Shut in

After a long day at the office, people generally like to head out to the local watering hole with a few coworkers and hit happy hour, true or false?

True for some, false for others.

Every few months, the West Point society of D.C. arranges for alumni to meet up at a local bar to socialize. I’ve gone to a few, but in general, I suck at these types of things. I stink at small talk and I don’t know how to work a crowd. I don’t like being the center of attention and I can’t handle more than one drink at a time. Whenever things like this come up, I consider going; it’s as if I completely forget that I don’t actually like these things. I’ve gone to a few now, and instead of networking, I wind up in a tight circle with a few people I already know—which is to say I’m totally missing the point and purpose of the function.

After a grueling day at the office, I hopped the metro with the intent of attending one of these shindigs. The bar was 2 blocks from the stop, a quick walk over, and I figured it would be busy, but not too busy. I was wrong. The host navigated me through the packed bodies to the rear corner of the bar. I signed in on the attendance list, penned my name on a sticky label, and promptly left the bar. I know, I know, but I couldn’t breathe and the weather was still really nice.

I waited in Farragut square until my friend arrived. I had other things on my mind to consider, so I thought of those things and worked on my Word Fu skills. Once my friend arrived, I joined her and we entered the bar together. I slapped the sticky label with my name back onto my shirt and we mingled.

There was a ’73 graduate whose looks betrayed his age. He looked fantastic! I know black don’t crack, but this man looked no older than 45, 50 tops. By my calculations, he had to be 58 or 59 years old. He also had a daughter who was a 2006 graduate. It is always strange to see the younger grads. You generally feel like you’re the young one when you see people with 8’s and 7’s after the apostrophes, but when you see class of zero-something, you realize you’re kidding yourself.

My friend moved on to another group, and somehow I found myself separated from the herd. While we were talking to the ’73 graduate, I glaced up and noticed a guy staring at me. It was not a casual glance, it was look that said: “Imma wait until I have your full attention. I see you’re busy, but just know I’m here, watching…waiting…always waiting.” He moved in as soon as he saw I was alone. I saw his tag and ’84 and we started the usual talk—where do you work, what do you do, how long were you in, and so on. Meanwhile I was chowing down on a mini slice of some sort of pizza, which was the first thing I had consumed in about 6 hours. On top of that, 84 man’s breath was stink stank stunk. And on top of that, the place was already loud, which meant he was extra close, and with every word, I got a fresh dose of hot garbage breath expelled onto me, my food and my tumbler filled with water. This is why I hate coming to these things, I thought. I was cornered with this guy with no room for escape. I could have artfully dodged to the ladies room, I guess, but I had my leather tote and a big handbag with me. It would not have been graceful. The guy was going on about how his kid was at the Citadel and how that is sort of like West Point. Here's what I kept to myself: we looked down on the Citadel. Once, when they played us in football, there was a spirit poster with one cadet kicking another’s ass, and the caption: at least we don’t pay for it! We liked to think of how those who had parents paying for a Citadel education were also paying for our educations, thanks to the federal tax system. Then he started in on how he had a master’s degree when he became and officer. Then he mentioned he went to OCS, which was the best way to do it, in his opinion. So let’s get this straight—not only was he basically insulting my route into the Army's officer Corps, this dude is not a West Pointer and he’s going to partake in our happy hour? Granted it is an open invite type event, but why would you want to go to one of these if you’re not a grad? I guess the whole networking thing is attractive, but this guy was blowing foul carbon dioxide in my face as I tried to nod and smile with scarfing down a wee slice of pizza and trying not to inhale. This wasn’t networking; it was torture. Then when we got to the subject of his daughters, he made sure to mention how much he adored him. When he added “I don’t feel that way about their mom, though,” I thought, “Eject, Eject!” Did he not see the wedding-engagement ring combination on my left ring finger? Did that not matter? Did he think I wanted to discuss ex-wife/baby momma/woman he intensely dislikes drama with him? Shoot, go stake out a chair and harass the bartender with those woes. If I don’t know you like that, then please realize that don’t want to hear it! Shoo! Be gone.

