I am terrible at small talk. I am a Jack Webb sort of guy – “Just the facts, m’am, just the facts” – and I run out of things to say at a party after “Nice to meet you,” “What brings you here” and “How was your day?” Unless you are a member of a closed club – doctors, lawyers, software programmers, serial murderers – it’s hard to keep up a conversation among a varied and diverse group of strangers. Okay, maybe serial murderers don’t really have a club; I haven’t asked them. But introverts in general, and I mark myself as one, have a hard time passing the time with pleasant but irrelevant banter at social gatherings. What bugs me about this is that small talk is an essential ingredient, not just in passing the time, but in getting and keeping peoples’ interest and attention and maintaining social gaiety.
I find that I am restricted to easy association with three groups – babies, animals and drunks. Babies accept anything – gaga, Lady Gaga, do do, abbadabba plus assorted facial gestures. Animals are the same – “Aren’t you a sweet doggie,” “How’s my little furry wurry?”
I once had a conversation with coyotes when visiting Yosemite National Park. From our room, we could hear coyotes in the distance. Giving myself a pat on the back, I did a pretty good imitation of a coyote howl and started a lengthy conversation. That is, until my wife poked me in the ribs and told me that the two little old ladies in the next room were getting frightened as the conversation continued. I’m not sure what I said to the coyotes to get them excited – free food tonight, you’re mother wears combat paws, you smell like a cat …
Drunks, like babies and animals, accept anything. A drunken friend, stranded at a railroad station late at night, approached a stranger to ask if he had any change. What he thought he said was “Do you have any change?” What he actually said was “GAR BLAR SLARB MLARK BLAH!!” He told me that the stranger must have understood him because the man took all the change out of his pocket and threw it at him. A lot like Chinese food, conversations with drunks leaves you hungry for real conversation in an hour or two.
What overcomes small talk blockage is a great laugh. If you laugh at anything – your account is overdrawn, your house is on fire, you have red fire ants crawling up your leg – you are ahead of the game. A great laugh makes up for many shortcomings. Unfortunately, I laugh on the inside. I find many jokes and stories funny but cannot convey that funniness with laughter, at least on the outside. My stomach, goiter and liver are having a laugh riot on the inside but, on the outside, I look at lot like the people caught on America’s Most Wanted.
So I’m good as long as a party consists of babies, animals and drunks. If there are no little old ladies present, the coyote and I can have a good long talk.