Not long ago, I was out on an awkward brunch and the conversation started to sputter and fail. At times like these, I often inexplicably assume responsibility for everyone’s entertainment and try to liven things up by instigating bouts of armwrestling or yodelling contests. But on this day, neither of those seemed appropriate, so instead I told a 2-minute long, fairly dynamic story about a big bug. Luckily the big bug story in question had actually happened the previous night, so I was able to segue into it without too much contrivance, and even luckilyier, I had photodocumented the horrible bug with my celphone, so I could show everyone my grainy photos of the monstrosity, class arthropoda, species cataclysma.
Now, I’m not saying I’m Oprah or anything, but basically my bug story saved brunch and made the whole world a way better place. Everyone was interested, and then immediately my bug story (which also involved a part about the cat trying to eat said bug) was followed by another bug story, then a cat-kills-bird story. And then the lens opened to include a real gem, an illustrator-slides-down-mountain-and-almost-dies-but-lives-to-tell-
the-tale story. Awesome. Conversation revitalized, food arrived, brunch success.
The bug story was a perfect tool to re-invigorate things, and after some thought, I’ve figured out a few reasons why:
1. Everyone has a story like this: human vs. nature. The general structure tends to be: nature terrifies human, human poisons or stomps on nature (or in my case traps and flushes nature down toilet), hence humans are amazing, and, now that we’ve reconfirmed that understanding, please pass the bacon. It’s so relatable.
2. Telling these stories is the opposite of bragging, as we all act like idiots when faced with a big hairy bug. And nothing is more endearing than an idiot who can dramatize his-or-her idiocy.
3. No political or ethical dilemmas ensue, unless you’re hanging out with vegans, in which case I cannot help you. Enjoy your carob tempeh loaf.
4. These stories are fast-paced, brief, and require only a gnat’s attention span to comprehend, so even the mediocre storyteller can’t ruin brunch with an overly long one. Not so the story of your breakup, or mortgage, or car accident, or favourite NBC sitcom plot.
5. Bug stories don’t make the teller seem gross. That’s why bug stories will work, while their cousins, the equally dynamic food-poisoning-stories, are not so good. I don’t mind imagining my new aquaintance crying about a spider; but if he makes me imagine him bespattered with the products of his own digestive processes, and crying on the dank bathroom floor of a hostel in Zagreb, well, it’s hard to feel quite so enchanted about this new friend.
6. On the contrary, big bug stories actually accentuate likeable secondary sexual characteristics. If you’re a girl, we’ll laugh indulgently at your feminine hysteria when you find the bug, admire your womanly independence when you squish the bug, and sympathize with your girlish guilt for taking its little life. If you’re a boy, we’ll think it’s cute that you cried when you first saw the silverfish- you’re not so tough! And then we’ll be reassured that you speedily dispatched it- clearly, you’re just tough enough, and in a pinch, you’ll step up and take care of me! Maybe with killing! Good work dude, way to seem simeltaneously sensitive AND virile.
All in all, I think a detour into the land of the big bug story can really revitalize a conversation. I predict that there must be others of its ilk- any suggestions?