Svend was on the phone with AT&T customer support for almost 2 hours this evening. I was struck by how each one brought up the weather. The funny thing was, they were in Arizona and we are in Oklahoma, but the weather we were discussing ours in relation to was the Northeastern cold front. Small talk, particularly about the weather, helps us all by creating spaces of fake interaction, lubricating the harsh angles of everyday conversation.
What would we do if we hadn’t figured out how to create safe spaces of meaningless-communication around weather-talk and other impersonal contextual events? What if we actually conversed about what really lies within?
A: I need to see the doctor for my pancreatic cancer.
Receptionist: Sure. [Can’t say ‘and how are you feeling today?’] … So how is your spiritual constitution today?
Patient: I’m fine. I’m still agnostic and fearful about impending death due to the uncertainty of what may or may not happen e.g. eternal damnation, total obliteration. What about you?
R: I’m snug in my confidence that I will be in a culturally comprehensible Heaven only when I am quite prepared to depart from this rather enjoyable earthly realm in search of an improved set of pleasures.
P: My own humble meta-awareness of my ignorance compares quite well with your complacency, despite the fact that your inward tranquility is better than my own. Still, the latter is simply owing to the fact that I am dying and you appear to be in relatively good health, despite your obesity which may be related to diabetes and poor cardiac health.
R: The nurse will call you in a few minutes. In the meantime, may I attempt to salvage your soul prior to its imminent departure from your body?
P: I’m fine, thanks. I’ll just wait for the doctor. I’d rather speak about spiritual matters to an individual with a more well-rounded liberal education and stronger critical awareness of their own flaws.
R: As you wish. I’ll let the nurse know, and when you’re calling from the flames, I’ll be smiling with the angels. Insurance card, please.
Restaurant customer: Table for 2 please.
Waiter: Certainly, sir. It’ll be 10 minutes. … And what are your political inclinations at this time?
C: Oh, I’m leaning left of center, and highly critical of those who buy into the myth that working harder will improve the economy.
W: Ah, I’m glad to hear that. Personally, I’m a graduate student working to pay my bills, and working harder is not an option but a necessity. The more of your kind that come to dine at this ridiculously expensive restaurant, the harder I have to work.
C: Though inclined to be generous in spirit to service staff, I find I feel kinder toward those in poverty in distant lands since they whine and talk back much less than people like you do.
W: Dealing with whiners is one of the hazards faced by those who live lives of relative luxury, sir. I believe we have your table and I am definitely brimming over with disgust for your hypocritical politics, so please follow me.
C: A corner table would be best, thanks, and I certainly won’t need to interact with you outside of this restaurant, since, hard as you may work, you won’t make it beyond academe and about $50K for the foreseeable future.
Feel free to contribute your own big-talk scenarios.