Thursday, September 11, 2008

The art of the witty (and timely) comeback

My previous post (and Jane's response to it) as well as Tom's dream vision, below, put me in mind of that rarest of rhetorical triumphs, the witty comeback. You know, the kind that you usually think of hours or days too late. Only a select few are graced with the right retort in the moment.

The best snappy-comeback story I know of is one that my friend Christina tells. Years ago, when she was in graduate school, she took her car into a local garage to have some repairs done. It was a father/son operation, and she was dealing with Mechanic the Younger at the front desk, while Dad Mechanic was working on something in the vicinity.

As their conversation wound down, Christina said to Mechanic the Younger, "By the way, could you take a look at the horn while you're working on the car? I think there's a short or something in there because it doesn't always work."

From the back of the shop, Dad Mechanic piped up, "Oh, sure, that's just what these women need, to be able to honk their horns more often. We oughta just disable it!"

Christina turned to Mechanic the Younger, batted her eyes sweetly, and said, "Actually, if you could fix it so that it says 'F**k off' instead, that would be even better."

Ah, I get a vicarious thrill just repeating that story.

Alas, I have no good tales to tell. In some ways, I think kids handle this stuff better than adults do--when we study children's folklore in my classes, we talk about how kids are armed not only with a host of traditional insults, but with a parallel set of traditional retorts: "I know you are, but what am I?" "I'm rubber and you're glue; what bounces off me sticks to you." "So's your mother." Maybe we need to come up with a lexicon of quick-draw comebacks for grown-ups, too.

So, faithful readers: any good comeback stories to share?


Rose said...

Wow, so I guess NO ONE has ever been able to deliver the snappy comeback in the moment. How sad for us all...though I'm very glad I'm not alone.

Bob Jackson said...

Nah, Nah!

Jane Kokernak said...

I'm still thinking about how I'd like to respond, other than, "Go, Christina."

Actually, I would like someone like Christina, who may have a gift for the comeback, to describe how her mind works in such instances.

I need a method!

jim said...

They are hard. Half the time you're pissed off so you can't think quickly, the other half you can't remember what you said in the heat of the moment.

Rose said...

Jane and Jim, I think you've both hit on exactly what made Christina's story so "tellable": so very rarely are we gifted with the perfect retort at the moment we need it, and allow it to slip past the usual filters.

She tells it because it's the one and only time she's had that experience, so, unfortunately, Jane, there's no secret formula. Rats!