on the way home from work every day, i drive by an auto repair place with a big marquee out front. every day the marquee features a new announcement for passersby to read. sometimes it’s patriotic, sometimes it’s about smiles and hugs, and sometimes it’s some bizarre platitude i’ve never heard before. the other day it was about how bevo (the UT football mascot) likes to eat stew made from the mascot of an opposing team (i’d say which mascot, but i can’t remember). i always check for the new phrase when i drive by; it makes me think about how, if i were an auto mechanic, deciding what to put on the marquee would be one of my favorite parts of the day.
today it was “a dentist’s drill, when it rotates, makes 300,000 revolutions per second.” whether it’s true or not, that’s a pretty bizarre thing to put on a marquee. in a way i can appreciate that.
a few months ago the marquee said, “don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.” this advice is wasted on me, since i almost always think that silence is ripe for improvement, usually in the form of speech on my part.
i talk a lot. i talk when i have something to say, i talk when i’m tired, i talk when i’m comfortable with someone. the aforementioned talking is fairly innocuous, but i’ve noticed recently that i also talk a lot when i’m nervous or when there’s an audience available for me to entertain, and i talk a hell of a lot when i’m trying to get someone’s attention. those situations are a little less harmless.
in those situations, a strange feeling comes over me, and suddenly i’ll do almost anything to make the joke. all my tact goes out the window; i say things i wouldn’t normally say to people i wouldn’t normally say them to, and i say them no matter who’s listening. not having experienced literal mania, i suppose i’d describe the feeling as manic. the audience, god love them, is fuel for the fire, and if i feel like people are paying attention to me, the mania worsens.
here’s a list of the things i’ve had to apologize for lately:
“i’m sorry i said i hate volleyball after you told me you played it all through college. it’s true that in my own customized version of hell i’d be forced to play volleyball with a severe sunburn, but i think volleyball is a fine sport as long as i’m not playing it myself.”
“i’m sorry i made a joke about death mere minutes after you mentioned that your mom is no longer with us.”
“i’m sorry i said your pants were too short in front of everyone, and then fell on the floor and laughed and laughed. it was rude of me, and i’m sorry.”
“i’m sorry i said that ‘a fantastic game of tennis’ is an oxymoron. i saw the opportunity for a joke, so i made one. i think tennis is a fine sport as long as i’m not playing it myself.”
this manic tactlessness is a new thing for me. it might have arrived along with my recent self-doubt; maybe i’ve begun to feel like i need to perform in order to impress people. another potential excuse is mathematic in nature: i spent the first seventeen years of my life afflicted with crippling shyness, so if i’ve been twice as talkative since, i’ll be thirty-four by the time i get it all out.
or maybe it’s like carbon dating. what’s the half-life of verbosity?
last weekend, during a moment of social awkwardness, i found myself describing my job in bizarre, hopefully-amusing detail for an audience of three people. it’s a speech i’ve given before, but this time, i had the sensation of leaving my body and standing across from myself as an invisible fourth member of the audience. i was watching myself and talking at the same time (which is none too easy, mind you), and it was weird to say the least. why am i talking so much? the invisible me wondered. and why am i talking about my job, of all subjects? it’s not that interesting. in fact, i’m monopolizing the whole conversation. i wish i would stop. when one of the three audience members got up and walked away, the invisible me was not surprised.
naturally the visible me kept right on talking to the other two people.
this talkulitis is useful in some respects: it covers up my general distaste for all forms of segue and small talk, and it does occasionally diffuse awkward situations. though maybe it’s more deflection than diffusion—a “hey everyone, look at me, i’m being an idiot!” way of creating a diversion so that nobody else thinks about how they have nothing to say to each other.
but i’ve seen the way people look at me when i get this way; and it’s not always pretty. it’s a deer-in-headlights sort of look, like one henry miller might get. sometimes i can get away with telling myself, hey, if they don’t like this part of me, they’re not worth my time. but if everyone gives me the deer-in-headlights and is therefore not worth my time, who will i have left to talk to?