September 24, 2006

Whenever I go to a social event, a few hours after it's over I start to experience Post-Party Regret. This is a syndrome that only happens to people who worry about things they can no longer do anything about.

Before going to sleep, I slowly begin to relive all the mistakes I made over the course of the evening. I lie in bed and count them the way some people count sheep. There are two main categories: Idiotic Things I Said and Idiotic Things I Did.

Once submerged in mortification, I try to decipher which things I can let go of, which things I can let go of after a few days of obsessing, and which I can turn around to redeem myself. Then I decide who will get an e-mail, who will get a phone call, and who I can allow to continue thinking I'm an idiot.

But tonight there is a new category: Idiotic Things I Did When Meeting The Boss. We've all been there, right? I sat straight up in bed when I remembered, and had a shiver of shame.
Here's what happened: I went to the opening of an exhibition, and I treat every social situation like an obstacle course: I'm thrilled if I get through it without tripping. I had the usual social anxiety but the bar was serving real cranberry juice - not the drink that tastes like cough syrup, so that helped.

I was doing well, but after a few conversations I had to sit down. I enjoy sitting alone at parties because I like to pick out those in the crowd that I am so thankful not to be stuck talking to. I feel grateful after that.

So there I was, sitting and thinking, when who walks by but the man who runs this newspaper. He stops when he sees me, alone on my bench, and says hello. For some reason, I stay seated. You'd think I was 100 years old and couldn't get up without assistance.

Now I have to make a decision: is it inappropriate to discuss work? Maybe after a 14-hour workday, he'd prefer not to. His foot was in a cast - do I ask about his tennis injury? It's a chance to make an impression, to say something charming or funny or perceptive.
I knew I only had one shot. "So," I said, "have you ever heard of Wegener's disease?"

He looked confused. "You've never heard of it?" I said joyfully. This next part is a little hazy. I remember going into detail about this rare autoimmune disease and, as his eyes began to glaze over, a voice in my head said: "Stop talking. Now!"

But I was in so deep I had to save it. I had to make it sound interesting. Quickly I tried to make a connection - were there any presidents, prime ministers or movie stars who had Wegener's? But it's so rare, it hasn't even got a celebrity who has it.
I wish I could go back in time.

Maybe if I'd inquired about his injury I might have discovered I had the same one. I play tennis - why didn't I talk about that? I love Billie Jean King and a few weeks ago I watched Andre Agassi play his last US Open and sat weeping in front of the TV when he lost. It was so depressing. Why didn't I bring that up? We could have become buddies. Bonded for life. We could be talking about tennis right now. But no, I had to spend my five minutes with the boss talking about a disease. And people wonder why I don't go out.