It’s impossible for certain people to tell a story, and for some, to even interact verbally in a pleasing manner. Many see this as a minor character flaw, but in my opinion it should be on par with a vice, a disgusting habit that needs to be shamed by the general public and/or taxed until the action lessens. Like smoking, if you need to tell a boring story, go outside of the restaurant and stand in the cold.
History has always favored good storytellers. Do you think if Jesus came over to a bunch of fishermen and started talking about his cat’s upcoming surgery he would’ve gotten anywhere? Hell no. He rapped about rising people from the dead, turning water into wine, and some guy who lived in the sky – the dude was a 1st Century Conan.
Yet we haven’t learned from that, and in every office or family dining room across the country, there exists some idiot who is completely incapable of relating something that has happened to them recently in a concise, interesting fashion. They always start off with inane facts that have nothing to do with the plot. People I like to call, “The Rambler.”
“Hey Kate, what did you get up to this weekend?”
“Well, it’s a funny story. A friend of mine from college, well not really a friend, but more of an acquaintance, you know? Because we were on the same dorm room floor…ugh, dorm rooms! Ramen Noodles, am I right? Yuck! Anyway, she had this Blink 182 poster and I was all like, ‘Oh my God, I love that band,’ but it turns out it was her roommate’s poster and we shared a laugh over that, but then her dad died Sophomore Year. Sad, right? I love my dad. He is the wings beneath my wind. Do I have that backwards? Who sang that? Oh, so she took a few months off and we kind of lost touch and then she was all like, ‘Where have you been?’ and I was all like, ‘Where have YOU been?’ and then we had dinner one night, I think I had the meatballs. Don’t you just love meatballs? So yeah, anyway, she came over on Saturday.”
And the entire time they are speaking, you’re thinking of any place you’d rather be than in that exact moment, like in a foxhole in Afghanistan, because at least there you’d have a weapon.
Every head nod with “The Rambler” is dangerous, an invitation for the person to either continue talking or to explore one of their many tangents further. The proper move is to stare at them with a stoic expression that says, “I understand words are coming from your mouth right now, and I will wait here until those sounds have ceased.” No more, no less. Then, you run away.
I wish it just ended with “The Ramblers” of the world, but it doesn’t. There are many different categories of catastrophic conversationalists, and each one seemed to have converged at a recent dinner party I attended at a friend’s loft.
Normally this situation wouldn’t be a problem for me, because the only thing more infrequent than the dinner parties I attend are the dinner parties I’m invited to. Worse yet, this dinner seemed to be comprised largely of Republicans, and though I’m anti-social whenever possible, most guests considered my politics quite socialist, and I was limited in the topics I broached, including abortion and gay rights, which coincidentally are my favorite dinner party conversations.
This was fine, as it limited my interactions, but when dinner began we were seated around a large oval table and forced to make the kind of idle chit-chat that brought to light several other species of storytellers. The first? “The Couple.”
More dangerous than one bad storyteller? Two…especially in the form of “The Couple.” Because when presented with “The Couple,” a nauseating pair of nitwits that look like they just fell out of a Rob Reiner movie, you can be guaranteed someone will soon ask the dreaded question, “Where did you two meet?” And that will soon be answered by a series of rapid-fire factoids, quick corrections, sentence enders, passive-aggressive swipes and not-too-subtle innuendos.
Susan: “How did we meet? Oh, it’s such a cute story. I was working as a Starbucks barista, putting myself through school…”
John: (mumbles) “Which she never finished.”
Susan: “…which I haven’t finished YET.” (slaps John) “And in comes this guy who I think is so cute…and then behind him was John. Hahahahaha!” (crazy-eyed laughter continues for much too long)
John: (takes large gulp of wine) “And I thought to myself, ‘Gee, what’s a pretty girl like her doing working in a dump like this?’”
John: (visibly drunk) “…And that’s the last time she ever gave me anything hot.”
Susan: “Haha, oh you. Well, I’m certainly not handling ‘Grande’ sizes anymore.”
John: “Oh…oh…is that a penis joke? Really? Okay, fine. Want to go there? ‘Miss Venti Vagina?’ Yeah…yeah…let’s go THERE, honey. God knows everyone else has.”
I was very happy at this point, and was about to inquire as to how she got her nickname, when I felt a tug on my sleeve and was introduced to another storyteller. “The Dramatist.”
Everything is sensational to “The Dramatist,” and they’re armed only with the most salacious bits of gossip, none of which they claim ownership of, and none of which seems to make complete sense.
“Did you hear about Frank’s surgery? No? Well, you didn’t get this from me, but… let’s just say it was reversed. Thanks a lot, Obamacare.”
“Oh, it’s such a shame about Betsy. I bet that squirrel will never be the same though.”
“I heard they’re getting a divorce, something about woodchips, and…well, they DO drive a Subaru after all.”
Once I was sufficiently confused, I was presented with the final variety of bad conversationalist for the evening, “The Pauser.” After a few minutes with “The Pauser” (which felt like decades), I begged to be included in “The Couple’s” conversation again, because at least they were drunk and mean. “The Pauser” instead is overly thoughtful, searching for the right word or turn-of-phrase that will do true justice to a story no one really cares about. It’s like providing the Director’s Cut to “Gigli.”
“The Pauser” starts and re-starts their story at least five times, taking dramatic breaths and baring their teeth when something isn’t, “exactly quite right.” Because we need to get EVERY detail in their story, much like someone who is being raped wants to remember all of the rapist’s dirty talk.
“How do I know Dan? We first met (PAUSE)…no…no, I guess we FIRST met when I was around thirteen. No (PAUSE)…yes, thirteen. I believe (PAUSE)…well, to be fair, I guess the story begins when…(PAUSE)…Do you know Jeanine? (PAUSE) No, I guess you wouldn’t…she died….(PAUSE)…When did she die again? Let’s see, Regan was President in…(PAUSE)….no, was it Carter?”
And then I did something I thought I’d never do. I picked up an almost full glass of wine, looked directly into the eyes of “The Pauser,” and poured the entire thing onto my shirt.
“Oh, no! Look at that. I’ve poured wine all over my shirt.”
“Oh, my. And it’s…(PAUSE)….red wine and….(PAUSE)…a cabernet if I’m not mistaken and…”
“Yeah, so I’m going to go to the bathroom to clean it off, and maybe drown myself.”
I had purposefully ruined my shirt to avoid a conversation. It was a new low for me, and even though I ran into another type of conversationalist on my way to the bathroom (“The Toucher,” who feels the need to push, punch or slap you to accentuate certain parts of their story), it was worth it.
And thus ended my horrible dinner party.
In conclusion, don’t you just hate people who take too long to tell a story?