Jun 6, 2012

Small Talk

I am terrible at small talk, and I am in a room full of strangers.

The demographic of these strangers is odd. Sober sixteen-year-old girls with long hair and budding breasts and multiple bracelets. Stoned twenty-year-olds with bottles of beer and an unsettling ease. Fifty-something couples, the men in jeans and dress shirts, the women in standard middle-aged uniform of black pants and animal-print blouses and expensive jewelry. With three exceptions, all the women have blonde hair with highlights to hide the grey.

There are caterers and waitstaff and live bands and a bartender and I feel more comfortable with the waitstaff than the guests.

One of the exceptions is a woman currently battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the uterus. Her hair is just beginning to grow back in and is a rather charming silver-blonde shade. She used to be a redhead, she tells me. She has a wig but she is not wearing it tonight. I assure her that she has a nicely-shaped skull; she is lucky.

It's such a strange thing, the meeting of strangers.

Hi, I'm Immediately Forgotten. I work with/went to school with/volunteer with/am a neighbour of/am related to the guest of honour. We start there, because we have that in common.

And what do you do?

I eat, I sleep, I shit, I read, I write, I ride my bicycle, I jack off, I kill spiders, I check my email, I sniff flowers, I dance, I paint my nails, I think, I play poker, I wish I could sing. Oh, you mean to make money? I help Asian kids with their English homework. And this admission defines me. I want to make something up, tell a thousand lies. I am a marine biologist studying the death ritual of giant sea turtles. I am an Ancient History professor on sabbatical. I am a dominatrix specializing in cock and ball torture. I run a small online business selling used paperclips. I swallow knives.

There are too many Chinese in my neighbourhood. Even the banks have Chinese lettering on them! It used to be a good neighbourhood. I told my daughter--I have three: twelve, sixteen, and eighteen, and boy are they a handful, but weren't we all!-I told my daughter that I'm not letting her learn to drive with a Middle Eastern or Chinese instructor. I'll take her somewhere else for her lessons. Those people can't drive.

I tell this highlighted woman about how two of my Korean friends, who are cousins, have mothers who got into a car accident with each other while they were driving separate cars, and I feel guilty and vaguely complicit. I really want to ask her how she feels about abortion or gay marriage or Barack Obama. Instead I smile and excuse myself to go to the bar.

I have armed myself tonight with curled hair and cleavage and high heels. In a sea of white wine glasses, I drink a rum and coke with lots of ice.

I stand alone near a tall round table draped with an elegant black tablecloth, watching the second band at the far end of the living room. (Interior decorators call it a great room, which I find almost unbearably arrogant.) Excuse me? says one of the boys in the other band, who is standing to my right. Hi, my name is Immediately Forgotten. I just wanted to tell you that you look really nice. I smile and shake his hand and thank him and sip my drink and we watch the band, who is surprisingly good and terrifically inappropriate for the crowd. I appreciate his sincerity and boldness. For the most part, the older men gawk with discretion, especially when they are standing next to their wives.

I wander downstairs and find my boyfriend sitting with his nephew and some of the other twenty-somethings. One of the girls is explaining about how she recently saw a picture of Britney Spears in a magazine and she was so old and I said yeah, she must be, like, thirty, that cunt, and they all look at me strangely and a couple of them laugh uncomfortably and I leave.

I've had a lot to drink but I cannot get drunk. I am such an outsider here. I know the rules, but I don't want to play. I wish I could get a poker game started.

Walking back from the bar, I take a step and something that feels like ice crunches underneath my stiletto, but the ice turns out to be someone's toes and she is holding her bare foot and grimacing with pain and I apologize profusely and she says no no I was standing with my foot out and I ask if she's okay and she nods but there is no way that that crunching sensation was not bones breaking and I think that, sure, she'll have a broken foot, but she'll also have a story to tell about that little blonde tramp crushing my foot with her fucking shoe, so I don't feel too bad.

The older kids are sitting outside on the patio furniture near the hot tub under the veranda, smoking and drinking whiskey. I love weed, observes one girl, who introduces herself as Immediately Forgotten. It makes you want to have sex and drink and listen to dubstep. I turn around and go back inside.

The final band is playing, and while they are musically proficient, they reek of radio rock and I can't stand watching all these drunk strangers bobbing their heads and really digging it, so I find a relatively quiet room and lay down on the couch and close my eyes. A boy and girl come downstairs and the girl asks me what I'm doing and I say I'm just trying to get away from the shitty band and she laughs and tells me to have fun being emo and I wonder about the generation for whom wanting to be alone at a party means being emo. They are always connected, the youth of today. Who am I kidding? Everyone is connected these days. I steadfastly refuse to purchase a cell phone, to become one of those people who fingers her way through life on a little shiny rectangle and turns the moments, both momentous and mundane, into one giant upload. Maybe I am being emo, I think, as I take another sip of my watered-down rum. Upstairs, the band's drummer bangs his way through a four-minute solo and the crowd demands an encore. Jesus Christ.

