Friday Firesmith – Tomatoes and Atheists

Way back in the mid-nineties, when a person could actually say they had visited every website ever created, in one day, there was a very limited number of people online, and a small number of platforms that could be considered social media. Moreover, there just were not that many people who had the time to spend online. People didn’t care if there was someone out there screaming at the rain. It didn’t mean anything.
At that point in time, I lived in a small town in South Georgia, and I had moved into a fairly nice subdivision close to the office where I worked. This led to me having close neighbors, which was both very nice and a pain in the butt. It also led to me being able to get to work in less than five minutes. But it also led to people from work dropping by after work because I had beer.
I’ve always considered the clergy to be parasitic by their very nature. They’re like people you pay to spray your house to get rid of unicorns. That opinion was not overly popular with the people who lived next door to me, seeing how their dearly beloved grandfather, who had just died, had been a preacher all his life. Repeated attempts to lure me into some social setting where I would be eased into the church caused more than a little friction.

I wonder how many people submerge into the world of the internet because it’s the only place they think they can find likeminded friends? Certainly, if your hobby is snakes then you’ll find more people in a snake group who will talk snakes with you than you’re going to find in your local diner.

Where there might have been some conversation between two people in that diner, “Hey, how are your tomatoes doing this season? Damn worms got mine before they got out of the ground good.” There’s now a feeling there isn’t anything there anyway so why bother? Why go through that awkward stage of conversation with a stranger trying to figure out if they’re a total nutcase or someone who can grow a decent tomato?

The first reaction is this is a good thing, that a person doesn’t have to wonder what another might be like, but then again, the unknown quality about someone might be good for you both. Can you navigate a conversation with someone who has no interest in tomatoes, but might have a story to tell about someone who did? There’s real work here, real tedious sifting through idle talk, but isn’t that how we used to make friends with people we never met before?

Of course, now in the Time of Plague, talking to strangers in diners isn’t a possibility, and being online is a given, but I remember being in the Army, and getting new guys in the barracks who might be black, or brown, or from Chicago, or secretly gay, or just plain boring. It was a game of chance every time the door opened and someone new arrived. The net has eliminated most of that before we even hear a person’s voice. We already know everything they want to tell. But what we do not know is what they are not saying. We can’t feel the hesitation in their voices when we ask why did your marriage end, why did you leave your last job, why do you still wear that necklace he gave you, or questions that hit a soft spot, and you can see it when it does.

It’s hard to garden as an atheist. There’s a lot of faith in asking the earth to produce food. Yeah, I know, there’s a process that will work, but so much depends on luck. The God of the Rabbit’s Foot must smile upon you. Meeting people used to be like that until the net made it easier. It’s like buying tomatoes now, and there’s something lost in getting what you want when you want it, instead of having to cultivate a friendship.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

11 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Tomatoes and Atheists”

  1. It’s harder to avoid unpleasant and/or awkward conversations in person, but you can communicate on a more intimate level. Pouring your heart out to a keyboard just ain’t the same.
    The drawback of non-virtual friends is they up and die on you, many times with no advanced warning. Sure, people online vanish too but it’s not the same as a close friend.

    • Bruce, someone can die online and you might never know it. My former employer sent me an email to tell me someone I worked with died. I hadn’t seen her in over twenty years but it was still sad to know she was gone. There’s a lot of internet people who might be dead, but I would never know.

  2. I mentioned some of this recently, but it bears repeating.

    I think my mistake was thinking that when I ‘met’ someone online, they were interested in conversations. What I find is that if I had never met them in person, they merely wanted to talk at me, not really to me.

    Case in point: this year I whittled my social media accounts down to just a couple, and whittled my list down to people I have met face to face, or in a few cases friends of friends who I knew secondhand through stories. This is a good time to send Jon a hug; I don’t know how you do it Mr J, but B&P has largely been a pleasant and civil exception.

    My feeds got really quiet, but immediately the civility increased exponentially. I am starting to enjoy the smaller but more intimate nature of it again.

    I also stopped all online ordering unless it is the only place I can find a specific thing (has anyone shopped for a game console lately? Hehe!). It’s like I found a secret society where buying things comes with free friends.

