In the first year of our marriage, I wanted to be wherever Bob was, so I accompanied him to every political event. They were, at first, horrifying.
The hall smells of perspiration and male pheromones . . . dark suits scatter like ants, foraging alone. Bob comes in, and they devour him. Invisible hands brush my fingers, greeting me invisibly. Who could I be but someone’s girlfriend du jour, an obstacle to men of purpose? The eyes on the tops of their heads scan the room for more important prey. Then they see a light, pushing past me to get to it, linking antennae, making deals, sealing them with hearty handshakes.
Those who have walked away from me do not know that I am the most important predator in the room, the one who with a stroke of the pen could leave their careers in ruins.
Thankfully, Bob’s arm shoots out from the crowd to pull me in. At times, I try to slip away and hide in a waiter’s nook or linger in the ladies’ room, but he always finds me.
“Tell them who you are, tell them about your latest Times story,” Bob advises. He doesn’t know that Lucinda the hard-driving reporter inevitably becomes Lucinda the pimply pubescent. If someone talks to me, I don’t hear a word they’ve said. Instead I compulsively study the way their hands move, the set of their mouths, the angle they hold their hips, anything that will tell me who they really are. They drift off, even flee, for I remind them of someone peeking through the blinds before they’re fully dressed.
“I can’t make small talk,” I tell Bob miserably.
“It’s easy.” He proceeds to arm me with an arsenal of amusing stories that I never can remember. “Talk about the weather, the speakers, the balloons,” he says. “Avoid discussing politics because you could be talking to the man you’re talking about. Don’t ask how his work is going, because he might have been fired that morning. Don’t mention his wife, because she may have just asked him for a divorce. Anything else is fair game. “