October 9, 2016
My wife said, “If you’re going to just stand in a corner alone with a drink in your hand all night and not speak to anyone there’s no sense in our going to this party. You can only spend so much time looking at their photos and paintings and pouring over their book cases like you’re a CIA agent. You’ve got to talk to people because they know you’re avoiding them and they think you’re rude and you think you’re better than everyone else.”
“You know that’s not how I think,” I told Elaine. “I’m no good at small talk and somehow when I get in these situations I feel inferior and awkward. I do talk to people when they come over and say hello.”
“Well, that’s the point. You need to make the effort. Last time we went to the Klein’s you studied their books and then read for most of the night. That was rude and if you keep being rude and stand-offish we are not going to get invited to any more parties and then what will we do?”
“Well, Mirsky, you really did it this time. I’m afraid to show my face after the performance you put on tonight,” Elaine said after our silent car ride home and when we finally got into bed.
“I don’t know what you’re unhappy about. I spoke to everyone at the party like you wanted me to. I didn’t look at the artwork or books and stayed away from all of the corners. In fact, I stationed myself in the center of the living room for a good part of the evening.”
“We were at the home of an artist and a rare book collector,” Elaine said. “You ignored both the art and the books and spent your time making the smallest of small talk. You’re an embarrassment.”
“The next party we go to why don’t you fill me in on the things I should and shouldn’t look at and the topics I ought to discuss and the ones I should avoid,” I asked. “I want to do this party thing right and please you.”
“Telling a woman her dress shows off her cleavage perfectly is not a way to start a conversation,” Elaine said. “I’ll make you up a crib sheet of conversation openers and current events and even compliments for you to keep with you and then you can go into the bathroom every once and a while to refresh your memory.”
“It’s better than talking about the weather which I refuse to do.”
“There are other things besides weather and cleavage, you know.”
“Actually I didn’t know. I will use your crib sheet the next time we go to one of these cocktail parties.”
“I don’t know how you did it, Mirsky, but you were wonderful at the Levine’s tonight. I saw you mixing with groups and singles and smiling all night. What were you talking about that got you out of your shell?”
“It was easier than I thought it would be,” I said.
Elaine hugged me and told me how proud of me she was. What do you think made the difference?” she asked.
“The crib sheet,” I said.
“Did you memorize it? Wow, who would have thought that writing a few notes down would be the catalyst in changing a life-long behavior pattern.”
The next morning at breakfast Elaine answered the phone and call after call came in so she never had a chance to eat her eggs before they turned cold. I ate and read the paper feeling good and looked up at Elaine and smiled as I heard her talk to each caller about the party. Elaine wasn’t smiling back; in fact, had “her face” look going.
Finally, during a lull in the calls, Elaine told me that all the calls were about me and how personable and funny I was.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“For you maybe but not so nice for me,” Elaine said. “You showed everyone the crib sheet and asked them to pick a topic,” she said. “So all of the laughter I saw going on with you was about me—is that it?”
“They thought you were a riot,” I said. “And they’re looking forward to the next get-to-gether to see my new set of instructions.”