Thursday, October 23, 2008

straight talking

In June a mysterious guest blogger was the first person besides me to ever write a post in All the Knots Undone (see: Friday June 20th, 2008; Guest Blog: A Comment on Sweeping Generalizations). He was very disappointed by the lack of comments. We're such sluts for attention.

First of all, I love the idea of a guest blog. Before the hip hop industry killed it with overuse, I loved when bands had tracks on their albums featuring members of other bands. I was that douchebag that just had to share useless trivia about songs with cameos, "You do know that's Paul McCartney singing back up for Donovan, right?" Also, I love when all the artists of the Sunday comics decide to switch strips and take a crack at their colleagues' stories. It's like wife swapping only less morally objectionable and more sanitary. A guest blog can add a nice, refreshing change of voice.

More pragmatically, a guest blog is good because it adds filler to a blog that I do not update on any regular basis. So I will put the invitation out to people if anyone feels like doing a guest blog, like Cal, who, for anyone who has met him, would assume has plenty to say to fill up his own blog, but would rather scavenge readers off a long rotting blog.

Anyway, if you haven't read his entry, it was about how he's cautious about making broad generalizations at social gatherings for fear he'll offend someone. This coming from a man who at a work dinner raised his glass in a toast and accidentally said "Chink" instead of "Clink" in front of multiple Chinese Americans.

What Cal/Sir Thaddeus McDougal really wants is to eradicate "small talk." He's sick of it as I imagine many of you are, too. Trivial, banal formalities in conversations that we all use and from which we rarely deviate on a first meeting. A friend of mine in Boston had just joined Match.Com and she said her biggest pet peeve is guys who have questions ready. I told her I always have questions prepared and she was flabbergasted, "I don't believe that, Armin, because you don't have any problem talking to people." "Of course I don't have a problem talking to people because I have a bunch of questions ready before I meet them." She's lying to herself if she doesn't believe every adult has questions prepared for social situations because as long you're not agoraphobic or hermetically sealed in a plastic bubble, you should have had enough social encounters to compile a list of default questions for ice breakers, conscious or not. "Where did you go to school?" "Where did you grow up?" "What do you do for a living?"

In Cal's effort to extirpate (i'm studying vocab words for the GRE) meaningless, superficial banter, Cal will often bring up more provocative conversation topics than your typical "So what do you do for a living?" Let me make it clear: he is never trying to be rude or specifically make someone uncomfortable. He just values conversation and thinks he'll learn a lot more about a person and be more engaged if he brings up thought provoking topics.

When he met my friends in Portland, he made a bold statement, something along the lines of "Every guy watches porn, even married men," while in the company of a married couple. He wasn't trying to offend the couple or get the husband in trouble. I don't actually remember why he brought it up. I think he'd just rather talk about porn than the weather.

I've explained my stance on small talk to Cal and others:

I hate small talk. I find it boring and repetitive. At the same time, i think it's an absolutely necessary first step when meeting someone. People are generally not comfortable sharing very personal things about their lives the first ten minutes they meet you. Generally the only people who do that are the ones that smell like cat pee on the bus, oblivious to the fact you are reading a book and avoiding eye contact (yes, I'm now that east coast asshole that gives JerZ a bad name because he isn't friendly and doesn't want to hear about your day in the county jail).

If you ask small talk questions, then you as a listener should be able to pick up on something said that can lead to a slightly more substantial question. Slow, plodding conversations, like the herding of cattle. Tedious, but with an eventual destination. And so, as much as I'm tempted, I do not bring up porn at company parties.

Here's a summary of some of the more common small talk conversations I have over and over in my life. By sharing these with you, I realize I'm revealing myself as a complete and utter sham. Any of you who may have once thought I was clever will now realize it's all a rouse. I'm not clever at all; I have fake conversations in my head all the time predicting all the likely things the people will ask in any given circumstance and come up with cute replies. Nothing too fancy or it will sound rehearsed. Here a simple example. You get a hair cut. You go to work. What small talk statement will your coworkers say?

I'll give you a minute to think about it. Okay, pencils down. Did your answer look something like this?

"OOh, you got a haircut!" or "Nice haircut," or "did you get a haircut?"

If I'm getting a haircut, I picture this conversation in my mind and come up with cute replies, polished and ready for the next day at work:

1) Yeah, i thought it would make me faster at (whatever a common task is at work). You know, make me more aerodynamic." [this one does not work if your job is professional swimmer because then this answer is not cute, just obvious]

2) Yeah, I wanted to look more like (name of bald guy in the office).

3.) No jerk. I'm undergoing chemotherapy. [this is actually a very bad reply]

Pretty simple. Now next time you see me, you can throw me for a loop by asking something i'd never expect you to say like, "Why do you wear pink panties?"
"uhh... no, jerk. I'm undergoing chemotherapy." See? Now that didn't work well at all, did it?

Armin's Common Conversations

1. Conversation with random co worker at work on Monday morning
Random Coworker: "Hey, how was your weekend?"
Armin: "Too short"
Both: Hahaha

2. Conversation i have with pilots when I ask them permission to close the airplane door.
Armin: "Alright Captain, we have everyone on board. Is there anything else you need before I close the door?"
Captain: "How about a million dollars?"
Armin: [Polite laughter] "If I could make a million dollars appear, I wouldn't be here, would I?"

3. Conversation while the song "Don't Stop Believing" is playing.
Average american: "I love this song."
Armin: "I fucking hate Journey."
Average American: "Why? How could you possibly hate Journey?"
Armin: "I don't know why. I just do."

4. Conversation while the song "magic man" by Hart is playing
Armin: "I hate Fleetwood Mac."
Average know it all American: "Actually, this is Hart."
Armin: "I know that [pretending to know that]. I just hate Fleetwood mac and wanted to share that with you."

I'd love to hear your horribly repetitive conversations... chances are, i've been on the other end of a script with you already.


Anonymous said...

The only thing worse than my poor word choice in toasting was a time back in college when Scott W.'s roommate and I belted out the chorus of "She's So Heavy" from Abbey Road and my 250-280 lbs organic chemistry teacher walked in to ask, "What y'all singing about?"

moun'ain girl said...

tell me armin, do you still walk? do you still eat sandwiches? perhaps those are a few questions you are not prepared to answer with witty quips, but after watching this amazing video, you will be more than prepared...

Anonymous said...

This will definitely have an impact on our future conversations... in both directions.

(Armin, in his award winning, slightly too enthusiastic Mr. Social voice)
A: "Hey, John!!! How are you?!?"
J: "My blood pressure is sky high, but I quit smoking, so... the truth is somewhere in the middle, I usually find. You?"
A: "Psychotic." (Polite laughter)
J: "So... the same, mostly?"
A: "Yeah." (More polite laughter)
J: "Cool. Psychoses may be expensive, but they are rarely dull." (Polite laughter)
A: "How's the golf game?"
J: "If I don't stop soon, it will turn me into a serial killer."
A: "But, you have too many hobbies already!" (Polite laughter)
J: "Let's get drunk and find a karioke bar."
A: "And harass the DJ until he flees, leaving his equipment behind!"
J: "You're on!"