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Thomas Jones Barker: Two School Boys (c. 1830)

Schmooze: To converse informally, make small talk or chat (שמועסן, shmuesn, 'converse', from Hebrew: שמועות, shəmūʿōth, 'reports/gossip'; OED, MW). Noun: schmoozer, abbr. schmooze. Wikipedia

"Blessed are the Schmoozers …"

We're each familiar with the snooze alarm, that feature of modern alarm clocks that allows us to temporarily turn off an alarm clock without actually waking, setting up an unconscious response cycle destined to undermine the very intention of setting the alarm. I would count this invention as one of humanity's peak innovations, for it reliably achieves the opposite of its designer's intentions before going on to be in almost ubiquitous use. Everyone has one, and everyone learns to sleep right through it. The very term Snooze Alarm has come to describe where an explanation further confuses and where an excuse convinces otherwise. No salesperson or pitchman wants to "hit The Snooze Alarm" when attempting to persuade. No politician does, either.

A friend running for office might be what anyone might call a wonk, a person so enthused by his knowledge about a subject that he can almost instantly chase anyone else off by just starting an explanation.
He "holds forth," mainly to satisfy himself, I suspect. He's certainly on the spectrum somewhere and might be unable to help himself. His greatest gift seems a mixed blessing, for while he effortlessly demonstrates the depth of his understanding, his interlocutors rarely really want to receive so many details. Most would prefer a more superficial interaction. They might expect him to represent them, but they do not need to know the deep details of his philosophy for him to succeed. Indeed, he often manages to chase off his prospective constituents with his stories. It's not a productive conversation if one party spends most of its duration failing to escape from engaging in it.

The Muse seems a natural Schmoozer, though, and I've been watching her ply her trade with tremendous and sometimes confused interest. There appears to be a definite technique, but the actual deployments vary. As an interested and intrigued observer, I want to distill her process into at least a high-level description, except it defies discrete description. She at least provided a name for it, which I carefully wrote down so I wouldn't immediately forget it because I wanted to more deeply contemplate it. Even if I cannot discreetly describe what she does or how she accomplishes it, I might accurately label it in the hope that the label itself imparts some connotative meaning, if not a definitive definition.

She insists that she understands how to invoke The Schmooze Alarm. I might describe this skill as the innate ability to engage in useful conversation with anybody, even and perhaps especially with the initially unwilling. I watched her operating through the five days of the recent fair and rarely saw her fail. She'd ask her qualifying question and reel them in, however they responded. She seemed to touch and influence everyone she targeted. Even those who rejected her offer still seemed to register her presence, and most appeared to acknowledge a positive encounter; not off-putting or necessarily convincing, but at least non-threatening. Many slowed their progress through the crowd and stopped to gain more information. These were soon effortlessly Schmoozing, exchanging information while The Muse filled them in on her candidacy. These interactions seemed almost universally mutually satisfying.

I could approach her success in her absence, but rarely with a similar impact. I might use arcane language and confuse the interaction or lose the thread and forget a response. My execution seemed clumsy and artificial, while hers flawlessly flowed like a good-natured conspiracy. She genuinely delights in chatting up people. She effortlessly shares her story and seems to carry little self-consciousness into any interaction. I know her to be naturally shy, but never when she's Schmoozing. These interactions seem self-reinforcing. Something occurs near the beginning that encourages them to continue. Others, myself included, who helped out in the booth, were not so gifted. They might ply information but only sometimes achieve the free exchanges The Muse would achieve.

The difference seemed to be something that she'd switch on at the very beginning of the interaction. I might just as well label that something TheSchmoozeAlarm. This attempt to describe this thing may have accomplished little toward actually explaining it. It might be beyond finite description, but I've at least set the expectation that such a thing exists and that some of us naturally understand how to invoke it while others do not. I can sometimes approach The Muse's results, but never her consistency. By the end of the five-day fair, she complained of pain in her right wrist, which I labeled Glad Hander's Syndrome. She'd made so damned many friends that she'd wounded herself making them. She'll require a few days to recover from her Schmoozing jag before fully resuming her candidacy for Port Commissioner. Doorbelling calls next, where I suspect I'll witness many more Schmooze Alarms being invoked and many more supportive voters joining her camp. Blessed are the Schmoozers, for they make us feel right at home wherever they find us.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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