Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Happy Birthday to That Guy

We went to a party on Saturday. By 'party' I mean 'a crippling blow to the knees with a baseball bat.'

It was a combined housewarming/birthday party, and everywhere I looked, there was conceptual trouble. A housewarming party? What are those, anyway? It's not something men have. I've never had one of my guy friends say "Hey, you've got to come by our housewarming party this weekend. Feel free to bring an appetizer."

If I buy a house, I consider it warmed when the computer and A/V equipment are installed. At that point, all is good. No appetizers necessary.

The second sign of disaster is that the birthday party is for a guy. Any guy who wants thirty people to attend a party for him makes me nervous. Guys do have birthday parties--at the golf course or the baseball game, or anywhere else where the actual birthday is a footnote. The biggest event of my birthday, every year since I was twelve, is to watch the NCAA Final Four. Give me a cake and a remote control and I'm a happy man. But this guy I don't know wants thirty people to attend an actual party for him. How old is he--ten?

The social connection, of course, is my wife through a play group, an insidious mechanism designed to triple the number of unnecessary events that must be attended. She knows the guy's wife, they bought a house, and we're going. I protested that my I Don't Want to Do This Meter is completely full, but to no avail. We're going.

It only takes me about ninety seconds once we reach the party to realize that I know exactly two people there--Gloria, and a very nice woman who lives in our cul-de-sac. That's outstanding, because I don't get uncomfortable in large groups when I don't know anyone. Not at all. My only mistake was forgetting to bring the shovel, so that I could dig a hole and bury myself alive.

It's not my fault. I live one zip code away from Adrian Monk.

I'm not an introducer, so meeting these people is not a legitimate option. I don't want to have conversations where every third word is "Super!' or have to laugh at a joke that I can't even identify as humor until the guy laughs expectantly after he's done. "That was a joke? Well, super! Ha ha!"

The rest of the evening, I slip into a mild catatonia, the gentle winds of mental illness buffeting me like a warm summer breeze. Our neighbor Colleen, the only other familiar face, provided the highlight of the evening. After an hour of seeing me in total social paralysis, and knowing that I'm a runner, as a gesture of mercy she dragged a woman over to me and said "Bill! This is Clara. She runs!" I saw a fireman standing inside the building, looking out an opened window at me, yelling "Sir! We found someone like you! Come in off the ledge!"

Thanks, but I'll stay where I am. My people tend to gather here.

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