Even we writers — who are by trade a blessedly reclusive lot — are forced at times to get out there in society, clink glasses and make polite chitchat. Many of us, however, are so used to directing our little worlds and making conversations go the way we want them that we sometimes drop the ball when speaking to someone who didn’t spring from our own frenzied minds. We not only forget the social world isn’t ours to control, but oftentimes forget there is another world out there, at all.
If at social events you sit in the farthest corner and pray to become invisible, or if you circulate parties like a shark, knowing with deep and unwavering certainty the moment you pause by the chip bowl that inevitable annoying person will corner you and proceed to fire all sorts of boring, nonsensical, or offensive small talk your way, then I have a few tools to help you survive (and maybe even enjoy) your next event.
PLAYING NICE 101***
Before getting to the Do’s, I’d like to address a few amateur tactics that fall under the widely accepted category of ‘Don’ts.’
1) Don’t stare at the floor, ceiling or a thousand yards ahead of you without proper eye-disguise (detailed below). People are largely of the opinion that writers are a spacey lot. We don’t need to give them fuel for the fire.
2) Don’t run in the opposite direction when someone approaches. It makes you appear cowardly, and a fitting target for later on when the party kicks in and that individual makes his way back around to you.
3) Don’t act like you’ve got major attitude, unless you do. In which case, no one will want to talk to you, anyway.
4) Don’t drown in alcohol. It’ll take the edge off the social discomfort, but will also take the edge off your mind, and you’ll suddenly find yourself in a circle of people talking at great lengths about the newest adventures of Paris Hilton. And you don’t want that, do you?
Okay. Now that we’ve dispelled some of the wrong ways to survive a party, we’ll move on to the right ones.
TO AVOID SPEAKING TO ANYONE AT ALL:
1) HOLD COURT. You’ll need to find a chair, preferably one that’s higher than all the others. Position it under a light source — spotlights are great, recessed lighting will do (fluorescents should be avoided; you’re trying to look regal, not like death incarnate). Make sure your back is to the wall. If you can manage it so that all available aisle-space leads directly to you, all the better. Sit upon your new throne with a rigid back and an expression of apathy. The darker your overall look, the better this technique works. Do not hunch! If you have a drink, hold it away from you as if the condensation droplets are unfitting to touch your royal skin. No one will come near, because approaching you will be like approaching someone of a higher rank, and you’re just that dipshit writer who’s not all that interesting, anyway.
2) CRAZY GUY. This one is a little more reputation destroying, and shouldn’t be used if you care at all about what those in attendance will think of you. My father took me to the shooting range last year. One of the other shooters was this old guy who was alternating firing off rounds from an assault rifle with eating Fudge Stripe cookies. When he approached me, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to him. It wasn’t the fact that he was in possession of a high-powered firearm, or even that he was pretty damn good at hitting the center of the target from many yards away. It was the twin lines of chocolately cookie drool etched into the corners of his mouth that he seemed blissfully oblivious to that told me conversing with this man would be the equivalent of having hot nails inserted into my eye. I was right. So, if you don’t care that you look like crazy-cookie-gunman to everyone in attendance, chomp away on whatever brightly hued snacks are available and let the drool machine go to work.
TO GET OUT OF SPEAKING WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS ALREADY CORNERED YOU:
1) BE NEEDY. Ask the person to get you a drink. When they return, ask them to hold it for you while you dig in your pockets or purse. If you’re a man, empty your pockets in the person’s free hand while muttering about, “It has to be here somewhere.” If you’re a woman, even better. Make the person hold your purse while you dig in it for some random object. If the individual that approached you is a man, he’s guaranteed to split.
2) BE AGGRESSIVE. I don’t want you to be mean, just — proactive. For every one stupid question asked of you, fire back ten in return. But, be careful of your target. If the person is an egomaniac, he won’t care how idiotic your queries are, just as long as they’re aimed at — and are all about — him. If that unfortunate event does transpire, immediately switch to talking about yourself. Make sure the topics are inane and boring — such as why you prefer opening your cereal packages with scissors rather than by hand and how much fresher that cereal tastes if a rubber band is used to secure it again, rather than one of those pedestrian chip clips. Then, proceed to detail every cereal in your pantry, and every cereal you’ve ever eaten. Be sure to include key specifics about the texture of generic corn flakes versus the brand name, and the subtle changes in hue you’ve noted in the red colored Fruit Loops in the past twelve to fifteen months. Stand back and enjoy the glazed look in your prey’s eyes.
WHEN YOU JUST HAVE TO PLAY NICE:
We all know the people — bosses, higher-ups, distinguished members of the community, and your spouses’ co-workers. No matter what a dullard, fool or jackass they may be, sometimes you just have to suck it up and prepare for twenty minutes of PLAYING NICE. But, don’t worry; you can still have some fun doing it:
1) DARK SUNGLASSES. No one can tell you’re rolling your eyes or staring at the ceiling if you’re wearing these puppies (cyber goggles are an excellent choice for this situation). However, I cannot emphasize enough the need for advance preparation when employing this method. Before attempting the sunglasses technique in a dreaded social setting, it is crucial that you take them into a room with the brightest light possible and examine your eye movements in the mirror. If you can see your irises take a circuitous trip around your sockets, you can be damn sure everyone else can, too. But, if your glasses pass the bright light test, slap ’em on and feel free to cross, roll, and even shut your eyes during that insanely interesting conversation about the merits of owning a Lexus SUV.
2) ‘HOW NICE.’ The joke goes: Two southern women are talking. The first is bragging about the various expensive gifts her husband has bestowed upon her. The second responds to each boastful claim with, “How nice.” Finally finished detailing her recent acquisitions, the first lady asks the second what her husband bought for her. The second woman replies, “Charm school lessons.” The first blinks incredulously and repeats, “Charm school lessons? Why on earth would you need charm school lessons?” The second lady responds to the question without pause, saying, “I used to say, ‘Fuck you,’ but now I say, ‘How nice.'” And that, my friend, is the entirety of the ‘How Nice’ technique. They act like a self-possessed jerk, you reply, “How nice.” Try and leave out the southern drawl, though. I know it’s tempting, but it’ll give you away a lot faster.
AND, IF THE CONVERSATION TAKES A TURN FOR THE WORST (which it shouldn’t, if you’ve followed my above techniques):
3) BE ULTRA NICE. No. Matter. What. If they disagree with you, smile. If they call you every name in the book, blink benignly and keep smiling. If they insist you’re the most uneducated person they’ve ever had the misfortune to lay eyes upon, agree with them. They’ll get angrier, and you’ll get a big ol’ helpin’ of fiendish satisfaction.
So, the next time the spouse insists that the outside is better than the in, and that if you don’t move from your computer chair it will root to your backside, just go along. It’ll make the one you love happy, and you’ll be more than prepared to deal with whatever comes your way.
***Disclaimer — Avery is, in all manner of speaking, a socially maladjusted individual not certified, qualified or even bright enough to give anyone advice on how to survive in a social situation. Use the above techniques at your own peril.