I’m at a party. Damn, this makes me so uncomfortable, why did I come to this? I should have stayed home. Right now I could be setting down a nice plate of hot food next to my computer and starting a lovely evening of computer games and then maybe later moving to the couch and reading a book. But no, I had to come to this fucking party and stand here with this stupid grin plastered on my face so people don’t think I’m socially handicapped. Try to look open so maybe someone will come over and start a conversation, but then it will be unbearable banal small talk. I don’t want to be here I don’t want to be here. I could leave. What’s the standard minimum time I have to stay before it’s weird that I left? 15 minutes? No, that’s too short. Half hour? That’s probably the barest of bare minimums. You went to all the trouble to make brownies to bring to this thing, at least stick around to see if anyone is eating them. But I don’t have to stay an hour, no, that’s giving up way too much. 45 minutes should be perfectly acceptable. OK, get a drink and then a plate of food, but then you are absolutely obligated to try to make conversation. You have to at least try. You do. You are being graded on your performance. You don’t have to disguise the effort the obligatory small talk requires, but you do have to MAKE the effort. Ugh. OK, here goes.
Drink. Blech. I don’t want a drink. Plate of food. Oh, the mozzarella and tomato actually looks pretty good. What’s in that salad? That’s weird, but maybe it’s OK. At least I’m getting a decent meal out of this misery. Seat, balance this plastic plate on my knee. OK, this isn’t so bad. Slow, eat slow. Once the food is gone, you’re naked again. You’re adrift at a party with no conversation to be a part of. And then you have to fight, fight your way in. Damn, this is awful. Why isn’t someone talking to me? Food is gone. Now is the time. My cheeks are hot. I’m sure I’m blushing. These clothes are uncomfortable. I really could not feel more awkward. Pull yourself together. You’re a competent, interesting adult. No one even notices how awkward you are.
“Hi, did you try the brownies? I thought they were pretty good.” What is wrong with you? You just picked the most attractive woman in the room. She must get hit on constantly. She’s already thinking how do I get rid of this loser.
“Oh my God, those brownies are amazing. They’re like better than sex.” Whoa! I mean, she’s right, they are, but I wasn’t expecting that. I should say I made them. No, then it seems like you were fishing. But you WERE fishing. Stop it. “Eating a brownie like that could make me believe in God. Do you know who made them?”
Uhhhh, now what? Just leave it. Don’t even. “No, but what a fantastic way to describe them. And I agree.” Wow, this is going a lot better than I had hoped. Only three sentences in and we’ve already talked about dessert, sex, and God. Time for some serious small talk. But what if you skip the small talk? What if you go right to talking about something you really want to talk about?
“So does that mean, absent the brownies, you don’t believe in God?” Are you going to try to impress her with your clever observations about deities? Stop. You’ll embarrass yourself. A woman like that doesn’t want to hear your chatter. Look at her: she is charming. She makes eye contact in that way that is devastating. That way that some women have. That way that includes you, that makes you feel like you matter to this gorgeous creature. Look at you, you’re at a party making conversation with the most attractive woman in the room.
She asks me if I believe. I leave my deity observations on the shelf, worried that this conversation is too fragile and I don’t want to do anything that might compromise its structural integrity. But here I am, just me and her, having a conversation, actually engrossed in a conversation. And she’s smart, like seriously smart, and she’s saying smart things, interesting things. So far she’s gorgeous, she does that thing with her eyes, and she’s smart. And she’s talking to me. Maybe coming to this party wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Oh fuck, is that that guy Tommy? Did Doug bring him here? I can hear him across the room. What an ass. No, please no, please don’t notice me here.
Tommy greets us, “Yo Cooper, hey ball-licker.”
“Oh hey Doug, hey Tommy.”
“This is…” Dammit, I don’t even know her name.
“Hi, I’m Clarice. Are you guys all friends?”
“Yeah, Doug and I have been friends since college. I just met…” I get cut off.
“I’m Tommy. I don’t think Cooper likes me very much. We went to a game the other night and he got all weepy because the Knicks were playing like the little bitches they are. I wasn’t about to let any of the Knick-lovers forget it.” He’s brimming with pride. I cringe at his crassness. It’s like someone dropped a turd in the middle of a dish of delicate lemon mousse. I can see the light go out in her eyes and she looks away, across the room.
“So how do you know Cooper? And why would a girl like you hang with a guy like him? You’re kind of hot, like probably an eight at least. At a party like this, I bet you could get a guy who makes some real bank.”
Clarice looks at Tommy like a cockroach has just scurried across the table at dinner. “Excuse me? What did you just say to me?”
Tommy doesn’t take the slightest notice of her tone. “I’m just sayin’. You know, you didn’t come to this party dressed like that to talk to someone like Cooper. Oh please, don’t pretend you aren’t trying to score. Let me tell you, Cooper’s not the guy. He’s a nice guy, if you’re into that goopy feelings shit, but he doesn’t have the kind of bank that…” at this, Tommy scans the room, and then continues, “like that guy in the grey blazer over there with all the product in his hair. I bet his hair makes more money than Cooper here.”
