Off Ramp commentator Dylan Brody is a humorist, storyteller and pompous know-it-all.
My manager holds an annual holiday party as his house. This year, my wife and I found ourselves engaged in a lovely conversation with a small group that was suddenly hijacked by a pompous know-it-all. This irritated me. Pompous know-it-all is the position I like to occupy in a conversation, and he was usurping it.
Also he was doing it more loudly, and less entertainingly, than I do, a sin only marginally less heinous in my eyes than doing it subtly and more entertainingly. He was one of these cretins who blithely states as fact gibberish he has absorbed from a talk-radio host.
“We could solve the whole budget problem if we just didn’t have so many free-loading teachers and single mothers!” Or, “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover state workers’ salaries and pensions. I mean, that’s called double dipping! Duh!”
He would follow each of these proclamations with “I’m just sayin’,” which is code for, “I don’t actually want to discuss this. I want to lecture. If you don’t agree, please keep it to yourself as I have nothing invested in my opinion beyond my desire to state it.”
Just as I was running out of patience, the man said, “You know, if we didn’t have unions, maybe corporations wouldn’t have to outsource to foreign countries for cheap labor. I’m just sayin’.”
I said, “Do you even hear what you’re 'just sayin’'?”
He put up his hands as if he was surrendering, but said in a confrontational tone, “Hey. Don’t yell at me. I’m just being the Devil’s advocate.”
I said, “The Devil doesn’t need an advocate. He’s the devil.”
Baffled, the man said, “What?”
I said, “Once you concede that you are representing the position of the Devil, you give up the right to claim the moral high ground.”
“OK,” he said. “All right. I get it. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.” And then, thinking himself very witty, he said, “No matter how wrong it might be.”
He looked to the other people in the group for support and agreement. His raised eyebrows gave the expressionist equivalent of the comedian’s, “Am I right, ladies?”
My wife, ever the peacemaker, said, “Sometimes, it’s not all about what you say, but rather how you say it.”
The man dipped into his big sack of stupid and pulled out the hackneyed line, “What’s that in the road? A head?” Nobody laughed, which pleased me.
I said, “Wait. I have a great example of this! A long time ago I had a gig doing stand-up on a cruise ship. One afternoon the cruise director had a really bad stomach thing, so I was asked to stand at the top of the gangplank, and as the tourists returned from their port o’ call, I was to say, 'Welcome aboard, watch your step,' so they wouldn’t trip as they made the slight transition up from the plank to the deck. I was young and pompous and didn’t like it that, as a performer, I was being asked to pick up this task that rightly belonged to someone in the lowly world of customer service. But I discovered very quickly that I could both do the job as asked and entertain myself immensely if, instead of saying, 'Welcome aboard. Watch your step,' and gesturing to the little booby trap of uneven footing, I made eye contact and said, 'Welcome aboard. Watch your step.' They focused nervously on me, tripped over the lip and stumbled on down the deck confused and embarrassed.”
The others in the group laughed at the image of me tormenting the tourists, but the man from whom I had wrested conversational control said, “That’s my story! That happened to a friend of mine. I told you that story four years ago at this party.”
I realized at once that he was right. I had been caught out. I considered telling him that I had not stolen it at all, but rather, it had trickled down to me. I did not tell him that. I said, “Exactly. And when you told it nobody laughed, and I thought, ‘That would work better in the first person and with less anger and more delight.’”
He said, “So you’re saying it’s OK to steal someone else’s story?”
My wife said, “I think he’s saying it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”