Thankfully my friend saw a break in the conversation, grabbed my elbow and rescued me. From then on, I was in listening mode. I only started to feel better when people began clearing out and there were a handful of people I knew who were either
a) classmates
b) people talking to classmates
c) people I have already met in passing

In college I used to make fun of people who were socially inept—guys especially. I would snicker with friends about the dude staring at me as if he had never seen a woman before in his life. In all honesty, he had seen me but I looked so(!) different (!) out of uniform (!). This was always said to me as if it was a compliment. You're dog-assed ugly in uniform, but wow, with your hair down, in jeans and a flattering shirt, you actually look like a normal girl. Wow(!) Also made fun of: the ones who sent out greetings sight unseen, using the cadet email system. You know—it’s not that hard to find someone if you’d like to meet in person, but if you want to ensure you have no chance, send them an email that says something like this:

Hi you don’t know me, but I’ve seen you around and I would like to get to know you better.

It is the email equivalent of “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” notes from elementary and junior high school. I will be smirking as I hit the delete key.

In retrospect, I am the socially challenged one. While in my cadet company (Go Zoo!) every member receieved a “zoo” name based on their personality and an animal. I hoped for something cool—cat, maybe. I was mysterious, stealthy and independent—why not? I didn’t attend the ceremony (of course I didn't), but later heard that I had been dubbed “turtle.” Fantastic. “They” say you always dislike the things in others that you dislike in yourself, and I guess it’s true—I don’t like that I’m not comfortable in social settings. I try, though. Even with people I know, I search my brain for conversation topics so we’re not sitting there in silence. I go to these happy hours with a surface smile and a deep seated sense of dread. It’s just other people, but the entire thing is draining.

The thing is, I assume everyone else is good at this stuff. West Pointers tend to be great at networking and excelling. The two things go hand in hand—being an extrovert is valued in this society. It’s because someone who is comfortable being the star of the show is someone who other people gravitate towards. Those who are not like this are seen as rude—not wanting to engage—or even worse—snobs. I only discovered this well after I graduated. “You think you’re too good.” Was what one guy said—a ROTC graduate who attended the same officer basic course and had heard from his friend—my classmate—that I had my nose up in the air. Um….what?

So I’m working on that through going to these happy hours, friending people on Facebook and working through lame small talk in hopes that I don’t look like I’m trying to fade into the background.

Another one of my classmates revealed that he was the same way. It was hard for him to sit in the bar surrounded by noise and people. “It’s draining,” I said. “It took ten years for my husband to realize I don’t hate him when I ask to be alone.” But this person was the last one I expected to understand this. He drove a noticeable car while we were at school. He had a nickname. He was well loved and even now people know him at a glance. If he’s the same way as I am, then I guess I’m not so much of a freak after all.

My husband is another one. He was supposed to go to this thing and he really didn’t want to. This was a guy who was in sales for nearly 8 years. People love him. More people recognized him at my own class reunion than me! “I’m a homebody.” He said. “Tell Mike we flipped a coin and you won.”

Flipped a coin to go to a happy hour? Yes, married life is that exciting, folks. No we didn’t really flip a coin. He just wanted a valid excuse for Mike (his classmate) who had expected him to be there. Could you think of a cornier explanation? I joked. Tell him we drew straws.

Well, it turned out that Mike wasn’t there after all. Maybe more of us are closet introverts than I ever imagined.


At risk

So last week I was notified that I was "at risk." It sounds kind of fun, right? Risky business and living on the edge and all that. It sounds exciting until you realize what's at risk is actually your paycheck and that you may not be able to afford boring things, never mind the fun things.

There have been some interesting happenings on the job front. I won't get into it just yet, as to protect the guilty and my job. When I'm a few months or years removed, you may get a "Nine days a week" type post out of it after the dust settles, but right now, like the Kanye West jokes about Patrick Swayze that came out the morning after the man's death was announced, it's just too soon. Suffice to say, I am making mental notes for future reference.

It's strange when you know you're leaving one job for another. You have to clean out your desk--decide what's worth taking, what can be left to others and what belongs in the recycling bin. I brought a lot of things to my current desk. I thought I would be there for a good long time, and in this case that was over two years. It was mostly good while it lasted. Now I have to figure out the best way to shuttle home the things I want to keep. I feel a bit like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, loading small piles of stuff into my bag and carting it home, the same way he carried a tiny bit of his prison cell wall in the cuffs of his pants every time he went into the prison courtyard (Can't you just hear Morgan Freeman's voice narrating this entire post? No? Okay.).

