Ex-Factor

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In a reaction to me holing myself up in my apartment for practically days at a time, I have been experimenting with trying to get more out of my conversations when I encounter actual human beings.

I Googled up some decent conversation rules to use in social situations, they are rooted in the idea that you should be attempting to learn something about the other person rather than just talk about yourself. This involves asking open ended questions, not getting bogged down with details, being succinct and above all, not just saying anything that flies into your head.

A few days later, over cheese and prosciutto at my friend Gauthier's Christmas party in Brooklyn, I met Sarah and Ted, two friends who bonded over their love of Sufjan Stevens, they were small talk-y in a way that made you feel like you were that third guest on the end of a talk show couch: an audience to someone else's conversation. If you asked a question, Sarah would answer by turning to Ted to remind him of an old experience the two them had shared and Ted would make very declarative statements that were on-topic but were only uttered for their entertainment value.

The next evening, I was returning from a showing of The Last Jedi and got home to find a flood in my apartment - a leak really, in four places, mostly streaming through the light fixture into my kitchen. I cleaned it up, spoke to the Super, and then went up to my neighbor to see if he was involved. My upstairs neighbor, who I've only spoken to a couple of times, has the energy of a nervous spy. Like, if I were to suddenly realize I was living in a simulated reality or a Truman Show-like reality show universe, my neighbor would be one of those people who's only there to monitor me. For some reason, he refuses to open his door during our chat - I imagine it's because I will see all the monitors and screens he has to use to watch me through the many hidden cameras in my apartment. He stammers, "Oh, I left the water running but I turned it off -- " but then quickly backtracks as if he's implicating himself, "There's a leak? W-where-where is the leak exactly?" He's apologetic but inquisitive, as if him 'leaving the water running' and my leak were two unrelated events. I try to be clear. Brief. Ask direct questions but, frazzled from mopping up water and talking through a door, I cannot pull it together.

The next day I'm at the Genius bar at the Apple store waiting for someone to tell me that my iMac is dead beyond repair. I am early, I sit and wait and notice that a half dozen of the guys working on the floor have good arms - as if they were doing dumbbells curls in the back room before their shift. "An Apple a day..." I think to myself. There's also a customer who looks just like Christopher Reeve - but with a better body. One of those older guys (late 40's-early 50's) who has managed to keep it pretty tight, full head of hair - like 6'3" or 4", I watch his tricep flex and retract as he leans over the table, shifting his weight.

My "Genius", a generic Apple Store employee with normal arms, asks me how I am doing. I throw out my usual response: "Fine, thank you" and then I sit in the awkward silence before returning the sentiment. "Amazing Day. All that and a bag of potato chips." He says enthusiastically.

"Ew."

This is one of those moments that I don't really want to have a conversation. I just want to know what's wrong with my computer. So, I listen carefully to him pontificate's on my options - which are pretty grim as far as I am concerned. When he begins to veer into techno-speak that I don't understand, I cut him off with my facial expressions. When he asks a question, I respond quickly with as few words as possible. I ask a follow-up question for every one of his statements and then provide a summation for clarification.

After a week or two of attempting to connect and either following the rules for the first few minutes and then spiraling out into old habits just sitting an interviewing someone because they never think to say "And how about you?" I decide that every conversation should be like making a trip to the Genius Bar: just a detached, technical encounter that is decide-ly finite.

Well, without busted computer, of course.