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Vicarious – Scene 2

August 30, 2009

Friday night. At a bar with my buddy Bill – we’re going to get a little tipsy, chat with some other patrons, and just have a good time.

So we show up, I ask the bartender for a gin with tonic, he a vodka Red Bull. Both are solid choices, and both tasted especially good on this night – I could tell that we were in for some interesting conversation. We grabbed our glasses and took our stand in a corner of the bar, relaxing, and soaking up the buzz and our surroundings. Just as I’m finding myself in the moment, Bill has to pipe up, “Hey, Frankie, have you ever played the People Game?”

I turn to him, give him a displeased smirk, and reply, in a cold tone, “One: never call me Frankie again. Two: No, I haven’t, what are the rules?”

He got this horribly frightened look on his face after I told him never to call me Frankie, like he expected me to throw my drink on him and beat him up. But he knows as well as I do that I’d never do that to anyone – I’ve never been the violent type. But it was still somewhat amusing to see his reaction: putting myself in his shoes, with his facial expression like that, I’d probably either get really indignant or just plain ol’ piss my pants, with the adrenaline rushing through my veins because of fear. Yes, I could tell that Bill was legitimately afraid of me in that moment. To him, I better say something real quick to say that I was joking to shake off the feeling of hostility that he perceives is between us at the moment – of all things, he probably hates the pressure and awkwardness of the tension than anything else. He probably has avoided confrontation his entire life as well – which speaks to his lack of ability to defuse this situation by shooting me a playful smile or a “I knew you were just joking” or even just comfortably explaining the rules of this “People Game”. Alas, that wasn’t fated to happen – Bill’s feeling the tension right now, and he is going to drown himself in it before he takes any action to find a release, which means I have the responsibility of making him feel better – something I love to do.

I nudged him lightheartedly, and as I foresaw, he flinched – typical behavior from a fearful man. I gave him a playful smile and said, “Welcome back! Now, what were the rules of that game?”

He made eye contact with me, and immediately brightened up, smiling just like a little kid. He said, almost gleefully, the pitch of his voice with each successive word, “Well, I spot a person, and then you have to tell me about them – what they’re like, what they do, their personalities, if they have significant others, etc.”

Bill’s a writer. I’m really not surprised he came up with a game like this. Maybe it helps with his character development. I had nothing better to do, so I said, “Alright, I’m in. I’ll spot first, you describe, since I bet you play this game with yourself all the time.”

After scanning the bar for awhile, I spotted a decent looking target: man, black pinstriped shirt, looked in his 30s. I pointed to him and said, “Pinstripes, near the bar. Let’s see what you’ve got, God of Description.”

Bill glanced at him and begun, “Well, he seems to be a middle-aged, somewhat well to do man. See how he carries himself? He’s confident, or at least sure of himself in a bar -”

“Or,” I interjected, “He could be a little buzzed. Keep going.”

“Well, he’s probably married, or engaged, since he’s certainly of that age. He gets up every morning to run – he’s been at it for awhile, so he probably runs 4 to 5 every morning. He is the type of guy who eats the same thing every day for lunch, eating the same thing for a couple of weeks before switching things up. He is a man of routine. That shirt is probably one of his favorite shirts, going by that, and he likes equilibrium – he probably doesn’t like change in his personal relationships and is averse to risk. He probably is warm if you know him, but I’d guess he doesn’t like meeting new people and opening up to them. That’s it. Your turn. How about that young blonde over there? The pretty one?”

I looked over my shoulder to spot my target. She was good-looking, but not beautiful, and looked in her mid-early twenties. Maybe a girl straight out of college. I could use those details to my advantage. I cracked a sly smile and said to Bill, “What you just did was elementary, dear Watson – though it was good, I’m sure I can up the standard a bit. I did enjoy how the rigidness of that man’s character permeates his description, from his running to his confidence from being in this bar a couple hundred times. But, if I may make a suggestion: you have to describe them by taking an intimate look at the person – almost through their own eyes. After all, who knows a person more intimately than themselves? Here’s my take on the blonde: she was born to a middle-class family – her mom probably was a teacher and her dad was a carpenter or of some other trade. She grew up with all the necessities in life, and more, and when it was time to go to college, she realized that she’d have to work for things once she flew from the nest. She has always been a little anti-academic, considering she wasn’t exactly a star pupil, but she learned to be nice to the smart kids, unlike many of her other, popular friends.”

I continued: “Once college came, she realized she could get some help from the really insecure smart kids by being extra kind to them, and it worked. However, she never really learned to be an independent worker as a result, and she developed an inferiority complex with regards to her competence. But, soon, another form of insecurity crept in: that of her looks. Back home, she was the prettiest damn girl anyone’s ever seen, but in the big, bad city with all its models and the like, she hardly compares. Guys don’t pay as much attention to her anymore. She wakes up, goes to the mirror, and the first thought that runs through her mind on any given day is, “God, I look ugly.” Her disappointment with her looks, her saving grace, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the worse she thinks she looks, the more her self-esteem goes down, and that makes her think she looks worse. The cycle goes on and on. Still, she has developed a personality away from the shallow realm of appearances, and likes romance novels and being on Facebook and all of that stuff. Shopping and fashion too. So she spends her life participating in some weird consumerist loop – almost faking her beauty that she once perceived she has. Has she grown more ugly? No; in fact, she probably looks better than she did when she was in high school. There’s some sort of elegance to her, though – she does look good, I’ll admit, but not my style, you know? But, again, there is some sort of elegance in her trying to purchase her former beauty, when, in reality, her body language betrays her: looking at her, her posture, her movements, I can tell she’s hiding something that follows her like a shadow.”

