The drinking men talk “Truth and Life”. Shallow generalities: there’s nothing of real life in talk of “Life”. The men sit outside in the sun and drink. Or sit inside Neal’s father’s kitchen, as the young boy runs in and out. Sometimes he stops to listen to the talk. Grown up talk. Sometimes they stop their talk to say some words to him: “This is my boy.” They’re all proud of him, his father’s friends.
Real life comes to take on an intangible quality to match the vacant general talk. Their words are flat and abstract, and the world becomes this way too, for them. Stare blankly at the world and world seems only to stare blankly back at you. Neal wonders at the men who cannot see past the stiff mask the world wears looking back at them, cannot guess at the dance the world makes, the insane rhythms it follows as it moves. Life flows hidden from them. Only take a step and push aside the veil that stretches across the front porch where the men sit drinking.
The men themselves flat and abstract to fit the world they have created. Little Neal himself learns to “understand the way they understood”. It is their mode of existence to listen, to nod, and to speak in turn. He learns to listen, to nod, so that one day he’ll be able to speak in turn.