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Mr. Social's Night on the Town: Prelude

Going out and coming unglued.

On Saturday night, I went to a sake bar called Decibel.

I was invited there by the person who edits Smug, an ezine. She sent out an email with a long list of names in the CC: field, my Ftrain address included. I'd never met her, nor anyone else invited, although I recognized some of the other addresses as people with whom I've emailed via Ftrain, or who had written about my web site, or linked to it.

These were clearly kind, intelligent folks: webworkers, writers, designers, individuals who share my passions over technology, literature, art, and business, who experience similar emotional quandaries, who were kind enough to consider a stranger in their plans. I asked my friend Samuel, visiting for Friday and Saturday, to come along as backup. With business cards in my wallet, glasses over my eyes, and a hat on my head, we wound over to 9th St.

Decibel is a warren, a dingy basement dungeon, and walking in sapped my confidence, sudden as a flash flood. By the time I had reached in my wallet for my ID, I was nine inches tall, and when they lifted the rope to let me through, I was a paramecium. I had hoped to wing this, to smile and greet and see what might happen. After all, I had reasoned, if these strangers didn't like me, if the conversation was stilted, if I felt out of place, I could disappear without repercussion. But a paramecium can't shake anyone's hand. It's single-celled.

Attending an event as a stranger is not new for me: a few years before, I met a party of total strangers. I was invited to a barbecue in Montclair, NJ by a freelance client with whom I'd only spoken on the phone.

I brought cookies in a paper bag, purchased across the street from Port Authority, and let one bus leave as I sat undecided. A half-hour later, I bought my ticket and sped into the leafiness of suburban Jersey. The bus driver let me off on a quiet street. I approached the situation bravely--what could go wrong, really? But when I turned the corner and saw a throng gathered around a burning pig, I skulked away to wait for the next bus out.

I circled the block, then decided in favor of bravery, stumbled straight up to a nice-looking fellow, and said, "Could you tell me who K-- is?" She was his wife. K--, kindly, kissed me on my previously unseen cheek, handed me a beer, and let me stand quietly at the edge of the crowd so that I could have a giant nervous spasm. I went home a few hours later, a little beer-drunk and sunburnt.

I am very shy. I can meet someone across a table at work, but lacking context I fall to pieces.

Back in Decibel, five feet away, sat a group of strangers. They introduced each other, and I caught two or three names I'd heard before, putting the faces with the web sites. In about 20 minutes, the group grew larger, and they were moved to another room. I breathed a long and guilty breath.

I should have downed some sake, walked over and introduced myself, taken the chance.

Then Samuel's very nice friend showed up, her friend in tow, and it just got worse after that.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

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