The other day, I took some stuff out to a staff member to be mailed. That staff guy, named Eddie, is from New Orleans.
Not being what you would call "sociable," (or "even remotely friendly,") I'm always on the lookout for some way to actually appear to relate to other human beings (without actually having to do so), so I gather tidbits of information that will let me make small talk with people when the need arises.
On this particular day (last Friday) I had heard a commercial for a new restaurant which featured "New Orleans cuisine."
Here is everything I know about "New Orleans" cuisine, as of the moment I heard that commercial:
1. It exists.
2. It can be sold at restaurants in Madison, Wisconsin.
3. And it maybe includes rats called "Nutria," but that's probably just for tourists. (I saw that on a Discovery channel special one night.)
But I didn't need to know anything about New Orleans cuisine to mention to Eddie that there was a new restaurant selling New Orleans' cuisine, and ask if he'd tried it. All I needed was some small talk to make for a minute or two so that people wouldn't catch on that I'm about one day away from becoming a hermit living on a mountain somewhere.
In response to my question, Eddie said that he had heard of and eaten at the restaurant. Having fulfilled my quota for socializing that day, I was going to leave, but I couldn't, because Eddie was still talking to me.
He asked if I would eat there and I tried to dodge the question and say I wasn't sure because I didn't know what "New Orleans cuisine" was. That didn't work to get me out of the conversation, because Eddie handed me a menu that he had from the restaurant and showed it to me.
So, I'd gone from "small talk that should end quickly" to "having to read a menu when I'd really rather not." I skimmed it through and said:
"It doesn't look like my kind of food. A lot of seafood and shrimp and stuff."
To which Eddie said:
"You don't like shrimp?"
"No," I said. "I don't like to eat anything that's related to arachnids."
Which I thought would end the conversation, because where do you go from there? Saying something like I don't like to eat anything that's related to arachnids SHOULD end any conversation, shouldn't it?
Only it didn't end there, because by that time one of the partners in the firm had walked up, and overheard that conversation, and he said:
"I don't think shrimp are related to arachnids."
So now I had to defend my comment, a defense I mounted by claiming that shrimp were related to crabs and lobsters, and that crabs, lobsters, and shrimp were all members of the arachnid family and I wasn't going to eat a spider no matter how deep fried it might be.
But the Partner didn't want to let it go at that. He was certain that shrimp weren't spiders, and so we went back to my office and looked up on the Internet whether "shrimp" are "arachnids." That's when we learned that shrimp are in the "Arthropoda" phylum and the "Crustacea" class --
-- but first, we had to look something up to recall what "Phyla" and "Orders" and the like were --
-- whereas spiders, while are members of the "Arthropoda" phylum, are in the "Arachnid" class.
All of which took about 35 minutes to do, and left the Partner claiming that he was right because shrimp are not technically, arachnids, but left me feeling I was right because shrimp are, technically, gross.