You remember conversation, don’t you? A game for two or more players with rules similar to volleyball. Back and forth, back and forth, until someone spikes it over the net? If one person refuses to give up the floor, it’s no longer a conversation. It’s a monologue.
We’ve all been there, sitting glassy-eyed while someone tells a story longer than The Decameron. It’s easy to spot monologue terrorists. Their stories involves intimate details of people you haven’t met, places you haven’t been, and problems better sorted out by a licensed therapist. I was supposed to go to Woodstock, but I got this itchy rash on my thighs … There you are, stuck on the Paoli local with Scheherazade on meth.
Equally troubling are people who refuse to engage in conversation at all. My friend Larry doesn’t talk. Nothing is wrong with his larynx. He just prefers silence. I, on the other hand, have been clocked at 1,000 words per minute. And that was a slow day.
I come from a long line of yakkers who view quiet as a black hole to be filled, as quickly as possible, with words. Which doesn’t mean I want to dominate the conversation. I just have, shall we say, a strong serve.
We are as unlikely a couple as those YouTube videos of the sleeping cat and the pesky cockatoo. On road trips, Larry always brings audiobooks. He can tolerate the monotone narrator of Native North American Bird Calls. But my witty banter? He’d just as soon listen to police radio. If I comment during an episode of Mad Men (I’m having trouble keeping the characters straight this season), he pointedly ignores me.
So, what’s the attraction? First, Larry is a helleva nice guy. Second, he’s a helleva nice guy who’s got cable and is an accomplished cook. Larry creates works of art out of humble vegetables. His potato salad, alone, should hang in the Louvre. (Something to do with cilantro).
When it was time to introduce Larry to one of my female friends, I warned her in advance: “Don’t be put off if he doesn’t make conversation.”
Ginger, an attractive brunette in her thirties, is rather quiet herself and speaks in a soft, little-girl voice. I was optimistic. But my formerly silent partner, took one look at Ginger and turned into a combination of Woody Allen, Bill Clinton and George Clooney.
Ginger pulled me aside. “He’s nothing like you said,” she insisted.
I was dumbfounded and, frankly, jealous. Ginger is considerably younger than I am, with a curvaceous figure. Was it time for a facelift and breast implants? After parading around my house one day with socks stuffed into my bra and adhesive tape giving my eyes a “lift,” it occurred to me that perhaps the body part that needed alteration was my mouth. Maybe I hadn’t been giving Larry enough “air time” to truly be himself.
As an experiment, I practiced being as silent as a Carmelite nun. Well, as silent as a Jewish Carmelite nun.
To my amazement, a whole new Larry slowly came out of hiding. Opinionated, witty and, at times, downright hilarious. There are still times when he is so quiet that I hold a mirror to his mouth to make sure he’s breathing. But we’ve finally reached that accommodation that comes in any long-term relationship, just like a cat trying to nap while a damn bird pecks at its head.