Another room of strangers, engulfed in a tense silence, reminiscent of a family gathering before the bitterness begins. The barely-audible newscast on the television angled down from the back corner, near the ceiling, is the clang of cutlery in the comparative world – a subtle noise that manages somehow to fuel the awkwardness. There is an implied order that nobody wants to upset – the plight of the polite. Their empty smiles show desperation. If you look, really look at any of them for even a moment, it is obvious that they all want something to happen. They look for a disturbance, but they look outwardly and unconsciously, unwilling to let themselves be the cause of it. In a world where the goal is to not offend, nobody will willingly disrupt. A mob mentality waiting to happen, a mob waiting for a leader. There are times when one person will speak up – nothing bewildering, just a simple comment, reminding everyone that human contact between strangers should not be feared, and that its absence is absurd here in the most mundane of contexts. This sound shouldn’t, but it changes everything. It turns the key, sets us free from the nervous boredom making its way around the room. Today this stranger doesn’t exist. And so we sit in a pool of stillness, devoid of communication. Tomorrow I may be the stranger, if I allow myself to be. Or someone else will. Or nobody will. And this will all be repeated, by an entirely different group of people. Its prevalence justifies its existence, even when we all know it is wrong.
Something a little different, that you couldn’t predict based on the situation. Not “Hello, where are you from? It’s hot out today?” It doesn’t have to be anything too extreme, like “Have you reached a solution recently? Once you solve a problem, bestowed upon you by the universe, everything’ resets and you are given a new problem to solve. You don’t know what the problem is, and you don’t always remember there is one. Every now and then you consider it might be this way, but part of the structure of the infinite game is to make it difficult for your brain to fully process this aspect.” The brief utterances of the two people forced to sit next to each other are disguised as communication, but the unnecessary apology followed by the commentary on the weather means less than nothing. We all buy into the small talk, paying the price to be polite, at some point. It can lead to something more than nothing, but generally it does not. Either way, the over-thanking, exceedingly apologetic is a defense against potential imposition, not an attempt at real discovery.
The man across from you took his shirt off during a perceived dare in a bar two nights ago, but here, without the fuel of alcohol and expectations and darkness, he remains seated as an introvert, focussing on the words on the wall in front of him, words he has no intention of retaining. We are all here of our own volition, but not by choice. Look at the person to your left inquisitively. If questioned by them at any point, even implicitly, tell them they look like one of your parents to such a degree that you two may be siblings. Then turn away while shaking your head, dumbfounded but moving on. If, however, you are questioned by somebody else, somebody who has taken it upon him or herself to protect the person you out-of-nowhere decided to stare at, tell them that they look like your son.
When is it my turn? I was here before her. She doesn’t even look that sick. I’m busy. Do they think I have nothing to do? Don’t tell me to come in at 10:45 if you’re not going to see me at 10:45. I’ll come in whenever you tell me. I get that you’re the one providing the service, but it’s hard to call it a service at this point. More people are rotating in and out. Sonder tells me they think they’re special. I think I’m special. Even if I don’t care what they think, I still do nothing. There are options. Unfortunately I don’t know what they are right now. So I do nothing.