Monday, January 16, 2006

Quiet Flirting

A handful of people sat in a cordoned-off section of the Canvas Café, at tables bearing fresh white index cards and ballpoint pens. They were guests at a Quiet Party, where speaking aloud is forbidden. Instead, you must write everything down. I thought this was a brilliant idea. Here communication would be stripped down to the essentials. People wouldn’t bother with idle chitchat—they’d soon give themselves carpal tunnel. Instead, we would quickly discover how much of what we say about parties is really worth writing down. Maybe we wouldn’t use words at all. Instead we would truly get to know each other as human beings, gazing deep into each other’s eyes, the windows of the soul. Or maybe we’d just play endless games of Hangman.

My friend Chris and I sat down at a table with a pale man in black, and a pretty, curly-haired young woman. Everyone stared furiously at the blank paper in front of them, as if they’d just begun an exam. Then the curly-haired woman wrote: “Have you come to one of these before?” The man sitting to my right passed me a card saying “Hi! My name is Ed.” And a fellow with thinning hair tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card saying in crabby handwriting: “You have incredible eyes. What do you do for fun?” My heart sank. Instead of distilling what they had to say to its purest essence, people were just saying exactly what they normally would at parties—only it looked twice as boring written down.

The dark-haired man opposite me wasn’t writing anything. Then he slid a message across the table: “Soon someone will crack and speak,” it said. I seized this opportunity to deviate from boring small talk. “Then they will be severely punished,” I wrote. “Sounds like fun,” was his response. I scribbled: “Their tongue will be torn out and fed to pigeons, and then they will be locked in a dungeon, and not the S&M kind.” He flinched. Unable to use my tone of voice to signal that I was kidding, my playfulness had fallen flat. After that, obviously believing me to have a violent, sadistic nature, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I sat staring glumly into my lap, suddenly afflicted with writer's block.

My therapist once asked me why I wasn’t comfortable with silence. Perhaps she was bored with listening to me talk, but I think what she meant was that in silence I might find the real me. Instead of trying to entertain people with jokes and stories, in silence I might learn to just be myself, or better yet, just be. But persiflage was so much part of my personality that without words I felt as if I was fading away.

Next to me, Chris was flirting with the curly-haired woman, who was giggling like a schoolgirl passing notes. Although the Quiet Party wasn’t a good place to have a conversation, it was a great place to pick someone up. After all, when you’re flirting with someone, your body language matters as much or more than what you say. And usually when talking to someone, you take meeting their eyes for granted. But at the Quiet Party, where people spent most of their time looking down as they wrote, meeting someone’s eyes was a much more powerful experience.

I didn’t want to make bedroom eyes at some stranger. But if I couldn’t flirt, at least I could help other people do so. I started writing “You’re so hot!!!” on note cards and throwing them surreptitiously over my shoulder. When Jason threw a rock among the skeleton warriors, each suspected his neighbor and soon they were fighting each other. I thought my notes would be like his rock, only instead of fighting, people would be exchanging phone numbers. Sure enough, when I left soon after, people were scribbling furiously, index cards snowing to the floor.


Anonymous Mark said...

This sounds like fun. They should have a party where you can talk, but no one can see, like you're blindfolded or it's pitch dark. And then they should have a party where everyone is in straight jackets. Or you could have all three combined, and then pretty much all you could do is kick people.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Dear Helena:

I am consistently impressed by your witty and prescient prose. Will you please just write a best-seller and get this whole thing over with?

Hoping so in Hampton,

Reginald Gilbertson-Gilbertson

3:01 PM  
Blogger Tommy Barrett said...

I love your writing as well Helena, especially your article (on your website) about Yale's bloodsucking ways. I disagree with Richard's comments in one respect: it is because your writing is witty and prescient that you have not written any bestsellers.

4:00 PM  

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