    I believe the reasoning to be largely twofold: tone is often difficult to discern in short written text, and the anonymity yields a boldness akin to cruelty with little accountability.

    I’m encouraging the people closest to me to give it a try. I find that the extra effort pays off in peace of mind and, well, better relationships. I figure I probably added decades to my lifespan – and helped make those years more satisfying.

    Maybe I’m just an old person now who is just resisting change. But I will take a few good relationships over 1200 arguments. 🙂

    How are your tomatoes?

    • Thanks for the kind words about B&P. I try to keep things civil here, but some days it seems like a challenge.

    • Deodand, planting season hit about the time I went back to work, and was doing seven days a week, so I didn’t get any planted this year.

      “I believe the reasoning to be largely twofold: tone is often difficult to discern in short written text, and the anonymity yields a boldness akin to cruelty with little accountability.”

      You can’t hear how badly someone is hurting online sometimes. It’s hard in person, sometimes. But at the end of the day, a person’s eyes tell you more than their words, and online, that’s missing.

  3. Thru much of the 80s I was working avionics (radar, navigation, flight instruments on aircraft) in the Air Force and during ‘launch operations’ we were routinely stuck with a group of mechanics in the back of a big ugly blue panel van they called ‘the launch truck’. basically we were a captive audience that was there to respond quickly in the event any of the aircraft had an issue but it mostly meant we had to spend hours stuck in the back of a truck with no air conditioning on those lovely metal benches.

    two of the people that were regularly on that launch truck thought that it was their mission in life to ‘spread the word’; they were not allowed to proselytize during work and trying to push religion on your coworkers was not permitted in the workplace but they would work around this by having ‘private conversations’ between the two of them that were loud enough that no-one in the truck could avoid hearing them; I don’t think they ever achieved anything other than pissing off all of their coworkers; there were so many complaints that they ended up getting assigned to constant ‘fod walks’ (where they walked the airfield looking for anything on the tarmac/taxiways etc. that might get sucked into an aircraft engine). being a captive audience is not fun but some subjects should really be avoided.

    on another note: I started transitioning to being a network manager in the air force around ~1989; my first network was an avionics simulator where we had 5 computers controlling multiple displays and instruments in a full size mock-up of the aircraft. After building that I got pulled over by the operations commander to help build the new flight operations center (essentially mission control for an air wing). One of the networks we connected to was “Milnet” which connected many military bases and universities and was later re-designated as “the internet”. the framework for “websites” – the language that made up HTML was invented in 1989 but there weren’t any websites until 1991. This was the very first webpage created –

    Milnet had been around some time but it was pretty much limited to the Military and certain universities and defense contractors. email and file transfer was our biggest use at the time; we ran WordPerfect Office Mail at our base and we had around 350 people on the base that had email accounts they regularly used to communicate. – This was also back when few people had cell phones and ‘long distance’ phone calls were still astronomically expensive.

    I’ve been ‘on the internet’ as a primary part of my job ever since; Today I can video chat in real time with my wife’s family in the Philippines for ‘free’ and it seems surreal that I used to have phone bills with >$300 in long distance charges nearly every month, it would take weeks to get a response to a letter and we used to have to actually pay for our “cat videos” … It was like the stone ages. My daughter has never known a world without the internet, live streaming video and constant connectivity. she’s never had to spend most of her summer vacation outdoors trying to find ways to stave off boredom without the immediate gratification of her digital devices.

    she got married 2 days ago; it was a ‘zoom wedding’. a grand total of 4 people were physically present for the actual service and about 60 others live streamed it. It’s the unfortunate reality of weddings and funerals during a pandemic; It seems quite odd looking back and thinking about how different life is now than what it was like 30 years ago; even 6 months ago my quip during the wedding would have made no sense to anyone when I pronounced them married and said “you may kiss the bride; but you’ll both have to wear masks and do it from at least 6 feet apart”.

    Stay safe; wash your hands and wear your fricken’ mask in public.

    • Keith, if I ever give this gig up I hope you’ll consider taking over. Stories about work, and coworkers, are priceless and yours is one of the better ones around.

