Thursday, December 15, 2016
Cheers was the place where everyone knew your name, a home away from home, where you could commiserate with friends who shared a drink and a little time away from life's cares. Utterly unrealistic. Cheers, after all, was a sports bar. Sports bars are loud, dominated by televisions, sometimes multiple TVs tuned to multiple sports events. Talk is about sports; talk is loud; participants talk over each other just to be heard or to make a point. Their exchanges are determined by what they just saw or heard on the TV.
Conversation? Not even close.
The louder the din, the shallower the talk.
I work with a lot of thirty-somethings. During breaks the males will coalesce and begin to sputter on a limited topic: sports, particularly fantasy games. Arguments will ensue over the relative worth of a player or coach.
I share my desk with a work friend who, like me, is closer to retirement age. We've come to regard the frequent outbreaks of guy talk as "Middle School lunch." This is because they differ not a whit from the conversations I remember that preoccupied boys of middle school age.
And so the sports bar is everywhere.
Once upon a time, you could have an actual conversation in a bar, or a coffee shop. People went to such places just to converse, and some venues were designed around the conversation. Anyone old enough to remember conversation pits?
Such places still exist, but I fear they are all in Eastern Europe. Some years back my youngest took on an internship in Prague while she was in college. She told me about a night she and her fellow students went out on the town and were barred from entering numerous drinking establishments at the door. Why? Because young Americans were regarded as loud, rude, and dullards. They interfered with intelligent conversation.
Made me want to hop the next plane to the former Eastern Bloc.
I've been starving for a long, relaxing meandering conversation, the kind I used to have with a late friend of mine, eclectic and fractured by an infinite number of tangents. Oh, we might talk sports, but we'd also sound out religion, history, literature, the price of eggs, who was and wasn't gay. It would go on and on and it gave a deep pleasure to one's soul.
Perhaps conversation has become a lost pastime, if not a lost art. Conversation – the unhurried unraveling of thoughts and ideas, observations and gossip – just doesn't seem to fit in the social media age. Today a clever tweet passes as something profound.
A conversation allows two or more people to develop and illuminate ideas. It's akin to storytelling, but not quite. A storyteller, after all, speaks or writes to a rapt audience who receive the tale, but don't alter it. So while storytelling might be part of conversation, all participants steer and adjust the story, and through that process the initiator of the story might well reach an ending he did not intend.
I've toyed with writing a story as a conversation. And while some books I've read could be described as conversational, the only one I ever read whose style was in the form of a long, meandering conversation with tangents shooting off in multiple directions is "Son of the Morning Star" by Evan S. Connell.
On its face an account of the life and last battle of star-crossed Western Icon George Armstrong Custer, it is so much more. An entire review of late 18th century America and the clash of cultures, but told in small morsels of humanity, with accounts centering on minor as well as major players. By the time I'd finished the book I felt like I'd spent a few hours in a corner booth with a gifted conversationalist.
I miss it. Conversation, that is. Quiet, unhurried talk.
I miss talking with people generally; I miss talking to people without a gadget in their hand.
I guess I'm getting crabby.