Who, what, where and when do matter. But so does why.
I had never seen them before. She was late twenties early thirties, tanned and fit. He was perhaps a few years older, but also tanned and fit. They weren’t from around here but wherever they were from they must have spent time outdoors.
“Why is this restaurant shaped like this?” asked the woman looking around. It wasn’t her first question, but in a long line of them it was the most relevant. I just didn’t know it then.
“What do you mean why?” asked her companion, who had remained silent during all her other ones. He had nodded when she asked about bourbon. He had pursed his lips when she asked about rye. He had looked away when she asked which was better. But when it came to the “why,” something had changed.
“Sometimes the why is less important than the what,” he replied.
“I just like to know why things are the way they are,” she replied. I guessed that I was no longer part of the conversation and took a slight step to my right, before walking away completely.
“Why this? Why that?” he said. “It’s always why.”
Five minutes later their meticulously questioned, ordered, and prepared cocktails sat still full on the bar top. The blush from their chill now reduced to condensation running down the stem.
They were still on the topic of “why” when their guest arrived. I didn’t recognize him either. Sometimes being equidistant between two popular points puts you right at the point of attack. And attack the newcomer did.
“Why did you pick this place?” asked the new arrival in a clearly patriarchal tone. He didn’t wait for an answer, he simply extended his hand to the woman’s companion.
“I’m her father,” he said.
I guessed that the name part was unimportant.
“I’ll go see why our table is taking so long,” she said.
The younger man pursed his lips, and the older man rolled his eyes.
A light beer of some type was ordered as the older man looked at the two drinks on the bar.
“These are on you right?” he said to the younger man.
“Sure, I guess,” replied the younger man, who looked around weakly for the woman.
“What do you do?” asked the older man.
Before an answer could be offered came another question.
“What do you drive?” he asked.
Each new question came before the answer of the old one, as if only the questions were important, not answers.
The young man looked around for the woman again. Checking on that table was taking longer than expected. But I guess any interrogation feels longer than it actually is, regardless of the circumstances.
The young man picked up his Manhattan and took a quivering sip. The term “fortify” is often used in regard to spirits, both liquid and ethereal.
She returned for a second and then retreated to the restroom. It would be a few more minutes before their table was ready.
“I thought we had reservations,” said the older man.
“We do,” replied the younger one. “But reservations are not exact guarantees.”
The older man had not heard the restaurant part in response to that first question, but I had. In fact, it was doubtful he had heard any of the responses to any of the queries. Questions can be used as a tool to gain information, or as a weapon to block it. Just watch any political TV press conference these days if you doubt that.
“I just want you to know – what’s your name again? – that if you guys ever have a fight, I’ll be on your side,” said the father unbidden to the young man.
“I don’t understand,” said the younger man.
“I’m just saying, I’ll take your side.”
“But she’s your daughter.”
The young man pursed his lips again, albeit slightly differently this time.
When the young woman did finally return, the young man pulled her close, closer than before. And when she asked “why” the table was taking so long, he didn’t say a word. Instead, he rubbed her shoulder ever so slightly.
When the hostess came to gather them, the couple downed their Manhattans in one gulp, she, because she knew what was coming, and he, because he didn’t.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-“Questions are a burden to others. Answers are a prison for oneself,” is a quote from the late 1960’s British TV show The Prisoner.
-“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” once posited philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
-They say you can’t choose your family and that might be true of the past. What they don’t say is that you can choose the family you want going forward.
-Sometimes it’s the “why” that explains everything.