Small Talk

By Michael J. Legeros

Nobody believes I'm shy.  Thirty-five years (and change) of averted
eyes, awkward silence, and anxious body language-- not to mention a
near-total avoidance of intimate group gatherings-- and, still, no
one believes me.  My claims of "being shy" have instead been trumped
by years of past, contradictory behavior:  class clown in high scho-
ol.  Disc jockey in college.  Outspoken (or at least spoken-out) mo-
vie reviewer.  Occasionally Elvis impersonator.  And so on.  Nope, no
one believes I, too, suffer the quickened pulse, butterfly stomach,
and ever-tightening chest.  Instead, I'm taken as rude.  Or stuck up.
Or putting on "airs," whatever the Hell those are.  If I'm lucky, I'm
presumed to be preoccupied.  Or busy.  Or distracted.  But those are
okay, as they're less likely to be taken personally by others.

Call it "selective shyness," if you will.  Sure, there are probably
more high-falutin' terms for it:  introvert, extroverted introvert,
socially anxious, ENFU or some other personality-type indicator.  All
*I* know is that I feel... shy around certain people and at certain
times.  (And is there such a thing as *total* shyness?  Do some peo-
ple fear, say, talking to their parents?)  For Yours Misunderstood,
smaller-sized groups are most uncomfortable, sometimes among strang-
ers and sometimes among known-but-not-well-known acquaintances.  Not
that this explanation is going to matter.  Not to people.  Not to the
non-robotic, walking damn sacs of emotions we are.  'Cause that's an-
other Cold Truth of Life(tm):  people take offense at *non* action as
readily as action-action.

Momma told us we can't please all the people all of the time, so we
*know* we're gonna piss *somebody* off.  We're intellectually *aware*
of this.  Heck, it's played out every day on radio talk shows and
letters to the editor.  In person, however, all bets are off.  Mad,
glad, excited, sad.  That big four feelings, one or more which in-
variably appears when two or more people are together.  Period.  And
no matter if one keeps mum or slaps the other on the back.  So what's
a shy guy like I to do, 'cept live, work, and play alone?  (And which
we know is utterly no fun, as our grade-school experiences confirmed
so long ago.)  If you're like Mike, you learn to fake it.  Or avoid
it.  Or go with the flow, at least as best you can.  How?  Allow me
to enlighten you all.  And maybe make it a little easier for those
incessant small-talkers and relentless door openers in life, who seem
so puzzled when a bit of the ol' paralysis prevents the desired reac-
tion from Yours Truly...

  STORE CLERKS - The four most-grating words in the English
  language:  "may I help you?"  Yeah, yeah, they're just do-
  in' their job.  Yeah, yeah, we chose *their* store.  Short
  of a sign reading "leave me the [bleep] alone," I've de-
  vised a multi-tiered solution:  on first solicitation,
  smile and shake your head.  On the second, say "no, thank
  you."  On the third, answer "yes, I'm looking for some-
  thing that'll keep store clerks from speaking to me."  Ho-
  stility optional.

  DOOR OPENERS - Chivalry notwithstanding-- and a non-is-
  sue, since I'm a guy-- I can't decide if people who open
  doors (or hold open doors) are genuinely nice *or* just
  looking for an excuse to curse whoever fails to thank
  them.  Solution:  Stop.  Abruptly turn around.  Utilize
  other entrance.

  EYE CONTACT - Sigh.  Some people simply *refuse* to day-
  dream.  Is your field of vision about to be intruded upon?
  Stare into distance, as if deep in thought.  Be sure, tho,
  to keep your chin level, lest you learn later that you are
  shy *and* stuck-up.

  PEOPLE WHO SMILE AT YOU - The bastards.  Just smile back.
  Or make a funny face.  They'll laugh and you'll have had
  the pleasure of sticking your tongue out at them.

  PEOPLE WHO SAY "HI" - Choose one:  "Hi" or "Hello."  Then
  make mental note to avoid all future contact with person.

  PEOPLE WHO ASK "HOW ARE YOU?" - See above.  Rinse and re-
  peat, with "fine" or "fine, thank you."

  WAITERS AND WAITRESSES - [ Author is unable to comment un-
  til after successful completion of Anger Management For
  Picky Eaters ]

  WEDDING REHEARSAL DINNERS - Sit between two people you
  know.  Or, if alone and attending under penalty of death,
  sit between the two least-friendly looking people in room.
  Note: Can also be applied to country-style restaurants.

  HIBACHI-STYLE STEAKHOUSES - Two words:  end seat.

  HANDSHAKES AND HUGS - Remain calm.  Try not to be tense.
  And apply *twice* as much pressure as you think you
  should, lest the action be considered insincere.  That, or
  run screaming from the room.

  Fake a nap.  Read a book.  Read a magazine.  Pretend to
  read a book or magazine.  Stare at ceiling for duration.
  Stare out window for entire trip.  Put on your mean face.
  Get mad.  Act deaf.  Pretend you're mute.  Press your body
  as far as possible in opposite direction of person seated
  next to you.  As if they have cooties.

  CONTACT - See all of above.  And then fantasize about what
  you'd *really* like to do.

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros


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