at my age, when conversations turn stagnant – and most do – as awkward silences stretch into uncomfortable ones, people will inevitably reach for the safe conversational gambit to keep the evening afloat: the wife and kids.
“so how is [insert spouse’s name here] doing?” or, if s/he is at the party, “how old is [insert child’s name here] now? S/He must be getting pretty big now.”
and the conversation moves into that Place Where Single Folk Dare Not Tread. or at least, if they do, the Single Folk Get Bloody Bored.
since most of my friends and coworkers have children, or at least spouses or significant others, for them there’s always fodder for smalltalk and chitchat about what exactly the wee ones are up to, comparing this pregnancy with the last, recommending a brand of breast pump or a pediatrician. but not me.
since i’m single, and have no girlfriend, and am usually at the party alone, when the conversational spotlight turns on me, and the how’s-the-wife-and/or-kids question is posed, it’s instead about one of two things: my cats and my car.
people ask me about my cats as if they were somehow as significant to me as actual children. they fully expect me to share funny anecdotes about how they’re getting so big! and i always have to clean up their room, they never do as they’re told, little scamps!
i know a conversation is dead, or on its last legs – or that i need to go to the bar and order another drink – when people are talking about their pets. i sometimes comply with such requests to “tell me about your kitties” but i usually refrain. i find conversations about cat hairballs and scratching posts, or hearing about someone else’s dog’s bowel movements and health issues about as entertaining and interesting as cleaning out my cats’ litter box. it’s something i endure because, at some point in my life, i was indoctrinated into the Cult of the Cat People, though i refuse to become a full, cat sweater knitting, member. people find out you have cats and, oddly, want to see pictures. they want to know how old they are and if you celebrate their birthdays. these are the Cat Cultists that freak me out a little, and make me a little uncomfortable to be associated with – sort of like Catholics and Jesuits.
no, don’t ask me about my cats. you’ll get my standard response that they’re still alive, and that i know this because the food disappears from one place, and the poop appears in another.
other people, usually those not already indoctrinated into the Cat Cult, are keen on asking after my car’s health, again, as if it were the fruit of my loins.
i drive a mini cooper, which, while there are more of them on the roads every day, are still an uncommon, or at least unusual vehicle for someone like me to drive. when i bought mine it was, and is still today two years later, the first of its kind many people have seen. i get stopped in parking lots and stop lights by people waving and yelling “what kinda car izzat?”
not that i don’t like the attention – i do. my previous modes of transport were less than unique in their day, and had little in the way of personality, save the small flourishes i added myself. driving a fun car, while it has yet to help me get laid (a fact a large number of people would find astonishing), at least makes my commutes a little less tedious, and makes road trips enjoyable.
but to ask after my mini in the same vein of conversation people reserve to talk about what percentile height and weight their umpteen month old is, and what the pediatrician said about formula versus breast milk… it baffles me. and it’s not that these are all minivan or SUV drivers, looking to live vicariously for a moment through the single guy, who can afford to drive a fun car without concern for how many baby seats it will hold (the mini can actually accomodate two in the back seat, and has the latch system already built in for easy installation). no, they ask as a courtesy, simply to include me in what they know is a painfully tedious social ritual, then move the searchlight of conversation elsewhere, often before i have a chance to roll my eyes and speak.
“it gets me from place to place,” i say. or “it’s still fun to drive.” bla bla bla. conversational background noise ensues, and someone brings up his child’s knack for sticking things up her nose, and the night tumbles onward. it would be the same if i said “oh, she just turned two. we had a birthday cake, candles and everything. i’ll send you the pictures when i get home!” they don’t care. they’re dead inside anyway, biding their time until the signal is given to call it a night, or preoccupied with how much the babysitter will demand upon their arrival home.
sometimes i actually envy them. they have the love of their lives. they have passed on their genes and know what it is they’re living for. however, one thing i often say when someone brings up the topic of my car that i never hear when people talk about their kids:
“you should get one for yourself.”