A few years ago, after a long day spent thinking of new nouns for Homer to say after “Mmm…”, my wife dragged me to the screening of a film directed by a friend. The film was fine. The rough part was the reception.
A room full of strangers is not my favorite social scenario. I prefer a room full of people who already think I’m great. My wife, however, enjoys new people, and she was soon making friends who we would never see again. Naturally she insisted on introducing me to one of them.
Alright, I thought. A New Person. No problem. I’m no misanthrope. Just pretend to be a nomal person who’s good at small talk: look people in the eye. Listen to what they have to say. Don’t just talk about yourself. Ask questions that show you’ve been listening. Laugh even if they aren’t funny. Don’t be a misanthrope.
My New Person looked like a blond version of the actor who played Young Sherlock Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes. So I attempted conversation with Blond Young Sherlock Holmes.
BLOND YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES: So, what do you do?
ME: I’m a TV writer.
BYSH: (IMMEDIATELY) I don’t watch TV. Really, I don’t even own a TV.
Okay, look, I’m fine with people never watching TV. They’re lying, but I understand. I don’t watch that much TV myself. But why do people at parties feel such smug delight at telling you (okay, me), without hesitation, that they don’t watch TV? If you met a dentist at a party, would you announce that you don’t brush your teeth? Would you tell a structural engineer that you don’t ride in elevators?
I get it. The TV consciencious objector is just establishing intellectual superiority over my highly paid dumb thing. Yeah, I’m no stranger to “I don’t watch TV.” But this time, as an experiment, I swallowed my annoyance.
ME: Yeah, TV is lame. Um, what do you do?
BYSH: I’m a post-doctoral student in English.
(Notice here that I did not say back to him, “I don’t read books in English. Really, I don’t even own a dictionary.”)
ME: Awesome. That’s so cool. What do you, I don’t know, study?
BYSH: Well, I just finished writing a book on Thomas Pynchon.
Blond Young Sherlock Holmes turned out to be a Pynchon nut. Loves Pynchon. He’s obsessed with him. And, in his obsession, I saw an opportunity for revenge on “I don’t watch TV” that would make me the Jew-fro-ed Moriarty to his Blond Young Sherlock Holmes. But first, I had to play dumb, reel him in a little.
ME: You wrote a book on Thomas Pynchon? Cool. Very cool. When does it come out?
BYSH: Well, it’s really an academic book. You wouldn’t see it.
ME: Isn’t he like a big recluse or something?
BYSH: You could say that. I mailed my book to Thomas Pynchon himself. But he won’t read it. His publisher won’t even accept any writing based on his work.
Now, over the Reichenbach Falls.
ME: I talked to him on the phone today.
YBSH: Talked to who?
ME: Thomas Pynchon.
ME: Yeah, Pynchon LOVES The Simpsons. This is the second time he’s been on the show. I directed him over the phone from New York. He sounds like a New York Grampa. Gruff but sweet. Good guy.
This had the benefit of being true. I had talked extensively to Thomas Pynchon that day. Not about anything substantial. Mostly about which word he should emphasize in the phase, “The Frying of Latke 49.” (It was “Latke.”) But it was a lot closer to America’s second most famous reclusive author (or second most reclusive famous author) than Sherlock was ever going to get. Vengeance.
After that, there was no going back to small talk. YBSH drifted off to the cheese cubes to ponder the colossal injustices of the universe, and I was left to ponder my crime against casual conversation.
Why should YBSH feel bad that a TV-writing ignoramus had casually punned it up with the guy he spent the last 10 years obsessing over? That some cartoon goofball had traded jokes with The Pynch-dog (as I assume he’s called) shouldn’t affect his academic passion for the novelist’s work. But part of me did want the snob to suffer a little for his casual dismissal of my craft. And for that I’m not proud. But maybe now he’ll watch a little more TV.