April 1998
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Women and Children First

Life is short.

It's a fact. You only get seventy some odd years in this body and then it's time to check out. Furthermore, the first eighteen to twenty-two of these years are spent in total serfdom, a combination of fetching and learning. Ha, youth.

Let's face it, if you're lucky enough to get to the point where you've got a spouse, a job, kids, a house, or even a credit card, there's going to be a certain percentage of the rest of your life spent doing things you don't want to do. Sure, I'm a single, childless, cash-toting writer who rents. For now.

It irritates me to no end when I get queries like "What's the proper gift to bring to the debut screening of my friend's one-man performance-art community-television broadcast?". Or "What do I wear to a Tupperware party?". Or "How do I brighten up a blind date after she's discussed, at length the oft-ignored 'positive' side of the Third Reich?"

These are the hardest questions to answer. Tougher than royal protocol. Tougher than New York City club line etiquette. Why? Because there are no answers to these questions. They're not even questions so much as they are smoke screens. Every time someone asks me "Which fork do I use at my neighbor's kid's junior-high-school-graduation-dinner-and-sock-hop", I know what they're really asking is:

"How the fuck do I get out of this?"

Back story: When I was twelve, for reasons still unfathomable today, I thought it might be fun to join the Boy Scouts. Who knows why I did what I did back then, I mean, my entire world at that point was The New Teen Titans comic book series and Amy Stoecker. Both of which, by the way, are no longer available.

After my first Tuesday afternoon Boy Scout meeting, I found myself completely unthrilled. The meeting was a lot of singing, talking about knots and birds, learning handshakes, and so forth. Joining the Boy Scouts was perhaps, in the short span of time I had been alive, the stupidest thing I had ever done. But they made me sign something about being loyal, trustworthy, dependable, all that crap. Also, my dad, who's a stickler for commitment (and, thus, still owns a Betamax and a Mac), really recommended I stick it out. Since following a recommendation from my dad meant avoiding a beating, I was ensconced.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I certainly couldn't be sick every Tuesday afternoon until I was 16, when I would go on the road playing Police covers with that rock band I was going to start. I needed an out and I needed it quick. My solution was equally moronic. I got a paper route. Sure, I was busting my ass every day after school for $2.50 a week, but at least I no longer had to deal with those creepy handshakes, which, in my opinion, last just a shade too long. I won't get into how I got out of the paper route, there's still some litigation trickling in, but suffice to say we all learn from our mistakes and, 16 years later, I have perfected the bail.

Here we go.

Plan A: ALWAYS Have Something Else To Do

The first mistake we all make is this; when presented with the question, "What are you doing on such and such a date?", we automatically let loose with our actual intentions, usually, "Nothing". And before the word "Why?" can leave our lips, we know we've stepped into the trap. The particularly sharp among us can sniff out the trap ahead of time, but rarely muster more than the equally ineffective "I'm not sure". See-through city. Even if we follow up with, "Oh, I forgot. I have that very important thing that day". Never works.

Always have an answer for that question. Make it an activity flexible enough that you could feasibly be doing it anytime, day or night, weekday or weekend. My own personal favorite is simple enough:

Q: "Hey Joe, what are you doing this Saturday?"
A: "Saturday? Damn. I have an article due on Sunday."

There is an exquisite bonus here. If for some reason you find you've bailed out of something really cool, say backstage passes to a hot show, or showing around town someone's equally hot cousin, you can retro:

Q: "That's too bad. I volunteered to judge a celebrity supermodel bake-off and I can't make it"
A: "What? You need me? Screw Newsweek. I'm there for you."

And you look like a hero.

Plan B: The Life-Threatening Mysterious Phone Call

If Plan A fails and you've been suckered into something dreadful, you have to show. The science of bailing out post-commitment/pre-attendance has never been perfected and it probably never will be. It's like the video phone, it's always just around the corner.

But that doesn't mean you have to do whatever it is you said you were going to do. Not if you bring your cellphone. Once you're at the event, make small talk for a bit, act like you're expecting a great time. Then, show yourself to the bathroom. When privacy has been assured, whip out the phone and dial one of those automated collect call deals. When it asks you for the number you wish to call, punch in your own cellphone number. When it asks for your name, (and this step is optional, so don't do this unless you're somewhat soundproofed) yell some gibberish into the phone. Hang up, phone goes back in pocket or purse, and you have about thirty seconds to rejoin your companions.

Upon returning, say something silly like "I'm simply dying to see this one-man hand-puppet re-enaction of Amistad!". Your phone should ring on cue. Answer, and then hold it away from your ear just a bit when it plays back the gibberish you left in place of your name. Everyone will think someone is screaming at you. If you had to skip that step, just look really disturbed. Wait a moment and then say one of the following phrases:

"Car wreck?"
"Drug bust?"

Follow that with, "Oh, Good God!". Excuse yourself, apologize, and leave. Make something up later.

Plan C: Lower Their Expectations

Like all good Plan C's, this one is somewhat controversial and should only be used by professionals and only when the repercussions from hanging in could be disastrous. Like, for instance, a future invite. The process is simple. You already don't want to be there. So return the favor. Go on long and detailed tangents about some imaginary trip to the proctologist. Scratch yourself conspicuously and often, using phrases like "Damn, I shoulda washed those". Or, if you really want out, have on hand a ziplock bag with some powdered sugar in it. Drop it in front of your host. Smile sheepishly and say "Whoops! You didn't see nothin', slick".

Finally, in times of total desperation, get stinking drunk. This should clear things up in a hurry.

Plan C opens the door for some definite rumor-mongering and possible humiliation and disemployment. But hey, if you were such a damn goody-two-shoes in the first place, you'd be inviting people to Charity Elephant Sales and Pot-Luck Bingo Nights yourself. You, obviously, have other things to do.

And, like I said, life is short.




in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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