How I hate that question. There’s all of this pressure to perform, and I can’t just lie. “I ate so many Triscuits while watching Netflix yesterday that I spoiled my appetite just enough to give dinner a miss, but I was still hungry, so I finished the box of Triscuits. And a season of Designing Women.” That’s the truth, but I can’t say that.
And I’m incapable of coming up with a believable lie. I’ll say “I spent the afternoon teaching dolphins to avoid tuna nets.” The dolphins and I are no longer on speaking terms, and I’m still raw about it. Let’s change the subject.
What’s going on with you? That’s the standard means of lobbing the question back to the lout who asked it in the first place. Here’s the kicker: that’s what they want. They only asked you in the first place so you’d ask them back. They have a long, boring account of a vacation to a cannery where nothing particularly exciting happened, but they’re simply exploding to bore you with it on the off chance it somehow makes them seem erudite.
Their trick is to surprise you with it. Just out of the blue, “what’s going on?” You’re just standing there waiting for your sandwich. That doesn’t make for a scintillating anecdote, so you say “not much, what’s going on with you?”
You fool! You simple bastard! You’ve walked directly into the jaws of a lukewarm lion who’s now going to bore you to death with his mighty jaws! And now there are mobile phones with cameras on them, so there’s a slideshow to go with it. They were supposed to have made our lives easier, but instead, they’ve trapped us in a hellscape of malignant boredom in the middle of a deli.
You have to play along. “Oh, so there’s more aluminum than tin in the cans nowadays?” That’s not entertaining! You avoided sentencing him to an hour of reliving the mediocrity of your life, but he is devoid of social grace or wants to see you suffer, or both.
If you dare to challenge him, he wins.
“Could you stop? There’s nothing here that enriches my life or yours. Couldn’t we just stand here in silence while Calvin makes our sandwiches?”
“Well, that was rude. Besides, you asked.”