Pettiness is one quality about myself that I am ashamed to admit. In fact, to call it a quality is a complete misnomer: there’s nothing “quality” about being petty. Pettiness is something that I refuse to share in a small group. I put it in the same bin that contains all my “serious” sins. I have no problem sharing about my idolatry of things in my life, but I am surreptitious about my pettiness. After all, I did punch a friend over a game of Sorry. This, children, is a story for another day.
As I mature, I find some solace in knowing that I’ve grown in my pettiness. But today was one of those days where I struggled to really stifle my petty feelings.
Christy and I were invited to one of her co-worker’s brother’s Vietnamese restaurant. My initial enthusiasm was stifled by two things; first, there were over 12 people there, which already triggered my social anxiety, but worse, this place specializes in sea snails. As a food. As something you eat to enjoy. Savored and satisfied. I didn’t even know there was a snail called the Periwinkle; I only thought of it as a shade of blue in which I would opportunistically shout out to appear as a learned color connoisseur. I don’t care how much I love the flavors of Tamarind and Lemongrass, I am never going to crave snails.
Despite my ironic desire to hide in my proverbial shell, I thought I’d be engaged with an over-the-top smile and more eye contact that I’m comfortable giving. I completely abandon my three-in-the-key philosophy about eye contact. I’ll do my best. And so Christy introduces me to everyone and their significant others, and I offer a teethy smile and pithy remark, I forget everyone’s names immediately.
Due to traffic, we were a tad late to the dinner, but not so late that the food had arrived. We were grateful for that. I hate watching people eat or vice versa. But because we were tardy, we sat at the the far part of the table. The dreaded corner where I’m close enough to eavesdrop on the conversation but far enough where I can’t really let my personality and story-telling shine. But it’s all good–after all, I came to support my wife. I didn’t go there to perform my stand up material.
The dinner progresses, and it’s all fine. There aren’t any social catastrophes and I go without spilling any food or drink on my clothes. All in all, a pretty good night. I don’t do much to engage, but there were moments here and there, where I’d interject a comment or a succinct story, and I’d get a pretty good reaction. And I’m not even trying at this point. As you guys know, I “thrive” off of observational remarks. These little laughs that I’d accrued, like a butterfly catcher, got my juices flowing. Maybe I was high off the sugary Thai iced tea, but I wanted to make myself known.
But here’s the thing: I was sitting at a very disadvantageous spot. It was the worst because I could hear all these wonderful dialogues, but I was just far enough where if I wanted to be heard, I’d have to speak in a voice that’s slightly softer than yelling. Imagine someone who is listening to music with high quality noise cancelling earphones and being asked a question. About that level. Not quite screaming, but like the level you need to order some peanuts from the vendor who is across the isle.
This is a bad thing, though, because my comedy juices have already started to percolate my entire being. The plane has left the runway. So I tried to interject here and there. I would try to make a witty comment or ask a funny follow-up question, and no one hears me. The worst part is, Christy is next to me, so she hears all my attempts to join the this lively discussion, and she suggests that I say it louder. She suggested, not in an innocuously helpful way, but a way to put a microscope of my utter failure to join the party.
There were a few promising moments. One time, I brought up the new Halal Guys that opened up, and that conversation lasted a few minutes. But someone hijacked the controls by describing it as great clubbing and drunk food. Or this one time, Careless Whispers came on (the instrumental version), and screamed, “yo, this is my jam!”. I thought this was a great opening for me to get in, another guy took it, as if I were handing him a baton, and talked ad nauseam about the sexy saxophone player and the viral YouTube video.
This is where my pettiness comes in. This one guy, who has the perfect placement in terms of seating, is just killing it. And he knows it. He milks each and every story, and I can tell they are his go-to stories. Everyone has them. Stories people stash in their back pockets to use to ease the tension. All eyes were on him and I realize that more and more I felt like I wanted to get involved. I felt like a kid trying to enter the double dutch, but as soon as I garner the courage to go in, another kid just jumps in, greeted by the raucous laughter from the crowd.
At this point, my train has lost some of its steam and I decided against my comedy routine. Like a crestfallen child, I crumple up my mental comedic notes I had made, and was resigned to being one of the audience members. “It’s ok”, I thought to myself. There’ll be more opportunities. And then this guy, I don’t even remember his name, but offers me a bone. He sees my lifeless eyes, and asks me if I had any pets growing up.
“Aha! This is my moment! Carpe Diem!”
I told them that I used to have fish, none of them lasting longer than a month. I told them that I liked reptiles and said I was allergic to cats and dogs. My one shining moment. The climactic moment in which I could regain my throne as comedic giant. And I give the answer that I did.
Nothing. You could probably hear the sound of an empty periwinkle snail hit the floor.
I wanted to tell them I wasn’t ready and that I had a terrible seat to really thrive. I wanted to tell them that I was funnier and that I was caught off guard. But in that moment, I was just a blowhard that tried too hard. And the worst part was, this guy rebounded off my failure, and slam dunked with a joke about how he had a pet cow named Petey and that how he provided enough meat for six months. You could’ve sworn Dave Chappelle was doing a special gig right at our table. And it was at this point I excused myself to the bathroom, but I didn’t have to pee; I had to look at the mirror and wonder what’s wrong with me.
And so this is me and my petty self. I’m glad that these moments happen less as I grow older, but I realize that I’m never immune to succumbing to such moments. But more than anything, I’m glad that I put something on paper and I was able to share this moment.