Bystander

“Have you met each other before?”

“No, I don’t think we have,” I lie, seeing the lack of recognition in the other person’s eyes. Why risk embarrassing them by telling the truth?

This happens twice in one evening. It’s a relief, really, to find myself so forgettable.

But when I try to breeze past the chancellor, assuming more of the same, she interrupts her conversation to hail me.

And of course I find that a bit unsettling.

Another awkward moment comes when I am introduced for the second time to someone I have nothing to say to. That’s my fault, not hers: she is given no information about me other than my name, whereas I know one small thing about her, so clearly the onus is on me to initiate a conversation with some pleasant inquiry about her work. Nothing but sheer indolence prevents me from doing so.

But don’t get the wrong impression: I had a lovely evening. Really. The food at the reception was good, the speech beforehand was a tour de force, and it was pleasant to stand around on the periphery of one or more conversations, munching on sweets and basking in the second-hand glow of camaraderie and wit. Earlier in the day, I had been feeling sad for some reason, but the speech was so good and so funny, it put me in a completely different frame of mind.

I noticed one other person not saying much, but she looked awkward about it and left as soon as she could. Which is a pity, really — I could have gone over and talked to her. We’ve known each other for at least two decades. No introduction would have been necessary.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

3 Comments


  1. Good grief, that’s a totally frightening and depressing article! I’m glad the event cheered you up a bit. Like you, I’m not much for these kind of gatherings, all these introductions and small talk…

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  2. I heard Chris Hedges speak a few years ago, before Iraq – that time about the Palestinian intifada. He is a smart person with a lot of knowledge; he also has a degree in theology from Yale so I think he’s probably particularly appalled by the evangelicals’ apocalyptic vision. I do think he’s overblowing this, but merely because I think the military still has SOME power, and they MUST be telling Bush that the U.S. simply doesn’t have the troops to fight in Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq as well. Where are those troops going to come from? A draft? On the other hand, the deal may be that we will “take out” the significant nuclear sites for our ally, Israel, by air. All I can say to that is that that scenario is, indeed, depressing, tragically short-sighted, and politically motivated. I hope Hedges is wrong, but I’ve hoped that before.

    Regardless, as you write here, friendships and relationships and conversation are what we have to cheer us up – and I’m grateful for that.

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  3. marja-leena – Oh, don’t call it small talk! After all, what could be more important than the state of the weather, our health, where we are from, etc.? It’s only smallish if it never leads to anything further, as at certain cocktail parties.
    Beth – I read “War is a Force…” and was pretty impressed. If it were only Hedges talking about this build-up, I’d be more likely to dismiss it, but it’s Seymour Hersch too, as you know, and plenty of others. I hope it’s just a scare tactic. But I fear they really do intend to have another air war, at the least. My brother doesn’t think it’ll happen until AFTER the election; we’ll see.

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