Why is it that every time I meet someone new, the first thing that person and I always try to do is find a connection?
It usually starts with the person I’m meeting (let’s call him Phil) asking me where I’m from.
“Little Rock”, I say.
Phil, after thinking hard for several seconds, looking around the room, stalling, stalling, come on, I know that I know someone from there he thinks, and then finally says that, okay, okay fine, he doesn’t know anyone from there. Oh, but don't worry, there is no cause for alarm. Phil has his next question ready. He - as we all have, voluntarily or not - has done this plenty of times before.
“So, what are you doing in Stillwater?” he asks, genially. This is still calm, relaxed. We are just shooting the breeze, just chewing the fat. Just a plain old Howdy partner, what’s yer name type of a deal. I’ve a feeling that Phil’s initial friendliness will lead to frustration, nay, not mere frustration; this could damn near drive the poor boy insane.
I tell him that I’m here to study at Oklahoma State University for a semester and that I have a couple of cousins who go to school here. His face lights up.
“Oh, really?” Phil responds, smiling. He is excited about the prospect of knowing my cousins, and subsequently, ending this absurd quest for a connection. Oh, but the road is long Phil, the road is so long. But the road is life. Let us press on, brother o’ mine.
“Yeah,” I shrug, still not optimistic. “Jeff Alaback? Tricia Alaback?” I feebly offer. With campus enrollment over 20,000, the chances are not looking good for our man Phil.
Not surprisingly, we’ve struck out again. I can tell just from looking at him. I rack my brain – as he pretends to rack his – for other possibilities. Aha! I think this might just do the trick.
“You know, Phil, I do know some people from Norman and Tulsa as well…” I add, almost condescendingly at this point, feeling like I’m read a nursery book to a three-year-old… and then little boy Jimmy said that he knew some people from Norman town... where the big boys play. Wow!
Firecrackers are exploding where Phil’s eyes used to be. They are hungry, ravenous, eager for something to satiate this sad seeking of a common ground.
“Who do you know for Norman?” Phil is not asking, Phil is commanding, much like that drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket, acting as if this is his final chance at a happy and successful life. He’s just doing his fraternal duty. Or so I thought. But slowly, oh so slowly, I see Phil’s face start to contort something awful. And that’s when I realize…
This is the crux of his creation. The magnum opus. We’re at Wimbledon, he, Roger Federer, I, Andy Roddick, and this is his chance to put me away. This has somehow morphed into a competition. I can feel it. I no longer want to make a connection with Phil. I want him to leave feeling empty, sad. I want this to torture him for the rest of his life, give him nightmares, make him wet the bed, even after he is married. I want him to wear diapers. I want this to be his Vietnam and I want flashbacks to happen every day until finally he can no longer take it and he feels compelled to take his own life, hoping that we can connect in heaven, with a common knowledge of its’ master, Jesus Christ.
I list off a couple of names, slowly, strategically, trying to prolong his suffering. Each name is a return in our tennis match, wearing him down, piece by piece, until finally he will crack, he will break and then underdog will walk away with a Grand Slam Title. He’s losing the color in his face. He knows it is over. And then, as I say the last name on my list - delivering what I believe will be a Muhammed-Ali knockout punch - Phil grits his teeth and produces a wry and knowing smile. Oh shit. I got cocky. I threw one last name in for good measure, hit the ball once more to his side of the court, and he has delivered, oh has he ever delivered, and I’ve got nothing, nothing at all. It’s a match. Federer has done it again. He is the champ.
Come to think of it, I suppose I don’t really mind. Phil, sir, our connection has been made. I will most likely never see you again. Have a wonderful life.