March 26, 2006

Pretending to be fine doesn't take a lot of energy - or leave the residue of "loser" hanging in the air.

There is no question I detest more than "What's new?" Except maybe "What's up?" Because there is only one answer I will ever give: "Nothing." Nothing is new and nothing is up. Especially since yesterday.

The other day I ran into a friend I hadn't seen since 1996. As we stood there on the street corner, waiting for the light to change, not having seen each other in a decade, she asked me: "What's new?" The absurdity of having to sum up 10 years in five seconds was exasperating until it hit me - I could do it: nothing had changed in 10 years.

When it comes to pat answers, saying "Fine" in response to "How are you?" is much less taxing. Pretending to be fine doesn't take a lot of energy, nor does it leave the residue of "loser" hanging in the air. People are relieved when you say fine - it gets them off the hook from having to listen to an explanation as to why you are not fine. But saying "nothing" when asked what's new is such a letdown. Having "nothing" new to report disappoints the person asking - while at the same time reminds me of my own lacklustre existence.

What I want to know is: why does something always have to be new? What is all this new stuff going on? Does everyone else have that many new things happening to them every day? People seem to be experiencing new things all the time. I must be missing out on a lot.

The only new things that I ever have to report are downers, and nobody wants to hear about that. People would prefer "nothing" over a new concern that I may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

At the gym the other day I was on the treadmill listening to music when a trainer I had been avoiding came over to say hello. Clearly, he was bored.

He stood in front of the machine I was on and smiled, forcing me to remove my headphones. Then he said: "Hey, what's up?"

Now I had to answer him. How rude is that? I told him "not much", and as I was about to put the headphones back on - an obvious indication that I wanted to be left alone - he made a face of disbelief. "Come on," he says, "you're joking." I promised him no, I wasn't joking. I really do have nothing to report. So much for the workout making me feel better about myself.

When it comes down to it, what people are really asking is: is there anything going on in your life that will entertain me? Let's see: I switched toothpaste, paid the phone bill, and bought a humidifier. Sorry, I'm no Paris Hilton.

I would much rather people greeted me with something like: "Hi, what's the same?" Then I would have plenty to say. I go to the same dentist I've gone to since I was 12. I order in from the same Chinese restaurant, usually the same dish. Every day I have the same breakfast. My conversation with Mohammed at the deli goes like this - I say: "Good morning." He says: "The usual?" I say: "Yes." This morning I was especially tired and asked for an extra shot of espresso in my latte. After that I felt somewhat energetic.

That's new, I guess.