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My Irish Catholic Family Is Why I Suck At Zoom


It has come to my attention during this age of virus that I am not the most generous of Zoom meeting participants. In a generally gentle and laughing way, friends have suggested that I — how should I put it — I talk a lot.

This week the Onion ran a satirical article about people saying, “Oh, sorry, you go first.” Multiple people sent it to me, pointing out I do not suffer from this affliction.

Okay, I get it. I talk a lot. But it’s not my fault. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Philadelphia, in which if you ever ceded the floor during a family “conversation” you might never get it back. There were two ways to score: Make an effective point or be extremely loud and insist you have been interrupted.

It played out every Sunday. My mother, a slim slip of a thing but a criminal defense attorney, would make some adroit comment about a topic of the day. My uncle, a star college football player, but also her younger brother and no intellectual slouch, would try to shoot it down. What ensued was something along the lines of: “Suze, no…” “Ed, Don’t int…” “I’m not the one who interrupt…” “Ed…Ed, see.” “I’m not the one…” “Every time, Ed.”

By the time I was 12, I was anxious for the fray. I knew stuff. I was smart; I was ready, not like everyone thought. My first few attempts, to the extent I can recall them, were not great. I think I said something about second baseman Manny Trillo being the best player on the Phillies and being entirely shut down. It probably never happened, but I imagine looking at my mom and having her give me a look like, “That’s not it.”

If it sounds like I’m saying that I am someone who grew up in the McLaughlin Group, well, that’s because I am. Frankly, I’ve appeared on the McLaughlin Group, and my grandparents’ living room makes it seem like Quaker meeting. Pat Buchanan would be no match for my Grandma Fran. And believe me, that is no slight against Pat Buchanan.

Anyway, the point here is that in actual human interaction I have, to some extent, over the years learned how to read the room and not be a total jerk. I came to understand that my grandparents’ living room was not indicative of how normal people talk about things. I adapted. I could see the subtle eyebrow raise of a friend that said, “Too much, Dave.” This Zoom thing? Man, I’m lost.

And I wait. I swear to God, I do. Three, four, five seconds, nobody says anything, and I wait. I say to myself, Somebody’s gonna jump in. But they don’t. And then I pipe in with, “Did you hear the one about the Jew who got ashes on Ash Wednesday?”

I don’t specifically remember when I go my foot in the door of the Sunday shouting matches, but I learned to interrupt with the best of them. Every generation uplifts those who come after. The real key was always indignation. That’s what drives you into the dominant place in the conversation: This needs to be said and I’m going to say it. I learned that well.

So look, don’t invite me. I only know one way: Dominate, destroy, win. If that’s not what you want in your Zoom happy hour, then leave me out. And I mean that, because so far it’s just hosts muting me a lot, and I am not okay with that! What a shocking invasion of free and fair discourse.

My ten-year-old son has two parents who are conservative writers. In the backyard dinner disputes, he sometimes tries to jump in. Neither of his parents believe in letting his cuteness give him any advantage in the debate. He gets shut down, as he should. But he’s learning.

Some day, sometime, the rhetorical thrashings he receives will make him immune to leftist roundabout argumentation. Or possibly make him a more formidable leftist. But so long as he relies on facts and the beauty of reason, I don’t really care which side he argues for.

So please. Forgive me my sins on Zoom. I’m used to big ugly fights that land in “I love you.” I’m accustomed to a battle for every square inch of space in a conversation. If you stay silent for a few seconds on Zoom because you have average American Protestant, middle of the country, respect for others, a vision of discourse that is more demure, that’s fine.

And I’m learning. Maybe I can give you 8 to 10 seconds to jump in with how reseeding your lawn is going. I’ll try to be flexible. But please, don’t hate me for who I am on Zoom. Conversation is battle, and for Irish Catholics, especially on politics, it is a battle that we always will win. Or get muted.