Small talk, big emotions
Misadventures in trying to converse with strangers like a regular person
My wife Jessica tells me that she wants to work on her banter.
“Oh,” I say because that’s the only response I have to what sounds like a terrible idea.
Banter, small talk, chit-chat—these are the interactions that keep our society from ripping each other apart. When you banter, you’re not going to get into who the other person voted for, what they think of reproductive rights, or whether they believe in a globalist, Satanic cabal. Small talk is the social compromise.
After two years of working from home and the relative isolation that we all experienced during the pandemic, Jessica wants to become more social, but for me it sounds like a nightmare. Easy human interaction? Not my cup of tea.
At the grocery store, a cashier asks Jessica and I if we’re having a party based on the amount of beer and wine we’re buying. I moan uhhhhh Tina Belcher style. Can’t think of a good response.
“Oh, this will hopefully get us through Sunday,” Jessica says. The cashier laughs. “I hear you,” he says.
On our way back to the car, I think of things I could’ve said.
You know it.
Yep, that’d do. Three simple words and I could’ve passed as a normal human.
The last time I tried to small talk, it ended with Jessica kicking someone out of our house.
It happened a few months back, when a rugged man knocked on our door. He said he was part of a crew who was painting a house in the neighborhood. Had we ever considered having our house painted?
Well sure, I said. Who hasn’t thought of a fresh look? The man asked if I wanted a free consultation. He was nice and personal about it. I felt like we were hitting it off. It’s amazing how much dopamine my brain gives me when social interactions go well. I scheduled the consultation.
“This is when you and your wife will be home?” he asked. “Are you sure both of you will be home?”
“Yeah, yes,” I said. He left and I forgot to tell Jessica.
The next day, it wasn’t my friend who showed up—it was Michael. Micahel from Homestar Builders.
I knew instantly that I wasn't going to like Michael. He wore intentionally distressed jeans with the knees cut out, and a designer button-up shirt. I doubted he’d ever done a minute of manual labor in his life. He shook my hand like a textbook alpha, crunching my bones to establish dominance. Michael’s teeth were bleached so white they looked blue, and the amount of cologne he wore should’ve triggered an EPA response.
“Can we talk inside?” he asked, and—like every idiotic victim in a vampire movie—I invited Michael in.
Once inside, he sat down and unlocked a briefcase. He took out a stack of literature. “Let me tell you about our company,” he said.
Oh no, I thought. What have I gotten myself into?
Jessica, her mom and I drive up to Pismo Beach. We’re roadtripping to celebrate their birthdays—which are only a week apart—so we stop at a Trader Joe’s in Arroyo Grande to stock up. Jessica and her mom chat with a friendly Trader Joe’s employee, who asks about our booze preferences.
“I don’t drink red wine,” Jessica says.
“I’m not a beer drinker,” says my mother-in-law.
Jessica nods toward me. “This guy will drink anything.”
“Ah, I bet you’re a lot of fun,” the cashier says.
My dead-eyed response? “Ehhh, not really...”
The way I just sort of let it trail off is like a slow death for everyone involved.
Michael from Homestar Builders was giving me the hard sell. He seemed to me like a person gets off on the Glengarry Glen Ross ABC scene.
Immediately after giving me the spiel about his company’s success, he condescendingly explained how houses work. Had I even considered how important a roof was?
He pointed out the flaws in our house, the cracks in our stucco, the faded paint. I nodded dumbly, unable to get a word in, but not knowing what to say if I could. There was no way I was buying anything from this bleached-tooth disaster, but I had invited him in hadn’t I? This was my fault and I had to ride it out.
Finally, Jessica came out to the kitchen to see who I was talking to.
“Oh, Ryan didn’t tell you Michael was coming over?” Michael said, referring to himself in third-person.
“Um, no,” I said
“We’re actually on our way out to do some errands,” Jessica said.
“What does that mean to me?” Michael said.
“It means you need to get out of our house.”
Michael sighed. He quickly packed up his briefcase with a practiced ease that gave me the impression ours wasn’t the first house he’d been kicked out of. On his way out, he gave me a tight squeeze on the shoulder—a good luck, bro gesture.
In case it’s not clear: fuck Michael.
On our final night in Pismo Beach, Jessica, her mom and I drive down to The Great American Melodrama—Oceano’s community theater—to watch “Butch Cassidy and the Sunburnt Kid,” which the brochure from our Airbnb describes as “gut-busting.”
