My girlfriend had been slighted by a co-worker. This was some years ago. She was very upset, and as she told her tale, she began injecting unfamiliar names and workplace jargon. I didn’t want to stop her — she clearly needed to vent — so I just tried to keep up.
But the pitch of her voice got progressively higher as she continued.
Eventually only Airedales could hear how her day was. I began to think about Airedales and how they might make good human resource counselors. Or basset hounds — because they already look sad. But … how would you get a basset hound hired in the first place? Someone would have to walk him through the paperwork — unless they already had dogs in HR who could smooth the way.
That’s when I noticed she was staring at me. “… Don’t you think?” she asked. I didn’t know what to say, so I grunted. She accepted this as an answer and moved on.
God bless the grunt, that timeless, neutral rumble of compliance! It tells your mate: “I’m here. I’m not dead. I’ll even sympathize if it won’t involve yardwork.”
How many had-to-be-there situations has this noise saved men from hearing about? How many sports sections has it freed men to read? How many football games has it allowed guys to watch?
Keep your fire and your blotchy cave paintings — the grunt is the finest invention of Neanderthal man.
That doesn’t mean they’re a cure-all. I know guys who grunt through their entire marriage, like a fat man pushing a fridge up stairs. This is the type of guy who hasn’t looked up from the television in years. When he does, he’ll find his walls jammed with Thomas Kinkade paintings, a toy dog in a sweater beside him and a wife who tells him, “You never said ‘no.’ ”
Grunts aren’t always appropriate. A good grunt — even a sympathetic one — matters little to a person on fire, for example. They should be saved for when you’re trapped between marital discord and money (“I wonder what this room would look like with allnew furniture!”); marital discord and labor (“This would be a good weekend to finally clean out the garage!”); or marital discord and marital discord (“Did I always look this fat?”).
Grunts aren’t always insensitive. I’m a big advocate of listening and helping when I can. But sometimes a grunt is all that’s really wanted.
I sound very Edward R. Murrow when I grunt. But when spoken, my ideas can seem a little impractical (“We’ll just never answer the phone and they’ll think we’re dead”) or unsubtle (“Did you try knocking her down?”). That’s when my wife grunts. She’s saying, “Good idea! I’ll give it some thought,” or “We’ve got to put you on medication” or something in between.
I, for one, appreciate not knowing.