All I could think as I sat there wondering what to say to the nervous, moist, pink man across the table was “damn Morris for putting me on the spot like this.”
I was having a pretty good time at my cousin’s wedding reception: drinking a few drinks, admiring the men in their suits, schmoozing with the out-of-town relatives. I saw my cousin Morris, a fast-talking real-estate attorney, sitting at a table at the edge of the dance floor. Being in-between conversations, I walked over to say hi and see what Morris had been up to the last 8 years. Morris was delighted to see me. I had no idea he liked me so much—we were never that close. He invited me to sit down and introduced me to the other man at the table. The next thing I know, Morris excuses himself to get another drink and there I sit, face to face with Buddy Mitchell.
I’d heard one or two things about Buddy Mitchell and none of it was fodder for stimulating conversation. He had never married. Had never even had a serious relationship. Morris had helped him get a clerical job with a real estate firm about 12 years ago, before he left Memphis for LA. Not much of a job but Buddy really needed it and it’s probably the nicest thing anyone ever did for him. He still considers Morris a great friend. Some friend, ditching him like that!
So there we are. Buddy’s pale blue eyes look at me anxiously and his wet, fat little mouth wriggles into a shy grin. It’s obvious he’s waiting for me to get this tête-à-tête off to a glorious start. It’s not going to be easy.
I look him in the eyes and say with my most sincere fake smile, “So what have you been up to?” My goal, of course, is to get away as soon as possible without being blatantly rude. The beads of sweat that were on his cheek when I sat down have started to run down toward his collar. He’s the only man here who hasn’t unbuttoned his shirt collar or at least loosened his tie.
“I’m still working at Morning Properties” Buddy answers. “Same job that Morris helped me get. It sure is good to see him again.” He seems embarrassed for me to stay and desperate for me to stay at the same time. “And I have a new cat that I got from the Humane Society”.
I don’t know what to do. Morris is as far away from us as possible while still being in the same room. I’m pretty sure he’s not coming back.
We talk about cats and jobs and other things people talk about when they don’t really have anything to say. We’re both fine. We both have been busy. We like our pets. We tolerate our jobs. Our families are healthy. The weather is nice. And then we are once again at an impasse and I’m starting to fidget and look as uncomfortable as he does.
The band starts playing “I Honestly Love You”, the sappy old Olivia Newton-John song that I’ve always hated. Just when I think things couldn’t get much worse, Buddy asks me to dance. For a split second, before I recover my cool, my eyes betray the disgust and terror this suggestion provokes. Good grief! I now have a choice between being a complete bitch, continuing the unbearable small talk, or spending 5 minutes at close range with this pudgy, polyester-clad mouse of a man. I swear the only reason I decided to dance was because it would give me an easy escape at the end of the song. I swear!
So out we trot to the dance floor. Buddy really is trying to be a gentleman: letting me go first with a little bow and an “after you”. He’s just so damned bad at it. So nervous and spastic and unconfident.
We dance stiffly, like two wallflowers at the junior prom. His anxiety and low self-esteem are starting to infect me. Finally Olivia breathes out her last “I honestly love you”. You can imagine how happy I am. It’s my cue to get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, my mumbled “thanks Buddy, see ya later” is completely inaudible as the band cranks up the next song, a rollicking rockabilly tune.
Who knew? I guess Buddy is a rockabilly fan because the first few chords really made him bold. He gets a big grin on his face, grabs my arm and attempts to twirl me. I will not be twirled! I raise my arm straight out in the “STOP” gesture and lean forward to push against his chest. Push him away. I’d had enough. So strange. My hand goes straight through his chest and into his marshmallow body which basically envelops me with its softness. And as I shift my body back, to retrieve my hand and run from whatever is happening, his whole body moves with my hand, like we’re tractor-beamed together. Our eyes lock too. We both have our mouths open in wonder or dismay or something, and we dance this impossible dance for several seconds until finally I move back and our bodies part. I don’t know if it really made this sound or not but I swear, when we pulled apart, I heard a sound like I had just yanked my hand out of a raw chicken. Kind of a slurp sound.
There’s not much more to tell. We were both shocked and neither of us knew what had happened or what to say. No one else noticed anything strange. I just kind of mumbled something and shuffled off to the bar and got a beer and stood there and drank it down really fast. Then I went home. Kind of in a daze.
All I can say is it has humbled me a little bit. I don’t judge people quite as harshly. I mean it really doesn’t change anything. Buddy is still a dweeb. But that’s not all he is. He’s a person too. A person who can exist inside a magic moment. And if Buddy can do that and I can do that, then I guess it can happen anywhere. I really hope so.