When I’m Boring

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!

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Only The Lonely Old Guys

Yesterday UJ and I decided — unwisely, it turned out — to go to a sports bar to watch the Browns.  The place was crowded with hopeful fans, so we had to share a long table with a couple.  As the game started, an old guy asked if he could sit at the table, too.

We said sure . . . and then I was surprised to see that, rather than sitting in an open chair farther down, the guy sat right at UJ’s elbow.  During the game he kept chattering away and interrupting, clearly hoping to engage us in conversation.  At first it was weird and annoying, but eventually it got to be so absurd it was funny.  As the Browns’ horror show mounted, it became one source of humor in another otherwise grim Browns debacle.

It reminded me of an experience Kish and I had on a trip.  When we passed through a common room in a hotel, an older man was sitting there with a few bottles of wine and invited us to come back for a “wine tasting.”  Kish felt sorry for him and said we should join him, so later we did.  The guy turned out to be a colossal know-it-all who chattered away non-stop, overriding the comments of others and one-upping every observations and anecdote.  No matter the topic, he knew more about it than you did.  Name a place, even a remote spot in a foreign land, and he had had an extraordinary experience there.  It was an amazing performance — so extraordinary that when Kish and I finally escaped the onslaught, we also got a few laughs out of it.

Although they produced a few chuckles, the incidents with the Wine Guy and the Random Browns Fan were kind of sad, too.  I can see going to a bar to watch a game on satellite dish that’s not on regular TV; I’ve done it before.  But I’ve never tried to intrude on the conversations of others, and I’ve certainly never bought a few bottles of wine in hopes of enticing random people to sit and listen to my boring tales.  (That’s what a blog is for!)

There must be a lot of lonely old guys out there, searching for positive human contact.

Presumed Familiarity, Feigned Interest

One other point about the wedding we attended on Friday:  weddings are an interesting opportunity to observe basic human social interactions.

Consider wedding reception tables, for example.  If you’re a member of the family you might be seated with other family members, or if you’re an old college chum you might be noshing with dormitory buddies.  If you’re just a random friend, however, you’re likely to be assigned to a table where most of the seats are filled by complete strangers.  That’s what we got on Friday.

It’s interesting how quickly you reach conclusions about people under those circumstances.  The woman seated to my right — whom I’d never met before — swept in, introduced herself as an old friend of the family, and then promptly launched into a long, inane story about her son, whom none of us knew, and his living arrangements in New York City which included some kind of terrible bathroom.  The story was apparently pointless, aside from the fact that it gave this woman something to talk about.  After five minutes or so, when she paused for a breath and then started to move into a story about her son’s roommate from Texas — an unknown person even farther removed from our realities — someone stepped in to end the woman’s tedious monopolization of conversation at the table.

As the interminable apartment bathroom story was underway, the other people at the table feigned polite interest in the meandering tale but exchanged some meaningful glances.  I’d guess that most of us immediately concluded that the woman was hopelessly self-absorbed and unwilling to engage in the normal social niceties — which require that you at least ask strangers some questions about their lives before you bore the pants off of them with a tale as long as Beowulf.

After that gruesome introduction, I shifted my attention to the left and tried to avoid any head turns to the right, lest the woman pull out her cell phone and begin to inflict a show of photos of her family, friends, and pets and tedious anecdotes about the latest family vacation.

The Blowhard Next Door

Have you ever had an otherwise pleasant dining experience marred by the fact that you sat next to some blowhard?  It happened to us last night.

I didn’t notice the couple when we passed their table and were seated at the next table over.  As soon as we were seated, however, I heard the guy’s droning nasal voice yammering non-stop, with nary an interruption from his unfortunate dining companion.  I tried hard to tune it out — really, I did — but his voice was so loud and insistent in explaining some mind-numbing workplace occurrence that it kept intruding into our dinner table conversation.  I think he was a professor or literary type; at one point he actually held forth on how quotation marks should always precede punctuation marks.  (Seriously!)  This tweedy tool was so dull and self-absorbed he could have bored his own mother.

When the couple finally left it was a relief, but there was one last moment of interest.  As they were gathering their things, the guy, perhaps experiencing a faint moment of self-awareness, finally asked the woman a question, about one of her friends.  When she said the friend had been on a respirator for 45 days — I swear I am not making this up! the guy didn’t know what to say, so he muttered something, then said, brightly, “let’s do it again soon!”

I sat with my back to the couple and I never turned around, although I was tempted.  I’m not sure what the appropriate etiquette is in that situation, although I expect it doesn’t involve telling the Leaden Professor to shut his yap and stop boring the entire restaurant with his dim-witted yakking.