You know the worst part about growing up? Small talk.
That’s right. It’s not old age or creaky bones or losing summer vacation. It’s the need to stand next to someone and politely talk about nothing. It’s all mouth garbage meant to distract me from the fact that I’m waiting for some other responsibility in my life to come calling. “Yes, husband of random woman at dinner party. The traffic was quite congested on the way over. Thanks for asking.”
As a kid, you have very little small talk. Kids talk to kids about things that kids like. For some reason, I’ve never forgotten this one ice-breaker another boy used on me at summer camp in third grade. I had never met him and didn’t even know his name. We were all standing in line quietly when he glanced over. With a can of soda in one hand, he casually pointed in my direction with the other.
Yo, kid. You like wrestling?
Yeah. I like wrestling.
Yeah? Name ten good guys and ten bad guys.
I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I did. It wasn’t hard. I was eight. Wrestling, He-Man, and cereal commercials were pretty much the bulk of my television time. Once he was satisfied with my list of Big John Studds and Andre The Giants, he nodded approvingly.
Yeah. OK. You like wrestling.
I think we became friends after that. I’m not sure, though. That was a thousand years ago.
As an adult, that specified chatter has dissipated. People still try to latch on to whatever small thing they can when they want to see you. I know this because, in keeping with the wrestling theme above, I have worn a “Young Bucks” t-shirt to the supermarket. On the way out, the bagging guy from three aisles down screamed out while pointing at it.
Hey! You know those guys? They’re good, right?
I smiled approvingly. He smiled back. Everyone was happy. That was normal.
It was the polar opposite of a guy in college who once, twenty minutes into a silent car ride, yawned before asking.
Wow. I’m tired. Hey. You ever get tired?
I was the one driving. His question was so bizarre that it almost put me into a hypnotic trance. I responded in the confused tone you’d expect.
Do I ever get tired? Yes, Jared. In my lifetime, I have gotten tired.
He nodded in a way that said, “I knew it.” Then he looked out the window until we got back to dorms. Jared was weird. Jared is still weird. I see him on Facebook.
College was my first introduction to that world. From social mixers to rush events, you had to babble on about random pleasantries. My friend Nate and I would always do a thing where we would mimic talking mouths with our hands and say, “Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense? Why yes. Nonsense. Nonsense. Nonsense.” Small talk still sort of sounded like the parents in Peanuts cartoons to us, but we were starting to come to grips with the fact that it would be a mainstay for the rest of our lives.
That’s the cruel joke of adulthood. We are expected to put on these performances for each other and make words when none should exist. They fill up every free moment of our day. You should have heard the school crossing guard from my daughter’s elementary school. She was obsessed with the weather. When we first met her, the weather was a constant form of conversation.
I hear it might rain today. Glad I brought my hat! Ha!
I’d always remark about how she was my personal weather person. We’d laugh. It was a whole thing. She’d repeat the process with the next parent and on down the line.
By fourth grade, her weather obsession had turned into a full-on manic episode each day. She treated the sun like a God and snow like her nemesis. She’d be screaming in the street.
Don’t say it! Don’t say the S Word! Ah! Don’t say it!
You mean sno…
AH! No! Don’t say it! No!
It was a whole production. On sunny days after cloudy ones, she’d ask each of us “what that big yellow thing in the sky” is. There was a lot of energy at 9am, but you have to keep up. You’re an adult now. Simply naming ten good guys and ten bad guys doesn’t cut it anymore.
That’s why I like my son’s new bus driver. After years of remarking on weather forecasts and traffic congestion with a parade of drivers, this guy stunned me on day one.
The aid came off the bus to greet us and, as Lucas pushed past us both to march up the steps, she called out as she always does for him to “hold on, Lucas. Hold on. Oh my.” He always does, but watching his egg-like frame wobbled up the stairs is enough to send anyone into a temporary state of concern.
As they disappeared into the aisle for him to take his seat, I looked up at this dude and his giant mustache. I prepared myself for some sort of baseball talk or something. Since preschool, that was the norm. I was ready. He turned towards me.
Then he pulled the lever and the door closed. I stood there, happily speechless. This guy. He gets it.
So, I don’t know. Let’s talk about the grass and the price of chicken and whether I saw the game yesterday. Or not. I’m good either way. I can take it or leave it. I don’t love small talk, but I can handle it. It may be awful, but it beats the big talks.