• 28°

Al Batt: Arguments nearly as difficult to win as lotteries

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt


What do April showers bring? Estimates for roof repair.

Happier than a gopher in soft dirt as I listened to Leonard Cohen sing from an old CD, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

That includes people.

I was cooking. Making toast is the way I cook. I hardly ever burn the toast anymore. I used to send smoke signals regularly, but toasters have improved. Now the only time I torch some bread is when my wife moves that little slide far to the right just to make sure I’m paying attention.

The house cat ambles past. She’s mildly inquisitive. She’s down to four lives and doesn’t want curiosity to claim one. She has many conspiracy theories, most involving vacuum cleaners and doorbells, but I suspect she has one for toasters.

Breakfast consumed, I hit the road. I was headed to an “F-Troop” fan club meeting. I’m proud to be president of such an austere organization celebrating this somewhat obscure TV series. I wasn’t surprised to get the position as I’m its only member.

I should have been out buying Necco Wafers in case the company that makes them ceases production. It’d be wise to have some on hand for gifts to give to those who are hard to buy for.

I stopped at the Eat Around it Cafe in Mangy Corners. The local Loafers’ Club was meeting. The winner of its coffee-drinking contest claimed he hadn’t slept in a week.

The place was filled with guys who remember some birthdays and recycle when they think of it. They were fellows who learned self-defense by watching the Three Stooges. Each day, they go where no man has gone before. They were all just alike in that they were unique.

I loved hearing the passing of information and their gentle banter. This is as difficult for me to say as “otorhinolaryngologist,” but I occasionally find listening to others difficult.

Two men argued in the eatery. They didn’t believe in fake arguments or fake outrage. Each believed what he believed and could always find something to affirm those beliefs. Each admired rascals as long as they were his rascals. They were willing to disagree on anything and everything. What one believed fit the other like socks on a rooster. I appreciate enthusiastic people, but these two were wound a little too tight.

They were into pop culture. One liked Coke, the other preferred Pepsi. They agreed on some things. They watched NASCAR just to see the crashes. They both disliked Duke in basketball, the Yankees in baseball and taxes of any kind.

On this day, they were doing their CrossFit training. They were cross and throwing a fit. They argued politics. Neither waited his turn to talk. No one wins their arguments. They aren’t villains, just stubborn men who grasped their opinions firmly. Each became Sisyphus, straining, but accomplishing nothing. Their words became as effective as a flyswatter used as an umbrella.

I’m sure they were both right and they were both wrong. That’s how I am on a good day. Arguments can be good things. They drive others outdoors. And fresh air is good for us even if the weather is weird like our weather. They argued until they could argue no more. Every pen runs out of ink. One told the other to save his breath to blow on the soup.

The plot had nearly thinned when another man egged them on in his childish way. He’s 84, but acts like he’s 79.

I tried to change the subject to my stapler collection, but then remembered I don’t have one.

I was about to make my retreat when an odd thing happened.

Two young men joined the discussion, one on each side. I expected the argument to evolve into a doubleheader.

The young men disagreed with each other in a strange manner. They didn’t yell. They listened as much as they talked. They appeared to give thought to the other’s words. It was incredible, this art of gentle and polite discourse. It was a beautiful thing. They saw no evil, heard no evil, spoke no evil. They knew it didn’t hurt to agree with someone and that the admission of being wrong stings, but the pain diminishes quickly. A choir of angels sang.

Someone had taught them well.

A kind act or kind word does make a difference. Youngsters see how we listen. If we want our children to be better than we are, we need to show them how.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.