Sunday, June 30, 2013

"And You Are . . .?"

Last night I went to my condo's picnic in the courtyard, something I've avoided for the last six years. 

I'm introverted, I hate small talk, there sometimes seems an insularity (and even sourness) among the owners that I'd sensed on the listserv—a number of reasons have kept me from joining them in past summers, or rather seeing to it that I'd be busy.

But the biggest one was that I could not stand one guy, who happened to be the condo board president. It's almost immaterial to enumerate why, the reasons are so personal and chemical—just his oil to my water, whereas I'm sure his oiliness emulsified perfectly well with other residents. 

One year, I didn't have an excuse to get out of the party and had to walk the dog right when it was getting under way. As I was coming back, he called out, "Hey, man, come join us!" (The "man" somehow crystallizes all that I found so irritating about him.) I said, "I'm sorry, I can't." He said, "Come on, man—just have a beer." I repeated as I backed into my doorway, "I'm sorry, I can't—I just can't," with that empty and ridiculous it's-not-you-it's-me tone that embarrassed me even then.

I just couldn't.

But in the last year, he got married and moved out, even as he remained the board president (and I admit he was a good one). Then—hallelujah!—I found out he was moving out of the area. To New Zealand. 

So this year I decided to give the picnic a try, even though I kind of dreaded it. 

As I leave in the morning or get my mail, I exchange pleasantries with my neighbors, and I"m familiar with many of the names. But I often have trouble matching them up—is Rosalie the one who waters the plants and used to wheel her elderly (now deceased) dog around in a stroller? Or is she the one who everyone seems to know really well at the  condo meeting but whom I've never once in six years crossed paths with outside that context?

Gearing myself up for the party, I thought I'd lead with helpfulness. As I came back from a run just as people were setting up, I asked if I they could use some more folding chairs. Yes, they could! Much appreciated!

The guy who organized the event—who has never once responded when I've said hello to him; he simply has not acknowledged me—sat down next to me at one point (a few minutes after asking me to remind him of my name) and said, "Let me get to know Billy!" He later escorted me to his place to show off his renovation (prompted by a devastating fire, which I knew about; I guess that can make a person cranky). A 70-ish, chatty woman who has always struck me as someone who might be fun, is a substitute teacher at my nephew's school and knew his name; she sparkled like a Christmas-tree topper when I told her where I'd spent my junior year abroad—the town was one of the most memorable stops on her first tour of Europe in the 1960s. Her husband was tickled (and surprised) to hear I was a country-music fan, as he is. A lovely woman who moved in a few months ago just bought a folding bike—which of course is one of the pleasures of my own life.

I had a nice time.

I'm not going to lie and say I learned that such social situations are always worth braving—sometimes they are truly excruciating—but I am glad I went and am, I admit it, a little ashamed that I haven't extended myself more over the last six years. 

At one point, my neighbor the teacher told me that she and her husband, who travel a lot, found the people in New Zealand to be the friendliest they've ever met. I'm sure our former condo board president will be very happy there. I wish him well.

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