I went out for drinks with some of my coworkers after work last night. I’ve been working at my new job for just over a month, so while I can maintain pretty pleasant conversations at work, I don’t really know any of these people. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out with a group of people I don’t really know without having some kind of anchor of a sibling or close friend along for the ride. The thought of doing something like that makes me pretty uncomfortable, but I know I have to just bite the bullet if I ever want to get comfortable with it. They’re a fun group of people, but I couldn’t help but notice some of my old patterns of behavior returning whenever I wanted to chime in.
In spite of my poseurphobia, I think I actually like being the center of attention. Something about putting on an act allows me to distance myself from the action; my participation becomes a performance. This manifests itself in a propensity to dive into involved stories where everyone is forced to pay attention to me. This isn’t a huge problem–normal conversations tend to have some of these stories sprinkled throughout–but because I have spent so much time avoiding going out, I actually don’t have that many stories of my own to tell. Instead, my stories are always borrowed, told in the third person about “my friend” or “my dad” or “my friend’s dad.” I think people have stories like this that they tell from time to time, but I rely on them much too heavily. They’re a crutch that allow me to highjack conversations even though I lack the experiences necessary to create my own stories. Moreover, people don’t actually enjoy these stories. They smile and laugh in the right places, but I can tell they’re just playing along. The stories lack any compelling personal connection, which makes the fact that I’ve stopped the conversation dead all the more awkward. This makes me less inclined to go out in the future, creating a feedback loop fueled by my own poseurphobia.
I’ve resolved to simply stop telling these stories. This will force me to shut up and participate in the conversation like a normal person, and will motivate me to get out and do interesting things on my own. The only problem is that I really like these stories. The thought of these good stories languishing in my memory bothers me, even if I nobody actually wants to hear them. My solution is to tell them here, one last time. They’ll be recorded for posterity, available to anyone actually interested in them, but I will stop trying to use them to make up for my own lack of anything to say.
This story was told to me by my boss at the guitar store I worked at in high school. He’s an interesting character in his own right, but this story isn’t about him, it’s about his high school buddy. After graduating, this friend enrollad at Wayne State University‘s pre-med program. Wayne State is kind of hard to explain to anyone who didn’t grow up in or around Detroit; it’s somehow a cross between your local community college and a big ten school. It’s one of the 30 biggest universities in the country, but its student population is almost entirely made up of commuters. They’re very generous with financial aid, but they’re not known for being particularly difficult to get into. My experience is that it’s an excellent institution, but it lacks the prestige of even being a school you’ve even heard of. It tends to attract very practically minded people interested in getting a degree on a tight budget. My boss’s friend fit this description to a tee.
He was living at home, and had received an itemized bill for one of his upcoming biology labs. Among the listed lab supplies was a cat cadaver, a fairly common animal used for dissection, coming in at something like $50. This being a frugal student, he decided to opt out of that particular expense, knowing that dead cats can be found for free in a (then thriving) city like Detroit. Of course, as always seems to be the case, as soon as you start actively looking for something, it suddenly becomes harder to find. He spends the next few weeks on constant lookout, stopping to inspect roadkill or check under dumpsters. As the dissection approaches, he becomes increasingly desperate to find himself a cat.
One night, home in his room, he hears a cat yowling in the alley below. Not wanting to loose what might be his last chance to find a cat, he grabs his father’s shotgun, centers the cat in his sight, and fires from his open window. His father, hearing a shotgun go off in his home in a crowded city, rushes into the room, terrified of the worst. When he sees that it was simply his son doing something impossibly stupid, he explodes. Every privilege that can be taken away is, plus a few more. The son didn’t care. He knew he had gotten his cat.
After his father had cooled down a bit, the son creeps into the alleyway to collect his spoils. Of course, a shotgun doesn’t so much kill a cat as it does obliterate it, so all he found was a greasy slick of asphalt. He ended up paying the $50 for the cadaver.
And that’s the story of the dissecting cat.