“I’ve always thought extraverts were dumb,” Cynthia told Vikki, who had just gotten back from five hours at Ice and Dogs, a combination ice cream parlor and hot dog eatery that hosted its annual Friend-a-Thon that day.“Why do you have to talk to people all day? Don’t you have anything inside you?”
Vikki wasn’t offended because apparently she wasn’t offended by anything. “It’s all good,” she said turning to her pot of steamed vegetables and rice. “You like cupcakes and moping around; I prefer human beings to Chocolate Fudge Royale. Your real angst with me is I only go to Ice and Dogs once a year, and it’s not with you (though I always ask you if you want to come), and it’s one of your favorite places,” she pointed out.
“Well, if you ask me if I’d rather eat hot dogs and ice cream in peace or listen to a person I just met tell me about her children, I can tell you I prefer the former,” said Cynthia. I’m all for charity but can’t local businesses sponsor me to meet and greet a hundred cats let loose at a butcher’s shop rather than ask me to circle around humans who seem only to have two questions: ‘So, what brought you to New York?’ and ‘Why are you still alone?’ Well, I’d like to tell them I was looking for a place with people who don’t have time to talk about things they don’t care about, and I’m alone because heaven is the newspaper and two jars—one of fudge, the other of peanut butter—on a Sunday morning.”
Vikki laughed, and began spooning her vegetable and rice concoction onto a glass plate. “Well, you never know who might be better than the Style section that you could meet at the Friend-a-Thon.”
Cynthia rolled her eyes and shut the window, turning the air conditioner positioned in the apartment’s other window on high, partly hoping to drown out a stranger’s laughter and whistling outside, and partly to drown out her roommate. “True, I could meet a great hero and a genius at the Ice and Dogs Friend-a-Thon, but more than likely I’d be left with a balding accountant with dripping ice cream smeared across his tie and a stay-at-home mother who was there because it was the most sophisticated activity she could think of that day.”
Cynthia often wondered how she and Vikki came to be friends and roommates, and after much rumination, decided it all came down to beer. Cynthia had just moved into a newly developed apartment complex at the University of Florida called the Cancun Club, and discovered Vikki as her next door neighbor one afternoon a few days after moving in. The halls and stairs of the building they lived in were outside and constructed like a deck with wooden panels from wall to wall, and everything except the apartments themselves were open-air, like a large, flimsily built tree house. Vikki was carrying a case of beer, which Cynthia complimented her on since it always was a boon to her spirit to note evidence of unhealthy lifestyle in others. By the time she learned the beer had been bought for a visiting friend, and that Vikki herself generally stuck to a judicious glass of Chardonnay with a dinner of skinned, boneless chicken or grilled Atlantic salmon, it was too late. She had already been invited to her new friend’s apartment for a cocktail hour social.
“Well,” Cynthia thought to herself, “I have nothing to say to these people, so I’ll just ramble as much as possible about myself and see what happens.” She proceeded to tell the gathering of maybe six people about how she doesn’t drive on highways and how it’s a public service that she doesn’t because she doesn’t believe in “vehicular aggression,” which is exactly what you must possess to excel at highway travel. She then told her guests, half Southerners from the Florida-Alabama border of the panhandle of the state, and half Northerners and Miamians, that the national highway system, furthermore, should be done away with. Everyone laughed, but the greatest mirth came from Vikki, who liked her new friend’s lack of inhibition with words. She was inhibited physically, choosing to sit slightly apart from the other guests, and was conscious enough of her space to take a step back if you got too close to her, but her words were wide open.
“Well, you’d get a chance to talk to weirdos about weird subjects, and God knows you like to do that,” Vikki said, referring to the Friend-a-Thon, and smiling and winking at her friend. And better yet, you’d have a captive audience to listen to all your best stuff.”
