Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A Tale of Two Guys
***CAUTION: This is long and rambling, and leads to a not very impressive conclusion.***
One of the things I love and hate about New York is your proximity to other people. They are everywhere, which creates a certain impression of solidarity – New Yorkers seem to do everything together – and at the same time a sense of being constantly overcrowded. One result is that you are forever hearing other people’s conversations. Again, this produces mixed emotions. Occasionally it also produces minor revelations.
The other day Sam and I were out to dinner at Dumont, known for its hulking hamburgers. It was Sam’s birthday and we were bracing ourselves for a long night on the town. Maybe for this reason, we were both being rather quiet (a rarity), and this enabled us to hear the unfolding conversation of the couple next to us.
They were two guys about our age who were obviously romantically involved. One guy (we called him Glasses Guy) was taking an absolute eon to choose what he wanted to eat. He was a chirpy, decidedly gay fellow, and was wearing those big, nerdy hipster glasses. His partner (dubbed Plaid Shirt Guy) was a quieter specimen, handsome in a dark, rustic way.
Glasses Guy was struggling to decide whether he wanted a burger, a soup and salad, or a steak. He engaged the waitress in a long discussion over his quandary, weighing the various options and asking for advice. In an odd way, I found his exuberance quite delightful. He was making this selection with a kind of loving care, an almost obsessive attention to detail that few people muster for anything, much less something as miniscule as a meal. Undoubtedly, there was an element of the bizarre in it – the repeated sending away of the waitress, the long monologue debating the possibilities with himself, the strange fact that his array of options included both salad and steak. But I liked him. I kind of wanted to give him a hug and tell him that whatever he picked would be delicious.
Plaid Shirt Guy was a different story. He was sulking. The whole affair was making him furious. The fact that Glasses Guy couldn’t make up his mind was evidently both humiliating and irritating beyond belief, to the point that I could practically feel him seething next to me (he was sitting in the booth to my left, facing his boyfriend. I was sitting to his right, facing mine.)
Finally, the two guys got into it. Plaid Shirt Guy voiced his irritation and Glasses Guy kept apologizing in a whiny way saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just like to look everything over.” And Plaid Shirt Guy was becoming increasingly angry, without giving any indication whether there was another source of his distress beyond his partner’s extreme inefficiency.
“You are so annoying,” he said to Glasses Guy. Glasses Guy was at this point apologizing – “I’m sorry, baby” – and yet still defending himself: “Doesn’t it bother you to be so aware of every little thing? Why is this such a big deal?” The more Glasses Guy pleaded, the angrier Plaid Shirt Guy became. This went on for a long time, to the point that Sam and I reluctantly had to leave to go to our party. We departed the restaurant shaking our heads and agreeing how ridiculous the whole spectacle was. “Can you believe that guy?” I said. He said he could not.
The bewildering thing was that in the cab we realized we were talking about different guys. I was incredulous over the fact that Plaid Shirt Guy was making a huge stink over something so trivial. So his boyfriend was taking a long time to order, so what? Unless something else had occurred beforehand – unlikely, since no other incident was ever mentioned – Plaid Shirt Guy was blowing this way out of proportion. If he was pissed at Glasses Guy for another reason and couldn’t be civil to him, well, why go out to dinner with him and parade their argument in public?
Sam, on the other hand, was a staunch defender of Plaid Shirt Guy. “Glasses Guy was just so irritating,” he said. “He was taking forever and the other guy was sitting there waiting for him to order.” For the life of us, we couldn’t agree who was in the wrong here.
And then we realized something a bit strange. In our relationship, I am much more likely to be Plaid Shirt Guy while Sam shares certain unmistakable qualities with Glasses Guy. If anyone is going to get moody over something insignificant, it’s me. If anyone is going to make a ridiculous scene that embarrasses the other, it is he. But what surprised is that when presented with extreme examples of “ourselves,” let’s say, each of us was much more bothered by a display of the characteristics we possess than those that annoy us in the other.
I could never be with a moody guy who gets irritable without apparent cause. I dislike that tendency in myself – it manifests itself mostly in my interactions with Sam and my mother, where I somewhat unfairly allow myself the freedom to brood. Most moody people are hard for me to be around when they are exhibiting their moodiness. In this way, Sam is the perfect match for me because he is almost relentlessly upbeat and cheerful.
Hermann Hesse said: “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
I hated Plaid Shirt Guy. I wanted to squeeze his little neck and make him realize how childishly he was behaving. Maybe Sam had something of the same reaction when he came face to face with Glasses Guy. They were living, breathing cautionary tales.