Busy Doing “Nothing”

We use Skype a lot in my office. There are three reasons:

1. Small talk, although just as necessary, is less awkward.
2. You can send links and files.
3. You can reply when you want to, instead of when the other person stops speaking.

This is the opening small-talk gambit from a colleague I do not know very well, in response to my (admittedly uninspired) enquiry about his activities the previous evening.

Why is the word “nothing” in quote marks? Is he trying to tell me something? English is not his first language, but are there any European languages for which, in this context, “nothing” is not intended to be euphemistic?

What could he have been doing in Hampstead Heath? Does he want me to know he’s been sexually active with strangers behind bushes? Is he coming out to me as a cottager, seeking my assurance that such activity, although unusual, is nothing to be ashamed of if it’s conducted between consenting adults? I would be happy to assure him of my libertarian principles if this was indeed the case, although I think it’s unlikely he has sex in parks with strangers.

He was definitely up to something though. It’s not a typo. You can’t accidentally put a word in quote marks. Perhaps the reference to reality is a clue. Maybe he was on ‘shrooms.

Should I ask him, or would that be weird?

“Hey ——-, you know when you said you were doing ‘nothing’ on Hampstead Heath? I’m curious. Were you trying to tell me you were doing something sweaty and nefarious in a public lavatory?”

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