Cynthia was only beginning to understand why people described her as being “out there” or asked “what she was smoking?” But, in truth, she saw nothing strange about doing away with the contemporary postal service, e-mail, and fax. She had a theory that the level of communication and the quality of ideas and, by extension, actions taken, would improve if only people had more time to think. “Now, if we still had the pony express,” Cynthia began, “then we’d be onto something. We’d have a chance to think during long-distance communications, and have more time to ourselves in between answer and response.”
Vikki, who never failed to laugh at this idea no matter how many times she heard it, nevertheless found it thoroughly unappealing. “More time? Why do you need more time? When someone’s standing right in front of you there’s no time lag between question and response, and everything seems to turn out alright, doesn’t it? The best part of new tech stuff is it replicates the experience of talking face-to-face with the person you’re corresponding with even if they’re on the other side of the world.”
Cynthia thought no more than a moment; then decided exactly why she could never appreciate modern advances in communications technology. “Why in the world would anyone want to replicate that? Isn’t the real thing bad enough?” She remembered her dread at ballroom dancing class as a child, pacing the Mexican tiles of her family’s kitchen back and forth trying to get a hotdog down because she felt compelled to eat dinner even while the thought of having to worry who, if anyone, she would dance with—along with all the rest of 10-year-old social politics—had swept her appetite away. Or how about what she endured as an adult before and during cocktail parties? It wasn’t that she had to think of things to say. She could think of a lot of things to say. “So, how tall are you anyway?” she longed to ask the gangly woman who worked down the hall from her cubicle row. “How do you find anyone to date, and more importantly, how do you buy shoes? Maybe if men from Mars finally land on earth, and it turns out that instead of being little red or blue men they’re gigantic red or blue men, you could sign up for space missions to go shoe shopping.” Or, she’d love to know how often the fat man who delivered her mail showered, and whether if it was a lack of hot water in his apartment that was the cause of the sponge bath he seemed to take every morning in aftershave cologne. Or how the dowdy lady she bought her lunch from at the corner deli decided which identical brown dress she would wear each day. If all your dresses look the same, and yet they’re different dresses for the sake of cleanliness, can you tell them apart as the owner, and if so, is one more favored than another? Of course, all of these, she knew, fell into the category of the socially inappropriate, but it sure beat asking what the kids were up to, or where the man slurping his white wine had gone on vacation last.
“Some of us enjoy human beings,” Vikki said. Cynthia might have left it at that knowing they always came to this impasse in an otherwise enjoyable friendship, but decided it was time for a challenge. She had PMS, and with her PMS came a heightened loathing of the social animal. Cynthia remembered with a smile how she had strategized her day around human avoidance, deliberately taking the express elevator to the upper floor of the office building she worked in; picking very carefully a scarcely used ice maker to fill her Styrofoam cup full of ice in preparation for her morning Diet Coke; and, most inspired of all, took a circuitous route to her cubicle that bypassed all people (many) whose company she didn’t enjoy. “I believe I’m becoming a misanthrope,” she said to herself. “Or, have I always been a misanthrope and just called it introversion to turn it into something psychologically acceptable? Is anything OK as long as it’s a documented personality type? What other personality types can psychologists invent? What about Elephant people? People who are harmless but take up the space of others, and threaten the comfort and wellbeing of others via the unconscious swinging of their trunks?”
“What are you thinking about?” Vikki asked, laughing along with Cynthia, though she didn’t know what her friend found so amusing. Vikki was one of those people who Cynthia to herself referred to as a go-alonger, or what psychologists (like Cynthia’s mother) call “pleasers,” people who compulsively must make everyone and anyone they’re with happy, usually by doing or saying whatever is expected. “Just how unfriendly I’ve become,” Cynthia admitted.
“At least you’re self-aware,” said Vikki , pointing out one of the things she liked most about her friend. Vikki was used to living with people who reminded her of the personification of public relations agencies. It was as if their whole life was a commercial or public service announcement. She had found herself one afternoon going so far as to hide the wrapper from a Taco Bell burrito so her roommates wouldn’t make fun of her for eating fast food. Or she remembered the conversations with these past roommates when she couldn’t say she didn’t like a restaurant or bar because it was that moment’s “place to be” or “trendy eatery.” You had to endorse the party line when you were with those people, whatever and whoever’s party that line happened to be.
