Time spent dodging potholes on a road that will soon be closed for reconstruction causes the driver and the vehicle’s tires to fall out-of-balance. When that happens, I — not the car — talk a lot without saying much.
The teeth-rattling journey leads to a bundle of nerves and a stream of verbal assaults aimed at no one in particular. Kathy is not a fan of the gibberish, which involves off-key renditions of lines from obscure rock songs and non-sensical poems. Kathy says it is an annoying nervous tic that is common among people who neither know where they are going nor if they will get there.
“You’re giving me a headache,’’ she is apt to say before suggesting silence.
Some people do talk too much, but long-talkers aren’t bad people per-se. I sat across from one recently who talked 30 minutes without taking a stab at the food on his plate. He was interesting with a minimal amount of “you know’’ and “um’’ fillers, which are the twin banes of intent listeners.
Perhaps the most infamous and long forgotten long talker in American history is Edward Everett, who droned on for more than two hours on Nov. 19, 1863, as the first speaker at the dedication of the National Soldiers Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa. He was followed by President Abraham Lincoln, who in approximately two minutes and with 272 words, delivered one of the most memorable and important speeches in American history.
The outcome of America’s Civil War, which took 600,000 lives, was unclear when Lincoln addressed the thousands gathered on the battlefield.
Generations of school children memorized his words, which have not lost their relevancy. The beginning packs a great punch — “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. ‘’
His final words are particularly poignant — “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’’
Lincoln, as filled with self-doubt as he was, didn’t like the speech. Newspaper reaction was mixed and many in the crowd thought it was a poor fit for the occasion.
Being a person of few words isn’t always better. The proof of that is found in President Calvin Coolidge, who was called “Silent Cal’’ during his time in the White House during the roaring ‘20s. Newspapers of the time printed a story about one White House dinner guest who bet another at the table that he could get the president to say more than three words. He told Coolidge that quite a sum had been placed on the bet, but Silent Cal was unmoved.
“You lose,’’ was all the president said.
I don’t win, either, by prattling nonsense to calm my pothole-rattled nerves. Kathy copes by turning up the radio’s volume and often singing along with the light rock songs she favors. The Carpenters are among her favorites. Kathy is a good singer, but cannot match Karen Carpenter’s professionalism.
From experience, it’s not a good idea to point that out.
“Everybody else loves my singing,’’ is the response. which is followed by the sound of silence from the passenger’s seat. A quick exit from the car proves that she hasn’t gotten over the unintended slight.
It’s evident that I’ve lost the ability to come up with the right words at the right time. It hadn’t always been the case. I fretted over just what to say when I asked for her hand more than 30 years ago. The words that convinced her parents to give their approval were also effective enough.
It’s obvious that fewer, and kinder words are best said while dodging potholes on roads torn apart by winter. It is amazing how similar my wife’s voice is to Karen Carpenter’s on “Rainy Days and Mondays.’’