The only time I ever feel like the smartest person in the room is when the discussion is sports, most of which I've played, and especially baseball, a popular national subject that saves me. Right off I perk up, being the son of a professional baseball player (I've coached and tutored), and allow myself to listen and take the high ground as a smugly magnanimous maven, until I'm ready to show whomever I'm talking to that I am an expert who orates in a manner so secure and authoritative and knowledgeable that those in my company are at first impressed, then awed, and finally overwhelmed!
But I'm a one-trick pony. And knowing a lot about the ins and outs and subtleties of a sport is such meaningless drivel that at times, as I strut and expound, I am embarrassed for myself, as some sort of snobbish blowhard.
What gets me down is being around people who can fix and build things with their hands, and decipher difficult terms and highly technical problems with their minds. I have a friend who is a brilliant mechanical engineer and actually invents things, and when he talks to another of my good friends (both tennis partners) who is a carpenter, I feel ignorant and left out. The mechanical engineer, Dan, has thrice fixed my left rear view side mirror which I've ripped off while backing out of my garage. Dan is patient and understanding and loves to lend a hand to those inferior to his skills, and I am most appreciative of him and also the carpenter, Ethan, who also fixes things around my rented apartment when they go haywire.
So, because I am almost always the stupidest and most inept person in the room, I am also needy and dependent, a person who would like to help others but cannot because he knows so little and can't fix anything without destroying it, and thus has to constantly throughout a lifetime ask others for help in a manner he hopes is not beggarly so as to salvage some pride and a smidgen of self respect.
This ignorance of and inability to conquer basic mechanics dates to my US Army test scores, where I rated at the pinnacle in English and practical math, but hit below 20% in mechanical aptitude, which prompted the sergeant who interviewed me to see where I fit in, to say, “These are the lowest test scores on any subject I've ever seen. Did you guess on any of these problems? The odds are if you did you'd get at least twenty five per cent.” “I tried,” I confessed. “They were difficult.” “Well, you won't end up in the motor pool,” he said. I ended up a medic and actually excelled at it.
One personal asset I do possess, however, is the ability to recognize my stupidity and ineptness and not try to compensate by ACTING like I know about subjects I know nothing about, for I am at least secure in the fact I am rendered almost worthless due to my knowing so little and almost always being the stupidest person in the room and sometimes the butt of jokes over this glaring deficiency.
Throughout my lifetime, mostly as a bartender, I have listened to a lot of people discuss their jobs, careers, pastimes, etc., and they seem to enjoy talking about them and I always try to act interested, though I am not, which is probably why I am almost always the stupidest person in the room, but the list of the things these people talk about to me are so boring I cannot bear to listen and learn.
Over the years I've listened to people talk about their cars and engines, their household projects, their gardens, their cooking, music, guns, tools, (Dan has a junkyard supply of tools), all manner of sciences, instruments and appliances of every kind, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, sporting equipment, hobbies, almost all jobs, deals, acquisitions, gambling odds, gadgets, the latest cell phones that take pictures and send messages, wine tasting, beer brewing, the list goes on and on and on...
Every Thanksgiving I drive 230 miles south to see my sister and brother-in law (an ex corporate executive who can solve any problem and repair just about anything) in Palos Verdes, and I join them on the night before at a gathering of their friends, all immensely successful and wealthy and educated and living in this illustrious enclave, all with children who have masters degrees and great jobs, people so technically advanced and financially savvy and tremendously responsible as both citizens and parents, and who, on the side, as they enter retirement, have resourceful avocations at which they are also immensely successful.
I always drink a lot of vodka and try not to say anything to expose myself as the stupidest person in the room, and do my best to fend off all questions as to what I am doing with my life and steer the subjects to sports, bringing up the Lakers, Dodgers, etc, and over the ten or fifteen years this has been going on, they have learned to bring these subjects up immediately to produce a more comfortable atmosphere, realizing the poor bastard at least knows his sports and is incapable of talking about electronics or nuclear physics or corporate strategy...Christ, I've been a goddam cab driver and bartender all my life steeped in near poverty and self imposed ignorance...
Although, at gatherings of all sorts, because I know who I am, I have learned how to steer conversations toward sheer nonsense to save myself. I am an expert at lowering the level of discussion, so that all those people so much smarter than me on so many subjects have to lower themselves and talk about ridiculously stupid things, like, well, my latest misadventure at some sort of meager attempt at a useless endeavor, delivered in a manner so self-deprecating that they laugh at my folly! Like the ass of the class, or a comedian only comfortable making fun of himself, and still another way of drawing attention to an attention starved goof.
I have, over the years, been told I'm an interesting conversationalist, which probably also means on a more serious level I get those I'm talking to to talk about themselves and the things they know and like, and act interested even if I'm not and have no idea what they're talking about, but am at least drawing attention AWAY from myself in the hope of avoiding embarrassment at my stupidity,
The subject I really prefer to talk about, of course, is politics, of which I know more than the common idiot on the street but not nearly enough to impress anybody whose professionally immersed in politics, though I do read political tracts in major magazines like the New Yorker, and read the LA Times cover to cover daily, which at least informs me enough to know what the fuck is going on in the world.
But, politics, like religion, is touchy, and I can become belligerent, unhinged and deranged within a split-second and ruin a party or gathering and have been forbidden by many friends from joining such gatherings and parties.
My favorite milieu in which to indulge in conversations is of course the local bar, where several local drunks who think they know everything and actually know little and also know less than I do. Here, for at least an hour or two every three or four weeks, I can be the smartest person in the room, and I can tell people like Jim Bennington, a local carpenter and character, that I love talking to him because he doesn't know anything and when we argue drunkenly he is always wrong and I am always right. Here, I can inform my good friend, Tag Moreley, an all around Mr. fix-it handyman unofficial mayor of my home town of Cayucos who, at 60, dresses during off work hours like a fashion plate dandy, that he is my intellectual inferior, and that he is fat (he's not) as revenge after his making me feel like an idiot when he spent 2 hours putting together the stationary bike another good rich friend shipped to me straight from a factory in a big box.
(Tag began demeaning me the moment he observed me struggle with opening the box and never let up).
Thing is, I do have a good vocabulary and am fairly articulate and at times even eloquent in explaining to people what I do know, or even faking it. In the bar milieu, I can exercise my talent for trash talking, which even those who begrudge me everything admit I am unrivaled, so that those who think they know more than me instantly discover they are no match for my rapid-fire bullshit and soon creep away, so that only the strong-minded survive. After all, I was brought up in the professional baseball player's clubhouse, where the exchange of hard personal banter was a tradition, and easily transferred to the bar life.
My kind of territory.