Clarice, in a voice as cold and dead as a January afternoon, says, “Uh, nice to meet you Thomas. I’m charmed. I have to…”
Tommy cuts her off, “Not Thomas, Tommy. Only the nuns in my fuckin’ grammar school called me Thomas. And they all had sticks up their asses, you know how nuns are.”
“Right. Tommy. Got it.” And then she turns to me, but her tone isn’t any warmer, “It was lovely chatting. Enjoy your evening.” She flits away and I’m left with Doug and Tommy.
I turn to Tommy, “Wow, you are such an asshole. You have as much class as a barnyard animal.”
Tommy, laughing, “Listen to you Mr. Delicate Panties. Trust me Dude, that chick was not about to suck your cock. Look at her and look at you.”
“Whatever loser. Well, it’s been entirely too much fun running into you guys but I gotta go.”
I walk away. What a disaster. Why did that toad have to show up and ruin the best interaction I’ve had in years? I start to leave. As I’m walking to the door, Jill, the hostess, stops me. “Oh hey there Perry, are you taking off already?”
“Yeah, sorry to run out so quick, but I double-booked.” I speak with the all the stilted awkwardness of someone trying to pass an obvious lie.
“Well thanks for stopping by; I wish you could stay longer. And thanks for bringing the brownies.”
Clarice is a few feet away and she turns towards us. “Wait, did you bring those brownies?”
I turn scarlet. “Uhhh…”
Jill turns to Clarice, “Have you met Perry? Yeah, he’s a pretty incredible baker. Have you tried one?” Clarice gives me a look I can’t decipher. I look at the floor. I just want this to be over. And by that I mean I don’t want it to end, like ever. But it feels all fouled up. My tongue feels like it is covered with sawdust. I can’t speak.
The guy in the grey blazer is standing next to us and he enters the conversation with ease, like we were all just waiting for him to join us. “Oh hey, I just heard Jill say you made the brownies. Well done. Tell me, do you bake a lot?” He manages to make the question demeaning, like baking is something no self-respecting man would do. I can feel the testosterone challenge hanging in the air.
“Uh yeah, I mean, I don’t know, how much is a lot?” I sound like an idiot. This keeps getting worse. I can’t seem to find any solid ground to put my feet on. The three of them are looking at me like they can’t understand what my problem is. I can feel how my shirt tail has pulled out in the back and the urge to hitch up my pants is overwhelming. I tell myself silently to leave it alone.
He claps me on the shoulder and says, “Well fantastic, Mr. Baker Man. They are delicious.” The way he says it is pure derision tucked inside a compliment. He’s that type of guy, the alpha guy who is always planning how he’s going to “own the room” and other essential skills they teach in douchebag school. He says, “So have you known Tommy long? I saw you chatting with him. He’s quite a character,” and gives me a smirk, clearly intending to put me in the same category of pariah. I can see him stealing sideways glances at Clarice. This is all theater for her benefit. My only salvation is she seems to have reserved judgment, at least for the moment. She is watching us.
“Uh, no, well, I mean, uh, I met him a long time ago, but I don’t hang out with him. My friend Doug likes to hang with him so sometimes I can’t avoid it, you know…” I’m fumbling around, trying to keep the stench of an association with Tommy from adhering to me without seeming like I’m disloyal to my friend. I want desperately to fix this, to utter some sleek, gleaming phrase that will catapult me out of these awkward clothes and this miserable tangle of association with Tommy, that will make being a baker of brownies seem noble and sexy, but all I can feel is my embarrassment and my longing for a girl like Clarice, and the way I shrivel around alpha douches like the grey blazer.
In the corner of my mind, the only thing I cling to is that Clarice loved the brownies. I blurt out, “Butter and sugar. It’s incredible how all baking really is is finding different ways to combine butter and sugar. It’s like nothing bad can ever happen if the two most important ingredients are butter and sugar.” They all look at me with a look that might be amusement or might be pity.
Grey blazer laughs. “Nope, you can’t argue with butter and sugar.” He laughs again and takes Clarice’s elbow. “Shall we go find some of these butter and sugar brownies Mr. Baker Man’s made?” She turns and gives me a look. I want so much to believe that look means you had a chance, and you couldn’t come up with something better than that? You couldn’t give me a reason to ignore this guy and your friend Tommy and keep talking to you? Or maybe it was just a look of amusement. Or pity. I’m sure she’s used to men making fools of themselves around her. Maybe she’s exactly the kind of girl who wants an alpha douche buying her dinner. It didn’t feel that way, but as she disappears into the crowd with him, all I can think or feel is that I am done with this evening.
When I’m on the other side of the door, I let out a huge breath and feel as small and low as it is possible to feel. At least I had the good sense to keep a nice stash of brownies at home. All I can think about is getting home and eating every. single. one.