Friday, February 11, 2011

Nonverbal Communication

After a few minutes of chilled silence—the sort of silence which only good friends can manage between them, that silence in which it is clear that the only way to clear up this misunderstanding is either wait a couple of days, get a whiskey or two and grunt, or play Call of Duty—we found the Irish pub. It was at the tip of a building next to one of the many old churches in Lille. Since I’m a horrible note taker, and am writing this nearly thirteen months after the fact, I forget the name of the place, and so I shall call it O’Houlehain’s. The face of the pub was black with bronze lettering. Through the frosted and darkened windows, I saw some flickering Christmas lights on a couple of Christmas trees.
I opened the door and was greeted by three things: First, a blast of warm air; Second: a blast of music in the form of The Pogues’ “Pogue Mahone;” and third, the bartender, a large man in an Ireland rugby shirt shouting, “Close the fecking door, ya gobshite, before I bash yer fecking teeth in!”
I closed the door. I learned my lesson in Knoxville: When a bartender tells you to do something, you do not dally. The Student and I walked up to the bar and now, the guy was cool. “What’re ya havin?”
I scanned the taps. “Murphy’s’ll do.”
“Good choice.”
The Student scanned the taps. “Guinness, please.”
“Good choice.”
He served up the drinks and The Student and I headed over to a table next to the window. Outside, the snow was picking up, and a couple people walked around, hunched over and clutching some shopping bags.
I took off my coat and laid it over the back of my chair. The Student did the same with his, and we both sat down and looked outside.
It was a few minutes before I cleared my throat. If you’re not a guy, or you are and you’ve never been in this sort of situation, let me play sociologist and explain what was happening at the table.  
We were easing over the wounds of the spat in the only way two red-blooded heterosexual American men knew how: Sitting in awkward silence and making non-verbal indicators of apology. The first, was my scratching two centimeters above the top of my right ear. Translated, this meant, “Er, yeah.”
The Student rolled his shoulders. Translated: “Yep.”
I scratched at my chin: “May have overreacted.”
The Student twitched his eyebrows. “Probably shouldn’t have dipped to academic discourse.”
I scratched at the bridge of my nose. “Nah, my fault entirely. I really shouldn’t have thrown you against the wall right next to the hobo.” That’s when the throat-clear came around. “We cool?” it asked.
The Student grunted, which, in our parlance, meant, “Yeah. Good thing the trip’s almost over, right?”
“Woah,” I said, “what the fuck does that mean?”
The Student, startled, looked at me. “What?”
“That fucking grunt.”
“I cleared my throat.”
“That was a Goddamn grunt, and you know it, pisher.”
“What are you talking about? This is insane. First you throw me up against a brick wall and no—”
“You forgave me for that.”
“What? Why would I forgive you for throwing me up against a fucking wall, you imbecile? You didn’t even apologize for it.”
“Fuck you. First: You twitched your eyebrows, which means you agreed that lapsing into an academic fucking lecture about Palestine wasn’t the best way to blow off fear from our encounter, which, implicitely, means you forgave me for my actions. Second: I scratched the bridge of my nose, which meant ‘I apologize,’ to which you said ‘it’s cool’ but then you grunted, which meant you were glad that the trip was almost over.”
Throughout my analysis—accurate analysis, I might add—The Student’s head slowly went from ninety degrees to touching his right shoulder. And, after I finished, he said, “You seriously need help. You have a case of generalized anxiety disorder that surpasses any known case. You could be a boon to science. Your ramblings have the potential to cure untold amounts of people of their problems. You got all of that from fucking gestures?”
At this point, the bar tender brought over a couple of glasses of whiskey. “If you ain’t gonna kiss and make up, yeh can drink and make up. Just shut the feck up before yeh drive away my customers.”
I looked around. The pub was devoid of human life, like Hoth. But this was not something to say to a, man in a rugby shirt. So, we took the whiskey and begrudgingly apologized by doing so. Placated, the bartender nodded, went back to the bar, and came back with two bills. “Now get the feck out,” he said.
“What?” I asked. “We drank the whiskey. That means we get to stay.”
“Shove it up yer arse, yer a couple a gobshites. I know yer type, feckin tourists. Yeh’ll just sit in here and yell about how feckin quaint France is. Pay up and feck off.”
He was growing more and more irate. We picked our wallets out of our jeans, paid and drank up, and got the fuck out of there before glasses started to fly. Dropkick Murphys’ “Finnegan’s Wake” started playing as we left.

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