How to Have a Conversation – Pat Foran

I had the kids for the weekend, which meant we had another opportunity to connect. Or reconnect.

A good place to do that, I thought, would be the pop-up coffee shop everybody was talking about — a giant shoe box of a shop on a low-tide terrace near the coastal suburb of Subtext. I’d heard the baristas served frosted mini-epigrams, existential wheat toast and guava crepes. They also had those little bottles of cold brew and a swelligant Mexican latte. So I hustled the kids into the Chevy Cobalt and we headed for the shoe box.

What is this place? the kids asked as we pulled up in front. “It’s a pop-up coffee shop,” I said. Why does it look like a shoe box? Is it supposed to be cool? Also, we don’t drink coffee. “They have other stuff here.” They didn’t seem convinced. A velvet rope? Really? Also, Mom would never bring us to a place like this. “Right — Mom,” I said. “But this is something the three of us can do together.”

They looked at me. I looked at them. Jellyfish clouds hovered over the shoe box like a series of rhetorical questions.

“Look — there’s writing on the wall,” I said. That’s a door, Dad. “Ok. It’s a door. What does it say?” It doesn’t ‘say’ anything. “Come on now. There’s a note.” It was the menu. I read from the top: “‘Welcome to The Convo Pit. We’re All Talk … All Talk and Guava Crepes.'”

I asked them if they wanted to try the vegan crab cakes. A sweet potato chickpea buddha bowl? The guava crepes? Your call, Dad.

We entered the shoe box. I ordered the crepes. What’s that guy doing? the kids asked, pointing to a thirty-something sitting in a red plexiglass box that looked like a British telephone booth, sipping a Mexican latte and pounding his laptop keyboard. “He’s writing something,” I said. Writing what? they asked. The guy who was writing overheard us and said I’m talking to a friend and the kids said But he’s not talking and I said “Typing can be talking” and they said But he’s typing like he’s mad is that still talking? and I said “Good question” and the guy who was typing said Would you mind? so I said “Let’s sit over there and leave him to his type-talking.”

Instead, the kids made a beeline for a woman who was reclining in a vintage barber chair with big-honking foot rests. She had a buddha bowl in her lap and was talking to her iPad screen — Did you hear that?! He stole a car and the cops were chasing him and he crashed into a truck full of I don’t know what those are. Are those mountain goats? That guy must be high. Hey are you high or something? The kids asked her who she was talking to — Live PD, I’m watching Live PD, she said — and the kids asked me why she was talking to a TV show. I said she wasn’t talking to a TV show. Then who is she talking to? What is it called when somebody talks to a TV show but isn’t talking to a TV show?

Before I could answer, the kids were off again, racing toward two guys who weren’t exactly yelling, but they were really into whatever they were talking about. They were facing each other, sitting in a white gilded kayak with a stocked minibar. Dad — what do you call this? “They’re just having a conversation.” How do you have a conversation? “Good question,” I said, a question I wasn’t sure I knew how to answer. Not anymore. They said: Why not? Why don’t you know?

I thought about their Mom and how we often spent summer evenings in separate rooms — she watched baseball and read Schopenhauer, I watched 70s sitcoms and reimagined my flaws. I thought about how she resented the way I interrupted her when I asked her to cut to the chase. How I dreaded the way her eyes disappeared when I got going on a subject I cared about. How the pop-up shop’s upside-down-egg-carton-of-a ceiling looked like a papier-mâché figure of speech. How my pulse beat like a dramatic pause in a miscast biopic. How the soft, sour-sweetness of the guava crepes wasn’t helping to heal the hole in the argument that is my chit-chatting heart.

I thought a bit more about their Mom and I, and the light I thought I could see along the unscripted coast outside the shoe box. I thought about not answering the kids’ question. I opened my mouth to speak.

“I think … it’s not … I mean … “

They told me it was ok, that I didn’t have to go on. That the important thing was that I tried, however unfocused I might have been, to answer their question. You did provide a little context, they said, adding that they probably would be better off reading a book by a linguistics professor — they’d heard about one who was known to be succinct and sanguine on the subject. They also could study the dialogue in movies they admired. And they would consider posing the question to their Mom.

I appreciated their graciousness and thanked them for understanding. They said they’d take a rain check on the crepes and suggested we blow that pop-up stand. Maybe we can talk a little on the way home, they said.


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PAT FORAN is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in such publications as WhiskeyPaper, MoonPark Review, Unbroken Journal and FIVE:2:ONE #thesideshow. Find him on twitter at @pdforan


Image: Wendy Julianto

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