“Yeah, I’m aware of what I don’t like, and who doesn’t like me. Like Goldi-WASP,” she said dryly and without blinking.
“Who in the world is that?” Vikki said, bursting out laughing.
“A girl who works for one of my magazine’s sister publications, and who I have to listen to all day because she sits over the cubicle wall from me, in the next cubicle aisle over. Well, actually, excuse me, she now sits—ahem—in an office. The Golden Girl was promoted. I think that makes one promotion for every year of her seven-year career. The angels up there have to learn to spread the wealth around a little,” she said.
“The angels up where?” Vikki didn’t believe in a spiritual world. She was too afraid to admit even to herself that she was an atheist, but she didn’t, in actuality, believe in any spiritual complex guiding society. Her philosophy was luck was an entirely explainable, man-made creation. Where you ended up in life was a direct result of your decisions and life’s work (or lack thereof). “I’ll bet Goldi-WASP worked hard. You know what they say about the work ethic of the WASP,” said Vicki, a self-described WASP, winking.
“No harder than the woman who was ousted from the very office she’s moving into. Tina had been with the company for 12 years, and then, a disagreement or two with management, and she’s out. Her magazine wasn’t doing great, but if Noisen had wanted to, they could have found her something else. They kept other people. And now Katie (Goldi-WASP extraordinaire) is setting up her meticulous rows of alphabetized hanging folders and lining up her pens, and finding a place for her fake sunflower.”
The fake sunflower was particularly offensive to Cynthia. Why not a real flower every few weeks or month versus a fake flower that was stationary? It wouldn’t die, sure, but it also didn’t grow or have any scent, and the petals never fell off. What kind of person would choose a flower that lacks the capacity to wilt or shed petals? Would shedding petals disrupt her folders and filing system too much?
“I like artificial floral arrangements. They’re more practical than real flowers,” Vikki said. “They’re always happy. They never start drooping.”
“It’s normal to droop in life eventually. I’ve already begun to droop, and expect the wilting to begin any day.”
“You’re 30, Cynthia! Everyone knows drooping doesn’t start until you’re 42.”
“Why 42 and not a nice, round number like 40?”
“Because at 40 you’ve just approached middle-age, but you’re not really in it yet. By 42 you’re in the middle of middle age because most people, statistically speaking, won’t live past 82.”
“Well, anyway, her fake flower is up, and all day long she sashays or bounces like a cheerleader back and forth from my cubicle row—where she also used to sit—to her new office. Do you have any idea how many times a day I hear her say “awesome!” or “Excellent!”? She loves one-word responses. And to the dumbest things, like if a fax she’s been waiting for comes in, she’ll exclaim, ‘Yeay! My fax came in!’ Really, she does, I’m not joking.”
“Nothing wrong with a little enthusiasm, is there?” said Vikki, jumping up and down in her black spandex bike shorts, sports bra-like tank top and cross-country sneakers. “She just enjoys interacting with life, that’s all.”
“Here we go again,” said Cynthia, “Equating love of life with people like Katie—and you! I enjoy interacting with life. I just don’t happen to enjoy interacting with human life. I’m more into kitten, puppy, and rhododendron life. I’m a domesticated animals, wildlife, and book-life person, that’s all.”
“You can’t love life without loving people if you’re a person yourself,” said Vikki.
“Yes, I can if I’m a self-loathing human. If I’m that, then loving animals and plants more than people is the logical next step because I’m loving what I think is right with the world. If I thought people were right, I would love them, too. But, the thing is, they’ll never be cocker spaniels.”
“Well, at least humans are less likely to have fleas,” said Vikki.
“And that’s about the only thing they have to recommend themselves in a competition with cocker spaniels.”
“You realize, of course, that it isn’t “they?” You’re one of us, too,” Vikki pointed out.
“Well, I’m an honorary cocker spaniel, or tabby cat, maybe. I relate more to them than to you.”
