I am, you know. The youngest 37-year-old on the planet, I mean. I know this because I extend an enormous effort to maintaining a facade that broadcasts precisely the opposite: here is an old soul who's seen it all and now exists largely on some plane well above it all.
Yes, that sounds snotty, and it is...when my facade maintenance isn't up to snuff, you can occasionally get a glimpse of the snottiness. Moreover, anyone with a shred of perception undoubtedly can see right through the thin patina of world-weariness to the fear lurking underneath.
I maintain that patina anyway. Or I try to, not yet having learned to feel comfortable in my discomfort. At 37 years of age, I still have so much to learn.
I had a learning experience last night.
Last night, I attended--for the first time in seven years--the annual Price Chopper Christmas party. Eva and I went the first year, and had...an okay time. We were a little miffed that we had to pay twenty bucks' admission, after Eva had made over a hundred dollars' worth of chocolates for a door prize. And despite knowing exactly what awaited us, we were a little put off by the atmosphere. As is the way at all such parties, particularly those attended largely by the not-quite-legal, the air eventually became suitable only for alcohol-breathing lifeforms.
In subsequent years, Eva's employer's Christmas party always seemed to coincide with the Price Chopper affair. Hers gets every bit as drunk out in its later stages, but it at least has the benefit of a moderately upscale dinner and some serious door prizes. We would go, have dinner (always a raucous affair: some of her colleagues and their spouses are veritable founts of humour) and then make our excuses not long after the dancing got underway.
Party poopers, the both of us, I guess you'd say. I wouldn't agree...I've been called the life of several parties myself and Eva could tell you stories about her younger years that would either turn you white with fear or green with envy. Really, it's that we exist in a different dimension of time, apart from the rest of the world. For instance, I slept in until 7:30 this morning, and felt mildly guilty for having done so: that's over two hours of life I missed. The fact I lived them last night, when I was up until the ungodly hour of 12:30, takes some time to occur to me and I immediately dismiss it as irrelevant when it finally does. Last night was life out of my comfort zone, after all.
But I was determined to go this year. While I've gotten along with just about every one of my colleagues over the past near-decade, it's only relatively recently that I've started to feel as if people get along with me okay, too.
It started, I was told, at 8:00. Now, I knew better than to believe that. Parties are the only occasions I've yet to run across in which punctuality, a virtue I was raised to respect, is treated as some kind of venial sin. But I'm still nowhere near fluent enough in Partese to translate "8:00" into the correct local equivalent...in this case a shade before ten. I arrived at 8:30 and was, I think, the fourth party at the party. Why can't they just say 10:00 if that's what they mean, I found myself thinking for the umpteenth time in my life. Immediately on that thought's heels came because if they said that, nobody would show up until midnight. Hey, it's not as if these people have to get up in the morning, or anything.
And why, my mind went on, does everyone wait so long before coming to these shindigs, anyway? What's the deal with that? Is that that they want to have fun, sure, but only three hours' worth? Is that it? I don't get it.
That people show up to these things already drunk was a little mystery (only in my mind, perhaps) only partially solved last night.
"Hey, Craig, drunk already?" I asked one friend and colleague...a man who, I'd just discovered, is well and truly a member of that tribe called the Sloppy Lovey-Dovey Drunks.
"Of coursh, Ken", he yelled back. "Why would I drink beer for four bucksha bottle when I can drink it for two?"
Fair enough, I thought and had sense enough not to say aloud, but why do you need to drink it at all? Don't you find it tastes like moosh pish?
I quashed that thought before it could really take root and suck the fun right out of the room for me. My attitudes on alcohol are distinctly Puritan. They've been that way since before I was legal myself and in almost twenty years they've only hardened. I wouldn't make alcohol illegal if I could: that doesn't even come close to expressing my hatred for the stuff. If I could, I'd eradicate it from the face of the earth. Work enough night shifts in a 7-Eleven surrounded by bars and see if you don't feel the same way. I dare you.
Still, just because everybody else was imbibing to excess didn't mean I had to. There was a shot-for-shot competition going on that I thought about wagering on, especially since one contestant (she said) had had thirteen so far and seemed only a trifle more...expressive...that usual. Mostly I just sat and watched the crowd, getting up to dance just often enough so that I only got dragged to the dance floor the once. I indulged my inner lecher as I regarded the ladies, all of whom were several orders of magnitude prettier out of uniform (and some of them make the uniform look pretty good, if you catch my driftwood).
I did keep well away from the one woman I would have ate a shot glass to dance with. (Just after I introduced Eva to her some months ago, my darling wife observed of course you like her. She's me with blonde hair.) Better a little crush from a distance, is my philosophy. Little good can come of flirting too heavily. Would that I had learned that little lesson two relationships ago, but at least it's learned now, when it really counts.
Back to the crowd. Everyone who wasn't dancing seemed to be in very animated conversation with people around them. Animated it had to be, because it wasn't as if you could hear anything below a scream over the Black Eyed Peas and Britney and the majestic strains of Stroke It. Again I felt like a fish out of water. Do these people not resent, on some level, having to shriek to the person next to them, just to be heard? I know it's a dance, but does the music have to be quite this loud? Then I wondered if that thought made me painfully naive or old before my time. I'd enjoyed the dinner my boss treated us to a couple of weeks ago a great deal, in no small part because I could follow the ebb and flow of conversation around the table. This...at times this was almost painful.
I bolted just before midnight, feeling a weird mix of relief and exhilaration. I don't think I made too much of a tool out of myself on the dance floor, a place where--once--I would have done everything short of a striptease to garner some attention. I just tried to fit in, and while these creaky 37-year-old bones wouldn't allow me the grace and style of my fellows, at least nobody was staring at me.
I could have stayed longer, but having awakened at 4:00 yesterday morning, the adrenaline could only do so much. Still, despite occasional misgivings, I had a better time than I thought I would. And I'll be back next year.