Your eyes dance, and you gesture wildly as you tell me and two others about a recent rock climbing trip. Unfortunately, this seems to have all the makings of a multi-minute anecdote. But one thing keeps me from walking away: the opportunity to top your story with one of my own.
The moment you uttered the phrase “rock climbing,” it was over. I got the gist of things right then and there. So while you go on and on about a multi-day ordeal on a mountain range and some sort of bear encounter, I mentally retrieved a story from years ago that will eclipse everything you’re sharing right now. The bear thing may prove hard to outdo, sure, but I’ll get it done, even if it takes some light embellishing.
Though it’s been about ninety seconds since I tuned you out, I smile encouragingly and slightly shake and nod my head at what I assume are the appropriate times. It’s the polite thing to do, and I’m a polite guy. Despite these efforts, closer scrutiny of my face would reveal that my smile is all mouth, and my eyes betray a desire to fast-forward you.
I try to gauge how much further you have to go in this insipid narrative, but it’s unclear. What sort of climax could you be building toward? You’re standing here, so we know this bear didn’t kill you. (If it had, I could be doing something else right now.) Ohhh, maybe it killed your friends? That would be tough to top. But then you wouldn’t be laughing so much, unless you’re some kind of sicko. Whatever. Regardless of who did or didn’t survive, I can only pray that it’ll be my turn to talk soon.
Ah, you’re wrapping up, thank god. Yes, you’re decelerating, taking a sip of your beer, and… it’s over. I consider asking a follow-up question, then overcome the impulse. But social norms require that story listeners respond with an acknowledgment of the storyteller, so I go with a classic. “No way!” I say, shaking my head a little. “Dang, that’s crazy,” I add for good measure. I take a beat, then I start: “That sort of reminds me of this one time…” The spotlight turns back to me, and I am at home.
“So,” I begin, “I was on my daily walk. You guys know I always get in my walk before lunch. Well, actually, wait. This happened in 2011, but to give you the full picture, I have to go back to 1998…”
As much as I hate listening to other people’s anecdotes, I do love sharing my own. So settle in. This story’s a long one, and it’s going to be way, way more interesting than yours. You better be listening.