For an Interesting Conversation, Try Arlen Schumer

It was around 5 P.M. and I was in the mood for some Chinese food so I immediately remembered one of the most valuable lessons my father ever taught me: "When you eat Chinese, make sure your dinner companion is interesting. That way, when the food comes, you get the person to talk a lot and you get to eat the extra spare rib. Always remember, the more you get the person to talk, the more food you can eat. Of course, you have to make sure the person is interesting, otherwise you will get indigestion!"

So now I needed to find someone who could provide me with interesting conversation and had passion for his thoughts. There are dozens of studies that show "being interesting" is a crucial factor for attracting others to you and one of the key factors that maintains an interpersonal relationship. Nobody likes a boring person, so you would be wise to continually develop your interests -- reading and taking a new class would be a good start.

It didn't take me long to ring up my good friend, Arlen Schumer and suggest we meet at our local Chinese favorite. Arlen is an award-winning comic book-style illustrator and a recognized expert on American popular culture. I planted the seed by telling him, "I want to hear about your auteur theory of comics."

Ten minutes later, I was sitting across from Arlen and we were ordering our dinner. He skipped soup. I didn't. Then some chicken satay and spring rolls. As soon as it was placed on the table, my strategy started. "So Arlen, tell me about your auteur theory of comics. " I've heard this many times but always find it interesting and educational to hear Arlen explain how the comic artist, like a film director, is truly the auteur of a comic book story. It is the artist, according to Arlen, who brings to our eyes the words of the script. "Give five different artists, the comic story and you will get five different visuals. It is the artist who brings it to life." That's how he put it as I took the last spring roll and eyed the last piece of satay. Arlen related his auteur theory to the great comic artist, Jack Kirby, who he believed did not get the credit or finances he deserved for his work in Marvel comics. To his credit, Arlen has been a major force in bringing to public awareness how Kirby, and comic artists in general, are not given their due, creatively or financially. Just as I was stuffed on his auteur theory of comics, our next dish arrived: Sesame chicken with brown rice.

Got to keep Arlen talking so I switched to another topic. A hallmark of an interesting person and good conversationalist is being able to discuss multiple subjects. Try this exercise -- make a list of how many topics you can converse on and bring up a few when you encounter a "new person" to see if your interests match.

Who doesn't love The Twilight Zone? I still watch the reruns. Since Arlen is the country's leading Twilight Zone expert, I knew I could slow down my eating pace. First, though, I asked him a bunch of questions: What is the origin of the show's music theme? Who are the five greatest stars to be in a Twilight Zone? What was Rod Serling like? What are the five best episodes? With each mouthful, Arlen would give me the inside scoop of this great show and many Rod Serling "back stories." I've heard Arlen lecture on The Twilight Zone and popular culture -- totally fascinating.

I was getting a little full but when the ginger beef was placed on our table, I still wanted more than my share, so I brought up one of our common interests: Superman. Arlen is one of the great comic historians and my father was the story editor of Superman for 30 years, so Superman always makes for great conversation. Naturally, I let Arlen carry the ball by having him tell me stories about my father. I've heard it all before but Arlen is a great story-teller and it is fun to hear him speak about my dad and the artists and writers who worked for him. Of course, he pointed out to me that my father was the auteur of Superman comics.

By this time I had eaten enough so it was time to wrap it up. That's what I told the waiter to do with the ginger beef -- it would be a good snack when I watched a Soprano rerun later in the evening. In good conscience I did make sure we split the check evenly.
Driving home I felt satisfied -- a great meal with stimulating conversation provided by not only a good friend, but a very interesting one too!

Your take-out: Develop your interests, share them with others and your relationships will be more enjoyable and lasting.

For those who want to learn more about Interesting Arlen, read some of his interesting work, or hear one of his interesting lectures, go to his interesting website.