I got there about 45 minutes after four pm. Only a handful of close friends and family had arrived before me to help and prepare. The usual suspects were there, including a few new people. I had decided earlier that morning, “today, I won’t get fucked up. Nope.” Referring to my love for booze and weed. A wise commitment considering I was driving.
The host was a young and ambitious couple in the creative space. Michelle was an aspiring actor; most of her work was in commercials. Recently, Michelle got a few key background gigs in the latest superhero series being filmed in the city. Qianfan was a painter and graphic designer arriving from China six years ago.
I walked around the backyard where most of the people, and snacks, gathered. It was a cool summer afternoon. A nice break from the heat wave of the last few weeks. A group of hipster and tech enthusiasts sat on the deck under the giant patio umbrella. Most I knew, and a few I did not. The laughter was contagious. Before I realized it, my feet were stepping toward the friendly faces.
I’m known to be loud and rambunctious in my social circle, sometimes too passionate for my own good. In settings like this, I preferred to lay low and listen. At the center of attention was a tall, thin, malnutrition-looking guy with a neatly kept hipster beard. He wore a vibrant-coloured t-shirt. A mix between tie-dye and geometric tech patterns. It didn’t take long to notice that the guy was sharp and articulate. Despite looking sickly and awkward as fuck, his mannerisms were at an alpha-expert level, chatting up the crowd, effortlessly moving from one topic to another. It was like he was a Wikipedia robot with charisma. It was like he was plugged into the Internet. Blockchain, AI, history of interest rates, superhero movies, cancer research, women’s fuck’n fashion? This guy was well-rounded and well-read.
Asher was his name. And he was dangerously smooth. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so ugly and so likeable at the same time. At one point, he stopped suddenly, got up, looked me in the eyes, right hand open and out, and said, “Hi, friend. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Asher.”
I read about guys like this when I was young, back when I thought to be an expert pick-up artist. Guys who, despite their appearance, just knew how to be alpha.
So I grabbed a beer. But only one ’cause I would be driving home later.
The afternoon turned into the evening. People moved here and there. Qianfan was still barbequing while Michelle offered drinks and snacks, occasionally removing dirty paper plates and cups from view. I was still sitting on a patio chair on the deck in close proximity to Asher. I was intrigued, like watching a National Geographic film.
Like a Bombay Maharaja, Asher didn’t move from his seat while others vied to sit closer and be a part of the conversation. Asher was the most exciting man in the world. At a minimum, the most interesting person at the house warming.
Something just irked me about Asher. At first, I chalked it up to Ego. I continued to tell myself: “Don’t you behave this way sometimes? This guy is having a great time being himself. And people love him for it. Calm the fuck down, Jordan.”
But nah. My internal pep talks didn’t help, and the feeling didn’t leave.
My feelings of unease grew. Perhaps I needed a joint.
Before I could get up to leave and light one up, Amir and Aisha stood up and announced their departure. With a two-year-old daughter in tow, they hugged and kissed friends and family before heading off. Amir and Aisha were a sweet couple; very loved in our little community. Asher stood up for the first time in what seemed hours and gave the couple big hugs.
“Fuck, this guy is taller and lankier than I thought. Dude needs to eat more,” I thought to myself. I was feeling petty for some reason.
“It’s been too long, Amir. We need to get together soon, brother!” said Asher.
Three minutes didn’t pass since Amir and his family’s departure when Asher began dominating attention again. “Man, that guy Amir is a fucking gem.” He said. What started out innocuously twisted and turned in a matter of seconds. “You know, Amir has grown so much over the years.”
Okay… Where is this going, Asher?
“The guy has always been so talented. I mean, one of the most talented people I know — I’m just happy he took my advice and stopped drinking and driving.”
There it was. This motherfucker. He threw Amir under his drunk-driving bus.
Qianfan interjected in his busty English, “Yes, Asher, you’re great at helping people be their best selves.” Qianfan attempted to cut the gossip line by offering the group blueberry cheesecake. A futile attempt.
“Yah, well, I try.” Asher proclaimed.
“Mother… Fucker…” I thought to myself.
“Yeah. I mean, it was no big deal…” referring to his knightly contribution to humanity.
Asher shared more than anyone asked for.
“Amir and us would go out clubbing together. This was not too long after Aisha had Ava. And I was like, ‘dude, what the fuck is wrong with you? You have a new baby. You shouldn’t be drinking and driving.’ And he’d be like, ‘I’m okay. I only had a couple of drinks.’ But he’s changed now, thank god. He’s stopped. But man, what a fucking idiot, right? I was really concerned for a while. I told this to Aisha. I have to say, it was pretty fucking dumb of her to put up with it.”
And just like that, he transitioned off the topic of Amir and Aisha’s stupidity and into clubbing, then music, then the latest in audio technology, and then transitioned again and again. It was like the slight never happened — a moment in time-space that didn’t exist to anyone but me.
“What the fuck just happened?” I thought to myself. This fuck’n dude just threw his friend under the bus.
What fucked with me was that nobody batted an eye.
But neither did I.
Were other people in shock like me? Or were our mutual friends accustomed to Asher’s opinionated self-boosting rhetoric?
Later that night at home, the feeling of yuckiness persisted.
“Fuck him.” I thought to myself as I vegged out in front of my TV at home, trying to make sense of it. I have known Amir and his wife for years. Everybody makes bad decisions, but did this tall, lanky fucker have to discuss Amir’s shit with the community?
Should I have said something? Was I waiting for Qianfan or Michelle to say something? I mean, they were the hosts, so it wasn’t really my responsibility, was it?
I was reminded of how Sapien I am, freezing when I should have gotten up and told Asher to “shut the fuck up.” Was I being polite or weak? Was I being civilized or a monkey frozen and unwilling to challenge the king ape in the party?
I was reminded of the many times I said shit about my friends, realizing I was more like Asher than I wanted to be.
I felt gross. I felt dirty.
Nothing destroys a community like criticism and gossip.
The thought, “I wonder what they [my friends] say about me when I’m not around?” kept popping into my head. I wonder what Asher said about me after I left.
For the next seven or eight months, I kept my head down and was busy with work and study. Life went on. More parties. More get-togethers. Someone’s birthday, another’s baby shower.
For me, I didn’t want to see anyone. And I didn’t want anyone to see me.