There are times, inevitably, when we all make rapid-fire responses. Times when we are asked a question and we zip through scenarios and decide how to answer a question. We may decide whether to give a reply which involves further explanation or discussion, or a short answer which might diffuse prolonging the topic. Short answers are easier. By definition they are quicker. They don’t always work the way we want them to work. But sometimes they do.
I just finished a trip to Colombia sponsored by a division of their government promoting exports (resulting from the new free trade agreement bet US and Colombia). In total there were about 150 invitees from all over the U.S., in various trade sectors. I was fortunate to have been invited because of my involvement in the apparel sector.
After the initial presentation in Bogota, the group was split up into several smaller groups where we took pre-arranged tours of manufacturing facilities in different cities. During the second day, the groups got progressively smaller as interests were more specialized. After two days of being with a select group from early morning until late, people within the group tended to become comfortable with each other.
During the last day, it was interesting that one of the guys (from St Louis) said that he was doing production in the Dominican Republic and whenever he asked a ‘yes or no’ question of those in the DR, he could never get a yes or no response. It was always a story. A long answer. Never the short answer.
Anyway, during our last appointment of the tour, our group of 15, plus a few non-groupers, were sitting around a conference table waiting for the factory executives to organize their presentation. I was busy answering emails on my iPad while most were involved in smaller conversations. Then a guy from Miami sitting not too far away says in a deep and echoing voice, “Freddie, how do you stay in such good shape.” Magically, it was as if all the mini-conversations had stopped at that instant. The room, which had been filled with multiple dialogues, was suddenly silent. Even the factory execs who where preparing stopped their organizing.
You could have heard a pin drop. I was still looking down at my iPad, but I could see and feel everyone’s attention directed to me, waiting for the response. It was one of those times that your mind races through a multitude of options, in a matter of synapses, deciding in splits of seconds in which direction to go with the answer. It’s truly amazing how the mind flies through options in milliseconds, evaluating ensuing explanations, eliminating, moving to the next, and so on until a message is blurted forth.
I was thinking, they must be talking about stomach protrusion as about every guy there had a belly of some sort. My first thought was that looks can be deceiving. How does he know I’m in good shape. He must be talking physical stature because he has no idea what kind of overall shape I’m in. And, having a belly is mutually exclusive to a vital, happy life. I suppose he’s talking about overall aspect. But I’m not qualified to answer this question, nor is it an easy answer. I don’t think there is a short answer. After all, we may have a corrupted perception that thinness equates to better shape.
Then I thought — deflection. There was another thin guy in our group earlier in the day. Without looking around the room I scanned for him without moving my eyes from the iPad. I was going to say, ask Gary, he’s thin. But he was not there and I couldn’t deflect to anyone else as all the other guys had some kind of belly.
I remember a time in my early 20’s when I was invited to my boss’s home for a cookout. He was in his early 30’s. We were drinking beer and casually bantering when he looked down at his gut, patted it, and said to me, “Spaghetti, wait until you hit 30, you’ll see. You’ll have one of these.” Someone said something similar when I was in my 30’s about watching out when I hit 40. It must be a changing of the decade figure that makes some believe in a change of figure.
Anyway, it didn’t seem appropriate to deflect to one of the few women in attendance.
Then I thought, a brother of mine might say its physiology. But that answer is so much bigger than the question. That may have sufficed as a short answer, but it would have satisfied few and may have insulted more than a few.
Then I thought of saying that it’s because I follow a niece’s blog simplytastybits, in which she recommends quite tasty, healthy and nourishing dishes from time to time. It’s all in those tasty bits. But that too may have left some unsatisfied, expecting to be served a more meaty answer.
I thought of saying that I recently had throat cancer and underwent radiation and chemo during the last year. But I’m the same physique and weight that I was before that happened. Besides, can’t you see how fat my neck is? Sharing recent medical history was not what I was inclined to do, moreover, it was not the right answer. I’m the same build and weight I’ve been since my early 20’s.
Then I thought of saying that I get up early every day, do something active every day, even if it’s taking the dog (imaginary, but big personality) for a two hour brisk walk, and being picky about what I eat during the day, avoiding processed foods, especially the whites – bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, sugar. But then I thought how much I’ve been traveling, been off schedule, been eating pancakes and saucy crap. As much as this was my preferred answer, and it would have lead to too much explanation.
As all these options where whizzing by, I was sensitive to the need for brevity. The presentation had to start. We were late already. It was after 5pm on Friday night. The seconds, which felt too long, ticked by as everyone sat there in stone silence.
I was tempted to turn to Mr. Miami, who had a slightly inflated waist tube, and say, “dude, just get off your ass more often and ease up on the junk consumption.” But I couldn’t be so rude (rather,…direct).
Finally, I looked up from my iPad after a few long seconds, faced Mr. Miami while addressing the other attendees staring at me and said, “I do a lot of long distance cycling.” It was like there was a collective sigh of relief. It wasn’t completely audible but nonetheless noticeable. It was like most thought ‘thank god it’s not something I can do.’ The break in silence created a segue into the beginning of the presentation. Sure I lied (because I have not been doing so much biking lately), but it was a plausible short answer.
The truth was, I wanted to answer the question. But fact is, I didn’t and don’t know the answer. I’m no expert in physiology, diet, or exercise. I could have given it my best logical guess. But that’s what it would have been. The answer is most likely a combination of all of the above.
Most of the folks there were in their 40’s, some in their 50’s, some in the 30’s. A good wager would have been that most would have liked a longer answer. A fan named Stryker, fitter than I, could have provided a thoroughly embellished answer. I was mildly tempted to give out his email address for those interested in a garnished, well-baked feast, an answer they could have swallowed and digested more eagerly.
And a riding buddy of mine who works for Stryker (the company, not the person) is in his 40’s somewhere and rail thin, but sinewy and strong. Zero fat. He should have been able to field this question better than I.
In the end, I was satisfied with the short answer, even if it was fib-like. I didn’t need to pretend that I knew what I was talking about and it kept the remainder of the tour somewhat on schedule. If they knew how traumatized my tongue and neck is, how difficult it is to drink water while exercising, and how I need to chew gum just to keep oral moisture, the guy from Miami would have thought twice before asking the question of how I stay in good shape.
Looks are deceiving. Secretly, I’m sure everyone was thanking me. There is value in the short answer.