The truth was of the human species Cynthia thought Vikki was one of the few who were tolerable. Vikki was mostly self-aware, and could laugh at herself. Best of all, she was amused when Cynthia told her the truth about her feelings, even the misanthropic ones—especially those, actually. As a big-time extravert, she found it hilarious than anyone didn’tlike being around people.
“Okay, okay,” Vikki laughed. “You win. Go back to your lair.”
“I wish I had a lair some days.”
“Speaking of which, I need you to help me clean up a little,” Vikki said. “Graham is coming over tonight.”
“Oh, okay. But why do you care what he thinks? He’ll eventually find out you’re a slob. Why not just show him the slob you are right off the bat and see if he sticks around? It’ll be a test of how much he likes you.”
“He’ll find out soon enough,” Vikki reasoned. “We’re still in the illusions stage.”
“You mean de-lusion, don’t you?”
“Well, whatever, he’s coming over,” said Vikki, “so if you see something lying around, just sweep it under the nearest rug or sofa.”
Much to Cynthia’s consternation, Vikki went for the reliable ones, the ones who are entirely uninspired but make good on their promise to call you exactly at 5 p.m. every other day, fulfilling their obligation to do what Cynthia referred to as the boyfriend “maintenance call.” Vikki was consoled and even excited by these calls and all the other exacting procedures she expected her boyfriends to deliver on, but Cynthia couldn’t see why. “You told them to do all that stuff. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if they did it on their own without you forcing them?”
“Well, it matters that they liked me enough to follow my instructions,” she said.
Cynthia was un-enthused about Graham. He was studying dentistry, and promised to be either tight with money, a prima donna, or a Mama’s boy, or some combination of all three winning characteristics. Vikki said he enjoyed “the finer things in life,” which, as far as Cynthia could tell, meant a steep investment in hair gel, tanning cream, and coconut oil. He also was said by friends to wax his arms. “Yuck and a half,” Cynthia said to Vikki upon hearing the details of his personal toilette. “What’s there to like about that?”
“He’s a nurturer,” said Vikki. “He’s good about calling me, he’s always on time, and we like the same things.”
“By things you mean showing up in places you don’t necessarily like but are expected to be? The thing that gets me about Graham is his motives. He said you should belong to a church or some other house of worship, at least partly because it doesn’t look good not to!”
“There’s nothing extraordinary about that,” said Vikki. “Us social beings have a distaste for being ostracized.”
“You know, he wouldn’t try on my cowgirl hat for fear of messing up his hair the last time he was here.”
“Maybe it was just that he didn’t think it was a good look for him,” said Vikki.
“I think it was mostly the vanity of his vanishing hair that he was concerned about.” Graham still had a mostly full head of hair, but the corners, where it was barely receding, were, maybe understandably, very troubling. He spent a good half-hour every morning greasing down (or up, if necessary) each dark coil for precise positioning. Cynthia joked with Vikki that he needed a GPS tracking device for doing his hair to ensure no strand was improperly placed. Luckily Vikki had only been dating him for about a month, so there was still a good chance something could go wrong. Cynthia was attached enough to her friend (her best friend, really) to feel about her new boyfriends the way a child might feel about a stepparent. They were intruders who stole her friend’s time away from her—that’s all they were. The few Cynthia found charming, Vikki was turned off by because they didn’t demonstrate good follow-through on the maintenance calls.
