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Weekly Confessional: Social cocoon

I confess I may not be as social a person as I like to imagine.

There is a local bar I go to a lot. Most of the time when I go there, it’s to place a takeout order and have a beer while I wait. The other day, I walked in and the bar appeared to be full to capacity. The only empty stools have drinks in front of them or jackets on the back of the seat.

So I planned to just stand as I waited. But a woman sitting at the bar noticed me waiting and said I could sit in the seat next to her, as there was nobody sitting there. I asked if she was sure, because there was a half full glass of wine and a jacket on the chair. The jacket was hers. the wine was her friends. It was fine if I sat down. When she explained why she had been reserving it, she trailed off and part of the reason for her trailing off may have been that she spilled her friend’s wine as she was moving it.

This situation was ripe for discomfort from my perspective. First, she had apparently not wanted somebody sitting next to her but after seeing me, had changed her mind. Potentially flattering, but not a situation I’m particularly keen on being involved in. Secondly, the spilled wine was to the right of her and I was on her left. I kind of felt like I should help with the cleanup, but a) she had it under control and b) it was pretty intimate quarters for two people to be doing the job. Therefore, I awkwardly sat in my chair trying to look appreciative for her having opened up the seat for me. Finally, when somebody spills wine all over the bar, there is a natural assumption that they are drunk. One of the least appealing conversations to have is with somebody who’s drunk when you’re sober.

A couple minutes after I sat down, her friend came back. This second woman immediately asked me if I was somebody named some name I’ve since forgotten. Nope, I wasn’t. Well I was a dead ringer for him. Again, my ineptitude at small talk was exposed. I’ve never had a clue as to how to respond to the “You know you look just like (enter celebrity)?” Uh, thanks? But this wasn’t even a celebrity. It was just some guy they knew.

Resume sipping beer, watching the TVs behind the bar. Another couple minutes passed and the first lady, the one who let me sit down, left to go to the bathroom. The second woman asked me if I was a social person or if I preferred to just be left alone. I figured this was kind of in response to my somewhat uninterested response to finding out I was the doppelganger of some dude she knew. Not wanting to seem rude, I said “sure, I’m pretty social”.

With this opening, she asked if I was from here and that progressed to typical chatter about where we lived, where we were born, where we worked, etc. She knew a couple of council people in the city where I work. I realized I was in a conversation I had literally no interest in being in, and was happy to extricate myself from when my order came up.

Here’s the thing, though. When I sit down at a bar by myself, I am not actively opposed to striking up conversation. Sitting down at a bar, after all, is kind of a social invitation, isn’t it? It seems like it unless you’re also reading a book or otherwise making it clear you don’t want to be disturbed. Even then, wouldn’t that be better accomplished at a table in the corner?

My problem isn’t being closed off to potential conversations. It’s that oftentimes the conversations people start up just don’t interest me. This isn’t a complaint against the potential conversationalists. It’s a confession that I’m apparently not a very generous or imaginative conversationalist when it comes to speaking with strangers.

I further confess that I’ve been doing these storytelling confessions to get back into the habit of setting a scene with my writing. I apologize if it feels like you’re being subjected to this practice as opposed to included in on it.

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April 4, 2013 - Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional

2 Comments

  1. A This American Life story introduced “The Rundown,” to banish small talk forever. I’m fond of the idea, although “how many virgins” seems aggressive.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | April 5, 2013

  2. This would make for infinitely more interesting waits for my burger, though like you said, I’d probably tone it down a bit.

    Comment by mattintoledo | April 17, 2013


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