We were looking through old photos before the wedding. That was a nice one of Anna, the bride-to-be, a few years ago out in the garden with the tulips. I said that’s a nice one of her with the tulips. Jerry didn’t seem to be paying attention. Later at the wedding reception, across the table, I heard Jerry talking to Auntie Molly. I found this lovely picture of her with some tulips out in the garden a few years ago, he said. I felt a tinge of irritation. Actually, I was irked. I mean, that was my material and Jerry had run with it. That’s not fair. Soft skills like that, noticing things, constructing material for conversation, is one of the only things I can do. I have no actual skills to talk of. When the people with hard skills are showing you how the computer works or putting up the shelves or sorting out your shower head, you just stand or sit there and nod along. But that’s all right, because you know that you can walk into a room and say something that will open the conversation up. And now here’s someone getting credit for your material.
The soft skill people and the hard skill people face each other across a dark forest of incomprehension. The hard skill people, complete with their hard hats and overalls and terminology and acronyms are convinced of their superiority. After all, they can do stuff, problem solve. Soft skill folk know nothing. All they have is a certain magical conviction that when they open their mouths, lights come on. They allow themselves to take a conversation where they want, down into any thicket, knowing they can bring it back to the path. Your hard skill people have to keep trudging on the stony gravel thoroughfare. They would not want to stop off in a little copse over the way there. It would seem senseless to them.
So when I picked out that photo for special consideration, chose it as the emblematic one of the bunch, I was actually bringing to bear all the years of invisible training. All that reading of Proust and Thomas Mann, it was all crystalising in picking out the photo of Anna and the tulips, and when Jerry just picked it up and used it for his purposes I shot a dark look across the table. Without the Proust; without the Thomas Mann; without the Arthur Schnitzler. I ask you.