I have a curious—no, that’s not the right word—a tiresome tendency to retell stories. I have been retelling stories for years, so I don’t think it’s a sign that I’m in the early stages of dementia. Retelling stories isn’t so bad if you’re meeting a lot of new people all the time, but at this stage in my life, I’m not. It’s not exactly like being dead or stupid—it’s hard on others, but it’s starting the bug me too. Sometimes I won’t realize that I’ve just told the same people a story I’ve told them umpteen times before until much later, when I’m driving home or trying to go to sleep. Such realizations are definitely not a sleep aid. Occasionally, half way through a story, I will become aware, probably as a result of subliminally noting eyes glazing over, that I’ve told it many times before to the same people. Even when this happens, I sometimes compulsively finish the story anyway. I’ve joked about it with friends, who nod and smile. Mostly I tell and retell personal anecdotes. Some are at least funny and bear retelling a few times. Rarely, a friend will jump in and finish one of my shorter stories for me. If I ever want to write a memoir, I could probably subcontract it.
To some degree I retell stories on cue. If somebody mentions an old house, it will invariably trigger a story about visiting my childhood house as an adult. I’m pretty sure that friends who are in the real estate market try to avoid me. Often, though, I will launch into the retelling of an old story—say, about my mother smacking a door-to-door evangelist with a broom because he said, “You Catholics don’t have Jesus in your hearts”—for no apparent reason.
It may be genetic. I notice my son often retells particularly amusing stories, but he is a really good raconteur and does meet a lot of new people. I have a sister who repeats extremely banal events ad nauseam—“I dropped the fork and caught it with my foot before it hit the floor. Isn’t that interesting?”—but that’s an entirely different phenomenon. Could there be a genetic predisposition to bore people to death? Maybe there was an evolutionary advantage. Those who constantly retold stories were given softer jobs to keep them from interfering with the serious work of hunting and gathering. “You stay in the hut, Grog, and compose a story about the origins of the tribe.” The birth of the intellectual class.
A related syndrome is talking to people in great detail about things they have no interest in. Those of us who have obsessions often have a hard time acknowledging that most people don’t share our obsessions or even find them remotely interesting.
A couple of years ago we were staying with friends in Edmonton. The host was cooking up a batch of something for a small dinner party, and I was keeping him company in the kitchen. I had recently become interested in retro wet shaving and had acquired a badger shaving brush and a 1954 Gillette Aristocrat double edge safety razor. What could be more interesting? I was carefully explaining to my friend the important differences between badger hair and boar hair shaving brushes and the superiority of a double edge safety razor over a multi-blade cartridge razor. At a certain point he looked up from the pot he was stirring and shouted into the living room, “Will somebody come and talk to Alan?”
We plan to visit them again this year. But this time I have some absolutely new facts about lathering techniques.