NORTH ADAMS — People often say that conversation is a lost art. I think a better word would be "misplaced."
Because conversation is often found, just not where it's needed most. I need conversation on a bus or train ride, when I'm trapped in a small tube on wheels for three hours. If I'm not sleepy, my options for entertainment are talk to the people next to me or talk to myself. But that would be too convenient; people don't converse with you on the bus.
No, instead you find conversation at places like the dentist's office.
Nobody likes being at a dentist's office. This can be scientifically proven, because the only people at a dentists office are: a) Dentists and their employees, who are at work, and nobody likes being at work; b) People visiting the dentist, who are unhappy because they have to pay to have their mouths poked at painfully; and c) Victims who the dentist has tied up in the basement because he's actually Orin Scrivello from Little Shop of Horrors.
One of my college friends became a dentist, and when he told me that he was going to dentistry school, I began singing the Little Shop of Horrors song, "You'll be a dentist ..." And he complained that I was not the first person to react by singing the same song. "You have a talent for causing things pain ..."
But that's because dentists first originated the adding of insult to injury. After poking and drilling in your mouth, they tell you that you are doing everything incorrectly, from eating a pound of sugar a day to brushing with the wrong end of the toothbrush.
And most of all, what happens at a dentist's office is bad conversation. Conversation where you are tilted back on a Star Wars death chair, have an alien autopsy light shining in your eyes, and your mouth is wide open being filled with goop and/or sharp metal instruments being wielded by a dentist who is asking you something like, "So, any exciting plans for this summer?" This is an open-ended question, but since you can only give an open-mouthed answer, your response is going to be very similar to: "Aaaahhhhuuuaaaaahhnnnnnnoaaa."
Oddly enough, "Aaaahhhhuuuaaaaahhnnnnnnoaaa" is exactly the sort of thing I say when people try to hold a conversation with me in the morning. There should be a law that prohibits people from trying to talk with you when you've just woken up. (If they're also responsible for waking you up, they should immediately be fined $500.)
Here's a good rule of thumb to know when it's OK to talk to someone in the morning: Not before their first cup of coffee. And since I don't drink coffee, if it's morning, it's definitely before my first cup of coffee.
But even chipper morning greetings aren't as bad as the people who try to hold a conversation with you while you're in a bathroom stall. The thing about bathroom stalls is, after closing the door, most people like to pretend they are alone. There are even some women who, to put it politely, will not get down to business if it others make it obvious that they are not alone. That's because the bathroom stall is supposed to be an isolation chamber, so it is impolite to break the illusion of isolation.
Critics sometimes call this "breaking the fourth wall." Bathroom stalls generally have 3 walls and a door that we really hope will stay closed which functions as a fourth wall. So it's easy to understand why people are upset when someone attempts to break that wall. If you don't believe me, ask former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Minnesota, (whose name is an anagram of "Liars Try Arrogance" as well as "Artsier Carnal Orgy").
The point is, if you're in a dentist's office in the morning and someone is in a bathroom stall, you should not under any circumstances attempt to have a conversation with them unless the building is on fire, in which case your end of the conversation should be restricted solely to the words, "The building is on fire."
To which the natural response is probably "Aaaahhhhuuuaaaaahhnnnnnnoaaa!"
Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse," and not currently on fire. His website is RisingPun.com