Richard & Bob FinalRichard Kramer: I’d like to start by saying we’ve known each other for years and had a thousand conversations like this. I love that we can still have these conversations, but something has changed for you.

Bob Smith: I have ALS. The strangest thing about my life-threatening illness is that two of my favorite writers: Henry Thoreau and Anton Chekhov, also had life threatening illnesses. They both had tuberculosis. I’m not comparing my writing to these literary giants, but I’ve always admired them. Thoreau was ardently against slavery and Chekhov traveled to Sakhalin to write against Russia’s prison system. (Children of prisoners accompanied their fathers to prison.) Both of these writers knew the Angel of Death was stalking them, but they kept writing and fought for other suffering people.

Dislodged from family and self-knowledge and knowledge of your origins you become free in the most sinister way. Some call it having a restless soul. That’s a phrase usually reserved for ghosts, which is pretty apt. I believe that my eyes filter out things that are true. For better or worse, for good or merciless, I can’t help but go through life with a selective view. My body does it without conscious thought or decision. It’s a problem only if you make it one.”—page 5

Like millions of good Americans, I spent part of the holidays playing a parlor game. It’s meant different things over the centuries, but for the purpose of this post, I’m designating as a “parlor game” that species of organized leisure activities more “creative” and often more interactive than a board game—that have likely shed their cumbersome “board” altogether—but which nonetheless requires rules to be read, and of course hardware to be purchased.

There are many to choose from: the old stand-by, Trivial Pursuit, the “open-minded yuppie” bestseller, Pictionary, the geeky tech-boom darling Cranium, and a host of newer spinoffs. What we played was Taboo. In Taboo, you have a set amount of time (I think two minutes?) to make your teammate guess a word appearing at the top of a card. You are given a list of five or six “taboo” words/phrases you may not use in your attempt. Like all such parlor games, it’s frustrating, slightly annoying, quite fun, and of course most importantly, gives people suffering from minor panic attacks and cabin fever something to do.

But let’s face it. It beats around the bush. So a month or so later, with a clear head, I share with you my idea for a parlor game that cuts through to what parlor games are really all about. The name? Conversation. I haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but here’s roughly how it would be played:

I sit down at the bar, next to a friend.

He says, “Hey, what’s been going on?”

I take off my jacket. He waits. I take a moment.

Then I say, “Tell me: why do people always have to have stuff going on?”