Deciphering code is a valuable skill in a world of careerists. I teach Film Studies and Screenwriting, and there was a time when I considered myself an expert at interpreting coded conversation. For example, when Darcy says, "I feel uncomfortable with" what she means is, "This line of conversation is now over because it does not serve my ambition; therefore, to pursue it is to do me personal harm. And that is wrong."
Our department meetings mimic '80s sitcoms, and my co-workers' conversations often extol our goodness. To shore up the collective myth that we are progressives, not piranhas, we congratulate ourselves a lot. The words "awesome" and "cool" litter the faculty lounge. If our moral authority is challenged, we package small ideas in convoluted language and invoke the word "research." At lunch we display our verbal swagger as we eviscerate self-righteous in-your-face Facebook-Christian Tea Partiers. We don't see ourselves as self-righteous passive-aggressive NPR Liberals, adept at silencing those who question our agenda.
In truth, ours is a small hypothetical world of small hypothetical people. In our nightmares we wake to the knowledge that we are relics, worn labels on impotent paradigms.
"We'll have to invite my friends," Nicole said. My wife lived in a very different world, one governed by tangible needs and available resources. "You have no friends, not in a 'let's have a party' sense of the word."
"What do people do at these parties?" I asked. Over the past year, I'd met the three couples she'd invited to fundraisers or concerts or out shopping. Like my own associates, I knew their faces and names, but not much else.
"You know," Nicole said. "Lots of small talk and chitchat, just friendliness. Maybe we'll play some party games."
"We'll think of something," she said.
One night while Nicole was away on yet another short-notice business trip, I stumbled upon an idea for a game. For years my favorite men's magazine published a feature called "Ten Things You Don't Know About Women." Brilliant. There must be ten thousand things men don't know about women, I thought. The column could go on forever. So the party plan was this: I'd bartend. When everybody had loosened up, the wives would list ten things men don't know about women. Then the lists would be shuffled and the guys would guess which list belonged to which mate.
There were only six of us. I was pouring our second drink when Abby called to say that their babysitter cancelled, that she and Will couldn't make it.
"That's okay," I said to the others. I described the game.
"No fair," Jan said. She'd elected not to wear glasses, and her eyes narrowed as she looked at us in turn, gauging our response. "This is like a pageant or something." Jan is a competitive tennis player, beautifully sculpted legs, athletic build, permanent tan, perpetual ponytail. But tonight her hair, sun streaked brown like butter and molasses, was down, nearly touching her shoulders. I'd seen her play in the city finals. Tiny attractive wrinkles reveal her intensity as she studies an opponent on the other side of the net.
"Pageant? Nobody's asking you to take off your clothes," Steve, Jan's husband, said. He was built almost exactly like his wife-tan, athletic but thin, narrow shoulders, not much chest. His hair was a little too professionally trimmed, moussed with blonde highlights. "You're missing an opportunity to make us guys look stupid. Surely you don't want to pass that up?" Everyone laughed.
"Those opportunities are endless," Jan said, smiling.
"To make us look stupid?" Marshall, Susan's husband, said. "Or to take your clothes off?"
"That would be one of ten things you don't know about me," Susan said. There were smiles and nods of agreement all around.
I signaled for a timeout. "Before anybody gets naked, I'd like to make a motion regarding the game."
"Motion denied," Susan said. She, Jan, and Nicole raised their drinks in a toast. "Getting naked is not off the table," she said. The three women had met during a charity tennis tournament. They were friends. We were their husbands.
Marshall looked from me to Steve. "Getting naked? Mostly what they like to do is talk about it," he said. We guys raised our glasses in unison.
"That would be another of the ten things you don't know about any of us," my wife said.