Every word is boring

My three flatmates in this shared house are 'L', who smokes dope and mostly keeps to himself; Robert, a nice old guy who plays World of Warcraft around the clock; and Dean, an extrovert who's quiet so rarely I'm certain he talks in his sleep (about boring things).

It's a Wednesday morning as I begin typing this, and Dean is in the kitchen — on the other side of my door — having a boring conversation with 'L'.

They're talking at an ordinary volume, but the walls are so thin that eavesdropping never requires an ear to the door. All kitchen conversations are broadcast into my room, unless I turn a fan or space heater on, to drown the sound.

This morning, though, my room is Goldilocks' porridge — not too warm and not too cool, so there's no fan or space heater running, and every word comes through.

♦ ♦ ♦

Every word from Dean is boring, which reminds me of me. He has no interesting stories to tell, yet fancies himself a storyteller, and that's the essence of my Pathetic Life zine, and of almost everything half-good I've ever written.

I love to write, but most days nothing happens, so there's nothing to write about. Maybe there was an amusing bum on the bus, or a three-minute conversation that went wrong, so my challenge is: can I sew those brief blips of non-boredom into a short story that you might read without feeling your time's been wasted?

Usually I fail, but I try. Dean never tries. Nothing happens in the days of his life, but he's going to tell you about all the nothing, in detail.

♦ ♦ ♦

Right now, for example, he's telling 'L' about the garlic focaccia he made yesterday, at the restaurant where he's a chef. It's a story I've heard a hundred times, a story Dean never stops telling. The dish changes — mushroom bruschetta, perhaps, or salmon with truffles and caramel sauce — but everything else in the story is a rerun.

It starts with what effort and ingredients went into the preparation, and what flourishes Dean added to make it better than the recipe. Then everyone looks so happy as the meal is served, and smacks their lips and oohs and aahs as they eat, and afterward customers, co-workers, and hotel management tell Dean that his food was extravagantly excellent, simply the finest garlic focaccia / mushroom bruschetta / salmon with truffles and caramel sauce ever concocted.

He will tell you this story every day, and again on the weekends. There's never an unexpected twist, where he's accidentally poured in too much pepper, or dropped a pot on the floor. There's never a customer who complains. There's never a hint of humor. And there's never any stopping the telling.

♦ ♦ ♦

Right now in the kitchen, Dean is lecturing 'L' on the three branches of American government, like a civics class from 7th grade. Congress writes our laws. The President can veto legislation, but any veto can be overridden by a 2/3 vote of Congress. Once in force, laws are subject to judicial review… 

My door is closed so I can't see, but 'L' is nodding his head through a purple fog.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

A few hours later, I step into our now-empty kitchen to zap a bag of popcorn. I know the danger, of course, but paying rent buys the right to eat popcorn.

Dean's bedroom door connects to the kitchen, same as my door, but his door is routinely open when he's home. It's a minor annoyance among the many he offers, but it builds to the major annoyance of his 24/7 talking.

He's old, nearly deaf, and leaves his door open to better hear when any of the flatmates come into the kitchen — so he can come out and talk at us.

On my mission for popcorn, sure enough, Dean's door is open. Predictably, at the first BEEP of the microwave's timer, he emerges from his room and says, "Oh, you're making popcorn?"

His opening line is usually something stupid like that. When my groceries are delivered, it's, "Oh, you use canned peas?" If he sorts through the household mail, he'll say, "You got a letter from your insurance company." It's a slight pry into my life, which makes me bristle, but there's no explaining that to Dean.

As my popcorn gets zapped and too slowly begins popping, Dean tells me about popcorn. I nod politely but say nothing.

His topic soon drifts to the microwaves at the kitchen where he works, which are bigger than our microwave, you know, but Dean doesn't like microwave cooking, certainly not in a restaurant, and on and on and on. I nod politely but say nothing.

Popcorn takes only three minutes to microwave, but it's amazing how much he can talk in three minutes, and how much I can nod politely but say nothing. From experience I know, saying even one word only extends the conversation. 

When the microwave BEEPs, I nod again and step into my room. Yet even after closing my door, Dean stands on the other side for another twenty seconds, finishing his story of the microwaves.

♦ ♦ ♦  

It's a story I've heard before. All of Dean's stories, I've heard before, even the stories he hasn't yet told me.

I've heard of his birth on an Air Force base, his humble chef's beginnings at a sandwich shop and deli, tales of his marriage, his divorce, the car he owned in the '90s.

I've heard his political positions, his preferences in football and beer, the books he's read and the movies he's seen, all despite never asking. 

He frequently slips into 'teacher' mode, with droning recitations, like the facts of unsalted butter, or the basics of hanging drywall, or this morning's three branches of American government.

"Shut the hell up, Dean," I've said a few times, but he simply can't. It must be a mental or medical condition.

I've asked nicely, too, but it serves no known purpose. Short of punching his face or kneeing his groin (probably both) there is no way to silence him. What comes closest is that polite nod, and saying nothing.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I tell the same stories over and over, too. Everything on this page, I've written on previous pages.

But another key difference between demonic Dean and marvelous Me is that I don't tell my stories in your kitchen. If I bore the heck out of you, you can 'walk away' with just a click, and I will never stand at your door and keep talking.


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