued from his mindless greeting): “Um, ok…?”
This was not a schtick from my dad. It was him teaching the world person by person, that we have become robotic in our speech patterns and it goes so far as to affect our ability to show sincerity to everyone we meet. When I was younger I dreaded the server asking the table ‘how we were doing’ because I knew we would all nod and say, ‘fine’ while my dad would say, “I’m just getting over a cough.” So awkward.
As an adult, it was sort of thrilling. What would he say? Often hearing him answer this question would be the first time I was hearing how he was actually feeling that day.
I am sure you can all guess where this is going. I have found myself practicing this habit as I age and especially now that I have cancer. Especially because almost everywhere I go is a health-related place. The lady at the Kellogg Cancer Center check-in desk, the pharmacist, the physical therapist, they all do it. They see me walk in with a scarf on my clearly bald head and blindly say to me, “Hi how are you?”.
I have started to answer like my dad because even though I know these people are good and kind and have no ill will against me, it bothers me that I am forced to answer immediately upon being greeted how I am doing. It now seems insincere for me to answer with a blanket, ‘good.’ That would be a lie.
So here is what I have started saying.
Nurse: “Hi how are you?”
Me: “Oh you know, Cancer-y”.
This hasn’t been happening long enough for me to give you an estimated stat on how this response is being received, but I am going to venture a guess that the three highest ranking reactions are: confused, amused & scared.
Unlike my dad, who was mostly just having fun with the universe, I refuse to lie to everyone I encounter and tell them I am fine because I am not fine. I have a giant seroma under my arm that hurts like a MF-er, my tastebuds are shot and my head is cold AF in this air-conditioning.
So dear readers, take this as a cautionary tale. Ask, and you shall receive.