Graham, behind the wheel of his bluish purple pickup truck—a color Cynthia described as resembling Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes—tended to arrive a few minutes early. He apparently knew excitement wasn’t his draw for the ladies, so he emphasized the value-add of reliability, thought Cynthia. And, like the ticking of a clock, his style was a visual manifestation of a metronome. Khaki pants, collared Polo shirt, and brown loafers. All summer long he had been collecting teeth. His dental professor had instructed incoming students to collect as many teeth from dentists’ offices (or wherever you go to collect discarded teeth) as they could find. Beyond the tooth collection, maintaining his supply of hair gel, and waxing his arms and chest, Graham was into “healthy eating.” He frowned on Cynthia’s taste for Baskin Robbins’ brownie sundaes. “Fatty foods” were the enemy, so the sight of Cynthia behind the booth at Baskin Robbins at 11 p.m. on a Saturday stuffing herself with two overflowing scoops of vanilla peanut butter cup ice cream with hot fudge and whip cream, all atop a ready-made, amply-processed brownie sickened him. He and Vikki had stopped in for scoops of prudent sorbet and happened upon the scene. Laughing with the man working behind the counter, Cynthia was unabashed. “Well, I have a lot of deficiencies in my life to make up for.”
“Why are you friends with her?” Cynthia imagined Graham asking Vikki. “Because she’s funny,” Vikki probably answered. Funny and has the ability to keep her mouth shut long enough to listen to Vikki’s woes, thought Cynthia, though she knew her friend wouldn’t think to add that part, and maybe never noticed it herself. As the friend closest to Vikki who was the most introverted, she made an ideal lay psychotherapist. She was reflective enough to listen patiently in silence while Vikki cried to her about whoever or whatever had interrupted her comfort that day. That’s the trouble with people who described themselves as people persons, Cynthia thought. They like other people, but mainly so other people can listen to their problems.
Cynthia also thought then of her friend, Nancy, who called her at least every other day, sometimes with what Cynthia referred to as edge-of-the-bridge calls. As in, “I’m so depressed. On days like these, I don’t feel like going on. I just want somebody to tell me why I shouldn’t throw myself off a bridge.” When she didn’t hear from her friend for more than a few days, it often meant she was in a mental hospital. Was this “people person” carried to its logical conclusion? The person so reliant on others that the only thing that could break the attempt for contact was entry into a mental hospital?
Well, no use sticking around while Dip Shit comes over, Cynthia concluded, using the term of endearment she used for Graham when speaking to herself. The other she liked a lot was “Girly Man,” on account of his hypochondria and his favoring of many small, birdlike meals rather than the old fashioned, farm-fed three square meals a day ideal. He always eyed her cream cheese suspiciously. Also suspicious were the frozen macaroni and cheese and frozen pigs in the blanket she favored. He could use a few pigs under his blanket, Cynthia thought she’d advise him in as judicious way as possible. “How many pigs you got under there, Graham?” she dreamed of taunting him. “Have you checked your blood pressure yet today? It’s the ‘silent killer,’ you know.” The last time she saw him was at the house he shared with three other men. Vikki had convinced her to help him write his paper. He kept asking Cynthia how he could return the favor, whether maybe they could all go out to dinner. “Well, you could just write your own paper and then you wouldn’t have to pay me back at all,” Cynthia had responded. “I don’t think you can ever pay someone back, anyway, for their lost time.”
“I’ll be in my room if you need me,” Cynthia called out to Vikki. Cynthia then settled in for a fruitful night of daydreaming, wondering at stars, counting the cracks in the sidewalk under her window, eavesdropping on the neighbors through the wall, racking up her mental list of those who had abused her over the years, and reading Vogue, William Blake, Mary Oliver, and Margaret Atwood, and tuning into The Doors, Neil Young, the White Stripes, Cream, and maybe reading a novel like Brideshead Revisited or Catch-22. Or trying her hand at watercolor painting via a children’s art kit. She was interrupted an hour into her lounging.
“Cynthia, I need you,” Vikki whispered through her cell phone. “I need you to get rid of Graham.”
“Get rid of Nutrition Boy?”
“Yeah. He’s in the bathroom now, but when he comes out, I thought you could come downstairs and revolt him.”
“Well, I won’t deny I’ve mastered the art of revulsion, but this is going to be particularly enjoyable. I have to ask you, though, why?”
“Oh, he’s boring me. I just want him to go away.”
“OK. That’s the way I’ve felt for a while. Glad you finally caught on. I’ll be right down.”
