Among my more challenging character flaws is my disinclination to socialize. It’s not that I dislike people; it’s just such a chore to be around them in social settings. I’m completely useless at small talk, and if I should fall into a deep conversation on a topic of great importance, I can be annoyingly strident — even halfway through my first beer.
So, when my pal, The Commissioner, called me Saturday night and asked me to meet him over at a local taproom to hear some band he liked, I was conflicted. We hadn’t talked in a while and I genuinely felt like it would fun to catch up, but it was 10 p.m. and I was curled up on the couch with a cat on my lap listening to the sub-zero winds rattling the windows. The bar was only 10 minutes away, though, and TC promised he wouldn’t keep me up too long past my bedtime, so I grabbed my jacket and headed over.
Some part of me tries to rationalize these kinds of otherwise irrational outings by recalling the reams of research showing how vital it is that we stay connected to friends, family, and community as we age. Social disconnection is pretty common among the elderly, and it can lead to serious mental and physical health problems. (Some basic tips here on how to connect more effectively.) And, while it’s good to keep this sort of thing in mind, more immediate challenges — like trying to get from the parking lot into the brewery without losing an ear to frostbite — tend to grab my attention on these occasions.
The place was packed with the usual post-punk crowd: aging hipsters, young poseurs, and guys who hadn’t shaved since the Red Sox won the World Series. (What is it with this beard thing, anyway?) I spotted TC over by the bar, cradling a glass of some exotic brew, and chatting up a vaguely familiar figure wearing an Arctic Monkeys stocking cap.
I pushed through the crowd, acknowledged the vaguely familiar guy — who turned out to be one of those freelance writers I never hired back when I was editing the local alternative weekly.
“Hey — long time,” I said, vaguely.
He nodded in a way that said, It’s OK, I don’t remember you, either. before resuming a conversation apparently centered around his close friendship with the late David Carr and a new book he was working on. I escaped to the makeshift bar for a glass of Divine Oculust or whatever.
By the time I returned, the Vaguely Familiar Guy had moved along, surreptitiously planting ear plugs in place as the tsunami of noise began to roll from the small stage across the room. Wimp.
“WHY ARE YOU SO GRUMPY?” TC attempted.
“WHAT?” I screamed.
The conversation pretty much proceeded along those lines. I never quite caught the name of the band or recognized any of the graying fans who came up to shake TC’s hand and tell him how much they loved his band, but I did manage to escape an hour or so later with my hearing mostly intact. I’m not sure I can say the same for my faith in the restorative powers of socializing.
But that’s probably just me. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time (though the Vaguely Familiar Guy left before the end of the first set). I probably shouldn’t give up on what little social life I have just because this little adventure was less than satisfying.
TC called the next morning while I was lounging on the couch, cat on my lap. “You were so grumpy last night,” he said.
“Well, I was up past my bedtime,” I explained, more apologetically than I’d intended. “But it was OK. It’s good for me to get out and socialize. Stay connected, you know.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“Why don’t you swing by Wednesday night? We’ll catch the Wolves game.” I offered.
“Uh, don’t know if I can make it. I’ve got something else going on.”