I was sitting in the park last week with a good friend, a friend of his, and two friends of that guy’s — a curly-haired girl with a happy kind of laugh-y attitude, and a blond hipster with a crooked smile in cutoffs. After the two appeared with bikes and sat beside us, I engaged in standard friend-making tactics.
A smile, an introduction, an earnest compliment, that compliment repeated when I thought it wasn’t heard (because who the eff doesn’t respond to a compliment from a new acquaintance?), a second, less earnest compliment when the first fell flat, and then silence.
Did they not see me? Did they not hear me? I once wrote a story about a boy who was invisible. I wondered, was this solipsism? Was I creating the universe? Was fiction now reality? Because I am effing crackerjack at making friends, and this should not have been happening. This is not a thing that I have trouble with, except in New York, where, as with breathing the air, everyone has a little trouble with it.
My friend went to the bathroom and left his puppy in my charge, a French Bulldog named Cee Lo. He and I relate, and we tend to bro down hard. So I was at least not alone. We held each other, and I wondered what to do. Because it was now apparent that — oh God — these people didn’t want to be my friend.
I tried to contribute to the conversation, to ask questions, to draw parallels. I tried to illustrate common ground. The hipster was applying for work at a startup that my company invested in. A company where I know people. Bizarrely, I had just been trading emails with one of the founders that morning. An in!
“Yeah?” said the hipster, in a lazy kind of ‘meh’ voice (to what? To who? To — no, come back!).
He turned to the girl with the curly hair and changed the subject. It was New York, now. But hey, I lived in New York! I love New York. My mother grew up in Manhattan. My grandfather bootlegged liquor for an Italian restaurant there, during the Great Depression when he was small and cute. He later became a prize fighter, then worked on bridges and tunnels. I would one day be called ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ because I was raised in New Jersey. That is a funny story. I will tell it to you please?
“Cool,” said the hipster (to what? To who? To — no, come back!).
He looked at the sun and sighed. My friend was still at the bathroom. Cee Lo whimpered, embarrassed for me. But the girl with the curly hair brought up Spain, and it became apparent that the hipster once lived there.
And so then I knew I had him. This was money. This was oil, struck. Struck hard. We were meant to be friends, he just didn’t realize it, and I was going to help him understand this, because I once lived in Spain as well. And I’m Spanish. My grandmother on my father’s side moved here from Galicia when she was 10, and my grandfather’s parents were from Santander.
“Oh, cool,” I said. “Where did you live?”
“I lived in the south with my family,” he said.
“You’re Spanish?” I asked.
Now, I’m totally white. He had no way of knowing that I was Spanish. I’m from the Jersey Shore, and when people ask me what I am my brain goes straight to the boardwalk, to cheap beer, to the scruffy stoner golden-hearted masses of the American suburbs, and to my many chain-smoking, sarcasm deploying, emo queens of darkness. My muses. My people. But there wasn’t much immigration to America from Spain, and so I always find it interesting when I meet another dude or dudette with a background in the region.
“No,” said the hipster. “I’m not Spanish. I’m Norwegian.”
AND THEN, WITHOUT FLINCHING, WITHOUT AN IOTA OF SELF-AWARENESS, TOTALLY, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SERIOUS —
“Pero son mi familia del corazón.”
‘But they are my family of the heart,’ he said, in effing Castiliano. With his fist. Over. HIS HEART. His friends looked at him impressed, like, “God, that is so real. You are so real and I feel you. I feel this.”
I think that my mouth was actually agape. The display was totally absurd.
My judgment was immediate. Away from home, I don’t even like pronouncing food words in Spanish (the only bit of the language that I knew growing up). “ChoriTHO,” for example. Accented, nobody knows what that is unless they have roots in the region, which, again, almost nobody in America does. My thinking, here, is that to use the word, then, would be really asshole-ish and weird.
The hipster with the crooked smile, on the other hand, had no way of knowing if I spoke any Spanish, and my suspicion is that he knew his friends did not. This means that he had decided to say something in a language specifically so that he would not be understood. To say, I am something that you can’t understand. His friends absurdly accepted this from him. Appreciated it, even.
But to me it was only jarring, and then… kind of funny. That look on his face, like, ‘I am feeling deep, deep alienated pain right now.’ A moment prior, I was trying to befriend that. What was I thinking? I threw my head back and I laughed, and laughed, and Cee Lo snorted but I think that he was laughing too, probably, because Cee Lo just wants to have a good time and to nap a lot and he is very real. He has no room in his life for phony bullshit, and neither do I.
In a strange kind of flash, I thought of a girl I hadn’t thought of for a very long time. Melanie O. I had a crush on Melanie for two years, all through the second and third grade. God, I wanted her to like me, and I tried everything. I made jokes, I told stories, I shared my glue. I once went up to her in the cafeteria and sang “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” by the Temptations. There was a long quiet, after.
“You have a booger,” said one of her minions.
I did. But that’s not really the point. Melanie drove me insane. Why wouldn’t she talk to me? Learn me? Be my friend?
And then one day, while I was positioning some action figures for battle with me (I would often pretend that I was a giant robot), she passed by and laughed. Her friends laughed, too.
“You’re playing with Power Rangers?” she asked.
It was so basic. Who would make a mistake like that?
“They’re not Power Rangers,” I said, horrified. “They’re X-Men.”
What kind of monster… ?
My horror gave way to disgust, as a deeper understanding of this girl seeped into me. I was abruptly, and totally, repulsed by her. She seemed taken aback by the intensity with which my disinterest in her being became so suddenly apparent.
And it was over.
Because if someone doesn’t want to be your friend, it’s almost certainly for the best. Invariably, the folks on your level will find you. You will find them. Nothing will keep you from nerding out about Gambit’s ongoing solo title or <i>Pinkerton</i> or the secret subway station at the end of the 6. You and your people will be drawn to each other as if tugged in close by the invisible strings of your heart. You are spiritual blood.
Trying to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be your friend? Hear me, brothers and sisters, it ends like this: in the final act, done laughing at a confused hipster with a crooked smile, you will turn around, you will curl up on your side, you will gaze out at the skyline of San Francisco in the sunshine, smiling, and you will nap with your love nugget named Cee Lo.
Because these are not your people, and they’re never going to be your people. But that’s okay.