I am a type of primate, commonly known as the Northern Californian Chain Smoking House Monkey (well, Cubicle Monkey, at the moment). One of the primary characteristics of my species of house monkey, indeed, a characteristic of all house monkeys, is the ability to communicate using a method known as "talking". This can be a very useful way to convey information. Since I am a fully mature House Monkey, I have been forced out of my parents' nest, and must gather food and acquire shelter for myself as best I can. Since some other House Monkeys whom I don't know very well, or indeed at all, seem to have covered the entirety of my habitat in concrete for some reason, foraging can be rather difficult. Therefore, I have worked out an arrangement wherein I labor in a cubicle for many hours a day (thus "Cubicle Monkey"), in exchange for pieces of paper(known as "employment"). I can exchange these pieces of paper for shelter, and, more importantly, food from somewhere else which is not quite so paved over.
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One of the unfortunate trade-offs of "employment" is that I am forced to associate with other Cubicle Monkeys not of my choosing, who have made arrangements similar to my own. Cubicle Monkeys I might have otherwise avoided. Specifically, individuals who take the useful and valuable tool "talking", pervert and diminish it, transform it into "small talk."
I mean, come on, people, I know we can't all be Spalding Gray, but put up or shut up. Here are a few of the things I never, ever need to hear again*:
1) "OH NO! It's Monday!"/"Thank God! It's Friday"
Thanks for the newsflash, there, buddy. Seriously, I already know it's Monday because the blinding headache I have is the kind that can only be birthed by a Sunday's worth of drinking. And I know it's Friday because the overwhelming urge to throw myself under an SFO-bound train feels about eighty percent weaker than it does on the other days of the week.
see also: "How was your weekend?"
You don't care. Really and truly, you don't. And if you actually do care, your weekend obviously wasn't good enough. I really and truly don't care how yours was. Let's just assume the answer to this one is, "Great. I can't remember a second of it. Go away now, please."
2)"Gee, there sure is a lot of weather out there today!"
Seriously? 'Cause when I woke up this morning, I was magically transported straight from my bed to the cubicle. And I haven't figured out how to operate a window yet. I don't really care if it's the most beautiful day ever, or it's raining so hard that Coit tower is underwater. The only time I want to hear from anybody about the weather is if a tornado is about to hit the side of the building; feel free to pipe up then.
p.s. Just because I'm a smoker doesn't make me a meterologist. Which segues nicely to:
3)"You should stop smoking."/"Smoking is bad for you."/"Your lungs are like the La Brea Tar Pits get it because smoking turns your lungs black aren't I clever."
OH. MY. GOD. Why didn't anyone tell me before now? They should be putting some kind of written warning on cigarette packs! There should be pervasive anti-smoking campaigns! They certainly should not be sold to anyone under the age of-say-eighteen! California should have a statewide "Whack Smokers with a Sack Full of Nickels" Day (actually, I think there's a bill on the floor of the State Senate about this already). Hold on, I need to go pay the rent on the cave in which I've been living. It's on the far side of Mars. Now, I know some of you consider yourselves my friends, and are speaking out of a misplaced sense of of altruism. I suppose I appreciate the gesture, but in all honesty, it's none of your business. To those of you who are speaking because of arrogant self-righteousness, or those of you who don't even know me, and are hassling me just because it's the way one treats a smoker hereabouts: you need to be stapled in the neck. And to those of you who do the obnoxious fake coughing, exagerrated hand waving seizure when you see a smoker twenty yards downwind of you while you ignore the giant diesel truck belching carbon monoxide up your nostrils because smokers are evil and trucks are not: may a flaming rhino fall upon your head.
That felt good to get off my chest; think I'll go have a smoke.
4) "Did you hear that Michael Jackson molested Scott Peterson while Robert Blake was crying like a little girl and Congress was shooting up steroids I think?"
Look, it's bad enough I have to palate this crap on the morning news while I'm waiting to find out whether or not BART exploded over night. This is not news. This is nothing; it is, being very charitable, infotainment. Does whatever happens to Michael Jackson affect you or your life at all? It certainly does nothing to mine. All these scandals de jure are nothing more than a damned sideshow, intended to pander to our lowest sensibilities. For Christ's sake, turn off the television and go read a book. Speaking of which:
5) "What are you reading?"
I love to read. I LIVE to read. If I woke up tomorrow and had some kind of neural disorder wherein I could never read again, I would pull a Hunter S. Thompson (ooh, too soon for that one?). Okay, so asking someone what they're reading seems pretty innocuous, and there's nothing at all malicious about it. But think of it from a reader's perspective:
excerpt from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams:
"The summer sun was sinking through th-"
-HEY WHAT ARE YOU READING?
-So Long and Thanks for All the Fish
-DID YOU KNOW THEY'RE MAKING A HITCHHIKER'S MOVIE?
-Yes. thinking: Now where was I?
"The summer sun was sinking through the trees in the pa-"
-HEY WHAT ARE YOU READING?
-(someone else entirely)HEY DID YOU KNOW THEY'RE MAKING A HITCHHIKER'S MOVIE?
-AND SAM ROCKWELL IS...&c.
thinking: where was I?
"-through the trees in the park, lookin-"
-HEY THEY ARE MAKING A MOVIE ABOUT THAT BOOK DID YOU KNOW THAT?
conversation ensues. thinking: okay, where was I?
-HEY WHAT ARE YOU READING?
-(burns book in disgust) I'm reading nothing, I guess. Apparently I'm talking to you instead.
(as a bonus, here's the actual passage, which I find truly funny: "The summer sun was sinking through the trees in the park looking as if-let's not mince words. Hyde Park is stunning. Everything about it is stunning except for the rubbish on Monday mornings. Even the ducks are stunning. Anyone who can go through Hyde park on a summer's evening and not feel moved by it is probably going through in an ambulance with the sheet pulled up over his face.")
6) "Hey, man, how do you feel about the war in Iraq/George W. Bush/a possible draft/etc.?"
This one is actually directed at a specific group of people. There are these young, well-meaning, energetic socialist kids who gather at the corner of Valencia and Sixteenth every Wednesday afternoon who try to sell socialist newspapers and generally get people Interested. On any other given day, though I might not stop and shoot the breeze with them, I would at least admire their tenacity and I am sympathetic to their views. But they chose Wednesday evening, which is the evening when I buy new comic books, and they are directly in between me and the comic book store. Sorry kids, but your socialist dogma is perfectly anathema to the overwhelming desire for a materialistic glut of comic books. Piss off.
7) "What is your favorite comic?"
Honestly, this one is my own fault. On Wednesdays, I'm so giddy about the prospect of new comic books that I can't restrain myself from screaming "Happy Comic Day!" at people walking by (it's some kind of genetic mutation, I swear. I am now properly titled a Northern California Chain Smoking Comic Loving House Monkey). Somebody probably posted a rant about that here, in fact. But, folks, not to be a snob or anything, you have never heard of my favorite comic. I could not possibly explain it to you. You think "Archie" actually qualifies as a comic. It's not. It's a product. So, take it for granted that I will always simply answer "Spider-Man" and change the subject.
You know, I'm as guilty of small talk as the next person, and I really don't hold any grudges about. Just, please, take a second to think if you really need to say anything at all, or if we can just pass each other in the hall in companionable silence; two House Monkeys in the hallway.
* The perky young thing who sits next to me at work gets a pass on all of these except the smoking one, because: a) she is the very first person I see every day, and b) I actually care how her weekend was.