A couple of months ago, I wrote that laid-back Irish pubs were my favorite kind of bar, but I failed to mention why: It's because they're the best place for telling stories. Some of my favorite memories involve just sitting back with a beer in some place quiet enough to speak and hearing a good yarn. Man, that makes me sound old, but I was always like this.
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Me on my 23rd birthday.
Anyway, I like stories -- telling them and hearing them, provided they don't suck. But a good story requires more than just a talented tale-telling; it needs a good audience. And that's harder to find than you might think, because there are so many people who suck at hearing stories. Here are five of the worst.
I had a friend in school who was one of the sweetest, kindest dudes I've ever met. He was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Asian dude. Always polite and kind and quick with a favor. I also hated his guts, because he was the most infuriating person to tell a story to. Especially if it was a complaining type of story, because every problem you ever had was always somehow your fault. He would never support you. We'll call him Adam, because I've forgotten his real name, and because only weasels are named Adam.
Your Story: Oh, my God. I just got back from Best Buy, and right as I bought the computer, I realized I had to return it for a different one. I hadn't even left the store yet. I was literally getting handed the computer in line when I realized, and they still charged me a 15 percent restocking fee for the return.
The Devil's Advocate: Well, y'know, that makes sense, because there are a lot of people making returns and sometimes that increases overhead because a;lkfna;lskdfj a;sdfkja;lsdkfjalfa;l.ad.fa.sdfka'sdfkja ...
"a;lkfna;lskdfj a;sdfkja;lsdkfjalfa;l.ad.fa.sdfka'sdfkja ...": phrase indicating a lazy Internet writer's attempt to convey worthless words.
It really didn't matter what the story was; it was always somehow your fault, especially in the service industry context -- mostly because Adam worked in a camping supplies retail store and hated everyone all the time (despite being so sweet and kind and seemingly mild-mannered). Eventually, it became sort of a joke among us and we tried inventing stories he couldn't possibly pull his Devil's Advocate bullshit on. But he did, over and over, until the day I bested him. It was glorious.
"Hey, I just got back from Burger King and they totally messed up my order," I said.
"Well," Adam replied, "did you have like a special order?"
Yes," I conceded. "I ordered my Whopper without onions."
A slow smile spread across his face. "Yeah, well, y'see, there you go ..."
"Adam, this is America. I'm allowed to ask for something without onions without inviting a 20-minute delay and a still-messed-up order."
"Well, y'know, that's not really what fast food is about."
"It's not? Burger King's slogan is 'HAVE IT YOUR WAY'!"
*For younger readers: It totes was. Totes. That's what you kids say, right? Totes? Yeah, it totes was, fo sho. Tru dat.
The True Believer lets you tell your story. He might even laugh at all the right parts and listen patiently for the ending while you tell it. But that's because he has a point to make. See, the True Believer is a devout Christian or an ardent vegan or a strict libertarian -- it doesn't matter. He is a member of some belief that systematically runs through every single thing he does in his life. There is nothing, not even your story about buying shoes, that does not tie back directly to his central beliefs. So when you finish your tale, instead of having a laugh and a beer, you get this:
Your Story: ... so anyway, I was just about to leave the shoe store because they didn't have my size when a box fell off the shelf, nearly hitting me on the head. But when it hit the ground, the black Kenneth Coles I was looking for popped right out of the box. They'd been put back in the wrong spot, and by sheer coincidence one of the workers accidentally knocked them off the wall as I walked by!"
True Believer 1: Yep. It's funny how God is always looking out for you.
True Believer 2: Yeah, fucking corporate America, man, cutting wages so that no one does a good job anymore. Throwing boxes where they don't belong and nearly killing customers.
True Believer 3: Wait, you still wear leather? Do you know what they do to cows to get that?
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"You lost your thumb using a table saw without a guard? Thanks, Obama!"
You don't even have to read this one, right? You know who the One-Upper is. He's the guy prodding your story along with his head nodding, not because he agrees, but because he's waiting for you to get to the end so he can tell an even better story. Aside from that being rude, the One-Upper's story usually isn't better. It's the same or worse. It just has the added benefit of having happened to him.
"Get to the part of your story about me."
Your Story: So anyway, I had no money in my wallet. I also had no idea how I was gonna get home. Then suddenly, I find a hundred-dollar bill in the street!"
The One-Upper: Oh, man, I'll do you one better: I once found a 20!"