“Can we make a deal?” I asked my wife.
“When we have these couples over this weekend can you please not tell them the ski pants story?”
“Oh for goodness sakes. That’s a cute story.”
“It makes me sound like Michael Sam’s boyfriend. I’d just rather you not.”
“That’s fine. I didn’t know it bothered you so much. I won’t tell that story if you promise not to ask your weird questions.”
My wife and I are having some cool parents over to dinner next weekend. A younger, hipper set. Tall dads, hot moms, high income earners all. Worse yet, this group already hangs out together so this is an audition of sorts. These are all parents of my daughter’s friends so my youngest daughter is justifiably nervous.
I’ve never been very good at first impressions. I’m what you might call an acquired taste. Kind of like portobello mushrooms or Josh Groban or gripper underwear. People prefer french fries, Adam Levine and boxer shorts but when there’s nothing else around, I’ll do.
My wife, however, is excellent. She likes to tell stories among the women, usually about my latest f up at Home Depot or the time I was mistaken for a Peanuts character when we were on vacation at Disney World or the time I wore women’s ski pants during an entire week of Spring Break. Oftentimes the stories involve some callow behavior of mine, like when I blocked my neighbor’s satellite dish during the Super Bowl or when I wrote an anonymous letter to the editor of the Star-Telegram calling for the systematic euthanasia of all cats. When the couples all re-congregate for dinner, most of the women look at me with what is likely to become longstanding enmity.
Frankly I stink at the tete a tete of social engagement. And I’m getting worse. In terms of conversation currency, I’m cash poor. I don’t fish, hunt, play golf, barbecue, drink single malt scotch, smoke fine cigars, collect vintage cars, watch TV, take Eco-tour vacations, Cross-Fit, go on mission trips, bird watch, geo cache or juice cleanse.
My awkwardness may also have something to do with the fact that I don’t get much practice. Most of my conversations these days are with myself and usually begin: “What made you think that was a good idea?”
I do have some almost cool stories. When I was 12, the Oklahoma City 89ers Triple A baseball team raffled a mini bike. My ticket number was called and I raced to the field to claim my prize. Since I was under 18 they needed a parent or guardian to take possession. Trey Hodges’ mom had dropped us off for his birthday but she was nowhere to be found, and likely too inebriated to be able to give legal consent anyway.
There’s also the time I sat on the front row of a Bette Midler concert and I’m pretty sure she winked at me. Unfortunately this was before cell phone cameras.
So what do you do when you’re not, yourself, very cool?
I suppose I could talk about cool people I know. I have a friend from high school who just won the Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, everyone grew up with someone who has a claim to fame. When I announced to my office the news about my friend’s Pulitzer, our recently hired clerk chimed in:
“That’s cool. One of my ex-boyfriends is a Chippendale.”
I got nothin.
This is when I resort to what my wife refers to as my “weird questions.”
As a special needs student of the human condition I often ask difficult questions without proper context or the requisite degree of intimacy. Most of them drift toward the morose.
Do you believe the choices you make are fate or free will? Can happiness exist without sadness? Where does your soul reside? What is consciousness? What is enlightenment? Why is there something rather than nothing?
My “weird questions” don’t typically get much traction at these affairs. Since I don’t want to embarrass my daughter I think I’ll stay away from them and just listen. If forced to engage, I’ll have to wing it. I wonder if any of them would like to hear the story of the time I wore women’s ski pants.