I like almost everybody. That’s why I hate to be around people.
I don’t mean that I like everything about everybody. That’s some kind of psychiatric illness, and I’ve already got all of those I need. And there are a few people I’d just like to stab a lot and be done with them. But I can find something to like about almost everyone, even if I just appreciate seeing my own folly in them. For example, at midnight when I’m eating my pancakes at I-HOP, maybe a guy staggers in drunk, knocks over the trash can, screams an apology at the cash register, and passes out in the booth behind me, mumbling in his sleep about some girl named Christie. I think, Yeah, I remember doing that. Hang tough, brother.
So if I like people, why don’t I want to be around them? It’s just exhausting, that’s why. Dinner with a couple of friends is pretty easy, but big herds of people wear me out. First, I’m deaf in my right ear and too vain to get a hearing aid, so I spend a lot of time trying to guess what people are saying. I’m not a good guesser, so my guesses are often a lot more colorful than what was actually said. Someone might say, “Next Saturday is the Jam and Jelly Festival,” and I’d probably guess something like, “Next Saturday is the Fast of Sweaty Genitals.” When I respond to that person, my statement will seem logical to me, but to the 20 people around me at the Chuck E. Cheese birthday party it may seem eccentric.
Second, even when I understand what people say, my immediate response tends disrupt the conversation because I say weird things. I know that will shock my friends. For example, a person may say, “My neighbor’s tree is growing over my backyard. It’s getting to be a problem.”
Then I might say, “You have sort of a Sudetenland problem. You have to hold the line with these guys, or before you know it they’re on your patio, and then they’re dive bombing your garage, and then they’re sitting around the pool with all the cute French girls drinking your wine and invading the shit out of Russia. Then you’ll have to bomb them into rubble, and then you’ll have to rebuild their house and station troops there for 50 years. So just cut the damn thing down in the middle of the night and blame it on raccoons.”
At that point everyone stops and looks at me for five or ten seconds. They’re all really uncomfortable, and then they go back to eating and drinking and talking about assassinating the president of their homeowner’s association as if I’d never spoken. All right, I just made up the assassination part, but that emphasizes the problem.
That sucks. I don’t want all those people to be uncomfortable. After all, I like them. So I try to instead say something like, “Bummer. Have you asked them to trim it? Maybe bring them a pie?” That’s an okay response, but the effort required to not talk about the Sudetenland and to instead talk about pie is fatiguing. When I come home I’m exhausted, and I have to hibernate in my cave for a few hours to recharge.
This causes problems for my wife. She likes people, too. At least she likes me, which proves she’s forgiving enough to like just about anybody. But she loves being around people. It charges her up. I suspect it’s because she’s not expending much energy to stop herself from saying whatever she’s thinking, because she isn’t thinking about the damned Sudetenland. That must be nice. But she wants to go to every let’s-drink-wine party and jam and jelly festival that comes along, and I only want to go to the birthdays of my less popular friends, attended by three guests and a blind dog. After 20 years of this she’s comfortable going to big parties by herself, which I appreciate. But it can still be awkward when she walks out of the house looking like a kid who expected a bicycle and instead got a scratchy wool hat with pom-poms and pink bunnies crucified all over it.
I do better when I have a job. When I can cut slices of cake, or hand out name tags, or calculate way too big a tip, I’m a lot happier. I don’t have to sit there guessing what people are saying. I don’t have to hold back from explaining the parallels between the shell casing ejection mechanism in automatic rifles and my dinner partner’s hemorrhoid problem.
Alas, not many social invitations specify a job. “Please join Sherri and Bob at their Baby Shower to help them celebrate the joyous upcoming birth of their daughter. You’ll be washing the dishes. Bring gloves.” That sort of invitation is sadly uncommon. So, if I don’t show up at your birthday party, please don’t be offended. It’s only because I like you.
What about you? Do you avoid public gatherings like you’d avoid syphilis, or do you hit every party as long as the guests are conscious and there’s at least one dirty glass to drink from?
Photo by Ant Mulligan, from Mala Mala Game Reserve.