“I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit,” says Jennifer, leaning against the refrigerator. “I just wish more people cared about it.”
“You’re so right,” agrees the girl whose name Rich does not know. He nods his head in general agreement, but he has lost track of what they are talking about. They continue their conversation, somehow managing to understand each other despite the cacophony of the party, which is full of other people having other conversations and presumably also performing the remarkable cognitive feat of separating signal from less-relevant signal.
Rich is incapable of this, and so he stands in the kitchen staring in the general direction of the two girls as they continue to chat. He does not know why he came to the party. Well, he does know. But it was not a rational reason and there’s no reason for him to think about it.
Rich does not do well at parties. He turns his body ninety degrees and finds himself in another conversation altogether with two co-workers whom he barely knows. From the words he can pick out, it seems like they are talking about some kind of athletic equipment. Rich has nothing to add to this topic, but at least he knows what it is.
Boredom sets in quickly, though. He chances another ninety-degree turn and finds himself opposite the host of the party and several others preparing and enjoying shots of tequila. Rich looks down at his beer cup, which has been empty for at least the last half hour because the keg, out on the porch and surrounded by throngs of people, is effectively inaccessible. He considers doing a shot but decides against it. Sometimes his people drink to loosen up a little bit, but Rich embarrasses himself when he gets drunk at parties. He recalls the mooning episode from July 2002. This is the kind of crowd that would be surprised and delighted by such a thing, but it would be coming out of nowhere. The folks at Rich’s workplace don’t know him in that context and he doesn’t want to subject them to that kind of contrast.
He rouses himself from self-reflection to find that the kitchen has emptied out somewhat. He has come to understand that parties simply flow naturally from room to room and that he should not associate this migration with his own presence in either location. Jennifer and the other girl are still deeply engrossed in their conversation, their body language making them seem as comfortable together as best friends, although Rich is pretty sure they just met. Is it alcohol or natural chemistry? Probably both. Jennifer has knocked back several beers over the course of the evening, and Other Girl has been chugging red wine from a jelly jar. They don’t seem drunk, though, just friendly and talkative. Rich has no idea what that is like.
He approaches them, and Jennifer acknowledges him with a warm smile, the type of smile you can see in the eyes as well as in the mouth. It’s a type of smile Jennifer is particularly good at. Rich’s thoughts begin to creep back into irrational territory and he struggles to remain present in the moment. The girls are now talking about neighborhoods, which is a conversation Rich can relate to: he does live in a neighborhood, after all. In fact, he has lived in several.
Other Girl is wearing a top that goes off the shoulder. Her round, shiny brown shoulder emerges from the fabric and captures Rich’s attention. He would very much like to approach that shoulder and bite it as he would an apple. Not a complete bite, just the beginning of a bite where one’s teeth slowly press into the skin. Rich believes that if this partial bite is delivered skillfully, it could be a very pleasant experience for all parties involved.
He realizes what he is thinking about, and starts to feel guilty. Then he feels indignant about having felt guilty, and then he starts to feel bewilderment at his unpredictable non-stop thought parade. Is it the shoulder, or is it the girl? Is it a shoulder thing?
“So what do you do?” asks Other Girl. Rich slowly comes to realize that the question is directed at him.
“He works in my department. We work together sometimes. This guy,” Jennifer yells, “is awesome!”
“Yeah?” Other Girl asks.
“Totally!” replies Jennifer, giving Rich a smack on the behind. Rich’s brain short-circuits briefly as it catches up to the action and realizes it no longer needs to supply an answer to Other Girl’s question.
“It is true,” Rich responds in a confessional tone. “I am awesome.”