Susan texts that, since they got out of their meeting earlier than expected, she could try to get us a table at Terrapin, an upscale restaurant Amber and I like for their nachos -- we are aspire to pretend we almost have class.
I text back that I would like her to do this, that I meant to be there already and convince someone to give me a table for six, but was having an existential crisis that involved me frantically sobbing that I want beauty to matter in the world, as one does from time to time -- possibly when one is emotionally dysregulated, sleep deprived, and dealing with a time change.
"How can you be having an existential crisis? You are texting, so you definitely exist!"
From a philosopher, this is a reassuring metric.
The plan was that I would meet Chris and, then, his friend Sarah as well for dinner and a showing of Thor: Ragnarok. Susan and David live in the same town as the restaurant and I did want to see them again as soon as possible, so it made sense to include them in the plans.
Amber and I arrive just in time to be seated at a table for four with no real option to increase this number.
We order two plates of half-orders of the nachos because Amber feels it give a better ratio of chip-to-stuff than one full order. In the end, we end up with more stuff than chip, so it is possible Terrapin needs a three-quarters option.
Over dinner, because I have talked up my arcane and useless knowledge, I regale David and Susan with the Talking Mongoose Case. As I've recently done a panel and have repeated this to a dozen audience in the last few years, the facts are fresh in my mind. I am almost embarrassed how easily this all comes to me and I notice a bit of bemusement that I would occupy their time at this nice restaurant rambling about Gef the Talking Mongoose, otherwise known at the Dalby Spook on the Isle of Man.
In my letters to Susan, I always aimed for conciseness, hoping for a page and ending up with four to six. I had so much I wanted to say to her as quicklY as possible before she realized my multifarious flaws. Also, our conversation persisted in being a pleasant aspect of my days. I grinned madly every time she dared to answer most of my questions about first and worst kisses, books outgrown, and whether she is a unicorn for being an employed philosopher. When I encounter someone with whom I can't find much interest, I might as well try for haiku Cliff's Notes (as I did once, in fact, after with the other party went silent). I admitted early to Susan that I had no polite interest in her. It is uncultured and insistent, restrained only because I didn't want to suffocate the friendship before it could find its first breath. It was startling that she was genuinely on the same page as me.
I mention having downloaded a paper of Susan's, though I confess to having not read it yet.
"No, don't read it. I am working on a revised version. This one will be denser."
Since I am coming at philosophy as almost worse than an amateur -- specifically, someone who cut his cloud-zapping teeth with Dan Millman and Richard Bach before canoodling with people who got infested by the pretention bug -- "dense" is not an ideal term when it comes to my enjoyment. I downloaded the paper in part because I am fond, perhaps too fond, of Susan and I wish to understand her. Her personality, as evinced in our correspondance to date, is charming and quirky. Academic, studied writing is quite another beast, but it is difficult to propose sincerity for a friendship if I don't at least give it a shot.
I want my context to overlap more with Susan and David. I intend to chew on some philosophy that I might know better what Susan is thinking in her learned depths. At present, I consider Winnie the Pooh a Taoist master, thumping his head considering whether pulling the trolley lever is murder, so I have some work to do. Of course, David's stand-up act is easier to digest than the ontological imperitive and foundationalists. I watch a video or two of his act when there are some open minutes in front of my computer. I want to seduce them into like me further with Pushing Daisies's candy bright charm. I want them to bite their lips (and not the lips of others) while uncomfortably sympathizing with the eponymous character on Hannibal. I want them to wish they could be teens in the seventies as Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous hits its first hour.
Susan teases that I am rude enough to text at the table, but I am trying to figure out a way out of this situation of too many people and too few seats. The restaurant is too busy this evening to convince the waitstaff to move us. Instead, I apprise Chris of the situation before he arrives, while taking full culpability for this error. I could have shown up earlier before deciding I had an aesthetic counteraction to the heat death of the universe.
Just before Chris arrives, I consult a woman whom I take to be a manager. "So, I see that there is an empty two-person table right there. My situation is as follows: I was supposed to have two other people in my party. My friends arrived before I did, and got a table for four instead of six."
"We're busy tonight," she says, used to diners trying to trick her. "And we can't have that table moved."
"No, no, not moved. I just feel bad about telling them to meet us here. I want them to be able to eat, ideally in proximity to me, but eating at all would suffice at this point."
"I can put them on the list," she offers.
"Yes, perfect. Thank you so much!"
She seems confused that I wasn't more unreasonable.
By this point, Chris texts me that he has arrived. I rush out to the foyer, update him that he is on the list, and turn to shake the hand of a woman next to me.
