I am a grocery store ninja.
I’m as quiet as a kumquat. As stealthy as a salmon. As elusive as an endive.
In the time it takes you to squeeze an orange to test for ripeness, I’m in and out and done with my shopping. Chances are, I’ve glided past you – mere inches away – on the snack aisle at Kroger.
Even if you’re someone I know, I’ve done that. I am a master at not being seen by friends and acquaintances at the store. I’ve been known to walk right past someone I know without saying a word – unless they see me.
Don’t get me wrong, I like my friends and acquaintances. But I also have social anxiety, which is made worse when the prospect of small talk is factored in. The checkout line is not the place for deep conversations, so the only option is small talk.
Friend: “Hi, Brad! How are you?”
Also me: I’m actually not fine, but that’s not what you want to hear while you’re unloading groceries onto a sticky conveyor belt, plus I don’t know you well enough to bare my soul, so we’ll just play this torturous little game for the next couple minutes.
Me: “And how have you been?”
Also friend: Is actually probably doing great.
I’m no misanthrope. Why, it’s like Buster Scruggs said: “I don’t hate my fellow man – even when he’s tiresome and surly and tries to cheat at poker.”
I like most people, even those who are held in low esteem by others. That doesn’t mean I want to have a 20-minute conversation – or even a 20-second conversation – with every familiar face I see.
My desire to converse is sometimes determined by my mood. And if I’m in the right mood and the topic of conversation interests me, I just might talk your ear off. That’s a rare occurrence.
When I am engaged in conversation, I have trouble maintaining eye contact. It makes me uncomfortable, like the other person can see behind my eyes. I have yet to win a staring contest.
I once had a friend who loved to mess with me by making me stare into her eyes. I never lasted long, and it gave her a good laugh.
All of this might explain why I have a tough time connecting with people on a deep level. Like most of our issues, this can be traced back to childhood.
I had a speech impediment, which made me not want to talk to people. I could go a whole school year speaking hardly a word to my classmates.
My impediment got better as I entered adulthood, but I still have to consciously battle it at times, and it’s left a permanent mark.
I never learned how to properly talk to other people. I’ve gotten much better, mainly due to my line of work, but interviewing a football coach is not the same as talking about life goals with your wife (now ex-wife).
Here’s the paradox I face: I don’t like small talk because it doesn’t feel like genuine conversation, but I don’t like genuine conversation because I might reveal too much of myself.
That’s why I value silence. Like a ninja.
BRAD LOCKE is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal. Contact him on Twitter @bradlocke or via email at email@example.com.