“I’m at Fordham University in the City,” is something I’ve become accustomed to spitting robotically on brooding faces I barely remember, who always bask in my accomplishments like a warm light and breath ooh or ahh because isn’t it impressive?
“And what are you studying?” is without fail the follow up question which I know can be answered along with the first response, but I’ve realized is better clung on to for prolonging the conversation to a socially acceptable length. By no means do I truly want to prolong these conversations, but cutting the smalltalk into intervals makes it more normal when one of us trails off and goes away to twist a lightbulb.
“Biomedical engineering, with a concentration on annulation,” is something I have never thought about studying with a concentration on something I read about in more depth than I would have liked to in Infinite Jest. I really don’t know anything about either but it does me the dual service of confusing and impressing the already affected listener. I’ve found there isn’t much left for them to say when they’re both confused and impressed.
“That sounds interesting! Say, remind me who are your folks again?”
“Louis and Jane Johns, from Lancaster.”
“Oh! We just met them by the pool table. Honey, this is the Johns’ boy, Kyle. That is what they said their boy’s name was, right Kyle?”
“You have a good memory, sir.”
“Oh! Not great, just good enough.”
Mr. Ooh poked at the ice in his drink with his cocktail straw before muttering into his mustache and skipping toward the nearest out of sight light source. People at gatherings are like pests in the way they attract to the brightest light. This particular Ooh was less particular than most; dry and lifeless, like someone hanging by the rope of their hayday. He reminds me of Robert De Niro’s character in Jackie Brown if he were less cool, like a man wilted, who thought good meant great and looked like it.
My family, like many immigrant families, doesn’t do intimate Thanksgivings. This is both good and bad. Bad because of the daunting small talk that gatherings bring. Good because we typically will end up in a house that’s much nicer than ours eating food that’s much better than ours engaging in conversation that’s much simpler than ours. There are only two families that ever invite my family to Thanksgiving; one has a pool table and the other has a pool. In my house there is a pendulum clock. We’re at pool table house this Thanksgiving, and if my memory is any good I’d say the pool house family is here too. It’s that sort of deal.
This house looks like it was built for a movie instead of a family. All the walls are curved but none of the rooms are circular, which is as involved in trigonometry as I’m willing to get. There’s drapes over doors that open into rooms that are just foyer’s for other rooms, with the draped door by the entrance leading to a restroom walled with mirrors on all six sides. If you’ve ever been in a room walled with mirrors on all six sides, you’d know that it makes your reflection go off endlessly in all directions. Now imagine that your reflection is taking a shit, is what this restroom is trying to say. There’s a scene in Brüno where Sacha Baron Cohen just spins his cock around for what feels like thirty minutes, and it spins the way the hands on a clock spin when movies do fast forwarding bits. I’ve done that in this restroom, only here, it’s endless. The sink in this restroom is made of clay or marble or both and is worth more than my house I’m sure, and instead of knobs or handles with cursive Hot and Cold on them to dictate what I’m getting, there are two chubby baby angels, probably Cupids, wearing towels around their waists and holding bows above their heads. I spin one until water starts to come out and I’ve got no choice but to wait until it burns me. Rich people are incredibly impractical. It’s by far my favorite room in pool table house.
When I’m not in the endless shitter I’m hiding behind eight foot statues of American Indians or sinking into the space between sumo-sized couch cushions. The irony of using a towering American Indian as my shield during Thanksgiving is not lost on me. It’s noon and everybody’s hungry because nobody’s eaten breakfast in anticipation of a big lunch, including me. I’m convinced that all holiday party hosts in New York state have agreed that the food only comes out once all the guests have collectively forgotten that it’s the reason they’ve all gathered. I’m unsure if this is a New Yorkism, Americanism or just a Thanksgivingism.
