I was once employed working for a friendly little institution located in the business district of St. Louis. It was a rather quaint place in my estimation, even somewhat left behind in the headlong race of the first world, and I, not always consciously, found myself looking forward to the end of my sojourn there.
On one of those hot, stuffy days that you can see the humidity lounging in the air and you have to make the decision whether to put on business clothes or a bathing suit, I was sitting at my desk trying to focus on the project at hand. But despite my best efforts, my hand kept wandering, more and more frequently, to my brown-paper lunch sack to review its contents even though I already knew exactly what was in it.
It was at this moment, precisely between checking the sandwich and the apple, that my boss darkened the office door and asked if I would like to joint him, and a few of the other employees that were eating together, in the conference room. I usually worked through lunch but I jumped at this invitation to a change of pace; though I was careful not to appear too enthusiastic about anything in front of my boss. I just said, “Yeah, I’ll be down.”
There was only one open seat at the table when I arrived, and I took it, with mental dissent at having to sit in the corner amongst a stack of cardboard boxes left over from some immortal filing project. But I was quickly distracted by something more distasteful to me than my seating—the conversation. Perhaps it was the fact that the volunteer was monologuing, or it might have been that she was telling about her daughter’s linguistics, but I’m rather sure it was mostly that Trafalgar bus tour. It came into the conversation in an innocent enough way, but once it was in, it wrapped its grubby arms around the conversation and didn’t let go for all my attempts to get rid of it.
“Well, it kept us moving from spot to spot much too fast to be relaxed. It was nice though. We were able to quickly see everywhere in France, and then go back and spend more time where we wanted later.”
“Many vineyards in France?” asked another at the table.
“Oh dear me, I’d swear there was one in every backyard, and gardens—oh the gardens! It’s so beautiful you can’t imagine. The Trafalgar bus tour showed us lots of them.”
I had been to France, and thought very little of the countryside, so I decided to make an attempt at wresting the conversation from the grip of the Trafalgar bus tour.
“I didn’t much care for France, but the Swiss Alps were magnificent,” I commented.
“Oh,” said the volunteer, “have you been to France? What time of year was it?”
“Spring,” I replied, “but as I was saying, have any of you been to the mountains?”
There was no response.
“Well, um . . .We didn’t see any mountains on the bus tour,” she began again. “But the fall colors in France were beautiful. And Paris, where do you start, but we didn’t have much time there—only two hours at each stop. We had to have our bags in the hall to be loaded by 6:30, and we weren’t in our room before ten a single night.”
“Are they very religious over there?” asked one of the others, in the momentary pause. There it was, my silver bullet to slay this bus tour monster that was strangling our conversation.
“Oh, yes they are all Catholic in France, but the Trafalgar bus tour didn’t take us to Notre Dame, but we did see the cathedral at. . .” I cut her off at that moment.
“Actually,” I said casually, “in France they have a rather watered-down form of Catholicism. Does anyone know if the Anglicans are more true to their faith? I shouldn’t wonder if there’s a denomination more genuine than both of those oldies.”
I metaphorically rose and leveled my revolver, loaded with that silver bullet of a conversation starter, and fired pointblank into the Trafalgar beast.
The table erupted into debate, and the beautiful hum of idea and counter idea, accusation and counter accusation filled the room. The Volunteer looked about her as if she had lost something. I was rather smug with myself at having so beautifully reclaimed the conversation for the people, and suddenly saw myself as a shrewd hero, rescuing the dumb masses from oppression.
Then to my horror, above the buzz of conversation I heard the voice of the Volunteer saying, “Oh, well anyway, on the Trafalgar bus tour we didn’t visit many Catholic churches in France, but in Italy. And oh, the wineries in Italy.” The others began to quiet and listen again.
It had vanquished me. That doggone Trafalgar bus tour had risen from the grave and reclaimed its grip upon the conversation.
I left the table, and went back to sweating in my stifling office. There certainly wasn’t room at that luncheon for both of us.
This is a fictional antidote, though much of it is based on true experiences I’ve had. But to be honest, all the characters and circumstances have been greatly exaggerated for the reader’s enjoyment.