I used to be better at this. I think. I’m pretty sure.
I went to a restaurant where people stand up in clumps and talk to each other. It was a gathering of people who loved my old friend – the one that passed away last week. I knew in advance that I wouldn’t really know anybody there. I wanted to go though, to honour the spirit of my friend. For her these gatherings were life blood. She would be marching from one end of the room to the other with people in tow. “Al, this is Rupert. You’re both actors and Rupert knows Bruce. Talk to each other “
She was there in spirit. But she wasn’t there so I was going to have to make small talk without her greasing the wheels. Oh hell.
I was late. Then I was later. I only finally left the flat when Max messaged asking where I was. I got an uber. The driver got stuck in such atrocious traffic around Chelsea football stadium that I got out and walked. It was cold.
Arriving at the restaurant I found myself very quickly in a conversation with a stranger who was mostly monologuing about traffic. I started to feel a bit panicky. I attempted a few contributions but they didn’t seem to affect the weft of the conversation. I stuck it out for as long as I could before pretending to be a smoker and going out into the garden. I haven’t smoked for over twenty years apart from on set. Did we used to be good at this? That guy will likely be kicking himself just before he goes to sleep. “How the heck did I go on about traffic to that guy for so long?” We needed Sophie to give us a better topic.
Out in the garden the smokers were more familiar company. I spent a few moments in raw companionship with two wonderful people. That, honestly, was enough for me.
Thinking about it I’ve never been very good at it really, the small talk. I might occasionally get the wrong kind of courage at the bottom of a glass and then find myself going on about something – like the traffic guy. I can think back to plenty of occasions where my social anxiety or my booze consumption has led to me kicking myself later. Sometimes I can hit a vein of form. I suppose I’m an extroverted introvert. Kick of adrenaline and I can play the part. But this evening was a sad and reasonably formal evening mostly among strangers. My usual solution is to bomb around being energetic and a bit silly, but it didn’t seem appropriate given the context.
I stayed sober too. I could have driven myself there it turns out as I nursed a single bottle of beer. Then I felt I could handle the mingling no more so I said my farewells.
It was cold. I walked up to the main road, caught a lucky bus, and now I’m back in my nice warm flat running a bath and thinking about pillows.