My second favorite room in pool table house and the other place I hide when I’m not squatting in the endless shitter or shadowed behind Squanto is the kitchen. There’s six to eight fleet-footed freelance cooks going in like freestyle rappers on whatever it is they’re cheffing up. Wrapping and unwrapping reflective foil, someone is bent and poking a giraffe-neck fork into the oven. These chefs are all half my size, and they scurry like mice leaving trails of whisked air in their wake. The mother of the house, mama pool table, walks around the kitchen like master chef Gordon Ramsay, dipping a teaspoon into things, confirming salt to pepper ratios, barking about paprika in broken, heavily accented Spanish, all the while never looking like she’s actually cooking anything herself. It’s unclear if she is the decision maker in this kitchen as to what will be cooked, but is certainly the judge, jury and executioner as to how it’s been cooked. The whole kitchen bathes in the wet oven’s yellow-red light, and it’s probably fifty degrees hotter in here than anywhere else in the house. Whenever one of the chefs notice me hovering like a tall lamp in the corner watching the chaos and we lock eyes, it’s like a mutual cry for help. They stop in their tracks and gaze into me, all red and teary-eyed, for the salt to pepper ratio is life or death, and mama pool table has got their kids tied up in the basement threatening asesinato if the turkey’s dry. I’d like to think that I would offer to help if I could, but I’m acutely aware of my specific talents, which include neither a working knowledge of paprika nor the Spanish language. It’s also too hot in there to stay long.
I like to people watch because I find people both incredibly annoying and incredibly interesting. To complicate, I will say that people who are interestingly annoying I will watch, but people who are annoyingly interesting I wholeheartedly refuse. I people watch the same way people watch flies buzz around their legs on the porch, ready to shake them off the second they land. People interacting with each other in a celebratory environment like Thanksgiving are especially easy to watch because I can immediately tell who’s actually comfortable talking to who and who’s mingling themselves thin. In one corner you have a dark and scaly Ooh hunched over a darker and scalier Aah, never once looking at each other as they start conversations with, “so?” These are the types who would sit in one spot and shrug at each other for hours if they could, because years of this sort of thing have made them aggressively comfortable with each other. These characters, laughable for their predictability, are somehow both raw and overdone. For instance:
“You know, the same.”
“Same is good. I wish I was the same.”
“Oh yeah, what’s changed?”
“Nothing’s changed, but nothing’s the same neither.”
“I get what you mean.”
Passive, easy. It always feels like these kinds of guys are talking through a toothpick, exuding that warm, rocking chair kind of ease. They’re fine to spy when they manifest but are too regular to be of real intrigue, and aren’t all that annoying either. Really, their unassuming friendship is pretty amicable, and seems like something to strive for. It seems right to find someone who gets you to the core level, so much that they practically are you. Then by engaging with that person you’re really just stimulating them to soak deeper into themselves. The bond is then sealed within both friends, not between them, as if knowing each other makes them more themselves. These guys really have it all, friendship wise, and it’s sickening.
“Yeah. I gotta take a shit.”
“I just did in the mirror room. Weird fucking room.”
“Crazy weird. I don’t get these rich fucks.”
“Fun as hell to shit in, though.”
“Yeah. I’m going.”
Doubtless, the gruesomest joys come from spying on a bit of painful small talk, like when the wives of two blokes who’ve never met peel off toward the balcony to talk diets (or carbon footprint, we don’t forget carbon footprint), and the blokes just slouch deeper into their shoes, stupefied, leaning back against their knees and ogling at lamps in the room’s corners. You don’t want to get caught in a situation like this without a drink, because a drink is an out. The guy with the drink will inevitably come out on top as the winner of the conversation, because husband to husband small talk is all about showing you’re more socially adept than the other guy, and husbands with drinks in their hands inevitably come off as more socially adept than husbands without drinks in their hands. The one who wants to leave more will always talk first.
“Real nice place here,” says the guy who’s doomed without a drink.
“Gee, thanks. I built the foundation of this friendship with my bare hands.’ The charisma is fake, it’s the drink.
“Say, where’d you get that drink?”
“I… I made this drink.”
“I too would like to make myself a drink.”
“Well get to it peanut, bar’s by the Mohican.”
“Where’s the bar?”
“Around this hallway, to the left of the Mohican.”
“What is a Mohican?”
“Son. Go around this hallway and make yourself a drink.”
Back at school, I get the sense that to enjoy a college party, most people check their brains at the door and just go dark; total submission to the party atmosphere. I picture them all as trying desperately to cram themselves into tiny little sidecars, which, for all intents and purposes, are toy sized and bright red with itty bitty leather black seats – your classic, idealized sidecar. The sidecar is appealing to the college student, because it’s essentially responsibility free – nobody blames the sidecar for a crash. But this particular idealized sidecar is simply too small, and the college student is far from a true fit. Still, they try fiendishly to cram themselves in, focusing so intently on how to get into the sidecar that they completely neglect to check what it’s attached to. In college, the main car is driven by alcohol, which rolls and riots at high speeds and doesn’t care if that pasty college kid in the sidecar settles in, which they often don’t. The alcohol just drives without giving the sidecar a single thought, perhaps totally unaware it’s even attached to a sidecar, dragging it from one place to the next while the kid flails and clings on by their ankles exclaiming fraternité. On the off chance that anyone manages to cram themselves deep enough into the sidecar to consider themselves a true fit, they’ll look up and realize that alcohol is their driver, and be forced to acknowledge the risks involved in riding. They might consider that after all this effort, it may have been an even more valuable use of their time to take some responsibility and get behind the wheel of the main car, instead of fighting to fit in to the sidecar. I digress.
