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ACT II (continued)
Determined to shake Biff out of what seems to be his nervousness, Happy asks the girl to join them for the evening, and to find a friend. She goes to make a phone call to arrange it. But after she leaves the table Biff quickly tells his brother to cut out the nonsense and listen to what has happened to him. "It's been the strangest day I ever went through."
Biff had waited all day to see his former employer, Mr. Oliver, sending his name in with no success. Naturally Biff by then was beside himself with frustration. At five o'clock Oliver walked out of his office and went home: "...he gave me one look and-I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been!" Biff's realization was that he and his family have chosen to believe that instead of a shipping clerk he was a salesman for Oliver.
When Oliver left his office, Biff was full of anger and humiliation at everyone, including himself. "I could've torn the walls down!" he says to Happy, but instead he went into the office and stole Oliver's expensive fountain pen, and ran eleven flights down to the street. Now he's decided to tell this to Willy. No, says Hap, tell him something nice even if you have to make it up: string the story along and it will gradually fade away until Willy's forgotten about it. However, Biff knows perfectly well that Willy never forgets, and, if he tells a lie, "it'll go on forever." Happy is quite right when he says, "Dad is never so happy as when he's looking forward to something!"
Willy arrives at the restaurant. Biff orders double Scotches all around, and admits to having had a few already. How did it go with Oliver, Willy asks Biff. They're both smiling-Willy encouragingly, Biff reassuringly because he has bad news. Slowly Biff starts to tell about his experience. "Terrific, Pop," Happy interjects, trying to tilt the balance from negative to positive. But Biff persists that as he waited for Oliver he realized some "facts" about his life. Unable to refrain from blaming Willy, he says,
Biff: Who was it, Pop? Who ever said I was a salesman with Oliver?
Willy: Well, you were.
Biff: No, Dad, I was a shipping clerk.
Willy: But you were practically-NOTE: It's a habit in the Loman family to say "practically" this or "almost" that. It's the way they've rewritten the past. This is what Biff is now rejecting as he tries to make a clean start on the basis of who he is instead of who Willy wants him to be. Listen for the key repetitions of "practically" and "almost."