Sunday, June 13, 2021

Life & Style

Star Talk

Not all conversations are created equal. Conversation can be food for the soul or it can be that junk-food snack that you wish you’d resisted.

I love meeting people even though I’m a shy person by nature. Maybe it’s being shy by nature that causes me to abhor small talk. Small talk is exhausting, and I sometimes go to great lengths to dodge it. Small talk contains no mental nutrition. It’s the conversational equivalent of cotton candy. How are you? Good. How about that weather? Yup.

If there’s real weather going on—snowstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes, hurri-quakes—then I can be quite the weather geek and gab for ages. Weather talk can be mental junk food, but it’s substantial junk food. More like a candy bar than cotton candy.

As for gossip, gossip is like one of those cupcakes that’s made in a giant factory and then wrapped in plastic before it hits the 7-Eleven shelf. It tastes good at the time, but it’s not long before you wish you hadn’t eaten it. For gossip to be more than wasted calories, it has to be really good. And by good, I mean positive, not negative. If it’s not positive, I’ll avoid that gas-station-cupcake of a conversation.

Then there’s pub conversation. This is where the menu gets really interesting. There’s always something on special, you just have no idea what it is until you’re there.

One night, Neutron and I are at a favorite watering hole when we meet the night’s conversational chef, a man eventually dubbed “Star Man.” He’s sitting next to us but is alone, eating a meal and looking bored. Neutron starts asking questions. He says he’s not from our town, he’s just visiting.

“What do you do?” Neutron asks.

“I, uh, can’t really say,” he answers.

Oh boy, here we go. This is a totally full-of-it answer. I can’t wait to hear what he comes out with next.

“Why can’t you say?” Neutron presses.

“You’re a spy? Like James Bond?” I ask.

I so want him to say he’s a spy like James Bond. Or that he works for the CIA because no one who actually works for the CIA would say he works for the CIA.

“I work for the government,” he replies.

“Our government?” I ask.

He stops his fork midway to his mouth. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before.”

“And that’s not really an answer. Sooooooo...”

“Yes, our government.”

He tells us he deals with transportation, but won’t say what kind, just that it’s not something we’ve ever seen. He says he works in engineering, but won’t be specific about that, either. He admits only that he’s “figuring things out” in that capacity. Talking with him is like taking a leap onto your own shadow. There’s nothing solid, the shadow keeps moving.

Neutron and I can sometimes be like those two old men on The Muppet Show who would sit in the balcony and lob comments like tennis balls over a net. This night is no exception. We start lobbing questions at Star Man. By transportation do you mean alien transportation? Are aliens running the government? Have you been to Area 51? Do you watch X-Files? Is the truth out there?

He doesn’t think it’s all that funny. The effect on me, of course, is that I think it’s even funnier because he doesn’t think it’s funny. “Areahhhhh fiiiiifty ooooone!” I say to him with a smile. He finally smiles back.

We continue to fling questions and he continues to parry. After a while he leaves, saying it was fun to meet us and maybe he’ll see us around sometime. He won’t come back, but at least he’s laughing as he leaves.

“He’s full of it, but that was fun,” I say after he’s gone.

“Star Man. That should be his name,” Neutron replies.

So, what is the equivalent of a three-course conversation meal? It’s a conversation that makes you laugh but also makes you think. A pub conversation like the one with Star Man isn’t a three-course conversation meal. But it’s still good. Pub conversation is like pub food. Not the most nutritious, but definitely satisfying.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at

Juliana Gribbins is the Columnist for Zip06. Email Juliana at .

Reader Comments