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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Trip: Socializing? Bleh!

We came to Detroit for my cousins' bar mitzvah. That meant sitting through speeches and food and most of all, having to see extended family. I'm talking about people who I didn't even recognize, whose names I'd never remember and whose place on the family tree was hard to keep track of. "They're just family.", I thought, "What do I have to do with them?" Bar mitzvahs also mean standing through crowds. I really don't like crowds. I'd sit at the side, out of the way, in my little frog-sit that I do partly because everyone says it's so weird. And I'd wait.

On Shabbat, it happened to be raining. I love the rain. It's so peaceful and consistent and familiar. I stood outside of the shul in the rain to get away from the crowd inside. It was calm and peaceful. Everyone else came in raincoats, but I didn't. It seemed a bit backwards to come into the rain in the sort of outfit that would actively prevent you from appreciating it. It was only a very light rain, anyway, so it's not like I'd have to explain away being drenched. I could still hear the noise from inside, but it was good to be outside nonetheless. Or maybe that's backwards- maybe it was better for the noise inside. Whatever the reason, I liked it.

My father thought that was wrong. It seemed backwards to him that I'd come into a social setting with the sort of attitude that would actively prevent me from appreciating it. He was on the other side of that front door. And he pushed me (quite literally) in the way of the family members because I was acting too weird. I waited for him to walk away again, and escaped again. Would these people be talking about videogames, or comic books, or anything else that I might find interesting? Of course not- they'd all just ask that one same question. The question to which I had no satisfying answer, but which was the only question they'd find appropriate for a family member my age.

Basically, these were people who I'd never expect to see again in my life, because I'd never remember they existed. I'm not sure I'd want to remember they existed.

At one point, I tried hanging around Benjy. If I stand by someone else who is socializing, I can be close enough to seeming like a participant in that conversation so as to not have to socialize myself. People leave you alone if they see you standing by another conversation, whether or not you are really a part of that conversation. It's a nice little loophole in the social rules which I use whenever possible. The only downside is that it tends to irritate the person you're following. But if that person is a close family member or friend, then that's acceptable.

Anyway, I tried hanging around Benjy. He loves to talk about politics. I tried actually joining the conversation at one point, and made myself look like a complete fool. I don't have a brain capable of processing politics. There are all those little trivial details, and you're supposed to treat each one like it's the key to the whole issue. I don't see details, I see concepts. At one point the discussion looked like it related to a concept I was familiar with, so I brought that concept in. They said that had absolutely nothing to do with what they were talking about. I kept my mouth shut after that.

(Benjy sees me as a bit of a fool, I think. On a different occasion, I tried to understand the political discussion he was having with my parents, and he got increasingly frustrated when -my best efforts notwithstanding- I wasn't making any sense of the issues.)

In fact, keeping my mouth shut seems to be the best way to go in almost any social setting. I can't relate to what people like that say, and they couldn't relate to what I'd say, so it would always end in embarrassment. I kept my mouth shut at the bar mitzvah dinner, when the people at my table -all family members, roughly the same age as me- talked about all sorts of things I couldn't relate to. I waited for some hint of an opening I could crawl in to the conversation through. There wasn't one.

I waited for so long that I wasn't waiting for anything in particular anymore- just waiting. I kept waiting at the table later when everyone else got up to join in on conversations at other tables. And then some extended family member came over and introduced me to Ronnie, a kid related to me only in some roundabout way I didn't quite grasp. And Ronnie and I, we just started talking. And didn't stop, really. We were talking about videogames, mostly- the games he liked, the huge mistakes game developers tend to make, the future game systems, that sort of thing. Each little drop of a point adding to the others to make a satisfying light rain.

I knew I'd probably never see him again in my life, and he'd probably forget I existed. But I liked the conversation.

Back at our cousins' house, the adults engaged in lifeless smalltalk about nothing interesting. They listened to speeches and hung around with their extended family out of some sort of, I don't know, social obligation or something. Or maybe they really were enjoying it. Beats me. But downstairs were Uncle Perry's kids. I hadn't actually seen Uncle Perry in around eight years or so. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that he seemed like a really nice guy. But his kids- wow. His kids are so young and full of energy that it was fun just to be in the same room as them! They weren't talking so much as fooling around and jumping up and down and generally acting like kids. It was refreshing to see this other side of the family, to be reminded that that side even existed.

Or maybe it was just envy.
They didn't have to focus their socialization into these restrictive systems and acceptable environments. They didn't have to stand around with people they couldn't relate to.

Well, neither did I. I could sit in my little frog-sit over by the side.

Marcus thought I needed to be "fixed". That's Marcus, my longtime friend from New Jersey, with whom I spent most of the second Shabbat. It was nice to spend some time with him. But he thought there was something wrong with a person who stays away from other people. "What do you do when you go out with the guys?", he asked. "Um, what guys?", I dodged, enjoying this new opportunity to take the role of "weird creature". "Your guys! Oh, don't tell me you don't have guys! Everyone needs guys.". And as much as I enjoyed the attention, he wasn't wrong.

But really, what guys? Adults, who'd keep annoying me with that same question and never talk about anything interesting? Kids, who aren't capable of processing social rules? No, I'm pretty much limited to people like me, who are interested in concepts but not details, or people like Marcus, who are so into their own interests and full of energy that it can be fun (if tiring) to just be in the same room with them. But people like us, we're not numerous enough for a guy like me to be part of a group.

Every now and then, I get an opening into some group I'll never get to see again. I guess I should be thankful.



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