The best of social lubricants.
Written while listening to Illusion & Doubt by The Dead South.
I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but the way that people tried to help when we “lost” our mom this summer was to bring us food.
I feel like that’s the setup to at least two jokes, because I could now either talk about how there is not enough room in the world for the amount of kindness casserole that symbolized the upheaval of strong emotion in our social circle, or I could talk about how, if she had taken a map, then perhaps she would not have got lost.
But I think probably the second segue there is in bad taste, and the first is only tangentially related to what I wanted to talk about, so if I follow it then I’ll tangent further away than I already have.
Because what I want to talk about is that in a lot of scenarios in life, nobody knows what to say. And so they bring casseroles, because they don’t know what to say, so they substitute for words with casseroles.
Imagine the world we would be living in if you could apply that trick to other kinds of situations. It might not be such a bad world.
The thing is, I feel like we would have an absolute flood of casseroles. To the horizon and beyond. Because if you really think about it, I think you’ll realize that most social situations make you nervous. At least a little. And that at least half of the ones that you might say, “No way, man — I’m totally comfortable there,” about are probably scenarios where you also think, “you know, if I have a few drinks first.”
I mean, maybe not always, but I hear that a lot.
Because that’s the great social lubricant, isn’t it? I have been seriously investigating the modern predilection for boozing up before socializing for years, because it bemuses and befuddles me. We’re talking about something that makes it more difficult to think and walk and talk and remember and doing it voluntarily in order to “have fun” with other people in public places. Having fun with people in public places always seemed like something that one would want to be able to talk and walk during and remember afterwards, and it seemed to me that drinking would be far from what people would want. But no, it turns out that the statement, “I must have had fun, because I can’t remember anything,” is in our vocabulary, and we’re cool with this.
Which I say — I can say all that. But, really, I get it. I understand alcohol, because I get that the whole world is tense and scary and sometimes it feels all right to distance ourselves from responsibility for our actions. Not only our own actions, but the actions of the entire species, in fact, which I believe we all feel at least a little responsible for. And a few drinks dulls that burden of guilt that paralyzes our capacity to just relax about things.
Which is a lot to process. So we have a few drinks, because otherwise we’re confused all the time.
I realize that by saying I’ve done years of research into boozing it up that it probably sounds like I drink a lot. You can think that if you like.
I don’t, really. Which is probably the main reason why every invitation to leave my apartment fills me with an unholy dread. Because if I do go out socializing, I want to be in full control of my faculties, so I almost never drink, and I almost never drink very much when I do drink. And, as a result, the thought of social interaction terrifies me, because I don’t know what to do when I talk to other people, and neither does anyone else. Since we’re all completely useless, then it’s a wonder that anyone ever meets anyone at all.
I brought up my mother, and the casseroles and things, because I believe that’s the ultimate awkward social circumstance. People don’t know what to say most of the time, but in the event of a death in the family it gets a million times worse. I had the strangest conversations in the wake of that event, where people would come up to me and apologize for how they apologized wrong before, and they didn’t even seem to have a good idea how to do that.
Most people who came up to me at that time just looked so confused that I found I had this constant urge to comfort everyone else. Sure, I was dealing with existential confusion, but the only real way of coping with that is time and being right with yourself. The best thing other people can do is to be present and available. So yeah, I had existential confusion, but these people all dealt with social confusion.
And that just seemed unfair.
Especially because somehow my family sort of knew what to do socially. Not sure how that happened exactly. It might be our native caring nature or something, but it kept happening that people would literally say to us that they didn’t know what to say, and we would hold their hands and talk them through it till they felt a little stronger. I’m not sure how that worked, but there you are.
The best example of it came about because of a specific story about tequila and my mom that my dad took to telling to everyone who came, bearing a casserole and a confused expression on their faces. They didn’t know what to say, and my dad told his story, and then conversation flowed just fine. And we all felt better for it.
I’ve been learning a thing or two about social lubricant. My dad helped, and all of the rest of my family.
And my mom helped, because, see, she would have laughed at the map comment above, which is frankly more important than whether you would or not. So maybe you’d think it’s tasteless, but she’d laugh, and it’s about me and about her, and anyone who “gets it” is cool with us too. I’m happy to include you in the joke. So you can either get on board or talk to somebody who suits your taste better.
Because the thing is, we’re all uncomfortable. Reality is uncomfortable. People are all too afraid to be judged to stop acting like they’re judging. We never know the perfect thing to say to anyone, because all we “know” “for sure” is that we saw that video on the internet about that time someone said something and everyone hated them for it.
So of course a couple of drinks looks appealing. Of course it does. What if we say something dreadful? Like, “you know what? I’m really proud of what you did there.” We couldn’t deal with that. There are, apparently, rules about what you can and cannot say, and if you say the wrong thing you’ll be shunned. It’s far better to have a few drinks and distance myself slightly from my words and actions than to struggle through life paralyzed by the uncertainty that is the apparent judgy-ness of other people’s judgy sneers.
Because that’s a lot more comfortable, I’m sure, than thinking about my mum laughing at my efforts to figure out how to answer the question, “How soon is too soon? Because I’ve got some good ideas for some funny comments about maps and casseroles here…”