Some people are really good at casual social interactions. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I have to be convinced, cajoled or corralled into attending gatherings larger than four adults and even then it’s usually all I can do to avoid glancing at my watch with insulting frequency.
On reflection, my partner would probably substitute ‘and’ for ‘or’ in the previous sentence. Convinced, cajoled and corralled. I am just not that good at small talk.
It’s not that I dislike people. In low-density situations (preferably one-to-one) I relish human connection. In fact, I’ve made a career out of bounded intimacy. But parties aren’t my best thing, especially ones full of strangers.
As we pulled up outside the New Year’s Eve party of a couple we’d never met, I glanced at said partner with a slightly troubled expression. Is this a bit odd? Rocking up to a tiki-themed NY party with a bottle of Margaret River Rosé and a garish pink shirt? She managed to roll her eyes and look lovingly amused simultaneously, which has a degree of difficulty of 4.2. I did wonder, she said mildly.
I knew the answer, of course. For the first time, a blogosphere entity was beaming from hyperspace into the real world. A fellow of diverse creativity, restless curiosity and a peppery reaction to intransigent stupidity, the source of our party invitation is also a prolific Facebooker, being responsible for more of my ‘Like’ clicks than anyone else during 2018. (I recognise that last one, partner said in response to this observation. She does irony too). He’d also promptly and generously offered a sound production tutorial to a young musician friend and alerted me to one of the concert highlights of recent times: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Pity we didn’t actually meet on the night.
Walking down the driveway, a little ahead of Ms Lonely Keyboards and the boy, I felt a pang of anxiety, instantly dissolved by the warm greeting and firm handshake of our host. We both grinned. Good to meet you. Come inside.
As we passed through a jungle of exotic decorations—all tiki-themed, of course—I realised that we were, in fact, the first to arrive. Gulp. The hostess was jamming small coloured edibles onto toothpicks, her smile of greeting just a little strained. Preparations were still very much in progress. We were unfashionably unlate. Double gulp.
Well, one thing I do know is that if you have a task, you feel less at sea. Ms Keyboards knows that intuitively, probably because her work rate is about triple that of normal humans. Or perhaps just mine. Anyway, within moments she had taken over the toothpick business, freeing the hostess for something else. Our host was also into spearing; bits of chicken onto pointy sticks. A-ha! Let me relieve you of that job, I said. Stabbing diced dead animal is a culinary task within even my limited capacities. As people dribbled in, I cheerily said hello and promptly forgot the names, but it didn’t matter. I was on the team and the pyramid of impaled chicken was growing steadily.
When our jobs were done, we adjourned to a little table on the verandah and enjoyed the summer night, the wonderful range of tropical set decorations and even the tiki-themed music. Our host joined us for a few minutes, which was nice. It didn’t matter that our conversation was interrupted by welcoming duties; that’s the role of host, isn’t it? To facilitate the enjoyment of others. These particular others were a friendly couple; Peter said, sotto voce, you’ll like David, you have a lot in common. Off he bustled, off drifted the new arrivals, off drifted Ms Keyboards to see if there was any food for the boy. I wandered too, noting that the barbeque was starting up. Another job! Within minutes I’d commandeered a spare pair of tongs and was rotating the very same kebabs I’d prepared earlier. And sausages too. And some things with pineapple on sticks. You can take this Hawaiian thing too far, I said to the host. Fortunately he took the crack with good humour. There is a bond that forms when you’re sweating over a hot BBQ; a camaraderie forged in smoke and sweat and grilled meat. It’s a primal encounter where you also get to chat and drink. Having a yarn confirmed all I’d gleaned from this new friend’s posts and our email correspondence. It was really nice, and if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not cracking the halloumi, I’d have noticed I was remarkably relaxed.
Later, after supper, I was chatting to the musician Peter had introduced earlier. That was great too; lively, funny, filled with forays into different topics and random jumps from sound compression to Steve Winwood joining Steely Dan for an encore.
Later again, Ms K and I were chatting to David and his wife. So, asked David, how do you know Peter? I just met him tonight, I said. What can only be described as a guffaw exploded. Seeing you barbequeing together, I assumed you’d known each other for years. I grinned back. Couple of hours.
Which just goes to show that what the world really needs is more barbeques.
Or maybe more Tiki parties.