Sunday, March 22, 2015


 I was joined on “my” bench on one of my outings by another resident of the retirement community. Benches are of course public facilities, so asking “May I join you?” is purely pro forma, but we do it anyway, knowing the answer will be “Of course. Lots of room.”
The problem this time, however, was that my new benchmate’s hearing was even worse than mine, and we found quickly that conversation was going to be more trouble than it would be worth, since it was bound to be centered on nothing more important than an exchange of views about the weather.
I have no trouble sitting silently in the presence of another; my  philosophy since childhood has been to try to talk only when I have something to say, not just small talk. This makes me extremely dull company most of the time, but if you have to choose between very little idle conversation and a whole lot, which way would you go? You know my answer.
I’ve known people who could and would rattle on about things important to them without realizing their listener(s) might not see it the same way. Being polite (something else I grew up with) perpetuates the problem. What to do?
You can suffer in silence, or you can use verbal jiu-jitsu -- turn it back on your tormentor, asking a disconcertingly perceptive question, if you’ve been listening, or the opposite tack, asking a non-sequitur. Either of these can sometimes confuse the speaker enough to derail his/her train of thought.
For those special occasions when the speaker is trying to impress, there’s the tried-and-true one-upmanship ploy of over-extension. The speaker says, “You’ll never guess how many inches I took off my waist,” to which you volunteer an obviously over-exaggerated “Fourteen?” The narrator is now forced to backpedal: ”Good grief no: four,” and the thread is broken. Had the Wedding Guest had the presence of mind to use some variation of this, the Ancient Mariner might have been stopped before passing the kirk.

It doesn’t work if they can’t hear, though.