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Friday, January 27, 2012

I’d Rather Not Bond with You, Thanks

The author strikes
a ruminative pose.
THERE'S A NOXIOUS TYPE of party guest, usually male, whose attempts to be the life of said gathering include commentary he believes to be hilarious. We know this because the guest – let’s call him Petomane – finishes each riposte with the kind of explosive laugh that includes a sneezy spray. At the same time looking wildly from person to person to make sure all are joining in the mirth enjoyment.

I’m the guy standing stony-faced. I don’t need Petomane’s cues as to what constitutes a punch line. And it’s a given that he who laughs at his own joke-attempts is the enemy of wit. In fact, I find that there’s usually an element of frat-boy insult built into the chatter, a style that sends me hurriedly back to the drinks table. Unless that’s where Petomane is holding forth.

No, I don’t want to participate, Petomane. I can see that you’re lonely and long ago hit on this  bullshit bonhomie in order to persuade people to like you. I won’t be one of them. I find such desperation dispiriting.

I know that sense of loneliness. It’s especially poignant at social events, and I have to fight at all times to keep myself from turning into another type of party scourge: the aged bore. Believe me, I can hold forth. If you’re female and attractive, it’ll be all I can do to stop myself from finding an excuse to recite the fascinating statistics of Toscanini’s career, which I’m happy to admit makes me ten times more annoying than your common-or-garden sports-statistics bore.

You know where else I’m not going to bond with you? Waiting in an oppressive line. Even though you’re in front of me, you’ve probably been waiting only slightly longer than I. You’d notice, if you could burrow past your self-absorption, that I’m standing placidly, eyes inactive, happy to rummage through my thoughts. So when you turn to me and say, “They always make you wait like this,” you have disturbed my reverie. I don’t share your impatience – I don’t share your sense of victimhood – so you’ll find no support here.

In fact, I’m a bastard. You may be inches from me, but I’ll pretend I’m so absorbed in my thoughts that I won’t even shift my gaze. And it won’t matter, because the sad sack behind me will join in, making me monkey in the middle to a crosstalk of despair.

During my antediluvian weeks of working at a Sears in suburban Illinois, my fellow salespeople and I were drilled in the art of approaching a customer. “Never ask a question that can be answered ‘no,’” we were told. “Study what the customer is looking at, then start a conversation about it. For example, ‘That’s a nice pair of shoes, and we have it in several more colors as well.”

Although it’s rare to find salespeople these days with the slightest notion of that approach, there’s a particular type of store-aisle miscreant who will use that as a conversational parry. Are they part of a vast army of  former Sears employees? I have the luxury of shopping weekday mornings, but this means I’m surrounded by lonely, bored retirees seeking companionable fellow shoppers. I won’t be one of them. Go away.

There’s a magic distance between restaurant tables that gives an illusion of seclusion, but the more greed-driven places jam the furniture close enough that you easily could sample your neighbor’s meal. I don’t avail myself of the opportunity, so would you do me a favor and not comment on mine? Your, “Looks like I shoulda ordered what you got!” is a intended as an icebreaker, and I fear you’ll reveal your mind-numbingly boring splendor as you continue to try to yack with me.

Of course I crave company, but the crankiness of advancing age has shortened my span of benefit-of-the-doubt curiosity. And increased my own self-absorption. I don’t want to hear about you. I want you to ask about me.

Where I have to watch myself most assiduously is in supermarket checkout lines. Most of my groceries reflect the from-scratch nature of my cooking. Making my comestibles array much different those of those before me, and doesn’t this impress the strikingly statuesque cashier – what’s her name? Amber? – doesn’t it impress young Amber to see such healthy stuff going by?

Being purchased, let’s face it, by a white-haired fat guy. Who nevertheless is about to say something oh, so compelling like, “this is going into a Moroccan root-vegetable stew,” when Amber scowls at a turnip and shrieks, “What’s this?” As a friend of mine so wisely put it, “We never should have been allowed to hear the Playmates speak.”

And so I drag my grumpy old body home and tackle some writing and do some chores and get that stew together in time for the arrival home of daughter and wife. “You went shopping at the store I see,” says Susan, and I’m about to crown her with the day’s Tautology Award when she continues, “Tell me about your day.”

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