Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Art of the Perfect Kicker: How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?

I may not know much, but I've always known how to start a conversation. I've been told that I have the gift of gab and a knack for immediately putting people at ease, which must be the result of years of practice interviewing divas and icons. First impressions are everything, and I've gotten pretty good at making a good one. It's the last impression that gives me so much trouble.

In writing, kickers have always been more challenging for me than ledes. Do you end the article with a tidy summary sentence, a quote, a joke, a question or a cliffhanger? In the end (literally), it depends on the mood -- your mood and the mood of the piece. One of my all-time favorite kickers came at the end of a review I once read of Curve's Doppelgänger album: "It's like a nightmare from which you wake up dancing." It was so good, I spent years toying with the idea of stealing it and applying it to something else. (I think in my own Doppelgänger review, I must have said something about how it would be the perfect soundtrack for the end of the world, which, I suppose would make it the ultimate kicker.)

When it comes to knowing how to leave things, film directors have often done it far much better than I ever could (see several examples here). The films The Heiress, Interiors, Dangerous Liaisons, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Carrington, Central Station, The Hours, About Schmidt and The Deep Blue Sea immediately come to mind.

Alas, real like kickers are rarely so poetic, which might be the reason why I have such a bad habit of sneaking out of parties, including my own, without saying goodbye. If I do decide to tough it out, there are so many considerations to be made. If I end with a quote, is it "So long," "Have a good week/weekend," or "Take care" (all of which, in the context of dating, are tantamount to saying, "Have a good life"), or do I go out with "Call me" or "I'll call you"? If I'm in Buenos Aires, is it "Ciao," "Beso," "Besos" or "Cuidatate." If I'm in Bangkok, do I say, "Sawasdee ka"? Is it like "Aloha" in Hawaii, appropriate for both hello and goodbye? Oh, and where do I put my hands?

Though it still involves a certain degree of hand wringing (because I'm neurotic like that), saying goodbye to friends, family and acquaintances, fills me with less angst than excusing myself from the company of perfect strangers, especially when it's in the setting of a date, a platonic social meeting with someone I barely know or haven't seen in ages, or a business breakfast/lunch/dinner. Sometimes, I think, it would be far easier to just pay the bill and sneak out when they're in the bathroom than to face yet another awkward departure.

If I stick around until the bitter end of a date, do I wrap it up ("Well, it's getting late, and I have to be up early..."), or do I leave that honor to the other person? Do I extend an invitation to my place, kiss them, or wait until they kiss they me? Do I walk away first, or do I wait until they do? And most importantly, do I look back? I went out on a date the week before last, and after he dropped me off at my apartment, I spent the next hour worrying that I had lingered too long in the passenger seat and that perhaps my departure hadn't been breezy enough. (Aussies are the kings and queens of the breezy exit.)

Saying goodbye to a group is never easy for me either because suddenly I'm the center of unwanted attention, and if I'm in Buenos Aires, I have to go person to person kissing them on both cheeks in one final act of fake congeniality. Thankfully, in parties of three or more, those breezy Aussies, like their distant British relations, like to keep it as real as I do. When it's down to just the two of us, though (and the breezy is taken down a notch or two), goodbye might come somewhat easier if the person I've been talking to has been carrying an equal amount of the weight of the conversation.

That's what I kept telling myself while I was having a couple of imported Italian beers with Kevin last night at Pinnochio's, a posh pizzeria on Toorak Road in South Yarra. I still can't believe that Kevin is only 21. It's not that he looks older -- though he insisted that most people think he does -- but rather the way he gave as good as he got in conversation.

Although he was born in the '90s, he has it together more than many people I know who joined us in the '80s. He's been living far from home (Bristol, England) since November of 2011, he supports himself (as a tradesman, which, I found out, is the equivalent of a carpenter in the U.S.), he said he could probably remodel an entire bathroom if I asked him to, and when I mentioned David Bowie's new album, and expressed surprise that he knew whom I was talking about, he asked, incredulously, "Who doesn't know David Bowie?"

But most of all, it was the way he ended the conversation, relieving me of what I'd come to regard as my social duty. "Are you a hand shaker or a hugger?" he asked as we were about to part ways. Now that was a new one. Even if I were a hand shaker (and I'm not), I probably would have hugged him anyway -- for giving me faith in the communication skills of 21 year olds, and for giving me the perfect way to end my next one-on-one.
Post a Comment