“You talking to me?”

Robert DeNiro in “Taxi”

Old Barney had two really crippled feet, but he ignored them. Barney cleaned and waxed the floors in the church on Saturday mornings like he was Fred Astaire. I noticed when I went to altar boy practice, that while working, he talked to himself. Chatting away, he would shuffle back and forth with his broom,

Sometimes he would pause and wave his hands about like he was arguing with someone. I asked my brothers, they just said, “That’s what he does.” Frankie DeNoyer said it was because Barney was crazy. But he wasn’t. He was just happy with himself.

One day at school, I asked Sister Rosanna why Barney talked to himself. Without looking up from correcting her papers, she said, “He’s talking to God.”

I remember thinking, of course, he was in the church all day, of course he was talking to God.

What is prayer, after all, but talking to yourself? I talk to God all the time. It’s not praying. It’s conversation. You think God only speaks Latin? You talk to God in Hebrew, God answers in Hebrew. Talk in rap? God answers in rap. Are you really surprised that God is multilingual?

Of course, my God is probably not your God. I made my God up, and she never fails to agree with me. So prayer then is essentially talking to myself. If God were listening to my prayers, it would never rain and I would have that lottery money in the bank by now.

On one hand, it scares me a bit. I’m scared because I’ve never seen other folks talking to themselves, except the occasional drunk or homeless person on the street in Portland. Are they crazy? No. It’s what they do. Still, I am concerned.

She, who is the sanest person I know, says she doesn’t talk to herself, but I know she does. I hear her upstairs in her office, and I call up, “What did you say?”

“I’m on the phone,” she replies. I don’t buy that for a minute. If I’m really suspicious I run up the steps, and there she is with her phone by her side.

“I thought you were on the phone.”

“Wrong number.”

“You were talking to a wrong number? Who talks to a wrong number? What did you talk about to this wrong number?”

She doesn’t look up. “I’m busy correcting my papers.” OMG. I think I married Sister Rosanna.

Is it a sign of age? Maybe, but I’ve been talking to myself since I was a child.

I’ve written ad nauseam about how I was very much a loner as a kid, because I was lousy at sports in a sports-crazy neighborhood. So what was I supposed to do? Keep all those crazy stories and ideas in my head? Who does that? Nobody can do that.

So when I would walk home summer nights or afternoons after sitting alone through two movies, a newsreel and cartoon, I’d walk along practicing what I had seen and imitating all the actor’s voices and gestures, walks and mannerisms.

What was that but talking to myself?

What would Frankie DeNoyer say? He would say “Devine is nuts.” My brothers would say, “It’s what he does.”

I forget to make grocery lists, so I walk through the aisles of the supermarket mumbling the list aloud to myself. “Cereal…wine…avocados” etc.

Women pass and smile. Did they go home and tell their husbands that J.P. talks to himself? Their husbands probably replied “I know him. He’s kind of nuts.”

If they told She, who KNOWS I’m nuts, she would kindly reply, “It’s what he does. He’s a writer. He says that writing is talking to one’s self, the rest is typing.” That would be right.

But I don’t want to have people come to my wake and whisper,

“He was such a handsome fellow, but he talked to himself, you know.”

“Really?

“I used to see him in the frozen food section, running his fingers along the selections and mumbling to himself.”

“No!”

“Yes, and sometimes he would giggle and gesture like there was someone in the case.”

So to avoid this and any further embarrassment, I’m going to wear ear plugs wired to my phone. People will think I’m talking on the phone. I can giggle and gesture, even laugh aloud, and no one will know that I am nuts. Isn’t that a great idea? I wonder if there’s an app for that?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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