Saturday, June 1, 2013

Competitive Talker

My last gig as a 5th grade teacher at the end of year promotion is this coming Friday and since my feet will be on display I scheduled a pedicure today and reveled in the fact that it would be relatively quiet there, thanks to the post-finals/pre-summer lull. The salon--much like the nearby university-- was completely empty, save for one woman who was deep into her book and getting a final coat of red on her toes.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had already secured the chair next to her that I realized the woman was not a stranger. It was Sheila Walton. Seemingly harmless, albeit every-so-slightly-shrill, elementary school teacher by day or evening with a penchant for animal print jackets and chunky jewelry. (An affectation that makes it almost impossible for me not to think of Audra Lindley in her seminal role as Mrs. Roper) Once you were forced into a conversation with Sheila you would shortly realize with fresh horror that she was (and remains) a competitive talker.

You know the type. Competitive talkers can never be wrong about anything, but this is only the tip of the conversational iceberg you're up against. Nothing in life will ever happen to you that is as wonderful or as death-defyingly tragic as whatever has happened to her. At first, conversation with a CT seems normal, but it quickly devolves into a frustrating game of one upmanship where the only means of escape is to look for the nearest window and then jump through it. Or to pray for the sweet and unexpected mercy that only the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse can provide. And so it has always been with Sheila.

She started in by asking me if it had been a difficult school year and I said that it had been especially so. This was familiar and dangerous territory as we had talked about our jobs during a wedding reception a couple of years ago where I told her about some of the criminal activity of my young students and where she assured me that the children at her charter school were equally--if not more-- delinquent than those at my public school. Today I regaled her with the Reader's Digest version of a student being pulled out of my class on Tuesday (never to return) because he chose to honor our men and women in uniform over the Memorial Day weekend with nefarious actions resulting in a charge of Felony Breaking and Entering. Also--our school as twice been the target of "friendly fire" of the arson variety, the second time during which current and former students' images were captured on the school's security camera. Sheila responded that kids at her building set their fires in the 1st grade. Because they are so advanced at being bad, I'm guessing.

And it all came rushing back like a bad acid flashback because Sheila Walton is the Michael Phelps of Competitive Talking, minus the all those medals. I could sooner teach my cat to dial 911 than convince Sheila  my day had ever been worse-- or better-- than hers. You have a migraine? Sheila just diagnosed herself (Thanks to the assistance of WebMD) with a brain tumor.

If I know someone with six toes on each foot, she knows someone who has an entire hand growing off of their foot and it has six toes growing off of it.  If I tell her my kid has earned a college scholarship, she would be quick to let me know that her precious dumpling had not only received a free ride to the college of his choice---but had also been crowned the newest ruler of a small principality. Know someone who has been attacked by a shark? Sheila knows a woman who was skin diving while having her period, which attracted the unwanted attentions of an amorous Hammerhead who then forced her to have interspecies sex....and then promptly ate her. You tell her a story about accidentally burning yourself while scrambling some eggs and you will be held captive while she tells you about the time she was so distraught over a bad color job at the salon that she set her own hair aflame with a BIC lighter and half a can of sterno she had left over from an unsuccessfully catered birthday party.

It's exhausting, friends. And because the Apocalypse didn't happen while my feet were soaking and we were unhelpfully located on the first floor of a building, there was nothing for me to do today but just stop talking. Just. Stop. Talking. Feigning a coma would have probably aroused her suspicion, so I focused on the pedicurist's graphic scraping of my leathery feet and begin chatting with her even though her strong Vietnamese accent made it practically impossible to understand what she was saying to me, but I did not mind in the least. NOT IN THE LEAST! The alternative was just too much to endure.Naturally, Sheila Walton is not her real name, but if I did use her real name and the real Sheila ever read this, she would promptly corner me at the store and tell me about the trials of her own personal Competitive Talker who makes mine look like such an amateur! And then one of us would be going home in a body bag.

P.S.- This is the part where you pull a Sheila and tell me about an encounter with a Competitive Talker near you. Ready, Set....Go.


  1. Holy crap. How did you not cry?

    You are really, really, REALLY going to earn not only this summer break, but that transfer.

    My sister, who is a telemarketer and a damn scary good one, is married to a very taciturn gentleman and has thus turned into a nonstop talker. On the phone or in person, I barely manage "Hello" and that is the end of my contribution to conversation. The rest of the time is merely nodding, tiny affirmations of her assertions, and then, when I can, "Goodbye."

    If you can get around the breathlessness of it all, it can be highly liberating.

  2. There's a difference between a non-stop talker and a CT. We have one of those in our neighborhood; I bow out gracefully (either by silence or a physical exit) as soon as it starts. Life is just too short to deal with that sort of thing.

    You described it so well, though!

  3. Totally NOT what a relaxing pedi is supposed to be about.

  4. I never know whether to be infuriated by them or feel sorry for them, since it seems to be a rooted in some kind of sad desperation. Recently I made the mistake of telling a CT about losing my dad last summer, which she of course topped with a protracted tale of family tragedy. The only response I could come up with was "Well, I guess you're the winner." CTs bring out my ugly petty side, I'm afraid. Kudos to you for finding a more civilized solution.

  5. Hilarious! I know I've run into people like this, but I can't think of any good examples right now.

  6. OH I KNOW THE TYPE! And I used to get sucked into their competitive bullshit, then I used to get mad, and now? (Yeah, only took me 2 decades--I'm a slow learner that way) Now I nod and excuse myself. And mark them in my mind so I can avoid them in the future.

  7. Trapped in the pedicure chair next to a CT - nightmarish, especially when you're craving solace after a shxtty school year. My response to those people is usually to get very quiet(so out of character for me, but I don't believe in wasting energy in these cases.) Like Patience, I can't think of any examples right now, but I've had the experience and it's incredibly infuriating. I always wonder if people like that are even aware of what they're doing, or if the way they behave is just a reflex, like sneezing.

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Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.