“Hello? Hello JAY? Yeah. I’m in the library mate… Yeah…No I can talk. How are you?..” “Alright?” [Laughs] “Aw mate, my head is killing me… Yeah…big night.” [Laughs]
I stiffen. If I had hackles they would start rising. I too am in the library, trying to concentrate on some hilarious and thought-provoking commentary on the human condition (or knob gags, whichever is easier). Concentration is difficult because the man is still talking.
“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen… I tried to ring Gary at work but no answer so I just left a message.”
His voice is so loud I’d say Gary heard him at work without any phone. Then it gets ridiculous.
“Look I’ve got a call coming in on the other line – I’ll call you back alright…Hello HELLO! Hi STEVE MATE HOW ARE YOU?”
I can’t take any more. I am about to do something I rarely do: Complain, and deal with conflict.
It takes a while to work myself up to it. First of all I make a sound of disapproval. It’s somewhere between aTut and a Kheawgh! Then I take the normal second step – look around me with an exaggeratedly annoyed expression to garner support from the group. Everyone else has their head down. “Cowards” I say silently, even though they’re just like me.
I’ve never been good at conflict situations. When the temperature of a conversation is raised, a renegade lobe in my brain doesn’t believe I’m ever in the right and I start blushing. Some people just love the to-and-fro. It’s part of a game. They are constantly ready for an argument – their troops lined up along the border having completed two years hard training. By contrast my conflict defences consist of an old man with a pitchfork asleep under a tree in a peaceful meadow. In secondary school I was in five fights and lost all but one. The one victory – a feisty tussle after someone wrote on the collar of my jacket – came to an unsatisfactory conclusion when everyone wanted us to fight properly in Ballyphehane after school (kind of like going to the Labour Court for feens) but I didn’t want to miss my bus home.
Thankfully now, most high octane conflict situations are verbal, but they all have a similar pattern. Someone else says something angry, I say nothing and a few minutes later I think of a really clever thing to say. Last year at Electric Picnic, I was having a bit of difficulty maneovering the car along a muddy lane much to the annoyance of site-worker who was waiting impatiently in a jeep. As we passed he rolled down his window and said “Where did you get your driving license – A lucky bag?” – and drove off. I had nothing in reply. Firstly because what he said didn’t even make any sense. Do they even make Lucky Bags any more? If they do, what are the chances of getting a driving license in one – with your photograph on it?
Secondly, any kind of a reply to match the original insult – “Where did you get your personality? Langertown?” – would have been equally implausible. That’s my problem. I think too much. The recommended response would be to extend the middle finger out the window in a display of confident nonchalance.
That is not to say that every situation requires conflict. There is the law of unintended consequences and it tends to have more of a bearing the more ‘tooled-up’ you are in argument.
Now in the library however, I feel I’m completely in the right. Unassailable. There are symbols all over the wall showing phones with a red line through them. I take a deep breath.
“Excuse me can you take that call somewhere else, this is a library!” I’m taking poetic license by including an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence. In reality, the last syllable is uttered in a squeak as my brain, sensing danger, withdraws all frontline staff including saliva – to protect essential internal organs and instigate blushing.
He moves his head slightly. “Sorry Steve, gotta go. Someone’s telling me to get off the phone. I’m in a library.” Uh-oh. It sounds like he’s passive aggressively making a point to the guy on the phone and then he’s going to give me an earful.
Then he apologises to me. Not just an apology but a very gracious apology. “I don’t normally take a call like that. I’m so sorry about that mate”. I experience the sensation of trying to shoulder an open door and falling in on the ground. There is no satisfaction. The conflict has completely evaporated. Then he gets up to leave and I notice he’s got a broken leg. Typical! The rare moment where I assert myself, I’ve just barked at a man on crutches in a library.
I feel conflicted.