Thursday, March 24, 2005

warning: incoherent rant follows

So I just returned from a small party held in a dazzlingly urbane apartment on the moneyed side of Cambridge, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and children aren't allowed after cocktail hour.

I was invited by a friend of the guest of honor, and I went as part of my continuing effort to be more sociable and less of a unibomber caricature.

I was given a warm welcome, and instructed to eat a little, drink a little, and generally have a good time.

I tried, I really did.

After spending the longest possible time poised over the buffet table in an attempt to look as though I were merely weighing every possible option before selecting just the right slice of chevre, I found myself sitting among what appeared to be Boston's most beautiful 30-somethings, taking a brief break from their hectic schedule of setting new hipness standards to celebrate the birthday of one of their own. Casual conversations about the price of land and the distinctiveness of the merlot abounded, while I sat there in my Target sweater and corduroys with the hole over the right butt cheek and felt like something with three heads.

I lasted less than half an hour.

In the foyer while making my escape, I bumped into a new batch of incoming party guests, one of whom was wearing a pair of heels and real perfume that probably would have paid half my monthly rent. Mistaking me for the real thing, she gave me a friendly hug of greeting before moving on to the party proper, and my coat now smells like Louis Boston.

On my way to the car, I thought I'd left my scarf back in the apartment. I mentally gave it up as lost, rather than facing that genetically gifted crowd again, before discovering that I hadn't lost it after all - just stuffed it into my coat pocket.

OK. A few deep breaths....

The truth is, every single person at that party was both friendly and welcoming to me. Several people made smoothly gracious efforts to include me in the conversation, and people seemed genuinely regretful when I left. In fact, the only person in the room who was actively working to make me feel inferior was me. The friend who invited me is one of the most open-hearted, least prententious people I've ever met, and I have no reason to believe that he'd be friends with others who weren't as well.

So where does this rampant insecurity come from?

I'm tempted to blame it on my formative years spent in the class-conscious South. I vividly remember when my family converted from salt-box Baptist to mint-juleps-at-the-country-club Episcopalian, and the resultant shame I felt when I suddenly became everyone's favorite "friend" to bring along for company on family vacations that my own parents could never have afforded. That, and a whole host of other subtle (and not so subtle) messages about invisible class lines that made me and my family move beside, but not among, the symphony-going, theater-subscribing, quietly racist upper echelons of Memphis society, may have left me oversensitive to such things.


But how much power can those outdated ideas hold unless I buy into them myself? Like the old adage says, no one can make you feel inferior without your permission. In the case of tonight's party, not only did I offer my blanket permission, I conjured up my own inferiority parade out of whole cloth, completely independent of the actual behavior of anyone else present.

Which means that, when it comes to allowing your own prejudices to influence your opinion of other human beings, I was completely outclassed.


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