The Sardine walks into the Attic Bar. Joe T., Frank Weathers, McNulty, Wal-terr, and some others start clapping.
"You're back," says Frank.
You mean: you are back, Frank.
"Whatever," says Joe T., "it's been awhile. We thought we'd never see you again."
I returned a column ago!
"Why didn't you tell us?" asks McNulty.
"He's a modest fish," Wal-terr says snidely.
"You never really said you were leaving," says Frank.
I took a break.
"We thought it was because of the fight between the Logged-in Public and the Newspaper-Reading Public," says McNulty. "I was ready to handle the lawsuit."
"If we're lucky, they won't be back," says Frank.
He never likes to share the spotlight.
Logged-In Public: We're still here, Frank.
"I didn't hear you clapping."
L-I P: We're still glad to be back.
Actually, I don't mind they didn't clap.
"Again, Mr. Modesty," says Wal-terr.
Not really. I've never understood that social convention. Why did you clap?
"We were glad to see you back, returning to the stage of your former triumphs," says Frank.
Wal-terr wasn't glad to see me back. And he clapped.
"I do not know why I clapped," says Wal-terr. "Everyone else was doing it."
Why do we clap? Bring the hands together after something pleases us?
"'Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph,'" quotes McNulty.
"What's that?" asks Joe T.
"Oh, you know the Bible," Joe T. replies.
But the Bible doesn't explain why we applaud! Frankly, I'm always embarrassed not to clap.
"I've seen those beatniks snap their fingers instead of clapping," said Frank. "On television."
It's the same thing.
"And stomping the feet," said Joe T.
Okay, okay, I get the idea. I still want to know why stomping and snapping and clapping are social signals of approval. Or, for that matter, why booing or whistling signals disapproval.
"Because it does," says Wal-terr.
Just as the Sardine doesn't want to set up camp too permanently, with any person or idea, I can't miss this opportunity to question compulsive, unthinking behavior.
"You mean like drinking while intoxicated," says Joe T.
"What about torturing animals?" asks Wal-terr.
How about why we drink alcohol or get drunk? Not because its tastes great or leaves you refreshed the next day. And despite the consequences of getting drunk too often.
"You want me to lose my job?" snaps Wal-terr.
I'm asking why, not asking people to stop.
"Making people self-conscious will make them stop doing anything," says Frank.
Maybe for a few minutes. And why do we keep pets? Where's the need to have a dog, cat, or bird around the house?
"Better than having people around the house," says McNulty.
Did you have a fight with Honey, again?
"She doesn't want me smoking in the house anymore."
At least you have your Social Pets.
Frank, you should let those Social Pet columns be a lesson about how people change their behavior when you make them conscious of it.
"You don't think he was affected."
For a week or two after the respective columns, perhaps. He sent copies of the column to every person he had ever known.
"That's an exaggeration," says McNulty.
Not by much. What isn't an exaggeration is that you continued your smoking and drinking rituals with an even greater relish.
"I remember," McNulty laughs. "Honey thought I had changed too. I couldn't give her the satisfaction."
Bob Castle is the unveiled author of A Sardine on Vacation. Check out his bio page.