The Jennifer Chronicles - Volume XVI
January 1, 1970Making Friends and Influencing People – Joan Style, Part IV
I entered the Barnes and Noble at 6:30 p.m. The book discussion group began at 7:00 p.m. I had the flyer tucked away in my purse and I had a plan.
Step 1: Stake out the area from the café. The café boasts a birdseye view of the book discussion area as well as a well stocked case of cheese cake, coffee cake, and ginormous cookies. You can’t have a stakeout without a snack.
Step 2: Scope book discussion area for intimidating individuals, i.e., the classic intellectual. Tall, thin, short straight hair, wears glasses for reading only, drinks Chai tea, carries a book at all times, wears only organic cotton. They have a calm, expressionless face. They don’t need to show any emotion. They already know they’re smarter than everyone else.
The discussion hadn’t started and I was already mentally defending myself. It’s not that I don’t know “stuff.” I know “stuff.” I know about philosophical, geopolitical “stuff.” I know Noam Chomsky writes about all kinds of philosophical, geopolitical “stuff.” It’s not that I don’t want to read his books. I do. I just happened to be waiting for the CliffsNotes, that’s all. I mean really, for goodness sake, must the man write only in complex, compound sentences? Some of us have time management issues. I can’t sit around all day reading a sentence four lines long when all you have to say is:
“The US was actively engaged in the politics of Latin American countries.”
“They wanted ruling governments sympathetic to US business interests.”
Was that so hard?
What if someone asked me about my degree? Shit. What could I say? “I was going to finish my degree when I decided it would be better to spend a year acting like a fool by sleeping with my shit married boss, Tim Wells.” I look back on it now like it was a year of study abroad, a brief sabbatical where I took leave of my brain, common sense, and sanity. I can now be one of those people who refer to a painful time in their life as a “learning experience.” That’s clever speak for “Hi, my name is Joan and I screwed up my life. The whole thing was my doing and therefore completely avoidable. Have a nice day.”
I decided I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had finished some college. More than half. More than 3/4's. I was 7/8th’s of the way finished. Memo to me: you’re here eight months. Make arrangements to go back to school.
I had worked myself into such a lather I had to order a double chocolaty chip frappuccino to calm down. To make matters worse, lurking in the back of my mind was the thought of Carrie and my mother out on the town in NYC. My best friend had replaced me. I was not needed. I was not missed either. I was upset just knowing I would call my mother tomorrow and she would sound surprised to hear from me. Surprised! Like she had forgotten all about me. How do you forget about the annoying ass pain you spawned? Then she would get chatty, going on and on about what fun Carrie was and how she was such a sweet girl. Sweet girl. Ha! Helen Benjamin had missed the best of the Carrie Show, complete with can of spray paint. I caught myself in my mental tirade. Was I really willing to throw away my friendship with Carrie in a fit of jealousy? I took off the cover of the frappuccino, grabbed a spoon and dug into the whipped cream. I needed a sugar fix to calm down.
My attention was taken by activity in the book discussion corner. People were milling into the area.
Everyone looked okay. I didn’t get a sense that there would be a scene with me as the group freak drenched in pig’s blood with everyone laughing at me.
Get a grip Joanie. You'll make a good impression, I scolded myself as I approached the area, realizing I was stepping so lightly I was almost walking on my toes. Okay, Tippy-toes, this is not a library. Let’s loosen up and lighten up.
I gave the slight up-curve-quarter-smile to anyone who would meet my eye. I didn’t want to give the full-on-showing-teeth-smile lest they think a looney tuner had wandered into their midst.
There were some college students, some older adults looking for good conversation, and a couple of hipsters who could have used a comb, an iron, and a few extra minutes to get over themselves.
The moderator was a guy in his twenties. His voice never fluctuated (for gravitas) and his expression never changed (for extra gravitas and ego). I had no idea what the hell he was talking about which I decided was due to the fact that he was wearing a tee shirt with a picture of Jack Kerouac on it. I tried to keep an open mind.
Here’s a breakdown of the evening:
7:00 – 7:15: Introduction and explanation of the importance of Noam Chomsky’s groundbreaking work in linguistics and political thought. It was then I first felt my eyelids wanting to close. Post whipped cream binge crash. Pretty sure people would mind if I excused myself and came back with an espresso and a big cookie. I came to when I realized a guy seated across from me with sandy blond hair and sensitive eyes is looking at me. I smile. He smiles back. We stare for a full minute until it becomes uncomfortably, sexually tense.
I can’t concentrate on Jack and his one man ego-show because I am doing a mental inventory on my potential new friend.
Face: clean (and cute – angular, nice nose)
Hair: slightly mussed, strong urge to run comb or hand through hair. Kind of how I feel when I see picture of Ashton Kutcher.
Body: he’s sitting but he looks thin, no belly bulge.
7:15 – 8:00 p.m.: Discussion of Manufacturing Consent: Political Economy of the Mass Media. People speak heatedly on the subject of the dissemination of information through television and radio. No one smiles. Many nod their head sagely. I nod my head sagely as well. Lesson Learned: Television is bad. Think the guy next to me is seriously entertaining idea that dangerous mind controlling rays are emitted from the television. Have decided to wait for opportune moment to go to the bathroom and then sit somewhere else.
8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.: Discussion of generative and universal grammar and how this affects our polarized world. Lesson learned: I am a doofus who understands nothing.
I escape at 8:15 p.m. to the bathroom. When I come back I spot an empty chair and grab it. Next to my sandy, mussed hair, smiling guy.
After a minute I feel him lean over to me.
My insides somersault in surprise.
He’s wearing aftershave. Really nice and good, clean, cool smelling aftershave. Memo to me: do not throw yourself into his neck and snuffle in a deep breath. That’s tacky.
He whispers, “You still awake?”
My eyes fly open involuntarily. Is he calling me out or confessing his own weakness?
“I’m ready for a quiz,” I say.
“Gold star for you. I should have bought an espresso before we sat down,” he says.
I’m in love.
“Any comments?” Kerouac says and looks in our direction.
I shrink, shaking my head.
Ego Jack returns to hearing the sound of his own voice.
Lesson Learned: Kerouac is full of himself, and I may not know Chomsky but I do know cappuccino and a cookie, which is what I hope to be having with my guy as soon as the meeting breaks up.
Next week: Making Friends and Influencing People, Joan Style, Part V