Hank was talking. He had an idea for a podcast, and insisted that gave him the right.
“The key to success in the podcast game is having an angle,” Hank said. “There are lots of shows about current events. So what I’ll do, I’ll talk about how those people talk about stuff.”
Hank and me and his wife Lola and my wife Isabel were sitting around the table in my kitchen drinking gin. We lived in Fort Wayne then. But we were all from someplace else. Actually I think Lola might have been born there. One time the four of us drove past this Dairy Queen and she said something about eating there as a kid. She might have meant just eating at Dairy Queen in general, though. Not that location in particular.
“This is all I hear about lately,” Lola said. She told us that when she met Hank she’d been living with a man who had been mauled by a dog as a teenager and had his eyebrows reattached upside down accidentally. “People thought he was an idiot, because his eyebrows made it so he always looked surprised,” Lola said. “But he was actually very bright.”
She looked out the big window over the sink. “I’ll never forget the look on his face when I told him I was leaving,” she said. “Totally nonchalant, like it might just kill him.”
Hank gulped his drink, scooped fresh ice from the bucket on the table and fixed another.
“So, your show would be about whatever people are talking about?” Isabel asked.
“Not quite,” Hank said. “It’ll be about what they talk about.”
Isabel looked confused. “How is that not copying them?”
“Listen,” Hank said. People talk about whatever they talk about, and then I’m going to talk about what they talk about when they talk about whatever that is.”
“Whatever what is?” Isabel asked.
“Whatever they’re talking about,” Hank said.
“But what are they talking about?” Isabel asked.
“Whatever they want,” Hank said.
Lola lit a cigarette and told us that before she’d lived with the man with upside down eyebrows she’d lived with a man who quit his job on Wall Street to open a business training and selling emotional support animals for emotional support animals. “The idea was that you could get your dog a rabbit or hamster, something small, to play with when it needed to blow off steam,” she said.
She looked out the big window over the sink. “His heart was in the right place, but the people from the Humane Society didn’t care. He was crushed when he found out I was the one who called them. But I just couldn’t dig another tiny grave, I just couldn’t.”
Hank rubbed her shoulder. “There’s an example,” he said. “I might talk about how she used ‘crushed’ as a metaphor for heartbroken. Get it?”
“No,” Lola said. “We were walking down the street about a week after they shut him down when I admitted what I’d done, and he was so upset he fainted and fell off the curb. A taxi rolled over his legs.”
“Oh,” Hank said. He drained his glass. “Well, I hadn’t heard that story before. But you see what I mean?”
“You’re going to talk about the way people phrase things,” Isabel said. “Got it.”
Hank drummed his fingers against the table. “I’m going to talk about what people talk about when they talk about whatever they’re talking about,” he said. “Right now we’re talking about how I talk about what people talk about when they talk about whatever they’re talking about. If I made an episode about this conversation, I’d be talking about what we talked about when we talked about how I talk about what people talk about when they talk about whatever they talk about. If someone listened to that episode and described it to a friend, they’d be—”
Lola interrupted him to tell us that the emotional support animal guy and man with upside down eyebrows were cousins. After she’d taken up with Hank, the cousins went into business together. They opened a frozen yogurt shop. “I went there one day to check it out,” she said. “They went with a tropical island theme, and called it The Fungalow. A fun bungalow, I guess. I told them it was the stupidest name I’d ever heard.”
She looked out the big window over the sink. “But actually, I love the name Fungalow. I just couldn’t admit it.”
“No one wants to hear about these old boyfriends of yours,” Hank snapped.
Lola slammed her fist down on the table. “I bet they’d rather hear about them than your confusing podcast.”
We sat in silence. The gin was all gone. Everyone looked miserable.
“Some party this is,” Hank said.
“You know what might turn this around?” I said. “We need a moment to reflect on our shared humanity.”
Isabel nodded. “Good idea,” she said. “I could go for an epiphany right now.”
“Let’s not get carried away,” I said. “An epiphany is a lot to ask for.”
“Well,” Isabel said, “I want one.”
“I might want an epiphany too, actually,” Lola said. “It’s been a while.”
“You’re kidding,” Hank said. “You had that epiphany about the futility of seeking revenge against your sister in the car on the way here. I vote for reflecting on our shared humanity.”
“Look,” I said. “How about everyone does whatever they want? We’ll have a moment and whatever happens in that moment, happens. If you reflect, that’s fine. If you have an epiphany, good for you.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.”How do we start?” Lola asked. “I mean, you can’t really force this kind of thing.”
“What if we all looked out the big window over the sink at the same time?” I said.
Everyone looked out the big window over the sink. I hoped that maybe a newborn fawn, or else someone less fortunate than the four of us, like a blind guy or a woman whose child drowned in a swimming pool, would stagger by.
But none did.