With many of us vaccinated and trying, by whatever means necessary, to get our “normal” lives back, the summer of 2021 saw a concerted effort at face-to-face socializing. We’ve reunited with people we couldn’t see for months, or even more than a year, and of course there’s lots of catching up to do. In this moment, I feel compelled to make a public service announcement: If, during an anecdote, your listener replies, “Damn, that’s crazy,” it’s time to wrap it up.
Because it’s rude to tell your friend you’ve lost interest in their long, rambling tale, American vernacular English has settled on a gentler disengagement: “Damn, that’s crazy,” or sometimes “Crazy, bro,” or related expressions of mild disbelief like “Oh, wow” and “No way.” The trouble is that the most voluble speakers — the ones who most need to take a break now and then — can be frustratingly immune to this little nudge. They absorb it and keep on yakking.
Needless to say, the pandemic gave people a new perspective on life. You don’t sit by watching hundreds of thousands die from an outbreak of disease without realizing that your own time on this planet is limited and precious. Nodding along to a neighbor’s interminable account of what happened to their cat yesterday, you feel those seconds ticking by. When you search for a phrase with some finality, to ease you out of the conversation, what you say sounds far too much like encouragement: “Damn, that’s crazy.”
Shit! What did you have to be polite for?
I’m calling on non-stop talkers to start recognizing these words for what they are: A hint that we’ve lost whatever thread you may have been unspooling for us. We’re not saying you’re boring. We’re just tired, and we’ve had enough. And by glossing right over “Damn, that’s crazy” — something uttered because we’re not hearing you anymore — you reconfirm the one-way nature of the relationship: We’re there to be spoken to, while you’re the one who speaks. Even if we did manage to get a few sentences in edgewise, you’d be waiting to start up again.
Yet we persist in giving you the out. Declaring your personal experience “crazy” is, at least on the surface, a way of validating it as unique, agreeing that it deserves recounting. That should satisfy you, but no, you’re finally getting to the “good” part. So we stand there robotically until we have no choice but to drop another “Damn, that’s crazy,” with the same results. This is pain.
It shouldn’t be this way. Almost everyone could stand to be a better listener, but it’s especially critical for those who often hold the floor to take note of small interjections from the other side. For god’s sake, take the hint. That’s not asking much, and it’s only fair. You have to understand, we were on our way to the grocery store and… Uh-huh. Yeah. You don’t say. Damn, that’s crazy.