In a sense, this sidecar phenomena persists for the same reasons that people with drinks in their hands seem more socially adept than people without drinks in their hands. But at holiday parties, the reckless driver of the main car isn’t alcohol, but small talk, and the people trying to fit in are older, larger and less flexible. That guy with the drink is clinical sidecar who’s managed to fake it all day as a driver. Seems like a torrential douche. I hope he doesn’t ask me who’s kid I am.
“Hey kid. You look like you’ve been sitting here watching people. You bored?”
“I go to Fordham University in the City. I’m majoring in Biomedical Engineering with a concentration on annulation. I am in my Junior year.”
“Got that one on repeat, huh? I remember when I was your age. All these random cucks asking me what I wanted to do with my days. Yikes. Here. Have some of this drink.”
“College has made me a nihilist. I am also a semi alcoholic. I am also a semi vegetarian with premonitions of gluten free.”
“Jesus kid. They got you wound tighter than a fat man’s wedgie. Loosen your gears, brother. You smoke?”
“I am a recovering marijuana dependent. Tobacco is a class one carcinogen. All things considered, I’m intrigued by the research being done about the rehabilitative qualities of traditionally native hallucinogens such as psilocybin and ayahuasca.”
“Alright kid. You seriously need to wake up. You know what you sound like?”
I am pretty sure I know what he thinks I sound like, and it’s exactly what I want him to think. I loathe small talk about my university habits but what I loathe even more are torrential douchebags, and this particular torrential douchebag is the kind of person who’s double your age when the folks are around but tries to be “hip” when you’re alone with them. Also, unlike my university colleagues, I loathe people who try to scale social barriers by asking if they can drug me. Alright, I’m ready. Tell me what I know you think I sound like.
“You sound like a robot.”
“You know that?”
“Robots sound like robots. What else?”
“What else is, you’re not a robot, kid. You’re a kid.”
“I am the CS-5000, “Home For The Holiday’s” Edition. Manufactured by SYK Robotics in Santa Clarita, California, 2018. Would you like me to laugh at your next joke?”
“Fine, laugh at everything I say from now on. I want to see you play this out.”
“You look pretty real for a bot, kid. Where’s the buttons and lights and whatnot?”
“HaHaHa. I have been designed to mimic natural life in every way, in both appearance and behavior. More specifically, I was designed to mimic Kyle Johns, son of Louis and Jane Johns, from Lancaster, New York. My purpose is to fill the place of the real Kyle Johns, who is with his girlfriend’s family this Thanksgiving.”
“And why the hell are you telling me you’re a robot, if you are a robot? Doesn’t that go against your programming or something?”
“HaHaHa. Good question. I have been designed to explain my design to those who notice the indescribable differences between myself and a human. This is to avoid the misconception that the real Kyle Johns is in any way responsible for my mistakes.”
“And they programmed you to tell me you have a weed problem?”
“HaHaHa. I was programmed not to question my creators.”
“Alright. I’m over it kid. Turn off.”
“HaHaHa. I was designed to comply only with my parent’s orders.”
“Alright, you win. Bye kid.”
“HaHaHa. Bye, you hilarious, fucking, douche.”
I tried to tweak and rumble as a real machine might when it’s splashed with liquid, but I think it came off as a bit stale; there weren’t any sparks flying around either. It took a small fleet of hungry old blokes to pull the torrential douche off me after the crash of his whiskey glass brought us to the room’s attention. I sort of just laid limp and flexed real hard as they handled him, seeing as the gag was my only claim to victory in this bit of small talk. Nobody blamed me when the whole thing was over, except probably the torrential douche, who was so blushed and heated when they pulled him off me that he ditched the place before even giving thanks. The American Indian in the corner was proud of me for sticking to the gag, I could tell by his cool smile and downward nod. After it all was over I went back to the endless shitter and swung my dick around ‘til dinner.