Cynthia didn’t bother to tinker with her appearance. All the better to be at her most ratty bohemian self, tie-dye ‘shroom tee shirt with stretched-out-of-shape and stained sweat pants and slippers. It was OK that she looked fit for a music festival or the mental hospital. That was the look she was going for. So much for middle-class cleanliness. She’d rather walk through puddles barefoot and greet her friend’s out-going boyfriend in what Cynthia referred to as “true-self attire.”
She took herself in her “true-self attire” down the hall to the livingroom, where she found Graham slouched on the sofa with his legs flopped lazily apart and a glass of Merlot in his left hand as his right hand worked at the television remote control, sampling yet another of his favorite idiot reality shows, this one about a group of strangers who have to work together to tame lionesses while choosing someone from said group to marry. It was called “Of Lionesses and Men.”
“Oh, hi, Graham,” she said grudgingly.
“Hi there Cynthia, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing, just enjoying the full moon. You know it’s my time of she-wolfness.” Vikki, who was in the little kitchen that adjoined the livingroom as she assembled a plate of strawberries, brie, and wheat crackers for Graham, stifled a laugh. She had asked for strange and strange was what her friend was delivering. She had rolled the strange out tonight like a welcome banner. And that’s exactly what she needed to get rid of this suitor her fickle taste had decided wasn’t interesting enough.
“Well, when the full moon is out, I project a facsimile of my inner self onto an open plain in the Midwest, but not as myself, but as a she-wolf with glistening wolfy-silver fur, and I (as my she-wolf self) am joyously howling at the moon.” Cynthia had to control herself from cracking a smile. True, she adored wolves and often wondered what it would be like to howl at the moon, but the cliché of the full moon, and referring to herself as possessing “she-wolfness,” was too much to bear.
“Interesting,” Graham responded, uncomfortably fidgeting on the sofa. “Who knew part of you was a she-wolf?”
“Well, actually, there’s a more interesting story than that, and it isn’t about me.”
“One of the guys behind the counter at Baskin Robbins that you’ve bonded with over the years?”
“No,” laughed Cynthia, “but good guess. Actually, I was referring to my roommate and your special friend.”
“Vikki?” Graham was not one to savor surprises. As a man who mapped out his lunch and hair gel needs two weeks out, the idea that there was anything titillating to be revealed about a girl he thought of as “safe” was not funny in the least. It was downright disturbing.
“As it turns out there’s more than there appears to our mutual friend.”
“Does she have a tattoo I don’t know about?” It was the only unseen thing Graham could imagine. That was the most shocking thing he could think of any girlfriend of his having. It both excited and repulsed him. The idea that there could be anything he couldn’t see that was a secret was impossible to consider. He prided himself on having a “scientific mind” that believed nothing existed until there was empirical evidence.
“No, it’s much better than that,” said Cynthia. “See that necklace?” she said, pointing to the chunky silver heart pendent around Vikki’s neck that almost had the shape of a lima bean. “It isn’t a regular necklace.”
“Did some other guy give it to her?”
“Kind of. If the FBI is a guy.”
“Oh, I get it,” he said, affecting a breezy laugh that was too forced to be breezy. “One of your ‘clever’ jokes.”
“Maybe and maybe that pendent has a microchip in it that she uses to spy on her peers with.” See, back in the ‘60s, the FBI became very suspicious of youth movements—the ones against the Vietnam War, the ones for civil rights. They were always talking about ‘agitators.’ Well, to combat these ‘agitators,’ they instituted a peer-to-peer spying program. Young people, about our age, would be recruited to wear listening devices on themselves somewhere, like on a dainty pendent around their neck, to track the goings on of potential agitators.”
“Well, Vikki wasn’t around back then,” said Graham, shuffling his weight back and forth, from one side of his body to the other as he wriggled around the couch. He was so neurotic, Cynthia thought to herself, that he was already starting to get nervous. She wondered if she should tell him the peer-spies were eating bacon while filing their reports to really put him over the edge.
“No, but that’s just when the program started. It’s been going on and on for years. And now Vikki is a part of it. All our conversation tonight has been recorded by a microchip in her pendant, and is going straight to the FBI.”
