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Discourse Correction

April 4, 2016

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“When I have nothing to say my lips are sealed.

Say something once, why say it again?”

-The Talking Heads, ‘Psycho Killer’

Talk doesn’t have to be cheap. One of my bugaboos is meaningless small talk. I would rather wait out a long, uncomfortable silence than fill the void with inane chatter that accomplishes nothing and fails to further conversation. In my line of work, it’s referred to as an ‘ice breaker’, but during the rest of my waking life, I’d vastly prefer a dead vacuum of words instead of offering up nonsense.

It’s been said that you should never talk about politics, religion or the weather. I don’t remember if that was in reference to sales, getting your hair cut, foreplay or simply polite discussion between strangers, but nobody abides by that rule. People who talk about the weather make me fucking nuts. In Buffalo, debate and dissent regarding the weather is a living, breathing, malleable organism, and everyone has a talent for locking and passing along the most far-fetched, fantastical forecast. Given a range of light flurries or the next ice age, your average horse’s ass will throw out ‘Fred The Weather Clown is calling for a meteor the size of Brazil made of solid black ice followed by a flurry of dippable Dots.’ Out of a hundred predictions, average temperatures and year-over-year norms, it’s never a middle-of-the-road prediction. Maybe that says more about the dolts who drudge it up to perfect strangers, maybe not: ‘Team Hurricane 3000 claims an 84% chance of Armageddon preceded by lakes of fire and spotting in women aged 55 to 60.’ It must be Biblical fact then.

Sports fans make the rather large assumption that you also like talking about sportsing. I don’t. My friend Rich plays into this and seems to think he can reach a common ground with people and find out more about their thinking process by knowing about sports and talking with his friends about it. I’m not willing to go that far. I really don’t understand the return on investment sitting on my ass on the couch for entire Sundays yelling at the television. There is enough in my life to upset me without transferring my ambitions and personal happiness onto a corporately held entity parading as a franchise. What I really don’t get is people droning on about sportsing out in public while their sport of choice is currently in progress. If it was important to you, wouldn’t you be at home having a discussion with your television while it was airing?

And religion is a non-issue. Most sane people don’t engage, foster or bring up religion with strangers. Most of us are spiritual and not religious, whatever that means. A great many of us sacrifice live bait to our Aztec snake gods naked during a blood moon while coated in Hershey syrup in a very private and personal way, so we don’t feel the need to bring it up or indoctrinate others. The people who bring up religion as an ‘ice breaker’ are typically the people I run screaming from. I have nothing against religion since it’s never done anything grievous or humiliating to me, but I have no interest in discussing it with people outside of my role-playing, Safe-Word-uttering coven. The less said the better.

If anything, politics are offered up without any solicitation, urging or insistence, and the people who normally inject it into the atmosphere are also the people with the most militant, half-cooked, far left or far right of center viewpoints anyway. I’m surprised at the political non sequiturs I hear without any forewarning or lubricant. Things like “All my taxes go to Albany, thanks very much, Mr. Governor!” from the affluent upper-class doctor or “It’d be great to own a small business if it weren’t for Ralph Nader.” from the guy with 45 bumper stickers and a man bun. I try not to engage or encourage these kinds of people because their jumbled calls to arms can only invariably be followed by rampant bigotry, generalized silliness or unfounded carpetbaggery or skullduggery.

*Confession: I’ve wanted to include both the terms ‘carpetbaggery’ and ‘skullduggery’ into an essay and felt that this was my best shot. I hope that some day you will grow to accept and embrace my decision.*

Finally, there is what passes for what’s left of the Monday morning water cooler discussion. A great majority of us don’t have the indulgence of a water cooler at our place of business, haven’t personally seen a water cooler in 2.5 years, and have never had a discussion as a result of being in the vicinity of a water cooler. Now that we live in a hip, post-‘cut the cable’ revolution era where there are 7,000 different stations, streaming services, Viewmaster Exclusive one hour puppet passion plays and other programs, we’re at a loss for a universally shared experience.

If it’s a reality show or a talent competition, my emotional investment is -7 multiplied by zero fucks, carried by I Really Don’t Give A Shit. Whatever that adds up to, that’s where I stand on either program. I don’t need to know which industry darling won the finals at the Polynesian Breakdancing Awards or who took home the gold on ‘Bosnia’s Got Marginal Saucier Skills’. The point is that there are more shows than there are people now, so whatever you watched or downloaded or uploaded into your retinas last night that was exciting isn’t necessarily a show that anyone else on your continent tunes into.

I understand that it’s difficult to find common ground with complete strangers in everyday life, but I would rather be myself or dive right into the meat of a conversation than default to small talk because it’s easier. The weather doesn’t matter to me, I’m not hardwired for sports, religion is a landmine and a lot of people have horrible taste in television. I guess you could call me a real people pleaser.

Tom Waters

 

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