I’m convinced that, deep inside, everybody thinks they are the wittiest conversationalist since Dorothy Parker held forth at the Algonquin Round Table. They think their jokes are hilarious, their stories are riveting, and their lives are and should be the source of endless fascination. Of course, they are wrong.
I first came to this important piece of social awareness some years ago, when Kish and I were invited to a three-couple dinner party. The host regaled us with a 20-minute-long story about a traffic incident. As he went into excruciating detail about trying to get over the concrete barrier in the middle of a highway, people began to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Ultimately we concluded that he was not going to stop anytime soon, so we all just leaned back and let the drone of his voice wash over us. When the tale finally, blessedly ended with a hearty laugh by the bright-eyed host, I realized with a shock that he wasn’t trying to be boring — my God, he actually thought he was entertaining us!
When we left the home that night, the husband of the other couple shook his head sadly and said, “not every incident makes an anecdote.”
I try to remember that comment before I launch into any kind of long-winded story and be alert to clues that I’ve veered into the realm of mind-crushing tedium. And usually the clues are pretty easy to spot: glassy-eyed demeanors, meaningful glances exchanged among listeners, fidgeting, and the lack of any meaningful comments or questions about the tale. The subjects that are likely to produce the mind-numbed reaction are pretty predictable, too: stories about work, stories about people the listeners don’t know and will never meet, and stories that involve some kind of awkward inside joke that then needs to be further explained, just as the listener is hoping that the stemwinder is winding down.
I try to be sensitive to this key element of the human condition, I really do — but sometimes I am oblivious just the same. So if you’re with me and you conclude that I’m boring the snot out of everyone we’re with, please, do whatever you can to stop me!