March 2000
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

The Conversationalist

Anyone can start a conversation. Not everyone deserves to be listened to beyond a discernable second paragraph. Now, if I had a method or prescription for overcoming the awkward moment that this situation invariably produces, I'd be rich and sought after (well, richer and sought afterer). The closest thing I have found to an all-inclusive, no-fail remedy is a line by former Kid in the Hall, Scott Thompson:

"Excuse me. I'm going to go stand a few feet away."

The act of conversation is a deceptively self-centered practice, and I make no apologies for practicing. I'm a columnist and, let's face it, if I was interested in talking about you, then I'd be a journalist. Or Oprah.

Come on now. Don't get all huffy and self-righteous. I'm just admitting one of the truths we all hold to be self-evident. Even with my miniscule tolerance for the mundane (read: not about me or sex), I can't tell you how many stories I've endured that have involved nitpicky mothers-in-law, shaky coke-fueled internet startup business plans, or a recent night's airing of a Gallagher special on Comedy Central.

You've been there too. You've wanted to walk away.

"You're not going to believe this!"
(Interest is piqued)

"On my way here I stopped by a..."

"...convenience store to buy some..."
(Lesbian porn?)

"...cough drops. And the clerk rings me up and all of the sudden..."
(The store exploded?)
(John Lennon walked in?)
(You farted audibly?)

"...I realize he's overcharged me by almost a dollar. So I..."
(Want to have sex with me?)

"...stormed right out of there!"

Okay. Now my drink is gone and I'm sleepy. These are the moments of our lives that we all long to have back. And the pitiful part is that the rules are so simple.

When presented with any social situation, imagine that you are a television personality (a lot of us already live our lives like this anyway) and that your TVQ is constantly on the line. Then, stick to these guidelines:

1) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever under any circumstances talk about anything that happened to you before you graduated from college, and make a special effort to stay away from high school. Look, I'm sure that Ace, Bubba, Monkeyboy, and the Billster were all hoot-a-minute cut-ups, walking that fine line between zany and just plain... zany, but the rest of us weren't there and, believe me, we had to be there.

2) Any listing of more than two items should be abbreviated with either yada-yada or blah-blah-blah.

3) Do not relate any book, movie, or television plot that did not make you wet yourself. No, I'm serious. Literally wet yourself.

4) If your story involves repeating something someone said and that person spoke in any sort of whiny or annoying manner, just say whatever they said and then say "said in whiny, annoying manner." We get it.

5) Does your story involve meeting someone famous? Always make sure that the person you're telling the story to is less famous than the famous person you met. Unless you slept with the famous person in your story. Then fire away.

6) Broke? Addicted? Lonely? Depressed? Jobless? Divorced? Homeless? Sick? Dumped? Shut up!

7) Anecdotes from your day-to-day life are simply out of order unless you happen to be exceedingly twisted or uncharacteristically evil. No one cares what you had for lunch yesterday, unless it was a ferret sandwich. Even then, the ferret would probably have to have been your roommate's.

8) The only thing more boring than watching LPGA Senior Tour Golf on a black and white television with the sound turned down after reading Scientific American and PC World cover to cover is your job.

9) If you're telling a joke, or for that matter any anecdote, and you get to a part where the details get a little fuzzy, do NOT turn your eyes skyward and mumble "Wait a minute." You're much better off just going home.

Finally, I give you the golden rule, which by this time should be quite obvious. Once you break it all down and arm yourself with all the conversationalist skills, carry this with you above all else: About 90% of any good conversation is a flurry of barely believable fiction.

Now go out there and communicate.

in the junk drawer:

feature car
ac/dc gun
decomposing dice
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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