How To Talk Small

By Chris Churchill

This is an excerpt from Churchill's book, Ballad Of The Small Talker available now.
Churchill Cover 2.jpg

It's my job to make small talk. I smile. I nod. I squint an understanding squint. Sometimes I mean it. Sometimes I don't. That's my job.

My name's Jack. It's nice to meet you.

Welcome to the fourth biggest, family oriented, entertainment destination in the north central upper third in the lower forty-eight without a mascot.

It is, of course, Oakwood Village Center. OVC. In the event that the person reading this tale is from another planet, I should tell you what we do here. We have fun. In fact, people say I smile too much. (I don’t understand how that could be possible. How does one smile too much? I just don’t buy the premise.)

There are plentiful shops where you can get all the things you need and all the things you want.

Say, you wake up and realize you need coffee. We've got that. Three different Oakwood Village Center brands, in the bag or in the can. We grow the beans here, artificially, in Oakwood. There’s a giant “brown house," we call it, on the edge of town. Suffice it to say, we have a very “special," loving soil, perfect for growing a variety of specialty foods. For those who like the name brands, we also import.

Of course, if you don't want to brew it yourself, Dave and Jean Genderson have been here, running their coffee shop for twenty years. They’re a great couple. They are a little older than I am but I won’t tell you what that means precisely. They are handsome, sturdy and dignified while at the same time gentle, rustic and outgoing when they love you.

They have been together forever, a stable, loving force at OVC. I truly love to spend my down time with them, in their shop. I enjoy a morning, sitting with them, sipping on a Triple Loaded Megatall “Genderson Fields” Double Peppermint Goat Milk No Foam Latte, once in a while. Most days, just coffee is fine.

This shop has afforded them a humble existence and has paid for both their kids to go to college. The son, Van, is a barber. The younger daughter, Jade is a clown. It’s the truth. Sounds like a joke but its not.

Dave's cousin, Dolores, runs the spa next door. She is about the same age as Dave and Jean but she acts and dresses a lot younger. She wears very baggy clothes. It’s okay. We’ve talked to her about wearing baggy clothes on the escalator. So she usually takes the stairs.

I think her youthfulness is due to the constant second hand aromatherapy she takes in as a condition of her work environment. (While, I am not knocking the importance of coffee in a persons daily mood maintenance, nor would I ever, simple coffee cannot reasonably be expected to keep up with whatever magic chemicals are being created in secret places that none of us fully understand.) Her place of business is called Dolly's Daydreams. The Gendersons really like to feel good.

 This family alone brings thousands of out of towners to OVC every year. People return to them, year after year. They frequently have hugs, full blown hugs, requested of them by people whom they no longer recognize but who remember the lovely mornings at the Gendersons shop.

People wear t-shirts with caricatures of the Gendersons. I’ve never liked caricatures. They seem insulting. My chin isn’t huge and I don’t always have an ice cream cone in my hand but, Simon Jensen, the artist responsible for all official OVC caricatures, would have you believe it was true.

Simon usually parks himself near one of our 30 “Infotainvertisement Obelisks” at the OVC. He gets his art supplies up two floors.

I'm here to make visitors happy or at least comfortable. Usually that means just saying the first thing that comes to mind.

Like today, I complimented a man’s hat. Made up a story about how my father used to wear the same hat. He never did. My dad had great hair. Despised hats. That tourist will probably never check the truth of that statement.

I've been here for years. I've grown middle aged on this job. I've outlasted three owners, eight managers and no less than six ethnic food trends. Two of the countries responsible for these cuisines no longer exist. Yet here I am, doing what I do.

It's an art form, small talk. The weather’s been beautiful for weeks. I never bring it up.

However, you really don't want to compliment the wrong things. Complimenting a shirt is fine but not if its really tiny because then the lady thinks your looking at her breasts.

Never read a woman's t-shirt aloud. Same reason.

On the very same note, I keep seeing four people with identical pairs of wing tip sneakers. That’s right. Wing tip sneakers. Somebody started making them and no less than four people have bought them. Do you know what I say to the four individuals that I repeatedly spot wearing the identical shoes? I say, “Boy. You don’t see shoes like that everyday, do you?” It seems to suffice.


 

Literate Ape

is sponsored in part by Haymarket Pub & Brewery