  4. Yep, everyone has a story to tell. But, the art of conversation with strangers which led to friendships is a dying thing. Of course not all strangers, in different work places, we were drawn to certain people who became friends, but others remained work colleagues. In my lifetime (nigh on 75 years) I have only 4 long time friends through work situations, I keep in touch with, 2 old ex neighbor friends, and two where there were chance meetings. One was on a flight from Sydney in NSW to Perth WA, Carol lived in NSW, me in WA. We chatted for the whole 4 and a half hour flight, exchanged ph numbers and addresses, and met up on visits 4 times, phone conversations and letters in between. Sadly she passed away 6 years after our meeting. The other one, was when I was on a working holiday in NZ, working days in an orchard, I answered an ad for babysitting for a young couple some weekends, that was 53 years ago. We visited each other numerous times, she now lives in Queensland, and we attended her 80th birthday surprise party last year.

    I love hearing and reading people’s stories, my Mum was a loquacious person, and our kids when younger would love her stories of growing up in London, and living through the wartime Blitz. Dad was a quiet person, but after Mum passed, (he could get a word in edgewise 🙂 ) I would go stay with him and his stories mesmerized me.

    Our younger grandkids love hearing about the ‘Olden days’ but the older ones are too busy checking their phones constantly….
    I have made friends on line, through a forum on a now defunct Miniclip game site…still communicate with some in the US, and met up with two when I went to England 4 years ago.

    Right now we are down south for 5 nights, catching up with our youngest son and his family. We are staying in a park accommodation chalet. This morning, sitting out on the deck, enjoying some sun and a cuppa, hubby and I were the only ones chatting, other people on their porches, were on their phones. Yes signs of the times, but not always good times.

    • Sandg, I’ve often wondered what I would do if I had kid, or grandkids, and that sort of thing, but never to the point I ever did anything about it, and that time has long since past.

      But I can see a generation arising where no one speaks in person anymore, just phones all the time.

      I’m pretty sure that’s not good.

  5. I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here: “But what we do not know is what they are not saying. We can’t feel the hesitation in their voices when we ask why did your marriage end, why did you leave your last job, why do you still wear that necklace he gave you, or questions that hit a soft spot, and you can see it when it does.” WHY would anyone ask people such questions — in real life or online? Certainly no one (except a potential employer, for the second question) should ask such personal and arguably judgemental things, no matter whether it’s face to face or via a monitor and keyboard. Nosiness is never a good thing.

    As for, “The net has eliminated most of that before we even hear a person’s voice. We already know everything they want to tell.” and “The first reaction is this is a good thing, that a person doesn’t have to wonder what another might be like, but then again, the unknown quality about someone might be good for you both.” We’re online now. What do you know about me? You don’t know my race, religion, or political views from just my name — I could be anyone. Even my name could be fictional. (For the record it’s not, and I’m white, atheist, and liberal.) But my point is that the online world has been a great social leveler where our words mean more than our appearance, visible status symbols, disability, or the other instant snap judgement cues that “real life” provides.

    Lastly, the internet is a godsend (forgive the phrase) for those of us who are bored stiff by surface chatter and small talk — and honestly couldn’t care less about, for example tomatoes — but would love to passionately discuss important things in depth.

    I realize you’re not anti-internet, BTW, but was just a little perplexed by some of the things you wrote here.

    • Lynda, in an odd way, you’ve proven my point. How do we know where the line is, in person or on the internet? If you asked someone where they got a necklace, and they hesitated, perhaps, or deflected, would you ask for more information, would you take the hint, or might you think to ask some other time?

      Where does being nosy begin and getting to know someone better end?

      However, you are correct that conversations can be had “the great leveler” where two people can skip the details and just talk about some subject dear to the both of them.

      I love tomatoes. I’m not that great at growing them, but I still like to discuss how, and how not. Carolina Reapers are my success story in farming.

      You might be bored silly by small talk, and true enough, most of it is trite. But you can’t just jump right in and ask someone why their last relationship failed, which might be of interest to you if you’re thinking about dating someone.

      It’s a hard balance, what to ask about, what not to ask, how deep to go, and when you realize there’s no point in going on.

      May the Gods of the Feet of Rabbits smile upon you, and may your conversations roots grow deeper than any tomatoes.

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