How Was Your Summer? Did it Hurt?
Illustration by Josh Hagler
Wednesday August 22, 2001 |
So I went to this party the other night, and I don't mind telling you that it was hip. I mean super-hip. This party was so hip that the people there could dress in fashions that were popular like 50 years ago and they were still hip. There were tight jeans and white T-shirts aplenty. Hip. There was not a girl to be seen without a short, bobbed haircut and a tiny little purse. Hip. There wasn't a belt without studs or a pant leg without a cuff. Hip. Converse on every foot, dark and small-rimmed glasses on every face. Hip, hip, hip.
It wasn't just the people, though, but the atmosphere as well. The lights were dim and you could barely make out the abundance of Jack Kerouac books on the shelves. They looked so old that they must have come from a used bookstore or something. It was tough to tell if they had been recently read or if they were just there for decoration. Like it mattered.
There were other books too. Some even had the word philosophy in the titles. They looked especially cool next to all the black-and-white photographs and the enormous Morrissey poster. Not only were these people hip, but they were intellectual and quite possibly very, very deep. Ocean deep.
It was clear that I was way out of my league.
What was I supposed to talk to these people about?! I don't want to start a conversation because it would probably be below their cerebral standards. I'll just stand here and look aloof while subtly hinting at the possibility that a deep trouble may lie waiting in my deep and troubled soul.
But what if one of them talks to me?! What if they want to talk about Kerouac or something, I mean· I haven't read Kerouac since high school. Surely their insights gained from reading him in college are far more elevated than anything I could say. I mean· they even dress like him. They must understand him completely.
Oh no! One of them is coming. What do I do?! What do I do?! Stay cool. Exude indifference. Stay cool!
"How's it going?"
Dammit! This is going nowhere. Think of something. You're never going to fit in with these people if you don't think of something. Ask him about his tattoos. They must have hurt or something. Ask him if they hurt. Wait! No! Don't mention pain. These people are too well versed in pain. His summer! Ask him about his summer. No. I hate that. If I have to hear about one more person's summer or tell one more person about mine, I'm going to puke in a bag and throw it at him or her. What should I say? What should I say·?
"So· how was your summer?"
And there it was, like some bizarre instinct uncontrollable even by the threat of vomit. "How was your summer?" In the course of the past week I must have heard that phrase 9,846 times. It is a perfectly accepted question to ask wherever and to whomever you are speaking. The real question is why?
What is it about us that makes us panic and jump to that question ahead of any others? We don't care how people's summers were - yet we ask. We ask so we can fill the silence. We ask, attempting to mask our inability to connect with people and have a conversation about anything worthwhile at all that has somehow magically appeared in the three months of separation.
A more compassionate person might argue that people ask, themselves included, because they genuinely care and want to know how people have been spending their time. I don't buy it.
Once you ask you usually just get a one-word answer: "fine." If you fish for more details you will usually find out that their summer was better or worse than your own. If it was better than yours, you think they're bragging. You become jealous and defensive, and it affects the whole conversation. If yours was better, you will be afraid you sound like you're bragging and you will wonder if they have become defensive or if it's all in your head. Either way, you lose.
"So· how was your summer?"
"Fine. I read the Dharma Bums again and got some new tattoos."
"Oh. Did they hurt?"