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  LIFE AS A LOSER #174: "THE ONGOING POSTGAME REPORT."  
   
   
 

Some friends of mine and I have a game we play any time we all go to a party together. We don’t really have a name for it – it definitely needs one – but we pattern it after the television coverage of a major sporting event.

The Super Bowl is the most apt corollary. When the Super Bowl is on television, the network showing it inevitably carries hours of pregame coverage, featuring countless talking heads looking at the major storylines heading into the big game. Which player must have a big game for his team to win, which coach is most likely to throw his clipboard at an assistant, which poor sap is the most liable to choke in the most vital moment. Then, when the game is over and the plot has played itself out, the same talking heads gather to dissect every aspect of the contest, who played well, who didn’t, so on, poring over every little detail, singling out amusing or critical points, the ones that will be

 
 

remembered, the ones that will go down in history and/or infamy. These analysts have studied the game in and out, beforehand and afterwards, and they know every play, every player, every strategy, every technique, and why it mattered, why it was important.

In our party game, we’re the talking heads. Beforehand, we chatter about who’s going to be there, what kind of parties the host usually has, what time is appropriate to show up, laying out the plotlines, who’s gonna avoid whom, who’s gonna try to hook up, who’s gonna sit in the corner and not talk to anyone. But the real fun comes in the postgame report, where we connect the dots of all the people we know, reflect on what we’ve learned about them, gossip and chatter and mock people and venerate others and, namely, try to make some sense of it all. We’ll go on and on.

Boy, Tom really was drunk tonight. Betsy’s boyfriend is a bit of a sulk, isn’t he? I hadn’t noticed, but Dan seems to have gained a little weight since he quit smoking. It’s good to see Mike and Liz so happy. Gives you hope, doesn’t it? Greg’s such a socialite. You can just wind him and watch him go. Can you believe Rachel was there? I haven’t seen her in years. She looks great. What’s the name of that one guy, the tall one with the helmet hair and big nose? Jeff, that’s right. I can’t believe I got stuck talking to Andy for so long. One of you guys should have saved me. What did they put in that punch, anyway?

The patter is alternately catty and admiring and self-centered and goofy and everything that’s great and tragic and pointless and hysterical. It is our common language, brilliant commentary that only we understand. And these people, my friends, all those who play the game and those who use the Telestrator to describe their moves … these are all people in my circle, in my tribe, the ever-widening and contracting coliseum of my life, and their lives, the ongoing story, the neverending jam session. A bunch of clamoring jitterbugs, bumping into each other, making connections, drifting apart, supporting characters in everyone’s Oscar-winning role.

That’s what it is, actually; it’s an ongoing play we’re constantly rewriting, crumpling pages that didn’t work out right, starting anew, but always, always, writing on. And what keeps us going are our friends, those who know us, those whom we irritate and love us anyway, the ones, when the city goes dark and you’re adrift and can’t contact anyone, you naturally, seamlessly gravitate back toward. The ones who take you in and hand you a beer and ask you how your sister’s doing. The ones who tell the same jokes over and over. The ones who can’t keep a relationship going and can’t figure out why, even when it’s obvious to everyone else. The ones who are always there. They are your family. There’s no other word for it.

Look at that friend you emailed just now. What connects you with that person? How’d you meet them? What keeps you two connected? Do you even think about it? Do you even need to? It’s as natural as breathing, the background static that we don’t notice but keeps the phones working, the lines open, the trains running on time. Without them, we are vapor, wisps, a record with no needle. They make what we’re doing matter. They are more than a crutch; they are our very spine.

I was recently in Chicago, and I stayed with two old, old friends who had just gotten engaged to each other. My girlfriend accompanied me, and I did what I could to describe her beforehand, what she liked, what mattered to her, why I liked her … what they should expect, essentially. We spent the weekend, and she left a day before I did, leaving the three of us with one last night.

That night, we bought four bottles of wine, turned on some music and had our postgame report. They know me as well as anyone does; they know where all the bodies are buried, better than I do, really. They compared and contrasted her with women in my past, placed her in a certain context, pointed out how I had changed over the years, why they liked her, why I looked happier than I’ve looked in a while, and then off we went. We told old stories, sure, but it was not merely wistful reminiscence. They’re as current as they’ve ever been. They know me they way the I know them; from a genuine, kind place that just can’t wait to see what will happen next. It was our story, and we were telling it. We were getting it wrong in places, we were jumping to conclusions, we were exaggerating details for our own amusement … and we smiled and laughed and felt eternally at home. Which is where we were. Which is where we are.

It is a treasure to have all these people in my life. I am so lucky. Allow me this moment to tell them: Thank you.

 

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