I have a profound distaste for smalltalk. It’s not so much my hatred for banal subject matter, after all, who could be anything but enthralled by the weather, by sports, by politics, or by talking about themselves? No, I believe the discussion of nothing is a fundamental aspect of human existence. In fact, I’m not really sure what it is that bothers me. But it sucks.
“How are you?” What a wonderfully harmless question, an innocuous request after the object’s well-being. How painfully innocent. How entirely unsinister. The proper response ignores the words and provides the expected, “Good. You?” We both know that I’m not good, that you’re not good, that no one is ever good. We, as a race of beings, have shin splints and back pain, we have insomnia and no money, we have to pee right now and sorta wish this conversation wasn’t happening. All this is swept under the rug and ignored for the benefit of conversation. Good. It’s kind of a bummer.
“What’s new and exciting?” In part, I fear the questions that reveal my unhappy station. Questions that put into the sharp relief the fact that there is nothing “new and exciting” about my life. It’s a passive-aggressive lashing out against the man who gathered all his treasures into a borrowed white station wagon and moved 3,000 miles west. What anger some might feel not to have been packed in that trunk along with my comic books, my only suit, and my automatic coin sorter. I have not become a world famous screenwriter. I have not gotten a highly coveted job in the industry. I have not met and befriended any minor celebrities only to discover they’re secretly gay or Scientologist or both. And without these new and exciting developments in my hermitic life, it would be revealed that I left my friends, my family and my life for no reason. So my answer is, “not much.”
“Just called to say, ‘what’s up?'” Bah. There’s nothing literally wrong with the question. It’s a waste of breath, postponing actual discussion of actual topics. Quick! Buy time so you can think of another stall. It would be better, simpler, to just start talking. There is no “up” to be discussed, so “hello” to you too. No one calls anyone to ask what’s up. A phone call without an agenda is a transparent attempt to rebuild a broken relationship. It seems like a waste of time, so it’s filled with smalltalk. And the frustrating fact is, engaging in smalltalk does build relationships, especially with women. You’re attempting to move past the talking abou nothing stage and recreate an actual friendship. How painful. This “catching up,” the most insidious form of smalltalk, is a de facto admittal that you haven’t kept in touch and need desperately to feel that you’re closer than you actually are.
Soon, I’ll get a call from an ex-girlfriend and she and I will probably play this game. And it won’t be the waste of time that bothers me most, but the immediate pang of nostalgia I feel when I realize this person I once cared so much about, this person who cared so much about me, we have nothing to say to each other anymore. We want to, we wish we did, but that relationship is dying now and all that’s left is smalltalk.