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Talking Small

Oct
20
2006

After 19 years, I’ve finally narrowed down why Dirtman came into my life. Dirtman is the master of the cocktail party, the life of the pre-dinner social hour. He can work a room like a politician and manage to get through an entire evening without offending anyone.
Dirtman is The King of small talk.
I, on the other hand, would rather gouge out my eye with a screwdriver. Or watch Project Runway . . .
It’s not that I don’t know all the standard small-talk lines. I just can’t see the point and I think that apathy comes across in my voice. And sometimes I can’t resist not submitting to the script and respond with an actual answer.
For instance, I know the standard answer to “It’s nice to meet you” is “It’s nice to meet you also.” But it’s always on the tip of my tongue to ask, “Why? You don’t know me that well.” One of these days I just know it will slip out.
“Dirtman’s told me all about you!”
“Just remember, an indictment is not a conviction,” I say defensively.
Okay, I never did because I know I’m supposed to say “all good, I hope,” so they can say, “of course!” That’s what they’re hoping I do so they can move on to the people they actually know and feel comfortable talking with.
The thing is, I always meet the people who also don’t stick to the accepted small-talk script, not because they find it trite and pointless like me, but because they are desperate to share what you’d rather not hear.
These people are the ones who refuse to answer the stock question “How are you?” with the obligatory “Fine. And you?” Instead I’m met with a lengthy description of their gall bladder operation or how they took care of that nasty communicable skin rash “that’s just about gone.”
Dirtman says the weather is usually a safe subject that can be quickly turned into an interesting conversation on a related, but different, topic. But I always run into geeks like my brother. If you mention weather around my brother he will not only give you a five-day forecast, but will relate what in the past weeks has led up the current conditions. Never ever ask my brother, “Hot enough for ya?” He’s got charts dating back to the ‘60s. I think he keeps them in the car for just such conversational emergencies. Be forewarned.
Before I was married I simply avoided situations requiring small talk, which means I never went anywhere or, if I did, I’d walk around to make an appearance and then flee to my car. Needless to say, this approach was disastrous to my social life.
It seems small talk is a necessary evil to social interaction. No one wants to cut straight to discussing Nietzsche and his existentialist philosophy. Better to warm up with “How ‘bout them ‘Skins?”
I was doing such a poor job maintaining my social life, God sent me Dirtman. It didn’t faze him one bit when I flippantly answered his “How do you like your job?” with “I write obituaries for a living. What do you think?”
He worked for a funeral home.
And so he has been my small talker for close to two decades. When the subject warms up to something meatier, I join in. But it’s Dirtman who goes in for the warm-up.
I doubt he knows a thing about Nietzsche.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 11:19 AM | Permalink

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