I don’t know how you people are able to do it.
My well-intentioned late mother used to refer to me and my family as “you people” whenever she was confused about something we were doing – which ended up being quite often. The labeling of “you people” by my mom was usually slapped on my forehead once or twice a day. She would dole out one of her famous quips with the combination of a stern tone and a slight smile to indicate that she was torn between being angry at us for wasting money and being ever-so amused by our follies in life.
“You people bought a dog? What in the hell are you going to do with a dog? Do remember that cactus your father and I bought you when you were in college? You killed it! A cactus. They are meant to live in the barren desert, and it lasted less than a month with you! I give your dog a week. Plus it’s a huge waste of money.”
“I have no idea what you people are thinking. Nobody who have a single decent brain cell buys a white car. Every single piece of dirt in Cheyenne will be on it. You will have to get it washed every week. Which, of course, is a huge waste of money.”
“You people are taking your children to another Wiggles concert??? Who are these Wiggles, and why do you see them more then you see your own mother? Are they blackmailing you? Do they have some pictures of you that you don’t want people to see? I have no idea how much it costs (um…the exact cost was: A Shitload) to see those idiots, but if it’s more than five dollars, than it’s a huge waste of money.”
“I don’t think you people have any sense left in any of you. You’re going to Disneyland? The crowds! The heat! I would rather die than to set foot in there. Yes, we did take you there when you were a child, but I was probably suffering from a brain injury at the time. Disneyland is the biggest scam on the planet. It’s a huge waste of money.”
“How can you people eat that crap? I don’t care if you think Arby’s is fine dining, it looks like a disgusting mess! I would hope that you would have more respect for yourself than to eat that. Whatever they charged you it was a huge waste of money!”
I think she used the phrase “you people” to set herself apart from the apparent pod people (like me or my wife) that had invaded Earth and were now living among her. My dear mom was not an elitist and she did not think herself any better than anybody else. If anything she was simply curious of the strange (and ill advised) choices we made in our life. Her reaction was more like she was visiting a freak show and felt like a foreigner among the fire eaters, bearded ladies, and two-headed llamas. My mom loved me unconditionally but she never could understand a helluva lot about me. Thus, I became one of the “you people”.
I actually relished being a You People because it meant I could shock and rattle her – which was one of my favorite hobbies. Throughout much of my life I would show up like a returning adventurer to my mom and regale her with my stories. I would talk about stupid things I had done on stage over the weekend, or how I had accidently drove away from a gas station with the fuel nozzle still attached to my (dirty and white!!!) car. I would spin my tales, and she would be express (mostly fake) outrage. It was out little dance. I loved it and I’m fairly convinced she did too. Yes, I was an alien to my mom, but I was her alien. I gave her a birds-eye-view into the life of a carnival freak.
Now that she has been gone almost three years I feel like I’m carrying on her legacy of not being able understand the practices of other humans. In fact, just the other day when my wife and I were at a pool party (where I was fenced in with a bunch of super professional and successful people) I busted out my very own “you people”. Everybody at the party was mingling and networking while looking so at ease in communicating with each other. I was surrounded by doctors, lobbyists, dentists, lawyers, and other vocational rocks stars and I was quickly drowning in my own awkwardness. I shackled myself to the side of my poor wife who I’m sure would have probably enjoyed the social scene that was playing out in front of us, but couldn’t because it would require abandoning me on my own – which she knows is a terrible idea because when confronted with small talk with strangers I am prone to saying some cripplingly painful things. She knows she can’t leave me. My wife is stuck with being my PR person at these kind of events. I allow her to speak for me. Jenni is the Lorax, and I am the trees. I refer all questions from people I don’t really know well to my beloved wife. She is my defense lawyer – a pro bono defense lawyer…who I pay for with my smoldering handsome looks.
For a few minutes we just watched all the party-goers interview and back pat each other. It was horrifying. For me, it was like watching a giant group of sharks swimming and rubbing up against each other in a hunger induced frenzy. Soon one of the sharks would realize that there is a minnow in the waters near them and they would come and devour me up. Thank God I had my wife here to protect me. Wait…she was gone! What? Where did she go?? While I was distracted by all of my intense people watching, Jenni had seen her chance to escape the social bubble I formed for us. She had effortlessly moved her way from me to start visiting with some lady I didn’t recognize.
