When I worked as the weekend supervisor at the music library of my college (oh, the power!) I had a boss, D.N., who was a very nice but very strange man. I got into the habit of encouraging him to leave early when I got there on Friday, which he usually did. We both found this a suitable arrangement and tended to stay out of each others’ way.
Every once in a while, though, he would try to tell me something or explain something to me. The problem was that he would talk for ten minutes without saying anything at all, and then say exactly one thing. At first this was excruciating, but eventually I learned that, if I zoned out for most of his speech, my spider sense would alert me when he was about to say the one thing that he had been going for all along. Then I would zone back in, he would say the one thing, I would interrupt him and say, “Perfect, D., it’s taken care of,” and that would stop the whole thing.
This worked fine until one day he said, “Faustus, we need to dialogue vis-à-vis the barcoding project.” (He actually talked like this.) So we went into his office, and he started talking. I zoned out and he talked and talked . . . and then he stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. Clearly he thought he had asked a question or stated something to which some sort of response on my part would be appropriate; in fact he had actually talked for fifteen minutes without saying a single thing.
I sat, staring at him in silence, as he waited for my response. I was in a precarious position. I could try to bluff my way out of it, but I had absolutely no idea as to the direction the bluff should go. If I said the wrong thing I might find later that I had agreed to rebarcode all the scores myself. But I clearly had to do something. My heart was in my throat and the tension was growing thicker by the second.
So I looked him in the eye and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Then he talked for ten more minutes, he said the one thing, I told him it was taken care of, and he left early.
When I think about what a coward I am now, sometimes it helps to remember that I used to be brave.