Opinion: Avoiding pointless conversation



By Steve Kline

You never notice until it’s too late. You’re sitting at a lunch counter, in a caf‚, on the Quad, anywhere you’re likely to spot or be spotted. An exam about the French colonization of the Sahara Desert is in 20 short minutes and you need to “review the material,” or at least try to find out how to spell “colonization.” (How to write a humor column tip #1: Make sure your first joke is so witty no one could see it coming.)

Someone you know walks up to say, “Hello,” and you make the mistake of giving the universal Head Nod of Acknowledgment.

You fool! How could you fall victim to such an obvious ploy?! Abandon all hope, all ye of polite disposition, for you’re going to hear about your comrade’s weekend, workplace, work history, family history, world history in general, why “all those bastards’re just trying to fool us, man,” and a crowd-stirring speech on why modern laundry detergent is the scourge of mankind.

Fidget, check your watch, try a futile interjection; do all you want, buddy, just try not to break into sobs as the minutes that would turn “probation” into “graduation” dissolve.

Marvel at the breath control of your unwitting arch-nemesis. Curse an upbringing that makes you unable to walk away. Fear, yes fear, the day when two of these pause-free creatures join forces. It’s going to happen, they’re everywhere: The Punctuationless Conversationalists.

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    We’re all prone to occasionally break verbal time limits. I’ve been known to rant about writer Elizabeth Wultzen (more affectionately known as “the Antichrist”), the superiority of every location in the known and theoretical universe to Naperville, Ill., and how the forces of nature have given me clear and numerous signs that if I become a punctual person, all existence would cease, because “who else but God would stick my keys in my winter coat during September?” I mean, Christ, look at the length of that last sentence. I rant.

    Some people have Artificially Induced Punctuationless Speech. I’m not talking about these people. They’re useful to society in that “Hey Kids! Don’t ever try coke!” sort of way.

    No, I mean people who are genetically predisposed to talk in waterfalls. They’ve got jobs already staked out for them such as management team leader, senator or teacher’s assistant (I’m not going to say professor until after the recommendations are in.)

    There are ways to get away from these people without resorting to a fake moustache.

    But how? How can we end the conversation without being impolite or going to a maximum-security prison?

    My favorite method is putting my hand on the offender’s shoulder and say, “Wait, wait, okay look, I hate to cut you off here but if I don’t go to the restroom right now things are going to get ugly.” No one can argue with Mother Nature. The wonderful thing about this method is that you probably have to use the facilities.

    If you didn’t have anywhere to go, you probably could meander about without obstacle.

    Another escape route is what I call The Grammarian. Correct the speaker’s grammar. If they are eloquent in their words, correct the correct to be incorrect. Do this until they either a) get so annoyed that they storm off or b) start laughing so you have pause in which conversation closure is possible.

    My favorite Emergency Conversation Abort button is called the Alice in Wonderland.

    As he or she talks, stare at a feature other than his or her eyes. Look confused, then scared, then confused, horrified, amused and then surprised. Or take your bottle of water and dump it down your right sleeve. Start eating everything that’s in your pockets. Start doing a solo square dance without breaking eye contact. Anything. The point is to make them stop and say, “What the hell are you doing?” Bam! Opportunity!

    A note to everyone I know: If you’re reading this and wonder if I’m talking about you, just ask. I mean, geez, I’ve got three full minutes to walk across campus before class.

    Steve Kline is a senior in LAS. He needs to stop missing his deadlines. He can be reached at [email protected].