The Endless Avoid
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Here in L.A., we are all experts at avoiding people. In fact, a lot of folks move here because they don't really like people, and they can easily hole up in a small tract house with their big TV and cocoon-like car. If you telecommute, you don't even have to see people in the office. Go to a midnight club, and you can get all sweaty without actually touching a single sweaty other.
The height of L.A. success comes when you achieve an extremely large number of both friends and enemies, but avoid them all. You move into a gated Bel Air estate and employ staff whose whole job is to keep people at bay.
Okay, most Angelenos don't have staff or gated estates. They just carry sunglasses.
Tonight I find myself at a large event with many round tables. Our hostess, with ignorant enthusiasm, has seated everyone with someone she thinks they know. And lo, when I locate my seat, I see it's wedged between a friend on the right and an enemy on the left, each of whom I normally avoid.
I think, "Surely, this violates some city zoning ordinance."
To buy time, I turn first to my enemy. Ten years ago I got a promotion he probably deserved. Yes, he was a hundred times more qualified, but I was not palpably evil.
Now I offer him a big smile. "Hi Clarence, how's the kids?"
"Excellent," he says, and we begin avoiding each other with style. I pick through my arugula. He simply looks cool.
Most Angelenos avoid each other by looking cool. In fact, when you think about it, the whole point of cool fashions and cool attitudes is to imply that you have a set of strict, but indecipherable rules for avoiding other people. That's why cool fashions have to change constantly. I mean, once people get used to one kind of cool, it ceases to be intimidating.
For a moment, I consider explaining all this to Clarence, along with a friendly warning that his wardrobe is on the verge of becoming unintimidating...but I don't get the chance, because now I accidentally make eye contact with my friend on the right, whose name is not Jimmy.
"I've been having a rough time," begins Jimmy without preamble, "regarding my longterm goals. Remember I was making a move in Hospitality? Well, then I got sidetracked in this lawsuit with my old girlfriend."
Sometimes, at social events, it's fun to get people talking and then just listen, ‘cause if you let people talk, they often tell stories you've never heard, even on ‘This American Life.'
Still, everyone has his limits. Probably Ira Glass has his limits. For me, that limit is Jimmy. It's something about the mix of pathetic themes and unnecessary detail. Something about the way he won't let me get a grunt in edgewise. Because we know a lot of the same people and often show up in the same rooms, I could write a whole book about how to avoid Jimmy...you know, pretending that my cell phone is vibrating, making a sudden turn toward the hors d'ouevres.
Just now Jimmy talks fast, trying to get it all in before I make my escape, but I cannot tell you any of his updated goals and desires, because I do not actually listen.
Instead, like any good Angeleno, I put him on mute as I review my own goals and desires. In fact, I think, "How very skilled we have become, all three of us. How perfectly we each, in his own special way, practice the art of the endless avoid."
At last the music kicks in to obliterate all conversation, and as The Urban Man stands up to dance with no one in particular, I offer Jimmy a little shrug that says, "Gee, I guess I won't get to hear the end of your story."
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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