Not too many years ago, two friends of mine went fishing up around Bear Lake in the Mimbres. Having absconded from their marital responsibilities, the two tossed their decrepit aluminum-hulled boat into the water and loaded it down with poles, tackle boxes and barley-flavored sports drinks in an ice chest. After trying traditional baits and lures, the more back-country of the two gentlemen reeled in his line, put up his pole, and dug around in a canvas sack. My other friend was surprised to see him drag out a couple of sticks of dynamite and a trout-shaped lighter. He asked, "What's that for?" A man of few words, my other friend answered, "Fish." Well, needless to say, the more straight-laced friend explained that the Department of Game and Fish actually has a few rules against fishing with explosives. His companion lit the fuse on one of the sticks and handed it to him, asking, "You gonna talk, or you gonna fish?"
So allow me talk a bit about talking. Boy, there seems to be plenty of talking going on nowadays, more now than ever. People talking on the television, people talking on their cell phones, people talking during the movies, people talking to each other and, most quizzically, people talking to me. It seems people have a whole bunch to say, and most of them are ready to explain it to me with very little prompting. Perhaps I was born with one of those hapless faces that scream out, "Pain me with your every trivial thought and observation, no matter how seemingly pointless or insignificant!" Maybe people confuse me for a roving, undercover priest sans confessional and feel obliged to see if I can dispense forgiveness. Or maybe a lot of people really think their opinions and philosophies are so original that it is their duty to spread the wisdom around. Either way, many people seem to enjoy talking as much as I enjoy not talking.
For example, I have a small circle of friends who will call me on the telephone, and we each share a code of telephonic conduct. If a conversation requires more than 90 seconds of speech, then somebody better be jumping in their truck and driving over. Contact is made, discussion ensues, and the call is disconnected. This is the way Alexander Graham Bell intended us to use his invention, as evidenced by the brevity of the very first phone conversation: "Watson, come here! I need you!" Lots of people seem to measure the quality of a phone call in minutes. The more time spent on the phone, the better the conversation, even though it may only seem to consist of a stream-of-consciousness sort of chant involving lots of "and thens" and "so anyways." Like keeping a brain-dead patient on life support, it seems these people don't know when to walk away from a bad situation. It's sad when bad things happen to good conversations.
As hard as it can be for me to endure vapid conversation, I go bat-crap crazy when I'm confronted by somebody who is intent on engaging in the "art of conversation," which is only slightly less oxymoronic than "jumbo shrimp." Intrigued by their own clever tactics to engage a stranger, freshly graduated from the Toastmasters class at the community college, "conversationalists" really just like to hear their own heads roar. Every third-party anecdote is immediately related to their own personal, overwhelmingly relevant experiences. No topic is beyond their grasp, and they command a dialogue with martinet efficiency. These are the people who have caused the rest of us to work out pre-arranged signals with our spouses or friends at social events to extract us from particularly painful conversations. Frankly, I am worried at how many words some people can employ in a single conversation.
I know this guy whom I will call "Lightcap" who is married to this woman who I will call "my Wife." During one painfully long summer years back, this poor fellow's wife was suddenly found between jobs, and spent way too much time alone during the day when "Lightcap" was at work. When he came home, drug out and exhausted from a long day's work, she'd immediately greet him at the door and threaten to rattle her head off in a long barrage of ceaseless syllables and impacted imperatives and processed pronouns. Her jaw would be reduced to a fleshy blur of teeth and tongue as her rambling diatribe took on ever-greater speeds, threatening to set the atmosphere on fire with the linguistic friction. After what seemed like hours of yammering, the noise abruptly stopped, leaving "Lightcap" to believe the good Lord had granted his wish for instantaneous deafness. Instead, his wife had simply run out of words. She foolishly used them all up, and had nothing left. Thus, it stands to reason that many people are in danger of running out of words if their conversations are left unchecked.
Personal relationships notwithstanding, talking is probably a good thing. After all, talking is just one of the things that separates us from the common beasts, and without it, there'd be no talk radio or mid-day talk shows. I personally have used vocal communication to good effect, like ordering a pizza or instructing my son to dig a hole. But when it comes to proper conversational etiquette, I personally subscribe to the John Wayne school of thought: If you don't like the way things are going, it should be perfectly acceptable to belt the other guy in the mouth under the defense that the "conversation just kinda dried up."
Henry Lightcap lives in a cone of silence in Las Cruces.