Omit the extraneous details, please 

Two businessmen in meeting“Did you know there was an earthquake last night?” I asked my friend, Hank, as we stood near the water cooler at work.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I felt it.”

“You felt it?” I asked. “They said it happened around eleven-thirty. I was asleep.”

“Yeah, well, I was awake,” he said. “You see, I’d gotten up around eleven to take a gnarly dump, and when I lay back down, the whole room started shaking. I thought a car had hit the house.”

I stared at him, blinking.

Hank frowned. “What?”

I crossed my arms. “Did you really need to add that extraneous detail?”

“What extraneous detail?”

“The detail about why you’d woken up.”

He shrugged. “I was just trying to explain why I was awake.”

“And you needn’t have done so. All you had to say was that you were awake and that you had felt the earthquake. Nothing more.”

“Right, but I wanted to explain to you why I was awake at eleven-thirty.”

“No one cares why you were awake at eleven-thirty. It’s an extraneous detail that’s not pertinent to the story. That’s why they call it ‘extraneous.’”

“I don’t think it’s extraneous,” Hank said. “I think it’s integral. If I hadn’t have been awake, then I wouldn’t have felt the earthquake. The reason I was awake is a pertinent part of the story.”

I shook my head. “It’s neither pertinent nor appropriate. All you had to establish was that you were awake and that you had felt the earthquake. Further elaboration was unnecessary.”

“I disagree. I think it’s a crucial detail that you can’t omit. Its absence raises the question of why I was awake so late on a work night.”

“Nobody cares why you were awake so late on a work night.”

“Again, I disagree. If someone is awake that late on a work night, an explanation is required.”

“No explanation is required,” I said. “Like I stated, it’s an extraneous detail.”

“Not when you’re an early riser like me,” Hank said. “It’s well-known among my co-workers that I go to bed early. That’s why I needed to establish why I was awake so late on a work night. You see, what happened was that we’d had Karen’s chili for dinner, and I woke up in a cold sweat with my stomach churning. I was lucky to hobble to the bathroom without exploding all over the hallway.”

I plugged my ears. “Not listening,” I said.

“It was terrible,” Hank continued. “It was like the Jeff Daniels scene from Dumb and Dumber — expect more harrowing and traumatic. Clearly, I had to shower afterwards. And then the moment I slipped back into bed, the earthquake hit. I was so rattled, it took me a long time to doze off.

“All in all,” he said, “the whole ordeal cost me two hours of sleep. So if I seem a little off today, that’s probably why.”

“Well, no offense,” I said, “but your judgment does seem a bit clouded. As you should know, it’s not entirely appropriate to mention your bowels in a workplace conversation.”

“My bowels are a pivotal part of the story. I thought I explained that point already.”

“In depth, yes.”

“Look,” Hank said, “all I’m saying is that I’m not exactly at my best when I have endure diarrhea and an earthquake in the same night. It’s all a little unnerving.”

I sighed. “I just wanted to make small talk, Hank. You know? Water-cooler conversation.”

“Right,” he said. “And I thought that’s what we were doing. We were talking about the earthquake.”

“No,” I said. “As you just pointed out, we were talking about your bowels and your chili-fueled escapade.”

Hank shrugged. “Well, it’s not exactly a detail you can gloss over. Especially if you had to live through it, like I did. Man, was it excruciating. Karen felt bad, too. She said she probably put in too many jalapeños, or something.”

I shook my head and started to walk away.

“Hey,” Hank called. “Where are you going? Was it something I said?”

“I have to go,” I said. “My stomach’s churning.”

5 comments on “Omit the extraneous details, please 

  1. Allen, I know where you’re coming from on this subject. Many is the time I’ve had to sit through irrelevant details during a conversation. Just last weekend my wife asked me to get up on a ladder and clean out the gutters. I told her I didn’t feel like doing it because it was Saturday. That’s when she proceeded to launch into a tirade I’ve only seen about thousand times before—during this month. She must be keeping track of when I tell her I don’t feel like doing something, because she counted off all those times I didn’t want to scoop up the dogs leftovers on the lawn; being to tired to help our son with his exploding science project in the kitchen; not wanting to wash the wheel covers of the cars with a brush; or the time when I begged off helping her change her dads depends after he did a number two! I tried explaining to her how I felt none of that had nothing to do with cleaning out the gutters, but she banished me to sleeping on the couch for a year. How unreasonable is that?

    Liked by 1 person

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