When I was younger, there wasn’t much stress about what to talk to people about. You could usually spout off about video games or partying or – see that kid over there? – I don’t like that kid. Those were all proper subjects for someone, still navigating the world, to interact over.
No one expects much from you when you’re below your mid-20s. Your conversations can be vapid and few, if any, people call you out on it. Maybe an adult will come along once in a while to ask how you’re doing in school or what your plans are for the next few years. You make up some nonsense and they leave you alone. Then you go back to talking about fidget spinners or Gameboys or Cool Ranch Doritos or whatever else. I’m not saying that young people don’t have deep conversations or responsibilities, just that it’s not as expected as it is for us the old folk.
Of course, the sad footnote for us former kids is we eventually become adults and then it’s our turn to have the constant grown-up discussions. Suddenly you realize why old people always wanted to ask you mundane questions. It’s because most of their discussions are monotonous at best and torturous at worst.
The most popular topic I hear about? Taxes. How about you? You hear about these taxes? They’re too high. It’s crazy! The people I meet throughout my life, despite paying them each year, still can’t believe them. Usually, when these frustrated acquaintances ask me how much I pay, I reply the same way each time. I take a deep breath, puff out my cheeks, and go:
They laugh. I laugh. We laugh. Then, most times, they’ll tell me where they think the taxes should be going. It’s usually something completely unrelated.
We give all this money to these schools. Tons of money. They pour them into the schools. What about the garbage trucks? They’re falling apart. Have you seen the garbage trucks? Hey, Lenny. You hear what we’re talking about over here? He says he’s paying too much in taxes. I ask him if he sees the garbage trucks. It’s a shame.
Lenny shakes his head and, with one uninvited hand on my shoulder, we’re all suddenly in it together.
Oh, don’t get him started on the garbage trucks. He’ll talk your ear off about them.
I know, Lenny. I was there. I’m there right now. You should have warned me before I showed up.
Second behind taxes? Current musicians that they don’t like. That’s a big favorite among the people from the previous century. We also phrase differently than the kids. One extra word in the statement tells you that the speaker has long crossed the generational divide. That word is “that.”
Here is the difference. A young person, telling you about their musical tastes, might say:
I don’t like Justin Bieber.
Seems normal enough, but it implies that Justin Bieber is one of their possible choices. Maybe they have friends who like him and, if they decided to attend his concert unaccompanied, it would be acceptable. They are aware of Justin Bieber and have made an informed decision to stay away. Not us adults. Nope. We make it clear that he doesn’t even exist in our world. We barely know him and we celebrate it.
I don’t like that Justin Bieber.
It’s the “that” which is spit out with such venom and anger, that suggests Justin Bieber’s mere presence is a personal attack on your sensibilities. It’s followed by the sneering mention of a young person you know who does like this “quote, unquote” singer.
Jessica likes him. That Justin Bieber. She sings the Baby Baby Poo song he does. All over the house with the “baby, baby, baby, poo…” All day. Poor Marie. I tell her, Marie, you got two more years then she’ll be out on her own. Just hang on. You know, don’t say anything, but Marie drinks…
Being a parent, though, adds a different spin on the grown up talks. Parenting schedules include a parade of people for a series of daily one minute conversations. For me, it’s the school crossing guard and bus driver that stand out the most. Both believe I am obsessed with weather because, well, that’s pretty much all that we talk about. The yellow vested street crosser near my daughter’s school makes a whole production out of it. She dramatically fears anything other than sunny weather.
Good morning! What’s that big yellow thing in the sky? Is that the sun? Are we seeing the sun? Did you hear the weather for the week? Don’t say it! Nope! Don’t say the “s” word! I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas! No! Don’t say it! No! No! No!
Oh, did they say it’s going to sn…?
Ah! Stop, nope, nope! Don’t say it!
A part of me always contemplates walking up an inch from her face, staring her in the eyes, and defiantly growling out the word, “Ssssssssnooooooow!” I imagine she would turn into a melting snowman and screech, “You discovered my secret! Nooooooo!”
My son’s morning bus driver likes to have weather talks with me too, but he and I have settled into a more bizarre morning routine. He gives me a countdown to whenever the next break from school is.
Hey, how are you, guy? Two more weeks.
I always act surprised. It’s not that I don’t know it’s two weeks until Christmas or Summer or whatever. It’s that I have to keep the conversation going until Lucas gets buckled in. It’s also like 7:30 in the morning so I’m already feeling groggy. All I can manage to respond with is:
Wow. Two weeks? That time moves goes fast. Look. Wow. Yesterday feels like it was just the other days. Tuesday. Also the holidays, right?
I told you I was tired. To his credit, he gives a nod and pretends like I said real words.
Yeah, you got that right. OK. See you tomorrow.
Then, with a pull on the door-closing thing, he drives off. I pat myself on the back for completing my first human interaction of the day and hope I can shake the cobwebs out of my head before someone else tries to chat with me.
Of course, there’s always an out. The secret to getting out of any adult situation is to complain that you’re not feeling well. Grown ups never feel well. So, if done right, it helps you back out of the room. Don’t go too far, though, or you’ll wind up learning their family medical history. A pain in the chest? Their uncle had chest pains that he took Paxil for. Aching back? Their grandmother had a bad back from doing the discus throw at the state fair. Hurt arm? Their dad hurt his arm when he was hit by a runaway garbage truck. Oh no…
Hey Lenny. You hear this? He’s talking about garbage trucks again over here.
I gotta go. I don’t feel so good.