Lost Journal entry: August 29, 2010 (age 41)
“Hi, person. How are you?”
“My cousin’s dog has an abscess. I wonder how you spell that. I came in third place in a spelling bee when I was a kid. The word I couldn’t spell was ‘phlebotomy.’ Wouldn’t it have been funny if the word had been ‘abscess?’ I can’t misspell anything at work, or I have to redo the entire Frankel configuration on the 99-H. Anyhoo, apparently my car needs a new catalytic converter, on account of Tucker rigging up the first one to burn incense. Tucker is the guy—hey, you know what? The incense they use at my parish smells a lot like yarn and ketchup. Talk about 57 varieties – heh, heh! Carla always used to say that. She didn’t look anything like Carla on Cheers. I like Woody better than Coach. Man, those fajitas and ribs are coming back to haunt me…”
There are many things wrong with the conversation above. But right now, I’m not focused on the endless tangents. Or the references to people only the speaker knows. Or the inexplicable need to respond to this perfunctory query with anything more than “Pretty good,” especially if said conversation is taking place on either side of an escalator heading in opposite directions.
My main problem with this type of exchange is the lack of two simple words: “And you?”
My former wife, Amanda, and I still use the inclusion or exclusion of those two words (which we combine into one) to judge conversations. “Was there any andyou?” If the answer is “No,” or “Oh my Lord, no,” the person is moved down the list of people worth conversing with. Special dispensation is made for friends in crisis, and everyone is given some andyou-free freebies. But here’s a helpful example. I have known you since we were Cub Scouts together during the Carter Administration. I know EVERYTHING about you, from your bunions to your taste in bathrobe fabrics. You, on the other hand, are unaware that I have siblings, a job, or a severe bathroom fabric phobia. You will be seeing less of me.
Conversations don’t need to be constantly analyzed and weighed for fairness, but everyone should have a little voice that pops into their head occasionally. That voice should say, with some regularity, “Am I talking about something that relates to this person or their interests?” More importantly, the voice needs to chime in and say, “OK, I’ve been talking about myself for too long – time for an andyou.”
Don’t even get me started on people who give a tiny bit of andyouitude, but then cut you off mid-answer. They desperately need to tell you how much better or worse their experience has been with the new direction you have so thoughtfully offered as fodder for their ongoing monologues. These same people are blissfully unaware of your glazed-over eyes, lazily nodded “uh-huhs,” and attempts to bring someone else into the conversation so that you can tag out and head for the salad bar. “Really? Tucker’s brother said that about the way you order soup? Hey, have you met Sally? She eats stuff, too! If you’ll excuse me, I have to go iron my pillowcases.”
I’m sure there have been times when I have mindlessly babbled, or gone on too long about something in which my listener has no interest. Hey, where did everybody go?
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