I've been getting back in touch with people, sending out the obligatory "Hi, hope you're well, here's my resumepleasepassitaround, kaythanksbye!" type messages. I try to stay in touch when I don't need a job so it's not too awkward to catch up with people when I do need one. I've also hit a couple of job fairs. Even though calling it a "fair" implies that this would be a fun event, a job fairs is not the type of venue where I shine. They tend to overwhelm me. After I printed a thousand copies of my resume, slapped on the "Hi, my name is:" label with my name in Sharpie ink, and set foot into the maze of booths, I feel a bit lost. It's kind of a "Now, what?" feeling. Some booths have lines. The prestigious companies, the ones everyone knows, generally have the biggest herds of hopeful employees, like sperm gathering around the egg cell, hoping to be let in. Even if you have a kick ass resume, there seems to be at least one guy at the booth looking down his nose at you. "Ha! As if!" he seems to say, "You've got a Top Secret clearance? Well, all of our jobs require Top Secret with a polygraph! No hope for YOU!" is the message and you're sent away feeling like Ralphie from a Christmas story, when the department store Santa Claus shoved a boot squarely into his face, dismissing poor Ralphie before he could state what he really wanted for Christmas. Ho, ho HO!


The Hangover

Last month I ordered a bunch of dresses online. I generally don’t order clothes online because you can’t try them on. You have to wait for the precious to arrive, try it on, look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. If it’s not a good fit, can it be tailored? Is the hassle of tailoring less of a pain in the ass than the hassle of finding the receipt, shoving it back into a package, and waiting (while hoping the package doesn’t get “lost”) for your refund? Or, if the dress does fit, are you really going to wear it? Do you see yourself wearing it, or will it require complimentary accessories? Can a safety pin keep a potential peep show neckline in check? If the safety pin is a no go, would the camisole totally ruin the effect?

As you might have guessed, I have been into dresses this year. It all started with Target’s Merona Collection line. Then there were a few others I was stalking online from another company. The full priced dresses were out of the question, but when I checked back a few months later, the clearance fairy had visited this summer's fashion line. I filled up my virtual shopping bag and placed my order. I was so pleased with my initial choices that I went back for more. I figured my credit card could take the hit until I actually saw my statement. Then when the last few dresses arrived, I had a sobering realization—the sizes were off, I was still not done losing weight, and I couldn’t see myself realistically wearing any of my selections. They were all cute dresses, but I could live a perfectly fulfilled life without them. Then I had to start culling, which involved grabbing a few from the closet (no, I haven’t worn them out yet, come on, I’m better than that!), finding the receipts, checking the return policy and marking up my reasons for the returns. It’s sobering—and not nearly as fun as filling a virtual shopping bag.

Sometimes things are just too easy; they’re too accessible. You get high on the idea of something and the next thing you know, you’re the proud owner of a bunch of shit you never really needed and didn’t actually want in the first place. Then you wake up and face the reality. Ohhhh…I shouldn’t have had the double bacon cheeseburger with the large fries and 32 ounce chocolate shake. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I need to have it? Nobody needs all of this stuff.

Once in awhile my whims result in a success. I bought cowboy boots for a decent price. The pair I had been stalking were on sale, but still too expensive for me, but I found an alternative pair that I liked, and these were on sale. “They look like they’re made out of Shrek’s skin” my husband said, commenting on the color. Hey, maybe that’s why they were on sale, but damn it, if anyone could make pea green leather cowboy boots work, it’s me. I felt especially smug when I checked them out online after buying them, only to find that the price had shot up to two and a half times what I spent on them. Don’t you really feel like a winner when stuff like that happens? Sure, you’re still a little bit more broke than before, but hey--you're not as broke as you could be! It’s a warped kind of logic, but it makes you feel better.

I’m still waiting for one dress to arrive. I will probably open the package, fish out the receipt, and without even taking it from its hermetically sealed bag, I will add it to the other rejected dresses to be sent back to the land of misfit purchases.