“‘Information Superhighway’ is a pointless term. It was never going to catch on; it’s clunky and awkward and too many syllables.” The male leaned back in his seat, feeling his point made. He had a sharp head poking through a half-ring of greasy hair that fell to his shoulders, dusting the faded greenish polo shirt with off-putting dandruff. His face was contorted by a pair of ridiculous glasses that pinched his bulky face together in the middle, suspended over a bulbous nose and perched atop large and flappy ears. The expanse of his girth was situated in his midsection, rounding him heavily at the bottom. His total appearance amounted to that of a cartoon pear. When he spoke, he waved his hands about as if they were prosthetic, belonging to someone else. “Plus,” he added, “it doesn’t even work as an analogy. It’s pointless.”
A lean, jaundiced woman with a stooped shoulder and a face that drew into a point somewhere between the narrow eyes twisted her scarcely separated eyebrows in an expression of disbelief. Her legs didn’t bend quite right, the knees arthritic despite her relative youth, so she stretched them out in front of her as she sat on the very edge of the institutional plastic chair. Between the awkward bend of her body, the general yellowness of her complexion and wardrobe, and the short spikes of her hair, she may have been costumed as a banana. Her posture was precarious and liable to slip off the seat at any moment to land on a bony posterior that had only known the caress of a lover’s hand upon it twice in her life. When the subject came up, she exaggerated and said it had been eight times. “So, what instead?”
They sat in the lunchroom, a human pear and a human banana, locked in conversation, oblivious to anything around them.
“Internet,” he said, haughty and bemused and scornful. “Simple as that. Call it what it is. Call it what the people who understand it call it. People will just have to learn to understand.”
“It sounds,” Banana said with careful diction, “like a brand name, though. You remember the whole ‘series of tubes’ thing, yes?” Pear snorted a disdainful puff of acknowledgment. “Well, calling it ‘Internet’ sounds like calling facial tissues ‘Kleenex,’ it doesn’t have any context and it becomes a label for itself, but one without any meaning.”
“Interesting example,” he said, feeling smug. “Facial tissue implies an object which should be used only on the face, but it is far more versatile and complicated than that.”
“It is exactly like the Internet! You say ‘information’ and you suggest scholarly application while ignoring social and artistic merit; you say ‘highway’ and you indicate bi-directional, two-dimensional flow which dismisses the omni-directional transmission. It’s a flawed term, so better to choose an arbitrary one and let the thing itself create the definition.”
“What about the Web?”
“Go on,” Pear said, his numb-looking fingers creating a circular motion in the air over the table.
“Isn’t it confusing to have two terms that mean different things but are, to most of the unwashed masses, synonymous?”
“Where’s the problem? I don’t see it. If you need the distinction, it is there. If you don’t, they can be one and the same for all intents and purposes.”
Banana wrinkled her nose and propped her weak chin with the heels of her hands. “You’re suggesting language and communication don’t matter,” she said. It was an accusation.
“I don’t think I am. I’m saying language and communication are constructs. At best, they are crude approximations. Your nit-picking reveals a need for language to be something it can never be: a one-to-one relationship with every idea and concept.”
“Is that so crazy?”
Pear considered for a moment. “I’d say ‘unrealistic.’”
“Fair enough.” The banana pushed away from the table and stood up, retrieving the paper cup next to the pile of discarded napkins and sectioned paper plate that held the remnants of a limp salad and the crumbs from a half sandwich. “I need a refill,” she explained before walking off. Pear took the opportunity to shovel a few more forkfuls of his cooling lunch between mousy lips, packing his already puffy cheeks full with half-masticated pasta.
Banana returned, eyes squinting at her full cup, in danger of sloshing over the rim due to her bumping, stiff-legged gait. “How did your date go?” she asked with a practiced casual tone.
He didn’t answer for a long moment, chewing his overstuffed mouth with exaggerated impatience to indicate he needed to finish the gluttonous bite before decorum would permit him to speak again. She waited patiently.
“A disaster,” he finally said around what was still a generous glob of wadded up cud. He took a long drink from his own cup. It was diet soda. “She left before dessert.”
“Oh no,” Banana said with genuine sympathy. “What happened?”
“Well,” Pear began, “she was pretty enough, and she seemed fairly smart, but I could tell she wasn’t really in to me from the beginning.”
“Have you ever been on a blind date?”
“Sure,” Banana lied.
“You know how when you get there first and you’re waiting for the person to show up and they’re late, you wonder if it’s because they saw you first and had to spend some time psyching themselves up for it?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Well, it took her almost ten minutes to psych herself up to sit at the table with me.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw her in the waiting area.”