The place is packed. There are no table seats left (it’s a dinner-theater kind of situation), so we get tickets in the bleacher section where we sit shoulder to shoulder with others. Thankfully, I’m sandwiched between Jessica and her mom, who act as buffers to keep me safe from interactions (not that anyone would want to speak to me as I wolf down a chili dog and generally being the grossest person in the audience).
I hear Jessica talk to the man and his daughter seated next to her. They tell Jessica how much they love The Great American Melodrama. They’re season ticket holders! I pinch a soggy, chili-soaked piece of bun into my mouth.
“I feel like I should give you a word of warning,” the man says. “Last time I came here, I got Covid.”
“Oh,” Jessica says.
“They had to close the theater down for a few weeks.”
Jessica turns to me. We exchange a look, put our food down and slowly slide face masks on. That’ll be enough small talk for this evening.
AWKSD’S CANDY CORNER
Last week, the San Diego Convention Center reached out to see if I was interested in previewing their house-made, limited edition candy bars that are going to be sold during Comic-Con. Apparently, they didn’t mind that two years ago when tasked with the same assignment, I got high and accidentally scarfed down the sample.
This year, the Convention Center sent me four different flavors, each with a distinct personality. It got me thinking: if these chocolate bars were Comic-Con attendees, who would they be? (I swear I wasn’t high when I came up with this concept).
1. The Misunderstood Villain (“a zesty product of dark chocolate, local orange, Tajin, and smoked paprika”)
The Misunderstood Villain candy bar is the most serious of the bunch. Slightly bitter with touches of smoke and citrus, The Misunderstood Villain is the candy bar equivalent of old-school nerds who actually go to Comic-Con for the comics. These are the people that go off on you if you get Jack Kirby and Stan Lee confused. Their bitterness comes from just knowing way more than everyone else. But it’s mostly all show, and once you get to know this type of person, you end up liking them a lot.
2. Recess (“a rainbow blend of passion fruit, crispy mango, white chocolate, and Froot Loops”)
This one is wild. I mean, all of these candy bars are wild, but this one’s unhinged. Froot Loops? In a candy bar?? In this economy??? The Recess is the showboat of the group, much like the people who go to Comic-Con just to show off their amazing cosplay. They don’t give a shit about panels, premieres, exclusives—they just roam the convention floor yearning for attention. Part of us kind of want to hate them, but there’s just too much wow going on that it makes criticism impossible.
3. Pixie’s Garden (“white chocolate, hibiscus flower, and elderflower ganache”)
A sensitive and sensuous candy bar. Very in touch with what it is and unwilling to consort in ridiculousness, despite being a little ridiculous itself. This bar is like anime fans at Comic-Con: complex, a little romantic, and cerebral. However, a little goes a long way—spend too much time with an anime fan, and you’re bound to see some things you can’t unsee. Likewise, eating an entire floral candy bar by yourself in one sitting will make your stomach feel things that it wants to unfeel.
4. Sunrise S’more (“dark chocolate, Golden Grahams, and Lucky Charms marshmallows”)
Okay, I was drunk when I ate this one and don’t really remember it. But that’s reminiscent of my first press-credentialled Comic-Con, so I guess this candy bar is... me?
SADISTIC SUMMER BOOK & MOVIE CLUB
In case you missed it, I’m organizing a summer book/movie club where we watch one of the most controversial and banned films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust, and read Kea Wilson’s excellent novel We Eat Our Own. For those who are interested in learning about some truly transgressive art, read more here and then sign up here. Only a few days left to sign up!
AWKSD GUEST LIST
The Guest List gives AWKSD subscribers the opportunity to see live music for free. Just reply to this email and let me know which show you want to see, and I’ll hook you and a friend up.
Thursday, July 21
Standards, Glacier Veins, Positioner @ Soda Bar: Ever wondered what a gentler, less abrasive Hella would sound like? Standards fuses complex math-rock with pop sensibilities for a sound that’s both awe-inspiring and catchy.
Friday, July 22
War Fever, Corporate Citizen, and Imbeskulls @ Til-Two Club: If Epitaph’s amazing Punk-O-Rama compilations still existed (sigh RIP), War Fever would be a perfect fit. The San Diego hardcore band sounds a little like Rise Against mixed with Osker (real ones will remember Osker).
Sunday, July 24
Braggers, French Mouth, Annelida @ Til-Two Club: San Diego hardcore outfit Braggers are a force to be reckoned with. If you’re into Refused, then you’ll be into Braggers.
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