What is Life?

June 2007.  The Baron residence on San Diego Street in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Hot day.  This is not a beautiful house, but it has two floors with a backyard.  Notably it feels comfortable to its residents.  It looks lived in and dignified.  The father, Paul Baron, is in the living room watching television.  The family has just eaten dinner.  His wife, Celia, is upstairs reading.  Celia and Paul have two sons, Mike and Ray.  Ray, the younger son, 18, is in the U.S. Air Force.  Mike, 21, lives with them and works as a desk clerk for a well-known hotel.  Mike has just come into the living room with his best friend, Steve,  who he met at the hotel last year.  Steve is a very good cook.  A chef future is in the offing.

Paul:  I just switched from the Marlins' game.

Mike:  Oh, just the Marlins' game?

Paul:  What do you mean 'just the Marlins' game'?  Do you expect me to be sportscasting here or something?

Mike:  No, dad.  I thought you might have been watching a movie you were enthralled with.  You know how you get about them.  Can't interrupt or interfere. 

Paul:  Oh, sorry.  You can interrupt, but it better be for a good reason.  I work hard all week at Genet's Meats, driving that truck.  Plus I help around in the store.  Did you know that, Steve?  I help in the store when things get slow.

Steve: (very serious)  No, Mr. Baron.  I only know from Mike that you deliver meats for that meat store uptown.  That's good.  You get to feel like you own the place for a while.

Paul:  Smart kid.  I never thought of that.

Mike:  Steve's getting a car and he wants me to go with him Monday to help pick it out.

Paul:  Does he know what kind of car he wants?  Or does he just want advice on color and extras? 

Mike:  Both.  He's tired of taking the bus to work.  He  wants a simple and neat car.

Paul:  You should be good with that type of car.  You like being simple and neat.  I'm a simple, hard-working man and flashy is not my style.

Steve:  I need it to get to work.  Showing off is for other people.

Mike:  So, what is reality, dad?

Paul:  (put off)  'Reality' is what is real.  Ha ha.

Mike:  No, really.  Please answer.

Paul:  That is my answer.  Don't you spin my head around with those crazy questions when I'm trying to watch comedy shows.  I only drive a truck for a living.  I know you sometimes get all those stupid ideas in your head, which make you ask crazy questions.  Oh, yes, come to dad with them.  You have no one better to ask.  Are you bothering Steve also with your philosophy?  'What is reality, dad?' (mimicking)  I'll give you "reality."  There's the door.  Don't let it hit you in the backside upon leaving.  How's that for "reality"?  "Reality" is what is too hard and still you have to face it.

Mike:  There you go.  There's a step in the right direction.  The rough stuff in life.  I want you to tell me what "reality" is.  The television can wait.

Paul:  Not necessarily.  I need my outlet, my rest, young man.  You go and ask a philosopher or a scholar that question.  You live here and you're welcome here as our son.  And don't you dare bother your mother with some airy-fairy "reality" question.  Be nice.  Be understanding.  She likes having you around.  Keep those questions for Steve.  Let him think he's getting somewhere with a high, upperclass way of thinking.

Mike:  No, I'm asking you, what is "reality"?  I still haven't gotten a complete answer.

Paul:  I've said all I'm going to say.  Are you trying to make me feel inferior?  Are you kidding?  Now, you are interrupting my comedy shows, buddy boy.  "Reality" is the real world and you need to stay in it.

Mike:  (insistent)  What is "reality"?

Paul:  OK, I get it.  This is a prank.  You keep asking me to answer a question for some unknown motivation.  Is this a survey you're doing?  Or, are you trying to upset me?  Reality.  Reality.  Steve, have you answered his question?  If not, how about if you answer it for me.  Yes, that's it.  I'll let the philosopher's friend be the one to answer.  Go ahead.

Steve:  We've discussed the topic in depth, sir.  We're on an even footing.  I think that's all he wants to do is get you on an even footing.  He's finding that a correct point to probe you about.

Paul:  Alright, I've got a little more to offer.  I only know what my parents and teachers have told me since a boy.  I can't invent anything for you.  I grew up, went to school, got married, and got a stable job.  Don't look for any advanced answers from me, boys.  Check the newspaper.  I see a lot of "reality" in that.

Mike:  I need you to sit down and contemplate the meaning of life, dad.

Paul:  I am sitting down.

Mike:  Think things out a little.  You're missing something.

Paul:  There's that philosopher again.  Or, like Reagan said twenty years ago to Carter, "There you go again."  Whatever I'm going to think about "reality" and "the meaning of life" is of no interest to anybody.  I'm relaxing now.  That's the only meaning I'm going to talk about.  Can you understand that?  Or should I read some logic and re-explain it to you later? 

Mike:  You don't have to do any reading.  Just contemplate. 

Paul:  You're asking me the wrong question.  Just let me watch television.  As for reality, I'll admit I'm an escapist.  Television helps me to escape reality, so I'm not going to contemplate it.  But thank you anyway for your advice.

Mike:  OK, Steve and I are going for a ride.  See you later.

Paul:  Bye.

The End.

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writing frederic
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It's amazing to me that, although I don't have any children, I can write about family life endlessly.
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