Crimes of conversation
Tickets for talking are on the horizon
By Ellen Snortland
If I were president, queen, or even just a governor of California, I'd build my treasury coffers with a whole new revenue stream instituting stiff fines and possibly solitary confinement for people caught committing conversational traffic crimes. This would serve to raise money and lower homicide rates.
I almost strangled a couple of folks in December and January, when I was reminded just how lousy many people are at basic conversational etiquette. One thing about holiday time is that most of us socialize more often than at other times of the year. For good and ill, socializing means talking; talking means people's bad yakking and listening habits are on wretched and excessive display. Add some champagne or a rum-filled eggnog and talk-inspired traffic accidents and jams are as common as rush hour on Southern California freeways.
Here are some recent vocal violations that would become criminal under my plan:
Bolshevik Tourette's Syndrome:
We attended a screening of "An Unreasonable Man," a documentary about Ralph Nader subtitled "How Do You Define a Legacy?" (I highly recommend seeing it, by the way: www.anunreasonableman.com. Even the most diehard person bitter about Nader's impact on the 2000 elections might find him "not guilty" of bringing Bush to power.) We sat in the darkened theater next to my colleague and friend, Harvey Rosenfield, who is one of the Nader's Raider interviewees in "An Unreasonable Man." But we jumped out of our seats because a REALLY LOUD, zealous woman in the row behind us yelled "Crook!" "Liar!" every time a "talking head" said something she didn't agree with. When she hollered, "Fascist!" I was poised to leap over the seat and stuff her mouth with popcorn lest she dare bellow something mean about Harvey. (Hey, you mess with Harvey, you mess with Snortland.) Apparently, she agreed with Harvey's onscreen statement, because she had nothing to say during his interview. Note to screen screamers: People on the screen can't hear you! I know it's tricky to remember that, but keep your play-by-plays in your own home. Even the Constitution doesn't protect people who yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater that's not really burning; it likewise shouldn't protect a wacko who screams "Liar!" and other epithets at celluloid images.
Those of you with pesky siblings may recall the verbal equivalent of "noogies," which consisted of your older sister or brother repeating everything you said in a virtual simulcast of your every utterance until, within seconds, you either completely clammed up or screamed. It's great fun for the mirrorer; extremely annoying for the mirrored. This verbal harassment falls squarely under the heading of "teasing and torturing."
At yet another January party, a man started to mirror everything anyone said and he wasn't even related to any of us. I now suspect that it's a nervous tic and obsessive-compulsive behavior. But geez, this has got to be a habit that can be broken somehow, right? I have decided that the next time I run into this, I will say to them: "I'm mirroring everything you are saying and am about ready to suffer a severe consequence."
If that doesn't stop them, call the talk police.
We were at a New Year's Eve party when a woman with cleavage - so white and deep that I thought I was looking at a plumber's butt - sat down to chat. A friend introduced me to the plunger, er, I mean, the crack lady. Let's call her "Liz." My friend was effusively discussing me and some of my projects. "Liz" responded by saying, "Well, what a pleasure to meet such an accomplished person. But I'll bet you can't top this: I've ridden a bull. Have you?"
"No," I said, "but I've castrated a few." Needless to say, the men in the group laughed nervously. The women checked their own tops for wardrobe malfunctions and laughed heartily at my comeback. I smiled. Hey, grow up on a ranch and you've cut a few things that aren't generally mentioned in mixed company. Traffic rule: Don't play "Top this!" with people you've just met. She really should have stopped while she was ahead, before she challenged me with the bull. She had already "topped" all of us there with her chest, which she knew stopped traffic.
Be careful what you say:
Finally, we saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that said, "Be careful what you say. You may end up in my novel." I want one that warns "You may end up in my column." Anything you say and do can and will be used against you. Hey, where do you think writers get their ideas? Is this a talk violation? Not in my realm.
Alas, I will never be president, queen or governor. We'll all be able to run each other over conversationally with impunity.
Pasadena Weekly: 1/24/08