I decided to post another of my English composition papers. (See Put a little English on it.) The subject of this paper was how to do or be something. I hate how-to papers. They were the bane of my existence all through my public school education. I thought that in college, things might be a little different, but no. The instructor made the mistake of saying that we could write how to do or how to be anything. Anything at all. It was up to us to decide.
My dark side rubbed her hands together and compiled a quick list in my head. How to . . . carjack. Rob a bank. Frighten children. Get arrested. Break all ten of the commandments. Become an adult film star. Convince a nun to break her vows.
No, I told my dark side. We want an A on this paper, not another visit from the FBI. (Did you know that when you rent Pixar’s Up and Hot Public Orgies Part 37 at the same time, they put you on a list?)
I stared at my blank notebook paper. How to . . . cook something. (It turns out, almost everyone in the class did that. Three people gave us a fascinating insight into the various ways to make macaroni and cheese.) The two I ♥ Twilight girls behind me would not shut up about how unfair it was that their parents wanted them home before 1 a.m.
Dark side suggested, How to get people to shut up when you don’t want to hear what they have to say.
My eyebrows shot up. Interesting. I put pen to paper.
How to Create an Uncomfortable Silence
There are few things more terrifying in life than being the victim of an uncomfortable silence: a horrible, awkward moment when you have said or done something so monumentally wrong that no one around you knows what to do or say. They just stare at you. Someone might cough. You might hear crickets chirring in the background. Mostly you will hear silence.
However, did you know you could create an uncomfortable silence on purpose, for no reason other than to amuse yourself and humiliate someone else? There are many circumstances when this may be advantageous, such as in line at a movie theater, or in the middle of a crowded city bus, but for the purposes of this document, we will use a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and we will be experimenting upon two very nice-seeming old ladies.
Before you can enter this Barnes and Noble, however, you must first do a little research on a fellow named Albert Fish. This will not take long. You can either Google him or access one of the many true crime websites on the Internet, such as www.prairieghosts.com/crime.html and check under the heading “Strange Tales”. Take a few minutes to memorize some unsavory facts about the “Gray Man”, and you are ready.
Once you have done this, you may proceed to the bookstore and locate these two women, who are standing in line with their books— most likely the latest Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele— cradled against their polyester-covered bosoms. They look nice, very grandmotherly. Stand next to them with your own purchase. They smell of sachets and mothballs. Ah, but they are talking about something very annoying to you: how terrible the current times are and how much better things were in their times. Minus two world wars, polio, and a lack of central air conditioning and iPods, this may well be true. Nevertheless, you do not want to hear their opinions. You want to hear the Norah Jones compact disc that the store is playing, and these two old biddies are preventing that from happening.
Now that you take a closer look at them, they really are not very nice-seeming. The one closest to you resembles that evil teacher from the Harry Potter movies, Dolores Umbridge. Her friend looks like that mean third-grade teacher that everyone in your elementary school was scared of. Repulsive, both of them, and definitely deserving of the barrage of uncomfortable silence you are about to unleash.
When you are sufficiently riled up, you must trick them into noticing you are eavesdropping on their conversation. This is not hard to do; we believe that everyone else around us is fascinated with us, and this is especially true of the elderly. Once they have noticed you, you must then make eye contact, and pair it with a winning smile. You may want to throw in a few knowing nods. If you are successful, you will be included in their conversation. They may sidle a bit closer to you. Do not panic; you want this to happen. Remember, you need to maintain a low, conversational tone of voice. Only a rank amateur raises her or his voice while attempting an uncomfortable silence. It is not necessary to involve the entire store.
They may invite you to offer your opinion; if they do not, look for nonverbal cues, such as a pause in their conversation followed by eye contact with you. This means that they want you to say something. This is the crucial moment. Do not rush into it. Hopefully you have sufficiently memorized the salient facts of Albert Fish and even practiced saying them. Take your time and remember to keep the low, conversational tone.
This is what you will say: “I agree that these are horrible times. Did you know that there was an elderly man in New York State who kidnapped a ten-year-old girl and then killed and ate her? And she wasn’t the only victim; he claimed to have done this to at least six other kids.”
The two women will of course respond with expressions, both verbal and nonverbal, of shock and outrage. They will no doubt follow this with exclamations that this is the first that they have heard of it; it has not been mentioned on the television or Internet.
This is your moment, so take care to get it right. Raise your eyebrows a bit and then say, “Well, that’s because it happened in 1928, by a man named Albert Fish. So much for the good old days, right?”
What should follow is your carefully manufactured uncomfortable silence. Bask in it for a few seconds and then slink away. From the way that they are now goggling at you, anyone who has a fact like that floating around in his or her brain is on the same level as the person who walks around wearing a Charles Manson for President (Charles in Charge!) tee shirt. Mission accomplished; you achieved uncomfortable silence!
I received an A on this paper! Good dark side!
Oh, and for funsies, here’s a pic of Albert Fish.
Aaaand here’s a copy of the original newspaper article reporting on his crime. I couldn’t find out what paper this was from, sorry.
Boy, this kinda turned out to be a dark, dark post. I’m gonna go watch Mr. Bean.
(Albert Fish pic from www.motifake.com. Newspaper article from Yahoo! image search albert fish.)