“Why did you get the table without her? I thought they only did that in the movies?” Banana had no frame of reference for what was strictly movie behavior and what approximated real life. Several embarrassing encounters earlier in her life had led her to believe everything in the movies was at least a partial fabrication.
Pear shrugged, “I dunno. Seemed easier to leave my name with someone else and have her ask an employee than to watch her walk up to the most handsome man in the waiting area and ask if he was me.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”
“Anyway, she barely ordered anything, so I knew I wasn’t going to get lucky.”
“How is that?”
The pear paused to consume a few more bites of his food, this time ignoring politeness and continuing with a blatantly full mouth. “Please! It’s common knowledge that if a girl wants to go home with you, she orders something expensive.”
“Why on Earth…?” the banana trailed off.
Pear leaned forward, conspiratorial, and said in a whisper that was no less quiet than his normal speaking voice, “Payment.” Banana leaned back, scandalized.
“You make it sound like prostitution!”
The pear shrugged and shoveled the remaining pasta on his plate into his mouth. “It is what it is,” he said, the words muffled by marinara sauce.
“I hate that phrase,” Banana said.
“It’s stupid. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Here we go again,” he said with a smile, reaching to polish off his diet soda.
“Well, it’s true!” she insisted. “‘It is what it is’—of course it is! A meaningless phrase, that’s what it really is. People who use that phrase just can’t think of anything else to say.”
Pear thought for a moment. “High-priced dinner for an increased probability of sexual encounter: That’s just the reality, you don’t have to like it or approve of it. Just accept it.”
“Thank you,” said the banana. She sipped her drink. “It’s still morally—”
“—repugnant?” he suggested.
“I was going to say, ‘icky’.” There was a beat before they both broke into broad grins, near to laughter but just short.
“‘Icky’,” he repeated, “I approve.”
“An under-used word if ever there was,” she said.
They attended to their beverages in silence for a few moments. In a great flurry of sudden activity, the pear pushed himself away from the table and stood on two trunk-like legs encased in threadbare polyester slacks. “I want some dessert. Need anything?”
“How about a cookie?”
Banana reached down into her purse, “Here,” she said, muffled under the table, “let me get you some—”
“Ah, forget it. I got it. I think I can spare the sixty cents.”
She raised her head again, her violent shock of black, frizzy hair directed once again at the ceiling. Her face was flushed orange from being tipped over. “Okay, thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” He was back in a few moments, and handed her an oatmeal cookie wrapped in cellophane. She wondered who baked it.
“Oatmeal,” she said, digging into the wrapper with an eggshell curve of a nail, “my favorite.”
“I know,” said the pear, heaving himself back into his chair. He glanced at the clock. He had already unwrapped his cookie and eaten half on the walk back from the counter. “So do you want to hear how it ended?”
“The date?” she asked, covering her mouth, now full of cookie, with a hand.
“So she’s not into me, and I can tell because she orders practically nothing except for a glass of Merlot.” The banana groaned. “I know, right?” Pear leaned in again and added, “House Merlot.”
“Gag me,” said Banana.
The pear smiled and finished his cookie, looking wistfully at the nibbled one his companion was savoring. “Right? Anyway, we’re done with dinner and I ask if she wants to get dessert or see a movie or anything and she says she has plans with a friend.”
“On the same night as a date?”
“Either she had a remarkably full schedule or she didn’t have much faith in our date going well.”
Banana nodded. “Or she didn’t have plans at all.”
“Well, that sucks.” She frowned at him for a moment. “But that hardly sounds like a disaster.”
He laughed, a snorting, unpleasant little laugh. “I haven’t told you the good part. She said ‘It was fun, maybe we can meet again some time,’ right? Well, that surprised me a little so I said, ‘Oh, you want to go on another date?’ And she says, ‘No, but you and I could be friends. We can hang out. I know some other girls.’”
“She’s already trying to pass you down to her friends?”
He smiled, self-deprecating and bitter and wry all at once. “I’m everybody’s charity case,” he said.
Banana nodded. “I know what you mean,” she said without thinking much about it. They were quiet again for a while. The pear looked up at the clock again, then checked his cell phone for the time.
“Well,” he said, placing his hands on the edge of the table, “I guess it’s time to get back to it.” Banana pursed her lips and twisted them off to one side. The effect made her look impish, cute in the fashion of smooshed-faced puppies.
“Yep,” she said, standing. She paused for a moment, regarding the last half of her cookie. “Hey, you want this?”
Pear shrugged. “Sure,” he said, “thanks.”
“Tomorrow, then?” Banana asked.
“…Same bat-channel,” she finished. He took the cookie, tore off most of it with his teeth, smiled with lips closed and raised the cookie at her. She nodded, returned the smile, and they departed through separate doors.