It’s the winter of 1979 and I’m sitting in a booth in some godforsaken little diner outside of Windham, and he says it again – for the umpteenth time – by way of introducing the next thing he feels like talking about.

“As a matter of little or no interest …,” he says, before going on. As this occurs, I try to wrap myself around a profound existential question:

Why – in the name of God – would anyone want to preface everything he says with the phrase “As a matter of little or no interest…”?

The lunch burgers are served by a kind, grandmotherly woman who obviously has been here for about 150 years and who calls everyone “Dee-uh.”

I look around at my booth companions. We are Maine land surveyors – dressed in dark plaid shirts, baseball caps with Red Sox emblems or “Wicked Pissuh” written on them and boots that found their way to us by divine intervention from L.L. Bean.

But so much for painting the scene. Because this whole thing is really getting to me. In my head, I start playing out a diatribe against this Doctor of Phraseology.


“Dude . . . Why in the name of God would you want to preface every damn thing you say with, ‘As a matter of little or no interest’? Don’t you realize that’s not exactly the greatest conversation hook? Aren’t you aware Barbara Walters – or whoever – never once mentions it in ‘The Art of Conversation’?”

I look at Doc munching his burger. For some maddening reason, he is utterly oblivious to the raucous chastisement of him playing out in my head. For the next 10 minutes he says absolutely nothing, as our boss rattles on about the new job we have that afternoon in New Gloucester. I hear none of the boss’ words, so ardently wound up am I with the manic need to utterly denounce the outrageous idea that “As a matter of little or no interest” might ever – anytime, anywhere – be used as an engaging conversation kick-starter.

My feverish brain is burning, the droplets of sweat running down my forehead. Moments later, the Moxie clock on the wall tells us lunch is five minutes from conclusion. Right on cue, our grandmotherly waitress appears through swinging doors with the dessert menu, and Doc doesn’t miss a beat. He turns to her with his maddeningly endearing smirk and says, “As a matter of little or no interest, I’ll take the blueberry pie.”

She takes a step back, locks me in a profound stare and gives me a big wink. And then I see the error of my ways – all in a flash of visceral revelation. She’s been dealing with his verbal tic for years. It’s part of the color of a passing world – for which she’s damn grateful.

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