About nine months ago, I wrote about things everyone loves to discuss (that no one actually wants to hear about). Since then, I've noticed and been told several great additions, enough to warrant this sequel. Just a few more things we all need to shut the hell up about.
To be clear, my utopia isn't a world where everyone shuts up about everything. I certainly don't want to give off the impression that all personal stories are bad. Some are great. Stories about terrible jobs or bad dates are almost always terrific (when I was 17, I went on a double date that was going so poorly, I took out my wallet, pretended it was a cell phone, faked an emergency phone call and left the date before it was through. I drove away so fast that I got pulled over for speeding. Truth Fact). But these aren't the interesting stories. These are the "storyteller has completely lost objectivity" stories.
Before getting into it, I'd like to preface this column by saying that, with the exception of #4, I am guilty of talking too much about every single one of these topics because I, just like you, would do well to entertain the prospect of shutting the hell up, a lot more often.
In your mind:
You don't normally buy into the whole "supernatural" thing, but you are, without a doubt, positive that your apartment is haunted. The spirit of a long-dead human has unfinished business and is now confined to your apartment, bound by otherworldly forces, until its business can be completed and it can finally move on. This ghost, plagued by infinite torture, manifests itself by making noises while you're trying to sleep, moving your stuff around when you're not looking and other various bits of vague, spooky business.
You don't know why, but you feel responsible for this ghost, like you need to somehow help it advance to the other side. Further, you feel even more responsible to tell everyone about it. Also, you're probably a chick.
I mean no judgment, there. I'm just pointing it out, because every single person who has ever tried to convince me that their house, apartment, car or workplace was haunted has, without exception, been a woman. Just a weird thing I noticed, chicks hate ghosts.
In everyone else's mind:
Ghosts aren't real. Ghosts aren't real. Ghosts aren't real. Hey, real quick, are ghosts real? No, man, they're not.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just getting older, and crankier. Maybe the fun of ghost stories is just imagining that they could be real and maybe that part of my imagination has died. Maybe I'm losing all of the magic that used to be in my heart, and that's what's keeping me from embracing the fantasy of ghost stories, of really letting go and believing in something based purely on faith. Or maybe ghosts aren't real and ghosts aren't real, and "No," because ghosts aren't real.
Every ghost story I've heard sounds almost exactly like this: "I never thought ghosts existed, but then my boyfriend and I moved to this new apartment, and at night, I swear, I heard someone walking around. But there wasn't anyone there! And in the morning, I'm pretty sure our trashcan was out of place, slightly. Anyway, we're probably going to have to move, now." Or "I was hanging out with my sister when the lights flicked off for NO REASON and I swear, I mean, I swear I felt something move through me. Like, I felt it. Boom: Ghosted." No one dies, or changes or has sex, and nothing explodes, nothing in our observable reality changes in any kind of fundamental way, and no lessons are learned. Those are bad stories, but people assume that the fact that they believe their ghost was real is enough to make up for an otherwise boring story about background noises.
It's because ghosts aren't real that ghost stories are always boring. As the listener, you know that the story you're hearing isn't actually about ghosts. Whatever sound the storyteller heard is just the house settling. It's OK that the lights flickered on and off in her house, because that's a thing that lights do, occasionally. The ghost that she felt move through her body was either a cold breeze or her own nerves, playing tricks.
When you remove the supernatural aspect, it's just a story about someone's imagination, except not the exciting parts of an imagination. If people told ghost stories just as an excuse to tell an interesting story, I'd like to think I'd be on board, because I like interesting stories. But no "real" ghost story that I've ever heard has ever been interesting; the thesis of every ghost story is "there was a ghost this one time," and never "there was a ghost that did a WICKED FLIP ON A MOTORCYCLE!"
In your mind:
You were out at a party last night, and someone mocked you, and you came right back instantly with a wicked zinger that really put him in his place. The rest of the party instantly froze in awe of your inimitable joke craftsmanship. Your joke was so sharp and biting, your delivery so effortless, it must have been pre-planned, but of course it couldn't have been. That's the beauty. Your quip was perfect, quick and deadly, like a shark, and it rendered your trash-talking opponent speechless, like a shark that only eats tongues. He stood there, red-faced and stammering, bewildered by both the speed of your attack and the intensity with which it burned. Guys like him will conjure up some good comeback hours later, once they've had time to think on it. But not you. You're a quick-drawing comedic sniper letting out headshots from 50 miles away in the blink of an eye. A King of the Party was crowned that night, and his name was You.
In everyone else's mind:
It's not that night anymore, and we refuse to acknowledge your authority as king.
Coming up with a sweet comeback off the top of your head is the quintessential Had-To-Be-There moment. Inventing the perfect and appropriate quip can feel like magic sometimes. It's like being in the "zone" in baseball, where you see the pitch in slow motion and you know just what to do to hit a home run and make it look effortless in front of a crowd of people that you know will be absolutely awestruck. You feel like some kind of adlibbing savant, a joke machine programmed only for swift destruction.
The problem is that no one can really grasp how impressive your speed was when you retell the story later. It doesn't even need to be a comeback that you're describing; you'll have the same problem telling really any story about a funny, spontaneous joke. With those jokes, it's all about timing. The people around to hear the birth of the joke will love you forever, but you're starting a story with "So this one time, I told this joke at this party and it KILLED because of how quick it was, here let me tell you," which is time-cancer, (comedically speaking).