My family has convinced themselves I don't like small talk when, really, it's the other way around: small talk doesn't like me, at least not very much. Yesterday afternoon is my most recent example, and it almost got me killed, because I forget I'm so concentrated that a little of me can go a very long way.
I parked near my local grocery store and with (conservative estimate) two hundred bajillion empty parking spaces from which to choose, I was surprised when a thirty-something or other guy, in a grey wife-beater tee-shirt, driving a light blue Ford pick-up pulled in alongside of me, sort of flopping over into my spot. It was a middle eighties model truck, lots of character (= missing paint, a crumpled fender, a ding in the door) used as a work vehicle before pick ups became trendy and housewives started driving them.
I sometimes discover I'm using my outside voice when I think it's my inside voice--usually when someone about whom I'm making a personal and silent observation to my evil twin, Skippy, points out that he's heard me and isn't happy. Like yesterday.
Bobby-John, or Billy-Bob or Harley-hyphen (I have no idea what his name was. By the time we were through he had many names for me, though none I normally answer to-but I was unable to ascertain his. Perhaps Rumpelstiltskin?) had a large, very large (actually visible from space with the naked eye, large) sticker on the back window, 'Proud to be an American.' That my ability to read it almost got me punched out I will forever blame on that Literacy Volunteer back when I was a kid.
I had just finished telling Skippy big American trucks handle like double beds, which is why some of this guy's truck is in most of my parking space when his baleful glare and flared nostrils caused me to realize I had transcended the sub-vocalization level. Remembering Will Rogers' suggestion that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met, I complimented him on his sticker saying it 'really makes a statement, even if I'm not sure what the statement is.'
Skippy, who doubles as the Imp of the Perverse, was taken aback (as was I) when he opted to not exchange badinage and banter but rather 'what the fire truck is that supposed to mean?' ('Fire Truck' is the word I suspect he meant but pressed for time, he shortened it). Not knowing I'd already left the city limits of Leave Well Enough Alone, I asked him if he were born in the US and he assured me, loudly, he had, noting emphatically, 'fire truck, yeah-and you?'
I smiled as I explained how pride in an accident of birth was a little out of the ordinary since, as George Bernard Shaw observed 'Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.'' I always get the quotes right--it's my timing that needs work. It was like playing to an oil painting.
Fred the Fordster took half a menacing step towards me, almost afraid to get nearer in case I had some contagion and demanded 'What are you? Some kind of a wise guy or just an a$$hole?' (but without the $, if you follow my drift). Oooh, I sighed, multiple choice. I much prefer true or false--I'm really not very good at multiple choice. I watched his eyes glaze over ever so slightly. He snorted derisively as he stormed off and into the grocery store.
Deciding my quotient of human interactivity had been exceeded for the day and whatever it was I thought I wanted to buy could keep for now and maybe forever, I opened the passenger's side front door, because I had so thoughtlessly parked too close to the Ford truck to use the driver's side door, slid across the seat and behind the wheel. Invoking the spirit of Carl Schurz, I skulked home, more or less in one piece. People say the art of conversation is dead--I was nearly at its funeral.