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Right Turn


by Chris Okum


"My mother died."
"Oh yeah?"
"What do you mean, 'oh yeah?'"
"I just mean, okay, that's interesting, go on.'"
"My mother died and you find that 'interesting?'"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I don't know if the proper response to someone telling you that their mother died is 'oh yeah?'"
"What am I supposed to say then?"
"'Oh my God.' 'What happened?' 'I'm so sorry.' Not, "oh yeah?'"
"I thought you were about to tell me a story. So I was encouraging you to go on."
"A story? About what?"
"About your mother. About how she died."
"There's no story. She just died. She was sick. And then she died."
"Okay. Then how should we proceed? I don't understand."
"What do you mean, 'I don't understand?' What is there to understand? Or not understand? I don't understand what you don't understand."
"You just said, 'my mother died,' right?"
"Oh yeah?"
"Huh?"
"Please, continue with your story."
"I don't have a story. I'm just repeating what you said."
"It sounded like you were about to tell a story about what happened when I told you my mother died."
"Hey, look at that kid over there. Gee whiz."
"What kid? What are you talking about?"
"That kid over there. Forget it. He's gone. You missed it."
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Mmm-hmm."
"My mother died."
"But what does that even mean?"
"It means she's dead. What kind of question is that?"
"I'm just trying to make sure that we're talking about the same thing."
"What else would we be talking about?"
"Maybe you're still talking about the kid."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't see any kid. What I'm talking about is my mother and how she just died."
"Oh yeah?"
"Why do you keep saying that? 'Oh yeah?' What kind of response is that?"
"What don't you understand? All I'm doing is letting you know that I'm listening to you and that I would like you to continue to tell me the story about how your mother died."
"But I don't have a story. There is no story."
"Then why are you telling me that your mother died?"
"Because I thought you should know."
"Okay, well, now I know."
"But you can't respond to this kind of information by saying, 'oh yeah?'"
"Why not?"
"Because that's not what you say when someone tells you that their mother died."
"Says who?"
"It's against the rules."
"The rules? What rules?"
"The rules of conversation."
"I didn't know there were any rules."
"There are."
"Where? Did someone write them down? I've never seen them." 
"That's because they're unspoken."
"Then how would I know them if no one has ever told me what they are?"
"You wouldn't."
"I'm not a big believer in rules. I think they're social constructs."
"Yeah, that's exactly what they are."
"Right."
"So you agree with me?"
"No."
"You just said, 'right.'"
"Again, I'm just letting you know that you can continue with your line of thought."
"I don't have any line of thought."
"You said, 'rules are socially constructed.'"
"That's not what I said. That's what you said."
"But you were implying that."
"No, I wasn't. All I was doing was agreeing with you."
"So you do agree with me, then. Rules are just social constructs."
"Yes, I agree with you."
"Then what's the problem? We're in agreement."
"About what?"
"That rules are just social constructs and therefore they don't have to be followed."
"I don't agree with that at all."
"You just said you agreed with me."
"I do. But not with what you just said."
"So you agree with me that rules are social constructs, but you don't agree with me that because they're social constructs they are not legitimate."
"Yes, no, I don't agree with you."
"You think rules should be followed?"
"Yes."
"Mmm-hmm."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I don't agree with you."
"'Mmm-hmm' means you don't agree with me?"
"That's correct."
"'Mmm-hmm' means something else."
"Are you done?"
"With what?"
"Your story. About your dead mother."
"I don't have a story."
"So there's no punch line?"
"No. Because I'm not joking."
"I know you're not joking."
"Then why would you ask me if there's a punch line?"
"Because that's how stories end."
"Number one, stories don't end with a punch line; they end with a point, or some kind of conclusion. And number two, I'm not telling you a story."
"So you are done, then."
"I suppose."
"Because I have a story I'd like to tell. It won't take up too much of your time. I'm telling you that in advance. All you have to do is sit there and let me know that you're listening to me by nodding your had and saying 'oh yeah' whenever I pause. I'm also telling you in advance that what I'm going to tell you is weird. Something weird happened to me. And by the end I will supply you with a weird ending. Because that's what happens when you tell someone that something weird happened to them, right?"
"No."
"What do you mean,'no.'"
"I mean, I'm not going to agree with you."
"Agree with me? About what?"
"You ended your sentence with the word 'right.' That means you want me to agree with you before you move on to whatever it is that you have to say next. And I'm not going to agree with you."
"Why?"
"Because I don't want to move on to what you have to say next."
"But I have a story I want to tell you. I listened to your story and now you have to listen to my story."
"I didn't tell you a story. And you didn't listen to me."
"If you didn't tell me a story then how could I not listen to you? What was I not listening to then?"
"A fact."
"What fact?"
"That my mother died."
"That's not a fact."
"Sure it is."
"That's your opinion."
"That my mom died? Now you're making me angry."
"Why? Because I won't agree with you?"
"Yes."
"Why do I have to agree with you?"
"Because what I'm telling you can't be argued with."
"Says who?"
"Says me."
"And who made you in charge?"
"No one."
"You tell me your mom died. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. How am I supposed to know?"
"Because she was my mother and I'm telling you she died."
"How do I know she was your mother? How do I even know you even have a mother?"
"Because everyone has a mother."
"Says who?"
"Says basic human biology."
"So what? Biology is just another social construct. And I don't believe in it."
"Okay. But let's just assume for the sake of the conversation that I had a mother."
"Okay."
"And let's just assume that my mother died."
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah."
"So you told me a story about your mom and how she died." 
"That wasn't story."
"Sure it was. It was a very, very short story, but it was still a story. Don't get mad at me because you didn't want to tell me a longer story."
"That's because its not a long story."
"My story is long. But not too long."
"Okay."
"Oh, so you want me to continue?"
"No."
"You just said, 'okay.'"
"That doesn't mean I want you to continue."
"Then what does that mean?"
"I don't know."
"I do."
"No, I mean, I don't know if I want you to continue, that's what that means when I say 'I don't know.'"
"But, okay, so I'm going to continue anyway."
"Again, that's not how a conversation works."
"How does a conversation work, then?"
"If I indicate that I don't know if I want to continue talking to you then you need to acknowledge that and figure out a way to convince me to want to continue talking to you."
"But I don't want to convince you."
"Then I don't want to continue."
"But I don't care if you want me to continue or not."
"Then we can't have a conversation."
"Says who?"
"Says me. You can't have a conversation with someone if they don't want to have a conversation with you."
"See, that's where you're wrong. You're going to have a conversation with me whether you want to or not."
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah."


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