Vikki, who couldn’t help herself any longer, began giggling. “So, now they know you like Merlot better than Chardonnay, and all the big picture implications of that.”
“Well, Merlot is much healthier than Chardonnay. Studies have shown you’ll live longer if you drink one glass of red wine a night, but no such studies exist about white wine.” Final proof Graham lacked a sense of humor, or wasn’t very bright. Rather than questioning the story, he was already concerned about how he would come across to his FBI audience. God forbid any one think he endorsed unhealthy nutrition habits. Cynthia and Vikki exchanged winks as he rattled on about the superiority of red wine. And he continued to rattle on, in a way that suggested he might be nervously babbling. Who knows if he believed the FBI was listening to their conversation via Vikki’s pendant, but the story was making him uncomfortable. It seemed as if he was more scared of being around people who would make up a story than he was of the government eavesdropping on him in his girlfriend’s livingroom, using his girlfriend as a pawn. Fear of imagination factored into his unease, but more than that, he was worried the FBI wouldn’t approve of his food and beverage choices. What if an especially fit FBI agent overheard the recording, and thought he was unhealthy or gluttonous?
“Who cares whether Merlot is healthier than Chardonnay or tomatoes are better to eat than cottage cheese, but cottage cheese is better to eat than American cheese, but American cheese is a ‘much healthier option’ than French fries?” Cynthia asked, letting vent her frustration since her friend was about to get rid of Graham anyway.
“Well, naturally, a person likes to have his choices respected.”
“Why?” Cynthia thought again about the problem with extraverts—their need to define themselves according to others. The expectations of others seemed to take the place of soul. If they lost the favor of “others” (whoever “others” happened to be at that moment), they seemed to believe life would lose its meaning, or that they would have failed it. How could you live your life eating cottage cheese if what you really wanted was Munster, wondered Cynthia, but you weren’t choosing Munster because your most frequent dining companions thought cottage cheese was superior, but only superior if finely grated Swiss were not available.
“Man is a social creature,” Graham began, imagining FBI agents listening in rapt attention to what he thought of as his intellectual ramblings, “And, as such, man considers what his fellow man thinks of him.”
Vikki and Cynthia couldn’t keep themselves from giggling, but Cynthia was growing angrier. “Who says man—or woman for that matter—is a ‘social’ being? I’d still eat Chocolate Fudge Royale even if everyone told me they thought only devil mongerers ate it. And I’ll never go to the Ice and Dogs Friend-a-Thon. But I definitely would go to a Cat-a-Thon held at a creamery. “So how social am I?”
“Well, you’re obviously not normal. You’d be a happier person if you spent more time with others and less time thinking about yourself.”
“So, that’s what you’re doing, eh, when you go to bars at night? Thinking of others?” Cynthia was annoyed, but forced herself to laugh as hard and loud as she could to get on Graham’s nerves as much as possible. “Your rounds at the bars are just part of your schedule of worthy philanthropies.”
Vikki, still behind the counter in the kitchen, seemed not to be enjoying the ruse as much. Could she be disturbed by the idea that her “social” self wasn’t entirely unselfish? She always chastised, like Graham had, Cynthia’s penchant for lonely nights with peanut butter ice cream and the New Yorker magazine for accompaniment. Cynthia would reply without hesitating and without embarrassment that no human being she had ever met equaled those two luxuries put together. “Well, I don’t know, bar hopping could be a philanthropy,” Vikki suggested. “What if you were raising money for charity while doing the bar hopping, or trying to cheer up a depressed friend? Or maybe your philanthropy could be the bartender. He needs someone to talk to, too. And needs tips.”
“Yeah, I agree about the tips part,” said Cynthia. “Anyway, back to the FBI in the pendant. Well, you know, Graham, the FBI has told us you bar hop irregularly and choose bars with unhealthy liquors. They’re doing an investigation.”
