Last week I read a headline in the newspaper: “Mall ban on starting chitchat is quashed” (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/nation/100691894.html) I thought, a chitchat ban? Is this where we’re headed? If so, there goes my last chance of ever finding a new friend or a man to love. If chitchat is banned in malls—and then grocery stores and gyms—then I will be rendered mute in the world outside my home.
Not that the world is a particularly chatty place to begin with. I go to the gym and get my nerve up to say hi to a man, then I see his ears are plugged, wires dangling down to his MP3 player. Everybody’s wearing ear buds or headphones. Am I supposed to use sign language to chitchat with people at the gym? The only sign language I know are the letters “a”, “b”, and “c”. I’m sure I’d make a lot of new friends that way, running around signing “ABC! ABC!” Somebody get that spelling girl out of here.
Even if people at the gym aren’t wearing ear buds, who really looks you in the eyes anymore? Stare at anybody longer than two seconds and they think you’re a freak. Up until just recently I’d been making a point to smile at one elderly Indian lady at my gym, a silent and glum-looking member of our Silver Sneakers club. It was my project to make this lady know that I noticed we worked out at the same time, and I remembered her face: we were in this together! At first she kind of smiled back, but after several encounters with my pearly whites, she conveyed with her narrowed eyes and curled lip that she was displeased with the attention, so I knocked it off.
Pretty much the only people I chitchat with anymore are receptionist-types and check-out clerks—trapped people. Yesterday I showed the big purple and green bruise on my knuckle to the girl ringing up my stuff at the health food store: “Look at this!” I said, shoving my gnarly contusion in her face. “I accidentally punched the armrest on the treadmill!”
“Oh my God!” she screamed. “That looks like it hurts!”
“It does,” I said, breathing in my daily dose of chitchat. “It hurts a lot.”