(by Daniel R. Jones)
[Note: this piece was first published in issue no. 3 of the print journal “Black Rabbit.”]
…because I’d already unpaired from Jayce as soon as we were through the double-doors.
Jayce knew I don’t like swanky cocktail parties, but he made me come under the guise of networking read: self-aggrandizement and he was soon in semi-circle with his associates, wagging that silver tongue I fell for two or so years back.
And there was Jayce, neck deep in an anecdote about a sales-call down south, lurching forward in his easy chair like a hunter waiting to pounce. He tells it like he’s letting them in on a secret, and the half-dozen or so are just eating it up, just waiting for him to be out with it.
But this is the eighth iteration I’ve heard of this story, and sure, it gets more polished every time, his gestures wider, his modulation punchier, but there I was, white-knuckled during the pregnant pause, holding my breath, just gritting my teeth as he lets out the punchline: Make your mind up and mind your make up!
And the circle is erupting in guffaws and women from each of the circles on the room’s periphery are turning to see what the commotion is about and men out of earshot are smirking like they were in on the joke, but they’re really just embarrassed they’d chosen the wrong company to keep and they wish they’d heard the line-heard-round-the-mixer for themselves.
But because I’m a lady, I closed my eyes before I rolled them.
So, here comes Tyson, who I found out later was the mailroom clerk. Turns out, he wasn’t on “the list,” but he managed to slip in unannounced by wearing the same garb as the caterers: black slacks paired with a white button down, a black bow-tie, and shiny black oxford shoes. This actually makes me like him more, but anyhow he must’ve somehow seen the eye roll.
He asks why I don’t find Jayce funny and I say, “He’s my boyfriend, and I’ve heard that one before.”
And he wonders aloud “How can Adam be at ease with his rib wandering ‘round the room without him?”
“You’re clever, but I’m just playing from the script,” I say. “At a cocktail party, a man’s worth is judged by the number of people he can greet when he walks in. A woman’s is — by the number of people she can ignore.”
Tyson had a laugh at that, and it felt good to know I’d made an impression.
“But really, why aren’t you with him?” Tyson asked.
And I guess it was the whiskey sours, but soon I was railing on about how Jayce put on such a good act, and I fell for the character he plays, but a time comes when a woman wants to meet the man behind the mask, and come to find out there’s a mask behind the mask and he’s masks all the way down.
“He sounds like a headache I had last year,” Tyson said, with the perfect balance of empathy and apathy.
I wondered, for a minute, if Jayce would question me for talking to Tyson. But even if he did manage to find the time to cast a glance my way, he’d figure I was just chatting with “the help. Then as if he read my mind-
“I like your dress.”
This surprised me, because it was just a mustard-colored off the shoulder maxi dress I picked up off the rack at Macy’s. But I was feeling flirty so I decided to test him.
“It’s not too suggestive?” I asked.
And just when I was ready to write him off, he said:
“It has to be suggestive. If it’s art then it has to be suggestive.
“Please,” I said. “Elaborate.”
I think everything in the physical world has to have an artistic analogue. There is no preference or taste or desire that isn’t a metaphor. So, all fashion is suggestive—whether of sensuality or a particular aesthetic. And I’d venture to guess nothing is so repulsive as a man whose idea of ‘fashion’ is a navy-blue button down and pleated khakis.”
He nodded toward Jayce.
“I guess Jayce prefers function over fashion,” I shrugged.
“No, it’s worse than that. Loving a pair of carpenter jeans is functional. Utilitarianism, at least, is an ideal. Some people believe in that ideal. But having no connotation—believing in nothing—that’s unforgivable.”
“How does a guy as smart as you not get invited to this party?” I asked.
“I may be smart, but we can’t all be hotshot salesmen. Some of us just have to be regular Joes.”
Tyson stops to think before saying, “Sprezzatura.”
Which of course, I’m unfamiliar with, so he explains:
“Sprezzatura is an old Italian word that means ‘a practiced, rehearsed nonchalance.’”
And that’s the moment I realized that’s Jayce to the “t,” and with Tyson having cut so clearly to the heart of the matter, he was in my good graces, which is why, when he suggested we leave the party, I wasn’t indisposed. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked what he meant. I was trying not to hear more than I heard. I’m a kept woman, after all.
And he said, “Self-imposed naivete is a poor stand in for innocence.”
And it just sounded so clever; he seemed like the kind of guy that Jayce should’ve been; and speaking of Jayce, I don’t even think he noticed when I left, but Tyson was so kind and his hair was so dark and his eyes were so light and I know it’s not the first time it’s happened and I should be sorry but there comes a time when it just no longer makes sense to say “This isn’t me.”