“Ha-ha,” he said, catching on at least enough to feign a sense of humor (wouldn’t want to be perceived as not having one, after all). “How do they feel about your anti-social behavior?”
“They were worried about my activities involving Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but decided against pursuing me. I cut a deal with them.”
“Vikki, do you also believe it’s your duty to humanity to socialize with it (or them?)?” Cynthia was getting that alienated-everyone-likes-people-except-me feeling, and thought her friend might throw her an anti-social bone—maybe she might admit that even an extravert can grow weary of people sometimes.
“No, I just like them. I think they’re funny and would rather watch TV with them than without them.”
“I prefer fictional characters,” said Cynthia. “They’re usually more interesting, and don’t take up the part of the couch you want to put your feet up on.”
“Well, all I’m saying,” Vikki said, “is sometimes you need people to open doors for you. When you’re carrying heavy packages, and the door you need to open is one of those kinds with the handle that needs to be turned at the same time you put the key into the lock, people aren’t that bad.”
Graham was delving into his cheese and crackers and sniffing his wine. He always seemed to enjoy wine and cheese more, he often told Vikki, if he took the time “to savor the experience.” Cynthia always laughed at his pretension, and thought it wasn’t the experience he enjoyed, but, rather, the experience of having others observe his culinary acumen. It was important to him to be viewed as an epicurean and sophisticate. Cynthia, on the other hand, was happy to announce that she loved nothing better than eating crunchy peanut butter straight from the jar. “That’s just the kind of sophisticate I am,” she would joke.
“Maybe if you sniff long enough your nose will get stuck in the glass, and that way the experience will last longer,” Cynthia said to Graham. “Can you see your reflection in there?”
Graham reddened a little, but didn’t say anything. He kept his face down, looked into the glass of wine, and swished it around, as if maybe hoping his reflection would appear.
“Actually,” said Cynthia, not bothering to wait for a response, figuring it would be banal anyway, “if you could see your reflection in there maybe you could get in a little introspection.
“I inspect myself all the time, ” he said, finally smiling a little.
“I guess so. I know that gym you go to has mirrors all around it, and I suppose you probably look in the mirror when you wax your arms.”
Well, she felt bad about that one, Cynthia had to admit to herself. Despite her dread of humanity, she didn’t like anyone’s sadness or discomfort hanging on her conscience. She was conscious enough of her own issues; she didn’t need anyone else’s weighing her down. His ways repulsed her, but she regretted embarrassing him before the words had left her mouth—well, maybe as the words were leaving her mouth. She did say them, after all.
“I take pride in my appearance, that’s all,” he said. “I hope the FBI takes that down.”
Vikki, who had finally stopped futzing in the kitchen, and had settled in an armchair to the side of the sofa where Graham was seated with his wine and cheese, laughed, apparently glad he had found some humor in the situation. She was slightly disappointed, though, that he was still there. The conversation had become strange and awkward thanks to the creativity and oddity of her roommate, yet he remained, patiently sipping at his wine and inspecting the cheese. She wondered if he had caught onto their ruse and was remaining out of spite.
“Sometimes I think the best boyfriend would be a dog without fur,” said Vikki, mimicking for a moment Cynthia’s take on the world. Maybe what Graham needed was to be repulsed directly by her to leave. “I’d like it if he would hide bones for me, and then dig them up as surprises for the holidays. It would be kind of different.”
Graham laughed, and didn’t seem to mind, but his eyes crinkled as if he were thinking of something very important. “Could I be a golden retriever? ”
“Why a golden retriever?” Vikki asked.
“Everybody likes them,” he said.
“So you don’t care if you’re a dog, as long as everybody likes you?” asked Cynthia.
“Yeah, I’d just focus on finding the best bones, and getting my owners to take me to the best dog runs.”
“You realize you’d have to sniff the asses of other dogs, right?” asked Vikki, in a last attempt to gang up on him with Cynthia.
“Well, mine would smell the best. I’d just be sure to get in with the dogs with the asses that smell the way they’re supposed to. You have to be careful when your ass is your business card.”