Published on March 6th, 2019 | by Randy Weeks1
The View from the Balcony: How Ya Doin’?
(Warning: This column contains an excessive number of open and closed quotation marks, as well as a plethora of parenthetical phrases.)
We polite Southerners—and even some of the impolite ones—are apt to greet each other by saying, “How ya doin’”, or words to that effect (How ya durn? Whassup?). It’s called “being nice” and if there’s anything good we’re known for down here it’s being nice. (It is important to note that “being nice” is not the same as “making nice”. “Being nice” is about being courteous, kind, and using good manners. “Making nice” is about treating someone with civility, even after they have gutted you with a filet knife or somesuch. I have a pretty great joke about nice but it has to be told, not read.)
Typical responses to “The Question” include: “Fine. How are you?”, “Can’t complain,” “Better than I deserve” (a la Dave Ramsey), “Any day above ground is a good day,” and one I use often—“Not bad for an old guy.” I have grown weary of all those. Can’t we be a bit more creative? For the last couple of years I’ve been on a mission—a quest, if you will (Cue up “The Impossible Dream” and fire up the windmills), to come up with a better response to “How ya doin’?”
As we all know, “How ya doin’?” is largely rhetorical. Few inquisitors really want to know how you are and if you start telling them how you really are, they suddenly remember they’re supposed to meet a friend at Cups in five minutes and it’s a very personal meeting so, no, as much as they’d love to visit with you, you can’t tag along. The ones who do care don’t care enough to really listen to your troubles. A gaggle of people just don’t give a hoot in a handbasket.
A few nights ago two of my Balcony friends and I had a marvelous conversation about this, parts of which I am about to share with you. The list of alternative responses to “How ya doin’?” is not exhaustive (exhausting, perhaps, but not exhaustive).
I am particularly fond of the Eastwoodian (as in Clint) approach: Take a slow, deep breath (if you’re a smoker you’ve got an advantage here because you can always take a draw on your pipe or a drag off your cigarette or cigar), look thoughtfully out into space, turn back to the inquisitor, squint your eyes, and say quietly, intensely, and with a slow cadence,
“Who’s askin’?” or “Who wants to know?” or “Why?” or “Do you always ask such personal questions?”
The ice-cold stare with no words is a great option, too, as long as you can pull off the set-up.
Or you can actually begin to tell them your problems.
“Why are you asking? You don’t give a damn about me. Okay, I’ll tell you how I am. I just got fired from my job, my spouse is ready to divorce me, my roof leaks, and my dawg just bit me. So how do you think I am, punk?”
In Oxford you can’t use “Why? You writin’ a book?” because nearly everybody is. But you could use a variation on the colorful, descriptive Southern response. With an exaggerated drawl and, again, a very slow cadence, you could say something like, “I’m as euphoric as a gopher tortoise sittin’ on a log in a scum-covered pond at high noon on a July afternoon.” Or if you’re not doing all that well, “Much to my chagrin, I find myself in a pit of confounding consternation that is as deep and dark as the black hole that our current Commander in Chief refers to as his heart.”
Maybe you have a better comeback. I’d love to hear it. Until then I’ll just ask for a wee bit of clarification when you ask me “How ya doin’?”.
“Do you mean physically, mentally, spiritually, relationally, educationally, socially, occupationally, financially, or otherwise? I got an answer for ‘em all.”
Do I hear a call for the return of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”?
And that’s the view from The Balcony.