“This bullshit party tonight, man,” he says. “More trouble than it’s worth.”
“Someone doing a halloween thing?”
“Yeah, it’s like a birthday-slash-halloween party. I don’t get it.”
“Just don’t go then.”
“But it’s Jim’s wife’s birthday, man. You know, Haruko? I have to go.”
Not I should go, or I want to. I have to.
But the words ring true. In fact, the unwritten rules of Being A Sociable Friend dictate it — thou shalt attend the party wearing the appropriate attire, with the appropriate fake-smile, and hold an appropriate beverage. If not an active member of festivities, thou shalt be expected to play an awkward, space-filler role, either next to the plants, or CD collections, until such a time as the host passes out, or bores of thy presence.
“So what’s your costume?”
“A skull mask.”
“You know man, I just don’t care. I don’t want to waste money on a costume. And I already know that Haruko isn’t even going to any trouble. She’s the goddamn host. The host. And all she’s got going on is an Iron Maiden t-shirt and some face-paint. If the host doesn’t go to any trouble man, then screw all of that.”
“I see. So how much time do you have to put in for it to be an acceptable appearance?”
Knowing this is key to maintaining social balance. Staying in the friend circle. If you leave too early without an adequate excuse (and to clarify, no excuse is ever really adequate — Look, I know that you have a pen stuck in your throat and the ambulance is already here. I know that. I just… I guess, I thought we were friends, you know?), you risk looking like you didn’t want to be there in the first place.
And all that work you put in as an awkward space-filler, wasted just like that.
“Probably a couple of hours, I guess. But I’ve gotten legitimately sick the last couple of days. Sore throat. Stuffy nose. Coughing. At least I have an excuse not to stay all night, you know?”
“Man, I almost wish I was bed-ridden. I’d have used the illness to circumvent going entirely but I can’t help thinking it’d come off as an excuse.”
“Yeah, I see that.”
Sickness is the easy way out. The go-to. It’s so common, no one really believes a person who says they’re sick and no-shows. Unless you die that night, or the following day, or admit to having something terminal within the week, everyone just assumes you didn’t want to be there.
“But being sick actually helps me out, kind of. Everyone will see I’m sick and still know I came, in spite of it.”
“Such a trooper, they’ll say. Wore a skull mask and everything. Coughed on the cake, but we love him for it.”
Weird that we can’t just say no sometimes.
Weird that when our friends have girlfriends or boyfriends that hold parties we don’t want to go to, we can’t just say, “You know what, how about screw your party, and I stay home and read books?”
Or whatever the more polite variation on that would be.
Weird that so many of us can’t just say, ‘No, thanks.’
“Hey, speaking of,” he says, “why don’t you get invited to any of these parties anymore?”
“Because I said no. I went to jiu-jitsu instead, or I wrote articles. Stories. I had business trips sometimes, and other times I had other stuff on. People just gave up on asking, I guess.” I shrug. “Also, because Haruko.”
“The thing, with the party, and the drinking. And then the cloakroom?”
“Ohhhh. Oh, yeah.”
Some people. You write stories, and they build an image of you. They don’t consult you about it, they just keep building. In the end, what they built? It’s not you. Not really.
Then they try to reach into your soul with their tongue through your mouth, but they never really find what they’re looking for.
They do find a good deal of disappointment though.
“What are you going to do then?” he asks. “For Halloween?”
“I think I’ll head to Shibuya. Wear a masquerade mask. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Soak up the atmosphere.”
If not an active member of festivities, thou shalt be expected to play an awkward, space-filler role.
But that space-filler role? It’s actually a lot of fun when it’s a party you weren’t invited to.
And Tokyo is full of them on Halloween.
Trick or treat, indeed.