"You must be Sarah! I'm glad to meet you."
"I'm Michelle," she corrects.
I look to Chris for confirmation that this woman is not Sarah. The woman behind him, Sarah, waves. I lay a hand on Michelle's shoulder. "I want you to know that it was good to meet you anyway."
I doubly apologize to Sarah, both for the miscommunication and not knowing who she was. When I enter again to relate the situation as it stands, the manager lets me know I can have the smaller table so long as I do not move it.
I make quick introductions. "Chris works at Vassar, Susan is a philosophy professor, David is a professional comedian..." I look over at Sarah. "This is Sarah... aside from that she works at Vassar, I know nothing about her." I lean toward her conspiratorially. "You proved too hard to immediately cyber stalk. This is a good thing."
I return to our meal and conversation, but continue to plan. Chris texts me that their meal is taking too long for them to join us at the movie, but I can't let this stand. I invited them out after postponing this plan a week already. I decide that, once the four of us finish our meals, we will go to a cafe in Red Hook and wait from the to join us for a later showing.
I motion to Sarah across the room, signaling her to tell Chris to look at his phone that he might understand how the plans are evolving. I doubt she enjoys being my conduit, but it is better than allowing my guilt over this evening to accelerate.
Once Susan, David, Amber, and I are out in the cold, walking toward our respective cars, we realize we are going in the same direction. By the time Amber and I get to the lot, we are across the street from their apartment, so they invite us in for tea.
I text Chris again about this additional edit, telling him to text when they are done and I will go get them.
When I retrieve them, I make conspicuous apologies to Sarah for how this has been other than ideal, but she assures me she doesn't mind, and I am still charming enough in her eyes. I like anyone so willing to forgive me my faux pas. She has gotten a satisfying meal, Chris's company, and now the promise of tea and Hollywood Norse pantheon; there are worse evenings.
We talk on the few blocks how we ended up changing venue, how I like Susan and David better for having antique Shakespeare alongside an Oglaf collection, who exactly these friends are and how they have come to be in my life.
I cannot justify why I am immediately to attached to Sarah, because it is not how I usually feel about new people, whom I need to sniff around to be sure they won't find me irritating. I have already been what I feel is obnoxious in her presence, having bungled the flow of this evening, and she hasn't been bothered by it. But there is something else to it, a companionable oddity with which I resonate. I want to sit near her and tell her stories because it is safe to. She will appreciate them. It helps that Chris vouched for her, saying that she is likely his best friend. Transitive property means she is a good sort.
I return from the cold, pause to consider knocking, then step in. "Vampire rules," I say. "You invited me once, now I can always walk in." I saw them through the window, Amber - who I left as collateral - with a cat curled on her lap, a mug of tea steaming before her. Surely the invitation could not have faded enough to justify knocking.
David and Susan's place is, like its occupants, cozy and familiar. Susan puts on music though she isn't certain what will play, which ends up being Neutral Milk Hotel according to some immutable law of the musical universe.
On their stove, a stalk of Brussel sprouts the length of a toddler perches atop an empty pot.
"It was only a few bucks at the market," Susan says proudly. It looks like an alien creature and I do not trust it.
On their bookshelf is a monochrome drawing of Susan and David in Victorian regalia drawn as a gift by David's daughter, now in college. He had her when he was very young and thinks this is the best time because she was now almost an adult. Susan matches my disinterest in having children of our own, though she expresses warmth for this daughter who lives with her mother when not at college.
We select a row in the nearly empty theater, though I find myself at the end. Optimally for social mores if not my bladder and bottle of smuggled soda, I would be in the middle, between the pairs of because I am the buffer friend. Amber switches with me so I am at least between Sarah and her, that my no doubt incisive comments about this fantasy action-comedy might not go wholly unheard.
As we exit, I mention to Sarah that she should come to our Black Turkey Day. She apologizes that she will be doing something noble that day instead of watching bad movies during a tryptophan overdose.
This evening could have gone so differently. I used to know people who would have used this to castigate me, would have been passive-aggressive or snide to me in front of new people in order to make themselves appear taller by pushing me down. None of that happens. Everyone is amiable, even in the face of inconvenience and potential awkwardness.
Existentialism is less pressing after midnight with friends. The night infatuates me, this one cold and dark so early in the year. I had nearly forgotten what it was like to feel at home in the night, accepted without much reservation in the face of situations might have been off-putting.
In my early to mid-twenties, my every weekend felt this way, an amalgam of old and new people meeting for activities, getting to know one another, the conversation flowing. Now the food it better, the company too. However, to this point, it has felt rarer. I didn't trust that this feeling would happen again.
Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.