Tl; dr: I went to a fun party. But this isn’t about the party. It’s about how I interact with the world. I’m never not wearing my journalist Fedora with the paper sign tucked into the band that says “PRESS.” If I could ever have both feet in any single present experience, I wouldn’t be who I am.
People feel the need to be seen and understood while simultaneously hiding things from view and creating stories they tell themselves about who they are. They love hearing someone else get read. But, somehow, they don’t ever think about how being seen means more than understanding someone’s wants and desires. It means seeing their neuroses and bad sides too…the things they hide, even from themselves. Nobody likes getting called on their bullshit.
I don’t know when it began to happen, but I see and feel everything. Maybe not at first. But eventually I will get there. Where my vision lacks is in understanding how I am perceived or liked or esteemed by others because they don’t generally have privy to what’s going on inside of me. For that, I ask people how they see me. And then I can understand things about my edges through echolocation.
I went to a party on Christmas (I wasn’t Covidy going into it and I won’t be going anywhere for the next week so do with that what you will). And it was fun. It takes me a little while to get a lay of the land and perform the network analysis to see who is here with whom and where alliances stand. Before, in the the times of not knowing, I would have just felt like an outsider and my anxiety would have gone through the roof. Now I stand back, assess, and decide where I will fit it.
The difficulty ranking of this night was moderately high. I wasn’t invited. I was a friend of an invitee. There were lots of new faces. Everyone was dressed in flannel because that was the theme and I was not. And most people were paired off. Also, Christmas. So it’s about intimacy and cozy feelings.
Mask fully on, I played normal. Or as normal as I could I’m a navy cable knit sweater with a white Peter Pan collar. It was a classic from Brooks Brothers. But on me it read as Wednesday Addams. So people did see something about me. They saw the dark.
Another handicap for me is playing the game of “what substances are people on right now?” If someone is acting a particular way, I don’t know if it is because they’re dumb or high. Or obnoxious or high. I don’t do drugs for the most part. I’ve asked so many people what these drugs do for them and it sounds like they’re intentionally trying to get to all the places I struggle with sober.
They use coke to stay up. I have to take a pill if I want to sleep. They take LSD and shrooms to trip. I live in the world of woo woo and trippiness. Molly to feel good? I already feel good. Ketamine to dissociate? Shit, I have to focus to actually be in my own body.
Like G.I. Joe said, knowing is half the battle. And I’d rather people be open and honest about what drugs they’re on rather than being those assholes who hide in the bathroom to do things they think are cooler when they’re at the party within the party. The fact that anyone behaves like that past seventh grade is a sign of how stupid people can be in search of ephemeral cool.
Lucky for me, everyone was on the level about their substance consumption.
The awkwardness dissipated when a friend got there and I could let go of the mask somewhat. She’s a drama geek and thank god for that. I don’t have disguise most anything around them because they’re so accepting. I don’t even know if drama geeks join theater because we love the plays or if we all just needed a place to be ourselves and theater just happened. It’s a chicken egg question. But there’s something about being too much and scared to express your vulnerability nakedly that lends itself to acting. It’s a figurative mask and sometimes a literal one. And that has been my life these 41 years.
I can drop my mask around actors is what I’m saying in a roundabout fashion.
It’s funny to me how people get together and socialize by talking about the people who aren’t at the party. In order to play along I have to know about the cast of characters, but especially about the ones who aren’t present. I soak up the information and file it away. I’m not just learning about the absentees but how people think about others. What they see. How they perceive. And what they’re projecting. Sometimes they are on point and sometimes I am baffled at the things they don’t pick up until I figure out what their blind spots are.
And what I end up giving off is that everyone feels seen by me. It is a magic trick and they like the magic. It’s ingratiating.
But, as always, I’m looking for the ones who get the magic trick and don’t let on. They’re not fooled by whatever it is I am giving off but neither are they fooled by what everyone else is giving off. Amongst that crowd I found one other who sees things and calls them out. It’s an improv trick—calling out the weird thing. And he does it well.
I also watch for the people who know what I’m doing and find it interesting. My games are much more intrepid and hidden. When women figure them out, they’re fascinated by what I can do. They are sitting ringside in the plaza de toros. I am a matador and they want to see how I mesmerize the bull and I go in for the kill.
Someone called it. And she said the following: “I’m good at playing with boys but watching you is like seeing a master at work.”
If all this sounds sociopathic, it is. But it’s benign. If I were ruthless and social climbing, I could use all of this to advance myself. But that’s not the vibe. I don’t have nefarious intentions. I do, however, have strong boundaries that let me know when someone else has less than stellar qualities. And one of those was present at the party as well.
She is all the things I find vulgar in a woman. She is loud and cheap, she lacks grace, her opinions are obvious and borrowed from podcasts and popular culture. And she is incredibly entitled. She’s smart enough to probably hypnotize the legion of idiots she regularly encounters. But I saw through her pretty fast. And now I stay away because, when the switch flips in me from curiosity to disdain, I stop pretending to care and will show my hand. “I know who you are and what you’re doing,” I think. I can unleash my perception in a way that will shred someone, and walk away without having dirtied my hands. Before they know it, they’re already fluttering to the ground in hail of confetti.
I think back to who I was growing up. I was clueless and afraid. I made gaffs that were obvious to everyone but me. I used my observations to attack. I went home exhausted and unsatisfied, having alienated myself from others evermore.
If I walked into one of those parties now, the fancy Mexican parties where I was always an outsider, I could play the game. I’d get bored very quickly because those people are inherently shallow. But I could play it. Thank God I’m not.
I won’t ever be generally loved and popular. I can put people at ease but I can’t imagine what the fun in that would be. To the masses I will always be a curiosity. But to the ones who see me, or as much as they can possibly see me, they will continue to seek me out for authenticity and vulnerability and perception and a little drama.
Dorothy Parker and Nora Ephron were these complicated figures. Acerbic wit and a little feared for their meanness. They had incredibly high standards for themselves and everyone around them. But always invited. And eternally in search of kindred.
I am the cobblestone street of human beings. Unforgivably tough, but sturdy and reliable. And very hard to walk on. You either find the charm or you look for a softer path.