When you are new in town and have more fillings in your teeth than people who know you exist, the mingle party is terrifying. It is a test of wit, endurance, and timing. Starting a conversation with someone who is not the friend who brought you is like selling newspaper subscriptions outside of Wal-Mart: you have to trick them into it. First, with every person you meet, you have to answer the seemingly harmless, yet passively aggressive background check question: “So, who do you know here?”
“Oh, uh, I know Josh.”
Oh, Jesus. At this point that you realize that Josh wasn’t even invited to this party. He is the friend of the friend of the friend who got the text at the last minute, not you. You are even further beyond that connection. You are a crasher.
“He’s over there. Josh. Josh!” Wave at me, Josh. Wave at me, dammit!
Josh is more social than you are. Josh would talk to a fork and be happy and sometimes it seems he is doing just that. He doesn’t hear or see you. He is gone. And instead of being mad, you think to yourself, “I don’t want to be clingy. I’m good. I have skills.” There is a slight cockiness that springs up inside. It’s the same one you had when you lied to the guy in the interview about knowing Microsoft Excel and thought: how hard can it be?
You spend the next three hours hopping from little group to little group, laying on the awkward. Someone says something funny that you didn’t quite hear but you blurt out anyway, “Hahaha! I know right?!” and you pour your drink on your head and walk away.
And then you see Leroy. He is cool, older, and eccentrically dressed. He is a chain smoker and he has stories. You say “Hi, Leroy is it?” (because you overheard him say his name to someone else and you think maybe he is famous and you should know his name) “I like your boots.” Leroy is excited about a new chatting buddy. He is sitting by the bar and even pours you a drink. For a moment, you smile and breathe and relax. He tells you about a crazy night in Mexico and you laugh. You return serve with a humorous story about your time abroad, but he interrupts halfway through and says, “Hey man, you ever smoked acid rain?” and you know you have to move along.
Then it happens: an open mingle group. It feels so good to have the questions and answers flowing. You ask a non yes/no question and they answer it and they ask you a non yes/no question and you answer it and it keeps going back and forth and you are excited. And then nervous. You start thinking about the momentum and just that thought makes you waiver. It’s like juggling: If you are juggling and you think about Tom Waits lyrics, you can juggle for hours. But if you are juggling and you think about how much better you have gotten lately at juggling, you get kicked out of the juggling group.
The conversation gets bumpy, but it’s just turbulence. No need for the ejection seat yet. Then Josh shows up. He says, “We’re all getting in the pool. Come on!” You whisper-yell at Josh, “No! I worked hard to get into this mingling group. They are interested in my questions and my answers. Lisa thinks I’m funny! I’m not throwing all that away to swim in my boxers like an idiot!”
You turn back to your group, your new best friends who have now abandoned you, have stripped to their underwear, and have jumped into the pool.