ERNIUS: Hey, how are Ellen and Ben doing? Last time I saw them, it was…
BERTUS: Yeah. From what I can gather, being with Ellen most the time is like eating cold oatmeal. For Ben, I mean.
ERNIUS: Did Ben actually say that?
BERTUS: Well, in so many words.
ERNIUS: He talked cold oatmeal?
BERTUS: No, but, you know how it is. You get up from the table, go to the bathroom, check your email, make a call, whatever. But when you come back, the oatmeal is all chilled down and congealed. Clammy and unwelcoming.
ERNIUS: Congealed. Clammy.
BERTUS: Right. There's no inviting steam coming from the bowl. That waxy film is on the top.
ERNIUS: Arrghh, the waxy film! Quaker Instant Goatmeal strikes again! Is Ellen the waxy film?
BERTUS: Well, no, it's that bad. I mean, she's not that bad. But I guess Ben feels like he got up from the table one day for something, and when he came back, things were all cold. And now he's got to slog through this whole bowl cold oatmeal, presumably for the rest of his life.
ERNIUS: That's a lot of oatmeal. So why is he with her, then? Why not just go for some Pop Tarts or something? A bagel.
BERTUS: Well, why do we eat cold oatmeal? Because we know should. Because we know it's healthy. Because we can remember all those other times when oatmeal was so good, when it woke us up and made us warm! And we hang on to those ideas just so we can make it through this one lousy bowl. Deep down we know oatmeal is better than this––it's been awesome before––but now we have this, like, cognitive dissonance between what we know about oatmeal and what we're padding around in our mouth to warm it up, our tongue avoiding it and yet running into again and again like seeing an old classmate whose name you forgot at a party you're not even really invited to.
ERNIUS: Ben said all this?
BERTUS: In so many words.
ERNIUS: So can't Ben just, uh, microwave things? I mean, when in Rome, right?
BERTUS: Dude, you're focusing on the wrong part of the story. I'm just trying to say, Ben knows he's supposed to be loyal, and he knows Ellen is "good for him," but it just seems like he's trying to get from one bite to the next, and not really having fun. And even when he does heat it up, it's like something always happens and when he comes back to it, it's cold and soggy again.
ERNIUS: So he's eating cold oatmeal out of duty. Is Ellen, too?
BERTUS: No idea. I imagine she's pretty happy. Maybe she's the brown sugar that makes the oatmeal sweet enough to finish. Brown sugar is always pretty happy, right?
ERNIUS: It looks good to me.
BERTUS: Anyway, he's got this big bowl of cold, thick oatmeal in front of him––and it's got raisins in it––
BERTUS: ––and they're all swollen and mushy from the oatmeal, and eating each one is like eating a mushroom filled with maple syrup, or a little diabetic slug.
ERNIUS: Dude, dude––dude! The line is right here––you're way over it over there!
BERTUS: He knows he can't just throw it out. So he's taking it one bite at a time. Like a man. Trying to hide his frown with the funnies, or orange juice, or something. You know, like when you're eating something really "interesting" that your friend's mom made, and you're trying not to frown, but your mouth is all stiff while you're trying to chew, and things only get harder and more awkward when you try to force a smile and say something really, really complimentary? Like trying to smile and sing happy birthday at your friend's birthday party when you're right on the verge of puking from too much soda and snacks before you even get to the cake.
ERNIUS: In so many words. But I mean, Ben doesn't know how to reheat the oatmeal?
BERTUS: Dude, reheat it? I think you're reading too much into this. It's just an analogy. She's not literally cold. Forget about the microwave.
ERNIUS: I'm just saying, maybe he can focus on the good things. The brown sugar.
BERTUS: It can only do so much, I think. Man shall not live by brown sugar alone.
ERNIUS: Do we know anyone named Mikey? Or anyone related to Milton Burle?
BERTUS: You mean Wilford Brimley?
ERNIUS: Him too, I guess.