Brooklyn resident Katie Walker was stunned this Saturday when she realized the “How are you?” from her favorite barista, Matt, was in fact a perfunctory greeting and not meant to be answered in detail.
“I thought Matt and I were close,” Katie sighed into her nonfat mocha. “I was just answering his question honestly, detailing every traumatic event in the devastating disintegration of my decade-long relationship with the love of my life.”
As Matt attempted to help other customers, exchanging the standard pleasantries concerning the weather and the shop’s popular apple cider doughnuts, Katie unloaded each moment of her brutal breakup with long, meaningful stares, hyper-speed tangents, and relentless tears. “I was just so glad he asked, you know?”
After shredding open three raw sugar packets with ravenous force, she took out her MacBook Pro and projected a pre-loaded slideshow of vacation pictures, holiday photo cards, and screenshots of loving text messages on the shop’s back wall, tearfully narrating each one’s role in the downfall of their romantic partnership. Matt nodded politely throughout, while simultaneously taking orders and making espresso drinks.
Katie’s day only worsened as she received similarly squinty, glazed-over, and unsettling reactions from her dental hygienist, a bearded Green Peace canvasser, the tired receptionist at her gym, and a charismatic couple celebrating their recent engagement at her bar-tending job later that evening, after their exchange of “How are you?”
“I’m beginning to think the people in my life don’t genuinely care how I am,” Katie confided in one of her customers recently laid off from his job and drinking alone.
The sudden realization that it actually might not be socially acceptable to answer necessary small talk with honesty finally hit Katie when she learned the definition of a rhetorical question from a homeless man that catcalled her on her way home. “I was crossing the street and he shouted, ‘How are you?’ after only seeing me from behind. I assumed he knew me and wanted to be friends. After I told him the truth about my current state of emotional and physical torment while smoking all his cigarettes until the sun rose, he confessed he didn’t actually care how I was, he just wanted to see if I was a butterface.”
“If anything, this is a massive relief,” Katie shrugged. “Now I know what to withhold when my mom calls and says she’s worried about me. I no longer have to say, ‘You should be very worried, Mom. Here’s why.’ Now, I can just say, ‘Fine. Thanks. How are you,’ and let the whole world live in an ignorant, blissful delusion.”
She added, “But no, I didn’t see that bank get robbed just now. How are you, officer?”