If you've been out of work long enough, everybody wants to know what you've been up to. Whatcha been up to, poot? Lemme tell you, it's one big annoyance, to have to come up with something on the spur of the moment. You'll be sitting there on the saggy couch, feet up, toes curled, big fraying holes in your socks, and they stink, too, those dogs of yours, which means that you're in your element, having bodily asserted yourself about as well as anyone could in this wishy-washy world, an exemplary male human animal, picking strings of red meat out from between your teeth, then washing them down with box wine, when somebody calls you up and asks you what you've been up to.
You know, people make fun of box wine, but it does the trick just as good as the bottled stuff and anyway the world is running out of cork. Hell, the world is running out of a lot of things. Overshoot. But you can't worry about everything.
Especially when you're sitting there, watching TV, listening to supposedly real people yapping about themselves, their health, their weight, the money they've lost or won, their houses and cars and whatnot, so many of them crying over spilt milk and now waiting for their ship to come in, or for the rapture to carry them up, or whatever you call it when Big Daddy smiles down on you and then knocks you on your arse. It's something, watching these otherwise unremarkable humans demanding their right to emote on cue -- as if any of what they're experiencing is true -- giving their TV audience one big lesson in needless histrionics. The art of getting worked up over nothing. And then the pharmaceutical ads come on, always starring people your age or older, silver foxes lurching slo-mo through golden fields of grain, big synthetic smiles pasted on their jaundiced faces, the music jaunty and shallow, people who look as though they've never been sick in their entire lives. "Hey Mr. Lipitor, whatcha been up to?" How effin sick is that?
Quist used to tell me that people don't really expect an honest answer when they ask what you've been up to. They're satisfied if you say, "Not much but I'm feeling pretty good." That's usually enough to keep the conversation going until you move on to another topic, like the movies, or football, or books.