The group was gathered near the corner of the living room. Before I even heard what they were saying, the arrangement spoke to me clearly; attractive, blonde female, holding a glass of red wine and readily holding forth on any topic that interested her; huddling closely to her were three men, young, but dressed to perfection in academic-chic, struggling painfully to look as casual as possible. Whatever she was talking about seemed quite interesting; I moved closer to hear.

“Ever since I was young, I noticed a strange paradox about human interaction and human society. I noticed that…”

Sigh. This is where I start to drift off. “Ever since I was young” usually prefaces some claim to embryonic genius; as if her wiring were always just exceptional enough to see some facet of life unnoticed by others for millennia. Sorry to rain on your parade but your radical ideas about society, life and philosophy have already occurred to others. As she basked in the glow of patronizing attention, I shuffled off to another part of the room to think.

What if you actually had a radical idea about society, life or philosophy, I wondered. Would anyone even want to listen? Being stuck in line behind people who have claimed such a thing, it would take me several years to get a coffee at Starbucks. Whole forests have been felled so people can write about how much bullshit capitalism, religion and tradition is. Sigh. That radical observation about forests being cleared for capitalist critique has probably already occurred to someone else, too.

I looked back at her. Wine was sloshing over the edges of her glass with the profundity of her hand gestures. Of course for the academic, there is nothing more embarrassing than spilling something mid-flight in some pedantic epistemological argument, and for the listener, nothing more satisfying. It is nature’s way of telling you that, the red wine stain on that white couch is real. Your critique of Manicheistic thought as a governmental social control tool is not.

I wandered back towards the group. A couple of the men now were trying to expound upon her ideas with their own insights, of course also held since youth. Or, to be more accurate, sentient organism attempts to court opposite-gendered sentient organism with intellectual puffery. That same man born 50,000 years ago probably would have dropped a steaming carcass at her feet instead. In any case, this free exchange of ideas was her cue to excuse herself and move to another part of the room.

I stood there holding a beer bottle which had been empty for a few minutes now. The beer wasn’t mine, so I wasn’t going to ask for another; but I certainly wasn’t going to throw it out either, I feel naked without it at a party. If I’m holding a beer, I’m part of the action, one of the group; empty-handed, I’m a wallflower, an outcast. I was about to go to the bathroom and fill the bottle with some water when she walked right over to me, hand extended.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Chloe.”

Chloe. I could have guessed. I shook her hand. “Andrew, I’m Brett’s friend.”

I don’t feel important enough on my own, but dropping Brett’s name gives me the necessary social validation to continue.

“Brett eh? So how do you know him? He's been a friend of mine for a couple years now." I stole a glance across the room; Brett was standing tall, smile on face, hand on wall, wooing like he does best.

"Oh, we've been friends for a long time, back since elementary school". Take that. Length of acquaintance = advantage Andrew.

"Ok I see! I've noticed you wandering around, listening in. You know if you want to say something, everyone's opinion is welcome!" The three men were still intellectually outdoing each other in the corner, trying to settle on a victor until Chloe came back.

"Oh, I'm just not cut out for strong debate, I guess. I keep my opinions to myself."

Chloe's cheerful face darkened; her eyes narrowed slightly with annoyance. "So you just walk around, listening to other people's conversations, passing judgement and moving on? You probably feel very smug with yourself."

Smug. That's not a word you hear everyday in conversation. I like it. "No, I don't think I'm better than anyone else, you know. I-"

Chloe interrupted me. "No, you do. I know people like you, walking around, judging everyone and everything that crosses your path because they're not real enough or some shit. You can't take one step outside yourself without thinking you've 'betrayed your values'."

Damn, she read me perfectly. The pretty ones always know. "I don't know what you're talking about, Chloe. I think I'm just shy or something."

She looked me in the eyes. "You spend so much time worrying about being 'real' that you cease to exist. I'm not afraid to have an opinion and-"

"You're not afraid to look like you have an opinion."

Chloe gave me a look, a mixture of pity and exasperation. "THIS is what's real, you know, and you can't hide from it forever. Swim or sink, Andrew. It's your choice." She glided off to the next group, all smiles and grace. Damn she's hot. Beauty and attitude - it's a dangerous combo.

Sink or swim, Andrew. It's my choice. I went to the fridge, took out a beer, and walked towards the nearest group. Two men and an older woman discussing health care reform. *shudder* God knows what knee-jerk, partisan opinions they might have.

A pause in the conversation. Sink or swim, Andrew.

"Well ever since I was a kid..."

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