Sometimes, the stars line up, and the world seems to ring in perfect harmony. The universe aligned yesterday, and I met a girl. She was an artist, painting in deep hues of red and yellow. My heart was her canvas.
"Come on out, Chrispy. It'll be a good time."
That was all the reason I needed. After the big first date with Erin I was excited. The day had gone swimmingly, and I was home with enough time to spare. I could stay home the rest of the evening, catching up on my cleaning, checking out what Anthony Bourdain was eating. Or, I could do what other young people do on a Saturday night and find a place with cheap booze and loud music.
I jumped in my car.
At 9 PM I arrived at Sam's apartment. Sam was a good friend of mine from a few years back. He was a talented photographer. Due to my recent research into fashion and clothing as well as our grand shopping trip, he was also a snazzy dresser. We headed out to his friend's party into the brisk chill night. Like me, Sam was prior military. Like me, he loved cartoons from Japan and video games. He was also single, but I didn't get the feeling that he was looking as hard as I was. Sam seemed like a consummate bachelor. Tall, thick and handsome, Sam looked every part the military man that I did not. However, I think it was our differences that made our friendship so enjoyable.
We walked up to our destination and I could instantly tell by looking what sort of night we had in store. A girl looked up on unsteady legs, perched at the edge of a clump of bushes in the lawn, "Hey Sam!" She was falling all over herself. We walked through the doors, into the dim blaring room. This, I thought, was a fucking party.
The one room I could see was devoid of furniture. In the place of what might have been a couch, or a television, or even a coffee table of some sort was a pile of dancing boys and girls. A little younger than me, I judged from their clothes and haircuts. Maybe they were just trendier and more hipster than I was prepared for. There was a keg in the corner as well as a suspicious plastic tub filled with a red liquid labeled only as "Juice." I knew I would be avoiding that.
Sam and I walked into the room, and instantly I was in party mode. Now, seriously, I am a shy person. It's rare for me to be able to handle an entire room of strangers, but I felt like I could take on a viking horde that night. I had Erin's kiss to thank for that. I jumped right into my "fake it til you make it."
My technique is simple. If I'm with friends, I have them introduce me to people they know. The night was a perfect oppurtunity for it since Sam knew almost everyone there. He'd say his hellos, and I'd introduce myself. I'd do my best to remember their names. It doesn't matter that I suck at names, or that I would probably completely forget their names in the course of the night, I still did my best. Often, I would repeat it over and over in conversation. "Is that right, Drew? Tell me more, Drew."
Once I had the name, I could work on building a conversation. This part worried me. Well, worried me more than talking to total strangers. I still found it hard to keep a conversation going, and I'm deathly frightened of lulls and silence. What I've learned to do is to let the other person talk. People love talking about themselves, so I tried my best to steer the conversation to a safe personal subject.
Now, after a couple of minutes, I could politely excuse myself from the conversation and find someone else to introduce myself to. I would learn their names, chat with them, and move on again. I try and get as many names and as much face time as I can. There's a reason for this jumping around, though. As people walk around, I can spot someone I had met previously and pull them into an already existing conversation. "Hey, Drew, come over here. Have you met Sasha?" Now instead of two, I would be talking to three, and I'd suddenly have plenty of opportunities to say something interesting. If I don't have anything, the conversation will go on regardless.
The beauty is that everyone sees me making friends and chatting it up.
At least, that's what I hope happens. Luckily for me, that night everything was working fine. I was chatting it up, memorizing names, getting to know people. I would go from one conversation to another without blinking. "You know Sam?" I'd ask complete strangers, "My name is Chris. I'm his image consultant." For a good while I went like this, meeting all sorts of new people. I completely forgot my awkwardness. I was dealing with my anxiety. I was having fun.
Then, a girl and I crossed paths. Even in the din and hustle of the party I could tell she was a beauty. I prepared my winningest smile and introduced myself. I shook her hand. Allison. I told her my silly icebreaker about Sam's image and my consulting. (He was even kind enough to stop by and confirm, then promptly leave.) She laughed at my jokes, and I smiled at her stories.
I realized that I wasn't running out of conversation. I naturally held it up, eager to hear what she had to say next. I was at such ease with her. It was perfectly natural for us to be standing amidst the raging party. We were an eye in the storm. I didn't need to suddenly leave. I never ran out of things to say. I felt like I was talking to a friend I hadn't seen in years.
I don't know how long I stood there talking to her before Sam interrupted. "We're ditching this party," he shook me out of my reverie, "we're going to a bar where there's some alcohol." Shit, I thought. Here I was having a fantastic time. As I was trying to quickly figure out how to get her number to call later she asked, "Can I come along?"
Sam, Allison, and I, as well as three of his other friends walked four blocks to a local bar. We sat at a table in the corner, and started ordering drinks. "Let me get your number in my cell," she asked me as our glasses arrive. I told her and glanced down as my phone chirped. Hey hey spy, she had texted me. "There," she smiled, "You are saved."
As much as I try to remember what else we talked about, I couldn't tell you. I remember her eyes. I remember her laughter. I remember my friends getting up to smoke, and leaving the two of us alone at the table, completely absorbed in our conversation. There was Allison, there was me, and there was nothing else in the world except for that dark wooden table and our two drinks.
What struck me the most about Allison was her own geekiness. Not in the same way as mine. She didn't seem to have fantasy books, sci-fi, comics, or video games. Instead, she was geeky about art. She was nerding about horseback riding. She knew of traveling and the world. She was enthusiastic about a myriad of interests, and her passion was inspiring. She was, in a word, interesting.
For an hour, maybe a hundred, we talked about everything. I missed missed offers for rounds. I missed shots. I missed final call. When "No really, this is final call," came around we were still talking. Our friends returned from their fourth or fifth cigarette and we finally noticed. We all left the bar and walked to a metro station. Instead of letting her take the underground, I offered to drive her home. On the walk to my car we continued to talk. In my car, as my GPS spat directions at me, we talked some more. Finally, completely too soon, I arrived at her apartment and dropped her off. She wouldn't let me walk her to the door. "It's too cold. Stay warm," she told me. I hugged her, and told her we should meet again.
Four blocks away my cell phone chirped. You were wonderful. Goodnight, Chris.
I felt wonderful.