This was the ultimate betrayal! I was on my own! My mind started racing and my heart began to increase it’s heart-murmured offbeat drum solo. What if somebody came up and asked me a question?! I would have to say something! What in the hell would I say? My normal reaction would be to just to laugh at anything somebody might say. People like to be thought of as funny, so if I just laugh at whatever they say it will make things easier for us to communicate. Seemed like a good plan, but I hadn’t really thought through the fact that just laughing like that has all the makings that suggest I’m a serial killer.
Sure enough while my wife was (gasp!) visiting with somebody else I was approached by a nice looking older lady who smiled and nodded at me from about twenty feet away. She started her approach – I had to do something. I tried my best to discourage their approach by firing off enough non-verbal warning shots that should have indicated to this poor woman that I was a cornered animal. I am a master at sending negative vibes to a person that will cause stand down from coming over to talk to me – or at least, I thought I was. She was ten feet away. I yawned like I was able to fall asleep in the deck chair I was sitting now. Eight feet now. I start to cough like I have The Black Death. Nope. Five feet! Holy shit, she has not changed course. I attempt to pull out my phone frantically to try and act like I have a fake call from my proctologist only to realize that I had left my phone in the car. How could I be so careless? The phone is the introverts perfect defense against people who want to talk. Sorry, I’d love to talk with you but I am selling some Apple stock right now. The woman was now standing in front me. There was no escaping this now. As my personal space was violated (which extends about a quarter mile to either side of me) I felt a wave sadness for both of us.
This poor woman didn’t deserve this. More importantly, however, neither did I….
Woman: Hi, John. I’m not sure if you remember me, but I used to shop at your families old store all of the time.
Me: (what do I say?? what do I say??) Yeah, but it’s closed now, obviously. (I said this with a slight chuckle that probably made me sound like an asshole who was happy that his families legacy in Wyoming had vanished)
Woman: Oh, yes it is. I was sorry to hear that.
Me: (ok…she expressed sympathy so I should probably acknowledge that) It’s a really nice night out, isn’t it! I really like these chairs! (did I just change the subject and then change it again? why am I shouting at her? I have to stop laughing now)
Woman: Um. They look comfortable….
I laugh maniacally.
Woman: Well, it was nice to see you again.
I’m rolling on the floor laughing now.
When my wife returns to my fortress of solitude I admonish her for leaving me like that. I tell her that I had to talk to somebody. Jenni smiles at tells me it couldn’t have been that bad, but then I can see her face immediately rethink was it was she just said. She knows it can be that bad. She has seen how bad it can go:
She was with me last year when (after my 300th glass of wine) I was out-of-body experience watching myself having a talk with my son’s private school teacher at a fundraising event. Apparently I had become so uncomfortable with the social encounter that I allowed my consciousness to leave my body. I watched myself to start talking to the principal about the benefits of teaching young children animal husbandry. I was quite serious about it for some reason and would not let the subject drop. I made him talk with me about it for 15-minutes. Let’s be clear, I don’t know the first damned thing about animal husbandry, but at one point in my lecture to him about it I was yelling at him about how beautiful it would be to watch a second grader pull a baby calf out of her mother’s womb. All the while my wife (as my underpaid PR person) kept trying to interject a break in our conversation, but I wouldn’t stop talking and filling every awkward pause with the sound of my own inane giggling. After a while the poor man whose eyes had grown increasingly dead throughout my diatribe made an excuse to leave to get his wife some water or something. As soon as he left, my soul returned to my body and I looked over at my wife for her to tell me that they whole encounter didn’t go as poorly as I thought it had. She assured me that it did.
I reminded my wife to not leave me again at the pool party because I have no real control over what will come out of my mouth. Everybody else knows what to say and I keep reaching for the right words that never come. I then remarked to my spouse at how easily it looks for everybody else to be so social with people they don’t know very well. I said “I don’t know how you people do it.”
I said “You People!!”
My mom would be proud. I was kind of proud. I still am.
I’m not sure when I became so bad with talking to strangers and when all of you people became so good at it. It’s like all of you are working with a script and I’m improvizing. I’m missing the small piece of brain matter that allows me to find the right words at the right time. I feel alien among you people who can swim with the social sharks.
After a bit of reflection I think I have an idea the genesis of when I started to not trust myself to find the right words. I believe this moment to be the crossroads in my life when I took the wrong turn and I was forever ruined to be trapped inside my own head. It all went to shit for me in 1996 when I attempted to try to do stand up comedy…
I would write about it now, but I think this blog entry is long enough for you people.