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2003-07-01 11:54 a.m.

Someone passed me in the halls at work and said howdy.

Howdy is not the most common salutation behind the badge–access doors of a major computer manufacturer, completely swallowed on all sides by the sprawl of Silicon Valley.

I imagine that howdy is what they say in places where people are much lazier than here. Not lazy in a bad way, but lazy in the sort of way that I wish I was not working so much or walking around behind badge–access doors in another high–tech building in Silicon Valley. I think I want to go to that lazier place and sit a spell, or do whatever it is that happens there, so long as people say howdy and don't have to worry about badge–access doors.

Howdy. When I think about it, I don't think the word has ever left my lips. And it has been so many years since it has fallen upon my ears.

I remember the last time. It was my 11th grade girlfriend, Emily Welker. She had supportive and affluent parents who lived in a house bigger than anyone else I knew. They had enough income to pay for her to commute from San Jose to San Francisco every day for ballet lessons. She had already been on tour with the ballet in Russia when she was young. She seemed to know everything, or at least everything that I didn't know. And, when you think about it, that is all that matters, really.

Her vocabulary, charm, and worldliness enraptured me. Or, as much as any 16 year old butterfly of a boy can be enraptured. She was the first to introduce me to cherimoya wrapped in prosciutto, raw quail egg nigiri, and unrated movies—art films rented from sections of the video store that I didn't even know existed, movies without co–branding from some toy company or restaurant chain. Having grown up fairly poor and untraveled, I couldn't have imagined anyone more cultured than this heavenly creature.

My time with her was beautiful and torturous, as if I was being pulled apart by some medieval European rack contraption. I always felt so pulled apart. I wanted to be around her, her low voice and huge laugh were infectious and even at sixteen her clumsiest motions seemed elegant and choreographed. But I was also jealous—I wanted to be her, brilliant and beautiful and charming and worldly and blessed with wealth and opportunity. Combine these with the forceful, drawing vectors of intimidation, admiration, infatuation, and resignation and you can see how I needed more than the standard two arms and two legs in order to be properly torn apart by a machine such as this one.

And she said howdy when she saw me. With a straight face, even. She couldn't have really been serious when she said it. But she might not have been entirely kidding, either.

She never gave the body language that often subtitles silly things we say and do, as if to remind—or perhaps reassure—the less perceptive members of the audience that whatever is happening is, in fact, funny. It didn't matter if it was supposed to be funny or not, because I thought it was a riot, although I kept my laughter to myself, enjoying it silently like someone might crack a slight smile at the sight of a three–legged dog while out walking alone.

And all of this just because someone said howdy to me in the hall today while I was walking back from getting some iced tea. Of course, I never thought that maybe that's why they say howdy instead of hi or hello or how are you. Maybe the lazier ones know something I don't know, and they're lovingly trying to tell me something with this simple greeting.

Now if only I would listen.