The Old Man and the Me.

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2008 at 12:06 am

NOTE: This is the first half of a rough draft that my fashion consultant decided could not wait to be posted another day. So here it is. Sorry if I haven’t even read it while I was typing it.
Big hugs and wet kisses,

On the fourth of July, ironically the day of independence, I was taken captive by a man exercising his freedom of speech.

I entered the Provo Barnes and Noble. I perused the discount books, the $2.98 deals, the best-sellers, the discount hardcovers, the recently released paperbacks. I looked among the “Last Chance” books. I thought I might take up tap-dancing, why not be the next Fred Astaire? Who else my age will recognize his feats so long after his fifteen minutes were up?

The sci-fi and fantasy struck little interest in me. Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies had only minor appeal. I wanted to read Voltaire’s Candide and maybe Machiavelli’s Mandrake again. I was suddenly reminded of a friend, a girl, who told me of a book about making sense of men, the girl was a major advocate of He’s Just Not That Into You, and I imagined she would be at the midnight showing when movie version came out. I passed the section titled “Harry Potter,” somewhat awed and also annoyed at the presumption of someone making a rack based entirely on a single book series, the only other book with such a demarcation from other books being the Bible. Nevertheless, I found the section. I found no book about making sense of men, I texted the girl who is a friend to find out the author’s name, only to receive no response. I deigned not to ask a store clerk, neither dared I ask the name of the author of He’s Just Not That Into You. So I went through the Relationship rack, book by book, picking up some books of potential interest. I had no intent to buy, only to enjoy on the chair in the corner until the store closed at 6 pm for holiday hours. I picked up The Lost Art of Listening, later 10 Things to Talk About Before You Get Married, I eventually happened upon The Essential Writings of Voltaire, which included Candide, not because I had sought it out, but only because it sat just behind me as sat on my haunches perusing the lower rows of the Relationship rack. Returning to my search, I picked up How to Talk to Anyone, and some book for self-conscious girls about getting straight answers from gay guys. Why not? I’m not buying it, and maybe I want to know what a gay guy would say to my girlfriend that I allegedly wouldn’t want to tell her in earnest?

I found a chair, right in the corner. There were eight or so such chairs spread out in an oval wide enough to make it difficult for anyone to talk without raising his voice for all to hear. A magazine had been left on the seat. Other than that there was no sign that the former occupant would be returning. I first opened a book about the Top 10 Books that have ruined the world. Then I started on the questions before marriage. I turned straight to the section about s**. Being what the book politely described as a “presexual erotophobe” the author candidly described how I should go about discussing such a taboo topic among Mormon singles. I didn’t have time to read all the way to that section, so I got right to it, I would take care of questions about money, family, jobs, criminal records, and the etcetera etcetera another day.


As I was saying, I was reading the section about… about… well whatever it was I was reading about. And I was about to go pick up the book about “How to get a guy when you’re 30, 40, or 50.” Just to see what kind of tips it might have so I would see through the moves if perchance they should ever be used on me next time I find myself in a singles’ bar. Can’t be too careful.

C.M. Tanner, a one-legged fat man interrupted my reading asking me if I knew if the University of Oregon had a good writing school. He was referring to my hat with a large “O” on it. I told him I didn’t know anything about good writing, that’s why I’m a journalist.

The one-legged fat man told me his story, his entire story. At any moment I realized that I had every right to let my mind wander or to interrupt him or to ignore him. But against my instincts I decided I would hear this man out. I never once asked him to continue talking. I looked him straight in the eyes and decided to listen to what he was telling me.

He was a film student. He told me all about the Russian cinema and his dreams of starting a film school comparable to that of NYU. He told me about his book and asked if I had heard of it. I didn’t say anything but smiled politely to let him know in my own subtle way so that he knew that I knew that he was nobody. Being a bit of a movie buff myself, I asked him one question. The only clue that I gave him the entire three hours that I had any interest in all in what he was saying. “What is your top movie on your list?” He told me all about the book he wrote about movies and how he had seen awful pornographic movies that he hoped I would never see. And he stated his 4 #1 movies. I don’t know how he did it, but he had them. They included Last Tango in Paradise, and some hard core torture porn.

I wondered why he had just one leg, that’s what stood out the most. He told me he had an M5000 or something in the parking lot. “Did you see my M5000 on your way in?” He asked.

