Isn't That Coot!

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 6, 2007

The phone rings. I recognize the number on my caller ID as Erik, a young man I employ from time to time to assist me with office work.


"Hey, what's up?" he says.

Um. What's up? I have to pause, think. I tell him I'm sitting at my desk, writing some e-mails. I tell him my dog threw up. I tell him I was just about to call my mom and ask her what she wants for her birthday. I think that about sums up all that's . . . up. Is there anything else? I have a sinus headache threatening, I think. Should I include that? Why am I saying all of this? I feel, from his question, pressure to . . . synthesize.

"Great," he says. "Well, I had a question about invoices."

And that's it. None of the what's up of my day enters into our conversation. It's left hanging in the limbo of dropped topics. Why did I just go through all of that?

This keeps happening. It's not just Erik. It's a lot of people, most of them younger than I. They call. They don't identify themselves. (It's assumed these days that we all have caller ID?) They say, "Hey, what's up?" Or, the alternative, "Hey, what's going on?"

It's an aggressive greeting. It's the caller putting all the work on the callee, forcing her to think, encapsulate, come up with something interesting. I am not, after all, the one who called. You're calling me, so why aren't you telling me what's up?

Except . . . and I am just now figuring this out . . . the question is not meant literally.

"Hey, what's up?" is the new "How are you?"

The answer to, "Hey, what's up?" is never, "My dog threw up." The answer, I am learning, is, "Hey, what's up?" thus turning the conversation back over to the caller. Same as with, "How are you?" The answer is never, "I pulled my groin." The answer is always, "Fine. How are you?"

It's the old conversational dance, and the youngsters have a new step.

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