Taking social cues: My quest to learn when to stop talking about serial killers

Sometimes, I don’t know when to stop talking. Or, rather, I do, but I misjudge my audience’s visible discomfort for a sore back, a stretch or the need to check an important incoming text message. By the time I stop talking, it’s too late. They’re already disturbed.

This seems to happen most often when I talk about serial killers.

Most of my life, I’ve gravitated toward movies and books with horror, suspense or unsettling themes. Those types of movies and books usually do well at the box office and on bookstore shelves, so I never considered my fascination unusual. Even as a kid when I started writing short stories with plots like a home invasion or violent car crash, I merely assumed I was crafting what there was a demand for since I was one of those innumerable people who devoured those types of stories.

My wake-up call to how inappropriate my bizarre fascination can seem to others came just a few months ago. I’ve had a Goodreads account for a few years, but only recently started doing anything with it. Over a couple days, I inundated my account with every book I could think of that I had read and wanted to read. There is a section on the site where you can look at the site’s recommendations for you, based on your account. The heading reads “I like ______,” and a word describing what you’re most likely to read occupies the blank.

This was mine:

Capture

Notice the heading doesn’t say, “I Like Books About Serial Killers.” Nope. Just “I Like Serial Killers.”

Um.

I found it humorous at first, so I decided to share that humor with a couple of my coworkers. They found it amusing, but as I began describing some of my favorite books – American Psycho and Helter Skelter among them – the frozen smiles on my coworkers’ faces began to melt.

Fast forward a couple months. I’m out to a birthday lunch for one of the women in our office. Because work is often a main topic at these lunches, I sit in relative silence. On this particular day, though, I decided to jump in the conversation and steer it toward something other than our jobs.

My topic? A movie I had recently watched with Cory. The Barber, starring Scott Glen as a reformed serial killer training a young man how to become a successful serial killer. When I made reference to this obscure 2014 film and only one of my coworkers acknowledged having seen it, I, as any conversationalist will do, tried to ease the discussion to something more unifying.

My strategy in action: “Yeah, there’s a scene that really got me thinking. The killer tells the guy he’s training that he should seem nice if he wants to catch any woman. He tells him to pull his car up alongside a girl who looks like she’s lost or waiting outside a building and offer her a ride. He says she’ll refuse because she knows she shouldn’t get in cars with strange men. He says offer one more time, and she’ll refuse again. Then he says to ‘look at your watch, because that tells her that you’ve got somewhere to be and you’re just a nice guy trying to help her out, and since you’re in a hurry, you obviously won’t kill her. She’ll accept. And then you have her.'”

My coworkers had stopped picking at their food and were regarding me with bemused smirks that I mistook for interest. So I kept going.

“I mean, I know it’s a fictional movie, but that just hit me how easy it is for something horrible to happen to someone. How easily any of us could be fooled. How smart some of these horrible people are.”

All eyes had dropped to their plates. I began to realize what I was doing, so rather than just STOP TALKING, I tried to taper off.

“People are just crazy, you know? I mean, you just never know when someone who looks normal is truly evil.”

A couple of them looked back at me. I still didn’t stop.

“It could be anybody. Even a nice neighbor or something.”

Eyes dropped back down.

I finally stopped.

“We also watched a documentary about 1960s session musicians. That was good too.”

Another example of my inability to default to any conversation topic other than darkness and tragedy happened just last week. I got my hair cut, and there was another woman (getting highlights, I believe) in the salon. Since it was just her, the hairdresser and me, I felt it would be awkward to not discuss something about which we could all talk.

So, I chose this:

“Did you see where someone broke into a house out on Matlock Road and took guns, cash and coins totaling about $30,000?”

Receiving the socially appropriate gasps and denial of having heard about the incident, I continued.

“They haven’t got any suspects in custody yet, that I know of. It’s just scary.”

And I would have stopped there, except my hairdresser said, “It sounds like they knew all that stuff was in there before they broke in.”

“Oh, for sure,” I chimed in. “People watch for folks out of town and stuff. That’s why it’s dangerous to post vacation pictures on social media while you’re gone.”

So we started discussing social media’s role in crime. Everything was going so well. Until I wanted to add my knowledge of other human depravity.

I won’t go into the details of this one, but I gave the general story of how a friend of a friend brushed against terror when a man broke into her home and, moments later, when police caught him, gave every indication that rape had been his intention.

The face of the other woman in the salon, reflected at me in the trifold mirror, contorted in surprise and disgust. At me or the story, I’m not sure, but probably both.

When silence fell over the salon and the hairdresser said, “But yeah, I hope they catch that guy who stole all that stuff,” I deduced that both women were probably wishing they hadn’t run into me that day.

I could give other examples of when I’ve made normal people cringe and continued making them cringe because I find my knowledge on a murder interesting and (somehow oddly) helpful, but I won’t. This post is long enough already, and I have a feeling that if I go into anymore detail, then I will have just turned this post into one of those very situations.

 

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3 Replies to “Taking social cues: My quest to learn when to stop talking about serial killers”

  1. I’m actually pretty good at noticing social cues, but when it comes to certain subjects, I don’t really care. On the other hand, when writing about stuff you don’t have to worry about people looking at you funny. You just get the comments later and by then it’s too late for them to stop hearing you opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I only notice social cues because I prefer not talking and I love people watching. But my son on the other hand, he just loves talking. Last night he said he had to talk things out and he spent 20 minutes explaining to me why his friend was mean because he was jabbing him with his Nerf gun. I seriously couldn’t get a word in edgewise, nor did I except to tell him to go to bed. It was insane how much he was able to avoid me trying to butt in to tell him to go to bed, because he was so busy talking. (Not that you are like that at all, right?)

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