Monday, May 13, 2013

When men talk

On any day I would find myself by myself, not lonely but alone, contemplative, thoughtful and enjoying my own company. Men do this. Whether it is a matter of course, a genetic disposition or by choice, the impact of a group or crowd of people on a man's social complexion can be contrary to his well being and demeanor. Being solitary in a crowded place is his art form, enabling him to detach from the conversations at hand, the hassle of human traffic and the frivolity of idle chatter.

Often, by those who believe they know better, this is mistaken for ignorance, laziness, rudeness, even some sort of illness especially if attached to the elderly. Children shout, wives abuse, friends ignore, the shopkeeper becomes intolerant and the taxi driver fails to stop. The man alone becomes invisible to the rest of the world, as a shadow might in a darkened alley. Observed from afar, the man alone becomes the centre of a whirlpool of activity in which he is the singular and stationary hub and the circumference spins as if to escape, to disconnect, to run tangent to such isolation and personal imprisonment. The man who chooses to be alone is often seen as the social outcast, depriving himself of the company and pleasures of others.

"You should get out more, meet people, join a club, be sociable, make friends, enjoy life"; he hears through friends and family with good but misplaced intentions.

So, the man who seeks peace within finds his cave in the most peculiar places. In the street, on a bus to Shanghi, in the office, in his bed with his loved one; even in bed with someone elses loved one. And there he will stay for an age, trusting that he alone knows the answers to the questions he asks.

There are times when the solitary man will choose to mingle. There must be value in such social intercourse, of course. An exchange of finance, for a start. Money, borrowed or owed, allows for collaboration. It becomes the intermediary, the quest for information: price, payment, rates and exchange. It's business and no more. Once over, there will be a quick exchange of cordiality and a handshake, then a parting. Until next time. Money helps men speak.

A casual encounter is often avoided. If not, it creates a tension that requires some posturing and shuffling until an equilibrium is achieved. A nod, a grunt, remembering a name (which men do poorly), a mention of the weather, health, work, destination. Some standard phrases: long time no see; how have you been? Are you still working for .....? Then a pause, each turns their body away from the other and looks into the distance as if to find another aquaintance that can carry the conversation forward.
"Have you seen such and such?"
 Neither has, so the time to part comes quickly but uncomforably. "Gotta go" one will say. "Me too" and the  contact is broken. Like a stage from a rocket, one breaks loose in slow motion and is pulled as if by gravity towards an unknown destination, the other hesitates as if there is something more to be said, then turns and moves off into another space.

When men find themselves in clusters there must be a commonality, a generality that renders solidarity within the group. Often this association is seen as a pretence for the meeting and rightly so, for men are invariably shy among men; well, maybe not shy but tentitive, wary, as if the meeting must be conditional, functional and with purpose. A card game, some drinks at the pub, a football match, somewhere where the participants have some common language and a need to face away from each other without fear of insult. In such instances the talk will revolve around "the Game" with unobtrusive interjections on past and future events which will be answered with a grunt with further and much more intensive and elaborate discussion on the activity before them.
"Man U are playing like a bunch of girls. C'mon you lot. Kick the shit out of them!!"
"Isn't your wife having a baby?'
"Yeah. Hey, Amos, you're supposed to stop the fuck'n ball not collect them."
"Now, moron. Look, he just let another one through."
"Your wife, dickhead. Isn't she due?"
"Yeah, today sometime. I told her to hang on until I got home. Hey, ref, who's paying you this week?"

When men come together as a means of collectively solving problems and discussion socio-political abhorations there is a need to establish an hierarchy. Elderly men are usually well respected, although young guns might make a challenge for superiority. Their opinions will be noted but have less impact on decisions made that those who have more experience. Challenges for superiority are quickly established during the initial stages when there will be a comparison of wages collected, local knowledge of the quickest way to get home, the number of times "Do you know .....?" is asked, the fuel economy of the car and the most politically incorrect statement with reference to women or a chosen ethnic group.

Once the pecking order is established, there will be a period of silence, almost prayer like, when each participant will take time to collect their thoughts for the debates ahead. Actually, each is wondering why they are here and who the fuck invited Randolph.

So the business begins. Usually three conversations will start simultaneously, although that depends on the numbers. The saturation point for a division to occur is five. Groups of five will each have their own topic but each man can move freely between packs and add to the conversation without any knowledge of what went before. There will be copious amounts of laughter, shouting, pointing of fingers and waving of arms. Points will be proven, theories destroyed, laws created, religions demonished, politician scandalized, legends created. The volume of the discussion will depend on the amount of alcohol consumed and how convincing the speaker wants to be.In the end, any man here would fail an exam on the subject matter. Alcohol, disjointed logic and the unwillingness to listen to anyone's point of view - or believe it - will render the whole thing pointless.

On rare occasions, women will be present, often as a result of a man not having two cars or he is still insisting, in an effort to show others he is New Age and Sensitive, to take his wife/girlfriend/sister/mother everywhere he goes. His name is usually Randolph. Men pay attention to women when they are present in such male dominated groups. This is a result of either a predetermined condition known to most men as 'nagging' where he has been told more than a few time to listen or else, or he is trying to 'get his leg over', a rather crass term used by men among themselves when one of their kind is being polite and actually listening to what a woman is saying - with what seems to be obvious and undetatched interest.

But at the end of the day, when all is done, a man will find a place where he can speak honestly and openly, be passionate, emotional and thoughtful, speak the truth and find the answer to all questions, be confident, voice his opinion without contradiction and agree with everyone present.

That's when I am alone again.

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