Holy shit, lookityourboobs, slurs a blonde woman with a British accent, slumping against me in the kitchen. My husband'd like your boobs. He useta like mine. I'm nahsobad, am I? and she steps back, smoothes her hands over her breasts and belly, poses. No, no, I tell her. You look great. She stumbles into me again, whispers in my ear that she is unhappy in her marriage. I ask her if her husband is here and she scoffs. Buh you like me, dontcha? C'mere. Les gedda drink. I help her navigate the crowd to the bar and then say I have to use the bathroom.

The powder room is in use, so I go downstairs, where dubstep thumps and voices screech and giggle behind the closed door of the nephew's room. There is piss all over the floor and the seat in the guest bathroom, a wadded up ball of wet toilet paper on the floor. I decide that I can wait. A boy lies passed out in a large suede beanbag chair on the floor beside the pool table, snoring wetly. I watch him for a few moments and hope absently that he doesn't choke to death on his own vomit.

I make my way carefully down the rain-slick steps to the cabana. The pool glitters greenly and I think of Gatsby's bloated corpse. A hockey game plays silently on the giant flat screen tv, filtered through a haze of marijuana smoke and middle-aged men. One of the men, a squat, balding fellow, stares at my tits and passes me the joint, while a man with a full head of hair and a vaguely dangerous air about him rolls another.

This is one hundred dollars an ounce, the man next to me half-whispers as he pries a small chunk of hash off the block sitting in its silver foil on the granite countertop. He fumbles with a pack of matches until I find his lighter glittering on the ground behind us and the men applaud and then he lights the pipe for me and I inhale deeply and then cough. My lungs are burning. I don't like doing drugs when I've been drinking. I can never tell if it's working. It's good shit, right? he asks, laughing as I cough. That is some good shit. The men smoke cigarettes and stare at the tv and my tits and we pass the joint around.

I have taken off my shoes and I hop up onto the counter in the cabana because my feet are cold on the wet stone. My brother-in-common-law moves closer to me and asks if my feet are cold. They are. He stands across from me and takes my right foot and warms it in his hands. They're dirty, I protest, and then, because my feet really are cold, offer him the left.

I'd like to rub something of yours, says the squat balding fellow, eyes glazed and directed at my cleavage, which, since I am sitting on the counter, is at eye level. Yeah? I ask, half-smiling, because at last here is something I'm comfortable with. What do you want to rub? Anything, he answers lecherously. I am thinking of a response when my brother-in-common-law says, looking at his friend and not at me, still rubbing my feet, you have no idea how long I've wanted to do this. His laugh is guilty and I am caught off-guard and I am uncomfortable again.

One of the twenty-year-old girls flounces her way into the cabana, pulling on our arms, urging us to come into the house to dance. She radiates the confidence of youth, a powerful sense of inclusion, refusal is nowhere even close to the realm of possibility. Come on, she orders. Come dance. You have to dance. She cajoles, she laughs, she drags us into the house.

Inside, only a handful of older guests remain. The guest of honour stomps drunkenly on the polished hardwood floors to AC/DC and Floyd and Zeppelin, whipping her long highlighted blonde hair around, reliving her youth. It is her birthday. After a few half-hearted conciliatory dance steps and a counterfeit smile of good humour, I fake the need to urinate.

I have no idea what time it is. I scrounge up a blanket and lay down on the couch from earlier, my emo couch, and I try to pass out but kids keep coming in and out of the nephew's room, stumbling and giggling, and I hear the sound of bare skin being slapped, hard, and I worry about the girls until I hear their screeches of laughter and the clinking of beer bottles. Dubstep is impossible to fall asleep to, especially when it's competing with the bass from the '70s dance party above me. The kid in the beanbag chair snorts and wheezes.

There is nowhere to go, no room without strangers or music or cigarette butts or half-empty glasses of wine.

In a moment of clarity, I realize that I have a set of car keys in my purse and I take the keys and the blanket and slip outside through the garage door to the car. There are people talking outside, the band members are saying their farewells to the host, and I quietly open the car door and hope everyone is too drunk to notice me. They are, and I curl up in the backseat to the sound of birds chirping their morning greetings to the world.