Work of Art: Nothing never happens

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By Art Trujillo

Two things have happened recently to make me really ponder the ways in which people communicate — or sometimes don’t.

When people say, “We’re just not communicating,” I want to say, “Yes we are, but we’re just not agreeing.” In other words, “Nothing never happens.”

At the risk of violating the double-negative rule (nothing, never), I’m merely saying there always is communication, but not always what we desire.

The two things that happened involved our oldest son and his family, who recently visited here from Denmark. With the addition of their daughter, our granddaughter, there are now 12 of us.

After taking a family photo, we went to a Japanese restaurant in the Duke City, a place where all of us sit around the grill while the cook masterfully entertains us. First he uses a long blade to fling pieces of chicken into our individual plates. All of these came from NBA three-point range.

Then he takes a frozen piece of meat, places it on the grill for three seconds, flips it over and asks, “Who ordered the steak rare?” And he does the customary knife-juggling routine. All quite enjoyable, worth the price of admission.

He cooks all the separate items, making sure everyone gets a taste of everyone else’s meal, and like magic, he serves up all the food at the same time. That’s a trick too few local bistros have mastered: All at the same time.

I realize this is taking on the appearance of a restaurant review, but what I really intend is to discuss one little item that took place before the chef began flinging the shrimp and sushi.

At the start, he introduced himself, and with a polite voice he asked, “Would you like to start off with some fried rice?” Twenty-four eyes widened and 12 heads nodded in unison. Out came the raw rice, which he cooked expertly and distributed among us in minutes. It was good.

Let’s analyze how he suggested the appetizer: He smiled, acted as if we were bestowing on him a great honor by accepting the rice, and went about cooking it with alacrity and celerity. Plus a pinch of salt and a drop of oil.

Let’s compare that to the obligatory question, consisting of only seven words, that we get asked at fast-food restaurants: “Would you like fries with that, sir?” There’s a difference in the asking.

I sense that the “fries” question is asked in a way that it’s no big deal if the customer says no. The fries option generally is presented as if it were hurting the clerk to ask it. “It’s OK if you don’t order fries,” each questioner seems to imply.

But here’s the gist: And as I explain it, I realize there’s no way to fully render the nuances except to say I have the sworn testimony of the 11 others with me that they believed the same thing. We all thought the rice was on the house, the way comp chips and salsa (sometimes) appear on tables in Mexican restaurants.

All of us were surprised that this “appetizer” cost us mucho dinero. And all the time we thought it was free. It’s like offering a house visitor a cup of coffee or soft drink.

I stress it’s hard to explain or describe the server’s tone of voice when he offered the rice, but whatever it was, it worked. Now obviously, the rice — which added another $40 to the tab — was just a fraction of the total. But yet, but yet, something in his tone of voice — impossible to capture because of the limitations of the printed word — told us the rice was compliments of the restaurant.

Maybe if he’d shown a wee bit less enthusiasm or tacked on a yes-or-no question mark, we would have thought, “Hey, this is gonna cost us.” That experience validates what people mean when they say, “It’s not what you say but how you say it.”

There’s a reason people hesitate to write anything ironic in letters and e-mails and often include “LOL” to clarify the intent.

Another thing which proves that “nothing never happens” did happen. As we left the restaurant, said goodbye to and exchanged hugs with our departing Danes, I tapped the horn of our PT Cruiser to give them a milli-second beep, in the same way people continue to wave goodbye until the wavees vanish from sight.

Well I’d forgotten that the horn on my PT sometimes sticks. You know how most horns allow you to honk as long (or as short) as you wish? Not the PT.

Now we all know how people communicate with car horns. A split-second honk means 1) Hi. I see you; 2) Be aware, I’m passing you. A couple of split-second honks, in rapid succession mean 1) I’m coming through, so don’t back up; 2) Thanks for letting me cut in.

The other horn message, a long beep, means several things, and all of them conduce fighting words: 1) You cut me off, you idiot! 2) You don’t have to take your half out of the middle; 3) Stp ur infrnl txtng and kp ur eyz on the rd.

So which message did my often-stuck PT horn send to our son and his family just before they left for the airport? Obviously the long beep made our son stop, back up and wonder what was the matter. He must’ve thought we were angry.

We weren’t, just feeling lonely already.

On that trip to Albuquerque we learned that certain cooks have ways of implying complimentary rice without providing it, and that there’s no way of explaining that it wasn’t I who sat on the horn; the horn just got stuck. Honest, son.

Even with this newly acquired knowledge of two forms of communication, we still need to learn just a couple more things. Let’s start by getting that blasted horn fixed. And the next time someone asks if we’d like to start off with fried rice, we need to learn to ask, “How much will it cost?

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.