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Chatter boxes: human spam

There are people who cannot stop talking under any circumstances as if the world will stop turning if they shut their mouths for five seconds. I always seem to find these people especially when all I want to do is sit quietly and think.

They're almost predatory in that they seek people out like myself who couldn't look less interested in having a conversation and they pounce,

It seems perfectly reasonable at first -- they need directions or bus fare or cigarettes ... but as soon as you give them whatever it is they're requesting -- in that moment that you expect them to exit your life forever -- they start in on something ridiculous and invariably inappropriate.

I attract the TMI crowd -- teenage girls and 40-something women who feel compelled to share everything with me from the number of times they've had sex to the dizzying list of mind-altering substances they've ingested throughout their lives. And I just sit there and listen, because I'm way too much of a coward to stop them -- What makes you think I give a rat's ass about your sex life? I don't even know your name, but I know you did it this way and that way with a trucker you hitched a ride from last night and smoked pot with at the rest stop.

I'd never dream of interrupting these weirdos even though I'm dying to read my book or work on some writing. I nod politely and smile while my brain screams in agony and begs my legs to run away -- just drop to the ground and pretend you're having a heart attack. The paramedics will understand -- just explain to them how a complete stranger was telling you all about the serpent stencil she used to wax her pubic hair -- that she pulled it out of her purse and showed it to you -- and they'll probably drive you home.

I scan a place pretty thoroughly before I get comfortable enough to read or jot down some lines in a notebook. People aren't deterred by books or newspapers --  the more peaceful you appear reading in the few precious moments you're allotted each day of stillness and quiet the more attractive you are to talk to.

So I hold my cell phone up to my ear and pretend I'm having a very heated discussion with the milk man about the lateness of my menstrual cycle, and what a problem I'm going to have explaining to my husband who's been living in Greenland for six months that I'm pregnant. This of course prevents me from getting any reading or writing done, but it's the only method I've found to keep the lunatics at bay.

You have to wonder; are they really that clueless?

They must know at some level how obnoxious they are. I feel sorry for their loved ones -- you can always see on their faces the most humiliated, apologetic expressions like they'd chew their arms off if they thought it would help you escape.

I got cornered in the grocery store once by one of those health-food fanatics. She seemed to be parked in the soft drink aisle and something about her -- the Egyptian-cotton maxi dress with the Teva sandals and the chunky Himalayan sweater -- triggered my radar. I'd never have let my guard down but I was rather dismayed by the empty shelf between Diet Coke and regular Coke. I looked around frantically for someone to scream at -- you're out of Coke Zero. How could you let this happen? 

That's when I felt the hand on my shoulder, and every muscle in my body stiffened. It was that woman -- I knew it -- I knew the minute I saw her that she was one of those helpful do-this-and-not-that people, and -- judging by the defeated expression in her daughters eyes -- our conversation would go well over the time I'd budgeted for grocery shopping.

"That stuff will kill you," she said. "It's poison -- they put it in the soda pop on purpose -- just like cigarettes, except cigarettes have a big warning on the box that tells you smoking will kill you."

I should have asked her what she was doing in the soft drink aisle if she was so certain that Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola were conspiring to kill us all, but I smiled an nodded and walked away.

I felt her daughter's pain screaming out to me -- take me with you, take me with you -- she wasn't a child or I might have. She looked to be about 30 -- she was pregnant -- spending a little one-on-one time with her mom before the baby came.

"What stuff will kill me?" I asked the woman. "You said -- that stuff will kill you -- what were you talking about?"

She took a deep breath which suggested I was about to be thoroughly lectured on the ills of diet pop -- whoa nelly.

"I'm glad you asked -- I couldn't help seeing that you were browsing through the diet sodas over there," she said in a sweet, condescending voice. "They're no good sweetheart. They've got aspartame in 'em. It's poison. You know you're better off eating insecticide and chain smoking?"

Her daughter appeared ready to tear open a pop can and slice her throat with it. I shot her a sympathetic smile, and looked back at her mother.

"Lady," I warmed up. "I smoke two pack of cigarettes every five hours; I drink a quart of coffee sweetened with a two cups of high fructose corn syrup before breakfast; I huff bug spray to help me sleep and I bathe in irradiated uranium -- if I don't have cancer now I never will."

"But ..."

"No thank you," I said. "If you want to eat food that tastes like cardboard and live forever that's your choice. But just so you know -- it's boring; it makes you look crazy; and in three years some doctor will come out with a new study that indicates artificial sweetener is better for you than breast milk and vegetables cause pancreatic cancer."

And that's how you shut up a chatter box.


  1. I know so many things I wish I didn't.....thanks for the suggestions!


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