Rick sat on a stool adjacent to his parents’ kitchen, indulging his father’s Sunday night oratory. Tonight, it was about the latest kitchen renovation, proudly completed just in time for his adult son and his wife’s latest visit. Across the way, Rick’s mother was bending Amy’s ear about something which left Rick’s spouse glassy eyed and feigning rapt interest. Rick’s father was a more insistent speaker. To properly placate him, Rick would need to affirm every sentence with a nod, an appreciative hum, or an occasional query indicating sustained curiosity.
“See how it opens up the space and you can look out into the living room, speak to your guests if you want, carry on a conversation while you’re preparing some food.”
“Yeah, it’s great, dad. Really. I can see how it’s gonna work for you.”
“Well, you might wanna think about it for your own place. I could give you the number of my guy. He’d give you a good price, or if you like, we could help you out. Call it an early Christmas gift.”
“It’s April, dad”
“So what. It’s a very early Christmas present.” This was Rick’s mom chiming in, and releasing her daughter-in-law for a moment. Rick and Amy exchanged a furtive glance.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Rick said with diplomatic caution. He wore the kind of placid smile that he’d been sporting with his parents since his late teens.
“What’s to know. Look, it’s up to you, but see how it opens up the whole place. I’m thinking about your kitchen. You’d be crazy not to do something like this. Look, you can…” Rick’s dad basically repeated everything he’d said three minutes earlier, only now Rick made less effort to oblige him. It was an old pattern, an old diminishing set of returns. While he hung his head, his father continued. Opposite him, his mother resumed her monologue with Amy. Rick sighed.
A flash appeared in the center of the room, accompanied by a plume of smoke but leaving in its wake a muscle-bound, toothy and earnest figure.
“Hi!” said the ephemeral, masculine image.
“Process Man! What are you doing here?” asked Rick
“Who? Who’s this?” asked Rick’s dad, dumbfounded.
Rick quickly collected himself. “It’s Process Man. He’s a legend. He helps people with communication problems—tells them what they’re saying to each other beneath their content.”
“That’s right, Rick,” the figure affirmed. “I am Process Man and I am here to help you understand what you’re REALLY saying to one another.” He turned to face the awestruck women. “What you all are saying to one another”
“Wait a minute, what’s going on here?” protested Rick’s dad.
Process Man began his sage lesson, unperturbed. “You see, Rick, what’s being offered here is a parental gift. Your father has money and advice to give you, and will only be satisfied when you allow him to make this gift.”
“I know that, Process Man, but—”
“But what you don’t know or realize fully is that this conversation isn’t over until you give unequivocal support for the idea. That’s why your father is prepared to repeat the information, and will keep repeating it until you agree. He’s the one who decrees when the communication is over. That’s what he’s saying.”
“You know, you’re right,” Rick enthused.
“And Dad, you probably understand that your son’s gotta consult with his good woman, who’s over there listening to your good woman, loyally absorbing the mother-in-law’s words. But what you don’t fully know is that Rick needs to make up his own mind, and the more you repeat your lessons, the less he’ll take in what you have to say.”
“The law of diminishing returns,” Rick’s dad intoned soberly.
“That’s right. You understand.”
“Thanks, Process Man,” said Rick.
“Tell a friend,” said the figure as he and the smoke disappeared.