Heterogenium (he’-ter-o-gen-i-um): Avoiding an issue by changing the subject to something different. Sometimes considered a vice.

He asked me what I was doing in a place like this. I told him I owned it and he told me he was from Yonkers. Then he told me the snow outside was beautiful. I told him he was full of shit and probably wanted to talk about his new living room furniture, or some thing like that. I asked him if he wanted a drink and he told me the bar stool was very comfortable. I asked him if he knew how to give a straight answer. “I could ask you for a job,” he said. I told him I might have a position. He told me he was lonely and wanted to spend time with me outside the bar, in the parking lot, in his car.

He was cute. Black hair, tall, thin, blue eyes, nicely dressed, trimmed beard. But I thought he was crazy—the way answered questions, or should I say, didn’t answer questions. I could imagine if I asked him if he loved me! What would he say? “I had fish ‘n chips for lunch.” But, he wants me to go out in the parking lot and get in his car with him! I am a little crazy, but I told him there was no way I would go outside with him to his car, besides, I was in charge of the bar and couldn’t leave it. I also told him I wouldn’t do anything like that with anybody anyway. I had a reputation to maintain at “Prima Donna’s” if I was to keep packing in the customers.

He told me he had a “relevance” problem that he picked up when he was working for the government. He was trained to give irrelevant answers to all question. This was for national security reasons. “Irrelevance” was a key tactic for maintaining secrecy and thwarting the United States’ enemies from obtaining sensitive information. Since he couldn’t tell who were friends and who were enemies, irrelevance soon became a ubiquitous feature of all of his speech. As a consequence he became alone and isolated, unable to build a conversational bridge between himself and everybody he met. All of his relationships ended in catastrophe after 10- or 15-minutes. Some ended worse than others. One time, a date he met on “Woo Woo!” asked him whether she should park in his driveway when she got to his house. His answer was “I had fried eggs.” At first she was confused, so she asked again. He said, “My dog’s name is Pete.” She became angry, pulled in the driveway, got out of her car and hurled the bottle of wine she had brought through the front door’s storm door window. He went running outside, shook his fist, and yelled “My tropical fish need feeding!” His date did a lawn job, peeling across his front yard, leaving two deep ruts and torn up grass behind her as she sped away. He chased her and ran into a stop sign on the corner of his street, doing $2,300 damage to his car, a used Tesla that he’d flown all the way from Massachusetts to California to buy.

Now he is in the process of trying to get disability compensation for his condition—for his “irrelevance syndrome.” The “Syndrome” it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to treat. First, there is no record of “irrelevance” being induced in any government employee, including CIA. Second, with his condition as it is, no progress whatsoever can be made, because everything he says is irrelevant to any questions that are asked by medical doctors and psychotherapists. He is best at angry monologues that are prompted by medical personnel sticking pins in his hands. But Still, although coherent, they are irrelevant—ranging from bird watching with his mother to watching “Magnum P.I.” reruns in bed.

A mild breakthrough has been made recently. Getting him drunk and giving him a pack of Marlboro 27s enable him to capture brief moments of relevance. For example, two days ago he was asked what two plus two equals. In a drunken voice, he said “I don’t know what for.” His use of the word “for” is a homophone for “four.” The Doctors and Psychotherapists say this is a clear bridge to relevance. They will be jointly authoring a research paper titled: “Building Bridges with Nicotine and Alcohol: The Case of Government Agent X.” Agent X is nearly always drunk and smokes three packs of cigarettes per day. I have taken pity on him and will be hiring him at Prima Donna’s. It is probably a stupid move, given his malady. I’m going to have him in work in the basement shining beer, wine, and liquor bottles. Maybe some day he’ll snap out of it and we meet in his car in the parking lot.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)

An edition of the Daily Trope is available on Amazon under title The Book of Tropes.

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