Have you ever known someone who had their own catch phrase, like a sitcom character? I know, it sounds like fun, but it's not. It's really not.I have a coworker who says, every time I see him, "Anything cool happening?"This probably wouldn't bother most people. Most people probably wouldn't even notice. But here's something you need to know about me: I have this weird, admittedly irrational fear of stock phrases. I'm guessing that writers who read this will know what I mean. It jars me, for example, when I hear a phrase like "With all due respect, sir..." or "You just don't get it, do you?!" in an otherwise respectable movie or TV show. Does anyone ever say either of those things in real life? Somebody needs to write up a handbook of Phrases Script Writers Should Avoid Copying from Other TV Shows.It's a sort of paranoia, I suppose, the feeling like you're being boxed in by Hot enough for ya?s, What's the word?s and TGIFs. It bugs the hell out of me when people pepper their speech with empty phrases.So it's not entirely this guy's fault that his greeting grates on me, but it seems like I spend all day trying to avoid "low hanging fruit" and "boiling the ocean", so when someone threatens to introduce a new stock phrase into the lexicon, the hairs prick up on the back of my neck.*"Anything cool happening?"I grit my teeth every time I hear it. I feel like a test subject for a new catch phrase the universe's producers are trying out. If I react incorrectly, it might get written into every scene I have with this character, like people yelling "Norm!" at the beginning of Cheers. I can't let it freak me out, but neither can I respond with some snappy comeback. And the worst possible thing to do would be to settle into a routine response, like "Not around these parts." Blech. All I need is for that insipid exchange to catch on across the country.What I end up doing, not so much by design as by default, is hemming and hawing and generally putting far too much thought into answering a stupid, pointless question. Which may actually be the best thing to do, because nothing forestalls insipid questions like drawn out, uncomfortable, and overly self-conscious responses. "Uh..." I say. "I, uh, dunno. I guess, not really. Too much. Happening. So, um, what about you. How are you doing?"It wouldn't be so bad if that was the end of the exchange, but then he starts in with other predictable questions. He loves getting burritos from a place near our office, so the next thing he asks (because I usually saunter in around 11:15 a.m.) is "Ready for a burrito?"On the plus side, "Ready for a burrito?" probably isn't going to be the next catch phrase sweeping the nation. On the negative side, this is what lawyers call a "complex question," like "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" If I answer with a simple "no," the predictable follow-up will be "So... when will you be ready?" As a result, the conversation goes like this:
Burrito Boy: Ready for a burrito?Diesel: Not sure I want a burrito today.Burrito Boy: Oh man, those burritos are awesome.Diesel: Yep. They're pretty good.Burrito Boy: Pretty good? They're awesome.Diesel: ...Burrito Boy: You don't like those burritos?Diesel: I like them. Just not every day.Burrito Boy: What would you rather have than a burrito? A sandwich?Diesel: Maybe.Burrito Boy: What kind of sandwich, peanut butter and jelly?Diesel: No. Maybe ham.Burrito Boy: Oh man, you'd take ham over a burrito? Those burritos are awesome.No joke, I've had some version of this conversation at least eight times. And with my irrational fear of accidentally falling into a scripted conversation, I feel obligated to change my lines up a bit each time, so that once again I end up putting far too much thought into an unavoidably insipid conversation, while he spews prefabricated speech, Teddy Ruxpin-like, in my direction.And it's not just lunch, either. We've had essentially that same conversation about breeding dogs, getting root beer floats, camping out for the new iPhone, and I don't know how many other subjects. If he weren't so sincere and innocent looking, I'd swear he was f---ing with me. For example, there was this one:
Burrito Boy: How much land do you have?Diesel: Ten acres.Burrito Boy: Wow, you could breed dogs.Diesel: Why would I want to breed dogs?Burrito Boy: You can make a lot of money breeding dogs.Diesel: I don't like dogs. I'm not really an animal person.Burrito Boy: Yeah, but think of all the money you could make.Diesel: Not enough to justify having to deal with a bunch of annoying dogs.Burrito Boy: You don't like dogs?Diesel: I don't hate them, but I wouldn't want a bunch of them around.Burrito Boy: But think of how much money you could make.And this one:
Burrito Boy: You gonna camp out to get one of the new iPhones?Diesel: No.Burrito Boy: You don't want an iPhone?Diesel: No.Burrito Boy: Why don't you want an iPhone? Those things are sweet.Diesel: ...Burrito Boy: I think you should camp out to get one.I was actually rather proud of my showing in the root beer float conversation. I managed to sidetrack the discussion pretty well before it resumed its inevitable course.
Burrito Boy: Wanna get a root beer float?Diesel: Where are you going to get a root beer float?Burrito Boy: There's root beer and ice cream.Diesel: Is it ice cream or frozen yogurt?Burrito Boy: I'm not sure. It's what they usually have. Is that ice cream or yogurt?Diesel: Dunno.Burrito Boy: Ok, well, if it was ice cream, would you have one?Diesel: No, I don't like root beer floats.Burrito Boy: You don't like root beer floats? Oh man, root beer floats are awesome.And in case you're wondering why I'm not concerned that Burrito Boy might read this, I'm pretty sure he doesn't even know the name of my blog. It's not like I keep it a secret, but it doesn't come up much in conversations that revolve around food, breeding dogs, iPhones, or whatever else he's trying to sell me on.Being a fellow programmer, he runs some kind of social networking site (similar, but inferior to, Humor-Blogs.com), which also sometimes serves as the Mad Lib fodder in our discussions. For example:
Burrito Boy: Have you been to _____.com lately?Diesel: No.Burrito Boy: Oh man, you should check it out. There's some great stuff on there.Diesel: I'll bet.Burrito Boy: You have a blog, don't you?Diesel: Yep.Burrito Boy: You should get it on there, get some traffic.Diesel: Uh huh.This, by the way, is one of the many reasons programmers aren't good salesmen. You'd think if he really wanted me to check out his site, he would maybe ask me for the address of my site, feign interest in it for twenty seconds, and then say, "Yeah, you totally need to get this up on _____.com." But his monomania doesn't allow him to take a more expansive view of the situation. He just keeps rephrasing his point of view in the hopes that it will become mine.The effect of this kind of behavior is counterproductive even when the subject is a normal person, much less a surly and deliberately contrarian egomaniac like myself. No one likes being told what to do, and they like it less and less with needless repetition.On the other hand, it occurs to me that people tend to repeat behavior only when it gives them the desired results, so maybe he's getting exactly what he wants. Maybe this badgering and resistance is his version of enjoyable social interaction -- which would mean that all I'm doing is encouraging him. In that case, I should probably respond in an affirmative, but entirely unexpected way. Something like this:
Burrito Boy: Anything cool happening?Diesel: Yeah, I camped out all weekend to get one of the new iPhones. I read something about it on _____.com, and decided I just had to have one.Burrito Boy: Wow, really?Diesel: Yeah, let me show some pictures I took with it.Burrito Boy: What's that?Diesel: Oh, that's my new dog kennel. Did I tell you, I've decided to start breeding dogs!Burrito Boy: Really? What kind of dogs?Diesel: The same kind they make those burritos out of!