Bill look almost awestruck, almost as though he didn’t expect me to surpass his paltry, though thoughtful and nicely done, description. His may have been more eloquent, but I think my sheer amount of detail about my girl put my description on the next level. But, somehow, I knew I could do better – deep down I knew I didn’t do justice to my description of that girl. I didn’t emphasize her positive traits enough, sans her almost-beauty – I needed to recognize she had a personality in addition to her shallow exterior – I took that exterior and extended it to the rest of her personality, making exterior. Who was the shallow one, her or me? Or was I, myself, being shallow because I took on her personage, her mentality, and observed her as she would observe herself in the depths of her perceived self-hate?

Bill finally spoke up, “That was great. This will be your full time job for the night – I want to hear what else you have in that head of yours. That was from the heart. It’s always nice to see people play the game with heart.”

I rolled my eyes, but luckily Bill didn’t catch me. I liked the praise, and simply smiled in approval of his words.

“Okay, try that man over there. The guy with the short dark hair, and thick square glasses,” Bill went on, finishing his sentence with a look of eager anticipation.

Stop. Think of what this guy is like – look at his body language, his eyes, his expressions, the way he talks. Look at his style, his shirt, his shoes, absorb it: what kind of person would wear that. Or, even, is he the type of person who wears clothes based on how they match his personality? Do the clothes make this man or does this man make the clothes? What about his experiences growing up? How was he affected by them – maybe he had a traumatic experience, like seeing a man die, or something of that sort. Maybe he was bullied as a kid in school. Relax Frank, just think like this guy. Think.

“He was raised in a poorer town, a smart kid in a destroyed place. Small town? Urban center? I’m going to go with small town. He grew up as a more sophisticated, bourgeois small-town kid. He knew everybody in the town, but he stood out because of his intellectual bent. In a sense, he was an urbanite caught in a small-town, where intellectualism was derided. Something in him projects absolute defiance of authority: that authority could be the town he grew up in, where he seemed so different from everybody. Yes, there were many people who were more of his modern bent, but they were mostly his peers. No, what he has renounced are the elders of his town, maybe even his parents, who looked at their son and realized that he was going to abandon their little community when he went off to college and live in the city. They shunned him and probably didn’t think he’d succeed, simply because their little region was such a tight community. But he did it; he pursued what he wanted. Why? A love for independence combined with a hate for tyranny. After all, isn’t that what a group of crotchety town elders is?

“But there is something else behind those eyes: yes, there is independence, and there does seem to be kindness, but there also is regret. Regret at leaving behind town friends that were doomed to stay behind and stay in the community? Or maybe those friends were consumed by drug addiction, as is becoming so prevalent in smaller towns throughout the country. He wonders if anyone knows what it’s like to have your only friends in the world as you know it slowly but surely succumbing to drug addiction – probably crystal meth. But, no, he had ambition, and pushed on to his goal of escape, even if it meant alienating his friends. But I still think there are a few he thinks he could’ve saved – a girlfriend, for example – instead of leaving them to rot in a closed-minded, drug-addled town.

But, as I said, there is more to a person than their past. This man is witty, intelligent, and determined to shake off his past. As soon as he hit college he left his past behind – maybe it was a source of shame. Regardless, he vowed to never repeat the mistakes of his peers and elders and worked his ass off at what he did in school – I’m going to say he was a science major. Chemistry? Math? One of those. He soon cultivated a large social circle, becoming a popular kid at his school. He graduated summa cum laude, and got an excellent paying job just after graduation. In a sentence: he thought he had life figured out – with his past firmly behind him. His networking capability is what got him his job – he is a very cordial and entertaining man, for sure. He loves film, and novels – those occupy him the most – since he loves stories. Not surprising, since his life has a storybook quality to it. He enjoys people as well, though he is looking for a girlfriend, and can’t seem to find one, as he is too busy furthering his ambitions in maths.

“He also is athletic – part of the natural desire to keep in shape. He goes to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and all the other days, he plays soccer – a fantastic sport to stay in shape, have fun, and meet new people. He’s played all his life. It is one of the things that makes him feel alive and at peace with the earth. It will be hard for him to get old and feel the weight of age to bear down on him, lest he grow to be like the elders he left behind. But he has vowed to never slip as far as they did.”

I was finished. During the time I was talking, I felt like I was having one of those out-of-body experiences that you sometimes hear people talking about on the radio and in weird pseudo-philosophical magazines. I didn’t feel… quite within myself. It was a loss of sensation, a loss of being an individual. Almost as if I didn’t quite exist.

My hands were shaking, I was sweating, and I felt a little bit of a nausea. I staggered out of the bar and forced myself to walk back home.

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