Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

Alexandra and Carol

Two days ago, we went out for a little dinner and gift exchange at M&R on Elizabeth Street. Cozy, a little pushy about turning around tables (“Are you done, because we need this table”: another non-question question), but decent food, fair-priced. Gave them books and each a copy of McSweeney’s, the journal. Very pleased to find it in the indy bookstore on the corner. Friendly Indian clerk sees me buy it: “Are you a writer?” Umm, among other things. Do only writers buy McSweeney’s? At M&R, people all around us unwrapped gifts in their gift exchanges: creased chic-chic shopping bags filled with tissue paper and ribbon-tied bundles of crinkly plastic and more tissue paper enclosing gifts not half as spectacular as their accoutrement. Soaps, mostly. It’s been a year since I left the company. Our three paths have diverged. I have returned to university, reapplying grout and filler to crumbling self-made walls. Those two, they’re still there, working long, searching for escape, new opportunities. There’s more distance between us now. Before I left I said: “Let’s not let this become a series of false starts in which we keep claiming we’ll get together but never quite do until one day we see each other on the train and we know so little about each other’s lives we have nothing to say.” So the distance at dinner bothered me. Small space after words, a weird uncomfortableness, a couple of silences, the night closed too early. They’re both sweethearts. Bright, attractive, creative women. We’ve had good moments. More would be great. But there’s worry, fear they’ll go the way of other friends, equally as appreciated and rewarding in their day as these two are in theirs. It would be better to not have to reconnect, not to see tight bonds unravel. How long is the list of good people who’ve faded away, dropped out? I have useless phone numbers and no faces, faces for which only maiden names or nicknames come to mind, old photos without dates on the obverse, a now-unwrapped book, a dusty gift, dozens of address books saved, perhaps, for when there’s a recycling drive for defunct numerals and digits, an untenable position. Were I to skip-trace lost friends, what would I say? “I just wanted to catch up with you. It’s been too long.” It’s another movie line, movie-of-the-week, transparently clichéd and to be avoided. It’s best not to try to renew those old acquaintances. Twice in the last two years I’ve been sought out by friends from seven, eight years ago. Exciting emails, long phone calls, even visits, then the trickle away into nothing. Now my messages to them are as likely to go unanswered as theirs are to me. We are not who we were. Moments of misanthropy sometimes lead me to believe it’s inevitable that good friends will soon become no friends at all. Only a small few leave via fallings-out, irretrievable friendly fire. The rest find new jobs, new towns, new homes, wives, husbands, and so pass beyond my horizon. Last night an email from the human resources director of the old company said to me: “Sorry. Meant to invite you to the company party. Please come if you can. Global 33, 7 to 11.” I had considered crashing the party anyway. Same joint as last year, I knew. I wanted, well, I wanted another chance to re-do what a year had undone with Alexandra and Carol, to make up for the past failures to keep in touch, to write, to call sometime, to drop lines, drop dimes, drop everything. They were, as I’d hoped, pleased at my guest star appearance. We, and other people I’d forgotten how much I liked, had a wonderful time. Free food, a little marijuana, high-contact dancing, cheek kisses, arm squeezes, alcohol, cigarettes, booze, and lots of each. Then Liquids, upscale last time I was there, but this time, sweatshirts and flannel clothed hopeful bodies. No doubt a trusted free listings paper or guidebook in coat pockets. Everybody calls it “Liquid” without the plural, in the opposite way that Wal-Mart becomes “Wal-Marts.” Alexandra and Carol at first puddled on the floor, eventually fled in yellow cabs. Of our group, that left six men and three women. When one woman left, the other two took turns half-accepting and half-rejecting the advances of men turned on by the delights of a company party. A year of sexual tension, of unanswered looks, hopeful scoping acted out. One woman put limes in the mouth of two men, licked their sweaty, salty necks, downed two shots of tequila and then vacuumed the limes from the lips of her co-workers. Then she necked with a man a good deal older and fed her tongue to a short Italian scumball kid from the Bronx. Then she panicked. You could see it. She had misread the situation and it was coming home to her: six men standing around, horny, chubbies inflating, thinking, Here’s a prospect. A hot one. I got a shot. She found herself in an unplanned circle, ragged. She fled, forgetting her coat. Ten minutes later, she’s back. Gets the coat. Makes out in the foyer with the older man again. The other woman, she’s drunker, little slower. She’s the receptionist. Trim, short, a little weight loss, cute bobbed hair. She gets lonesome at the front desk, all by herself, only a ringing phone for company. Holiday party, she cuts loose. All the men, six to one, commiserate. Yeah, too bad. So boring up there. Do you want a drink? A cigarette? Want to come over here and sit down? So, I mean, I just, you know, like, what’s going on? Every guy makes his move. Some come away with a little over-friendly body contact, others get impromptu lip sucking. Told this story today at lunch with Alexandra and others. They left before it happened, so there’ll be discrete vetting of the material before it enters lore.

author avatar
Grant Barrett