Speaking of talking…

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI’ll own up to this at the onset: I love to talk.
I’ve always liked to chat, banter, chew the fat, converse, gab, yap. Some would say I’m a great conversationalist. Others would conclude that I have a big mouth. Truth is, it’s probably a combination of the two.index
I’ve always enjoyed shooting the breeze, even as a child. In fact, when I lived with my grandmother, her sister once insisted that I not answer the phone when she called. I guess my aunt wanted to avoid the long conversation she was in for if I picked up the receiver.
I routinely telephoned my mom at her downtown office to check in after school. She often reminded me that it had to be a quick call. She was at work and could not have extended conversations. I doubt I ever heeded her advice.
I’ve always gravitated to chatty people. My Irish grandmother could talk a blue streak. She was in her element at a wake, working a room like a politician. She loved every moment.
Over time, I perfected the skill, learning to engage practically anyone. It’s easy if you show an interest in the things that are important to them—family, hobbies, work, for example.
Want a surefire way to start a conversation? Inquire about where someone grew up. I, for example, had no idea that Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer and Evergreen Park High School Supt. Beth Hart are Tommy More people from back in the day. I lived in St. Thomas More parish. We know many of the same people and could talk forever.
I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to my grandmother and me. And my younger son, Mike, reminds me of her, too.
Mike knows everyone in our neighborhood and always has the latest scoop. Like me, his gift of gab is accompanied by a great sense curiosity. He often bounds up the stairs to my bedroom to tell me the latest news he’s gleaned by chatting up someone or the other.
A close friend of mine—who also works as a writer—suspects that some people confuse curiosity with nosiness or prying into their business. But he and I are convinced that the desire to question, to learn more, is part and parcel of our trade, not an attempt to be intrusive. We’re genuinely are interested in what you have to say.
Of course, these attempts at conversations have helped us suss out the idiots among us. They are the ones who say little not because they’re shy or bad conversationalists, but because they are stupid.
For example, a young woman who worked with my friend and me at a weekly newspaper chain once told us that she wanted to transition into public relations for many reasons, including, “You get to pick colors.” Occasionally, my buddy will send me a text that says, “You get to pick colors.” More than 25 years later and I still laugh.
Of course the trade off for a talkative person is the ability to listen. That’s the tough part of the deal. If people are going to listen to you yammer on about your children, golf game, vacation or latest DIY project, you’d better be all ears when they want to talk about their work, family or friends.
It can be boring. My friend is going through youth sports with his two children. Coaching, living and dying with wins and losses. I don’t care that much. That stuff happened for me a decade ago. But I have to remember that when my son made travel baseball teams and succeeded in multiple sports, my friend patiently listened to the stories about his achievements.
That said, people who can’t or won’t listen fascinate me—especially those who make it clear that they have little no time for conversation. Maybe I should be envious of them. The ability to shut someone down could be considered a skill.
It happened to me the other day. I got a call from someone seeking some important information. I assume it was important or they wouldn’t have called. I didn’t have the information at my fingertips, but promised to get it. I asked a few related questions and was told, “I don’t time have to chat.” Wow. Well, don’t call if you’re busy. It’s not as though I asked about the upcoming Bears season.
Earlier that day, I had to drop something off at person’s house. I didn’t know the guy and was happy to hand him the item and leave. Instead, he invited me inside. He started to talk about his upcoming vacation, his kids, his job. He did most of the talking. I was happy to listen. He seemed like a nice guy. We probably could have chatted for a long time.
Suddenly, however, he glanced at his adult son and said to me, “He wants me to let you go.” I was confused for a split second, but realized that the guy was wearing a Bluetooth headset. His son must have called him to convey the message.
“Lose this guy, dad.” Who knows, maybe they were going to eat dinner and or head out. No matter. I shook the guy’s hand and left. But I was sort of surprised at whatever scenario occurred to get the word to dad. Whatever, the stranger with the big mouth was driving away.