Ontological Small Talk

"What's your deal?"

I turn around from my workstation, the half-folded CD box still in my hands. Paperclip Guy* is standing at the processing shelf, scanning a cart-load of orders before shelving them. I can only imagine the puzzled look on my face that prompts him to repeat his question.

"What's your deal?... What do you like?... What do you do?"

Basically he's asking me who I am. This is what I get when I work with a guy who studied philosophy in college; instead of discussing the Mets and Dodgers (metaphorically speaking, of course; I care nothing for baseball) we discuss our ontology in a round-about way. I half turn back to my table, slipping DVDs into plastic sleeves while I gather my thoughts.

"Oh gosh," I say slowly, "That's complicated..."

"You can give me the short answer," he says. He's dead serious. He's always dead serious. Even when telling me that manatees weigh only 50 pounds because they are made up of mostly air. I almost believed him for a half minute, before he told me he was just teasing. He hadn't cracked a smile at all.

"Well," I say carefully, still forming the thoughts in my head, "I guess I would say that at the very heart, I'm a Lover of Words." The words have capitalization even in my head. "Its why I want to be a librarian, its why I like to read..."

I'm not finished--there's three to the group--but he interjects. "Then why don't you become a writer?"

"...and why I love to write" I finish.

His cart is almost empty, but he's got enough time to ask what I like to read. Seriously, Paperclip Guy, one hard question at time. Isn't it enough to ask me the nature of my being, let alone try to condense my sphere of reading into a single sentence? I manage to pull an genre (essays) and an author (Chesterton) out of my mental card catalog, and we exchange niceties about the great Englishman.

Now his cart is empty. He goes back to overseeing the rows of tapes that are transferring to disc. I return to reviewing orders for shipment. I can't say I didn't enjoy the conversation. It was just...different.

*Obviously not his real name... Names changed to protect the innocent (or something like that). Besides, for about a week, (before I learned his real name) I thought of him as Paperclip Guy, because I didn't even know he worked with me until he came through the building looking for paperclips.


  1. Toward the end of the semester I was on sabbatical, I came up to campus for our senior award night. A student cornered me and asked what I had been reading. I must have read 30 books or so by then, so I just said something like "a lot of different things." "What's just one that you really liked and why?" All I had wanted was to congratulate the thesis award winner . . . not try to figure out in 10 seconds what was the most important reading I'd done over a four-month period . . .!

    1. It's like asking a mother to pick her favorite child and then explain the reasoning behind her choice!