Gert Germeraad, Portrait of a Man, 2010.
“GET THE HELL OUT OF MY FACE!” the woman screamed. My companion and I both turned around in alarm as we all mounted the escalator to the movie theater.
“Oh, sorry! Not you!” she apologized hurriedly. “I was just telling a story to my friend! That was something I said!”
In the week since, I have overheard several such monologues. One was a teen girl, vehement, on her cell. “I was just like, you do not speak to me that way,” she asserted. Then a guy on his lunch break was relating to his friend, “I was all, I am not the guy you want to mess with, pal.”
There must be an aspect of exaggeration here; it’s not as if, in day-to-day life, we regularly witness the kind of dialogue these storytellers describe. I’ve started to wonder how accurate these retellings are, and how docile the actual conversations were in comparison. I’m guessing these narrators really said something more along the lines of “Sure,” or, “Yeah,” or maybe, “Okay.”
In the telling, everyone’s an assertive, brave little tailor, slaying giants and jerks with impunity and disregard for the social contract. And in fairness, “I was like” is a construction well suited to ambiguity. No one is claiming to have said anything in particular. What we’re conveying with “I was like” is a momentary ethos, an id, a subjective reality. We all do it.
And as listeners, we all understand this. No one takes these accounts literally; in such a moment, someone is venting, and requires nothing but commiseration. People don’t seem to worry much about the chagrin of l’esprit d’escalier; why waste time castigating yourself about missed opportunities when you can just tell everyone the story as you wish it had happened?
The truth is, faithful accounts of most interactions, unleavened by an indignant internal monologue, would be pretty dull. And conversely, any person who actually lived life as we all claim to live it would be crazy.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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