“I don’t know cars,” I said.

“It’s a motorcycle,” Mr. Tanner said.

I thought in my head that he must have wrecked his bike and lost his leg that way. But as he kept scratching his remaining leg I thought there must have been something else. Maybe he was born with it.

“I have diabetes,” he said. Ah yes, that must have been it. Then he told me his entire list of medical problems. Yes, the fat man had problems not a few.

He told me of his going in and out of the Church, his going in and out of marriage, his going in and out of school, his going in and out of careers, his inconstancy to all things. He had spent his whole life with one foot in sea and one on shore. That’s why he only had one foot left maybe. I could tell he felt guilty about his not being able to make up his mind and never find anything that he could get really good at and therefore make his opinion of any worth to anyone. As he continued to tell me his opinions on everything from religion, raising children, movies, philanthropy, I realized that nobody had ever fulfilled this man’s one inner wish, that someone would ask him what he thinks. I could tell that nobody ever asked him for advice, yet he yearned to dispense it. He was like a prophet without honor in his own country.

It was apparent that he felt guilty for not maintaining his standing in the Church. He asked if I was a member of the Church. I said, almost smugly, that I was indeed a member of the Church and was never to go inactive ever. Before I could finish he was already back to talking about himself. He asked me about myself merely as a formality, or just so he could get a breath in. Yes, he felt guilty for leaving the Church. In his mind he decided he would justify it by going to all the Churches.

“I brought a bag of 1oo pounds of rice to the Hare Krishna temple,” he said. “Well, actually, the rice falls all over the place when I’m riding on my motorcycle, so I brought 10 bucks.”

I didn’t nod. I didn’t give any approval. I just continued to look him in the eye to let him know that I would hear the man out until he had spoken his piece.

15 years later in film school without a degree, one unhappily married son who works as a model, a single daughter studying biochemistry. He tried to make me feel stupid by mentioning books and movies that I hadn’t read or heard of.

“You read ‘The Jungle.’?” He said.

“Last month,” said I.


“It’s on the coffee table in my hotel room.”

“Thomas More invented Mormonism you know?”

“No he didn’t. That’s a silly idea.”

“Ever seen Triumph of the Will?”

“Yes, we own it.”

“That will make you say ‘Heil Hitler’ by the end.”

“I didn’t say that.”

That was the most I ever participated in the conversation in so many words.

Other readers came and went from the chair right beside him, yet there I stayed.

He told me he was heading up the newspaper at Utah Valley University. I would venture to guess that even there, where he is the boss (or so he says) nobody asks him for advice. He wished his title gave him the recognition he felt entitled to. He wanted to make the motto of the paper, “Why…”.

Just prior to leaving I wanted to ask the man, “Now, you have talked to me for the better part of three hours without any solicitation from me or even any hint that I wanted to hear anything you just said. I want you to tell me ‘Why…’ you told me all this. What do you want me to take from this?”

I didn’t ask him that. I already knew. I had no need to hear it from him.

I was finally asked to leave by the other members of my party. I stood up and walked to Mr. Tanner to shake his hand.

“It was nice hearing from you,” I said, not with any irony or mocking in my voice, I just told him that it was nice hearing him.

“Help me up, would ya?” he said. “I’ve been talking all this time trying to get you to leave just so I could get you to help me up on your way out. What took you so long? How could you listen to all that drivel? Are you some kind of a masochist?”

He didn’t say that. I wish he had. So ended my time with C.M. Tanner.

  1. i’m on the edge of my seat..the author is alison armstrong. i don’t think she’s in bookstores. she does seminars and workshops where you can buy her books (i’ve never been, but an old roommate attended some with her stepmother. that’s how i heard of it), or you can order them online.however, i wasn’t especially impressed by ‘making sense of men’. a waste of money actually. it was a present, so a waste of my little brother’s money actually. i did, however, really enjoy ‘keys to the kingdom’, the first of her books that i read.p.s. greg behrendt wrote HJNTIY.. he also has another book: ‘it’s called a break up because it’s broken; the smart girl’s break up buddy’

  2. You are one crazy guy, brother.

  3. and the second half?p.s. this is lindsay, not patti.. in case you couldn’t guess

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