I hate them all, phony wannabies with crocodile smiles and frappe lattes. Sure, they greet you fine, but it's all superficial. Doorman? He has a name, I think. A Dennis or Dave or Dereck. Greets you cordially when you get home. Sometimes even get a how-was-your-day-sir. Quickly learned he's not that interested. “Bit of a shitter,” I replied once when new and filled with misguided and swiftly failing optimism about my big city move. His reply? “Ah, well, hope tomorrow is better,” before turning his attention hastily back to his mundane duties.
Then, a short walk through a sea of nameless faceless automatons, there's the corner shop, run by this guy who's always reading the bloody newspaper like it’s constantly updated throughout the day. Lowers it and stares at you over his glasses as you place your purchases on the counter.
“Big night?” he asks in some European accent, eyeing up my one packet of Oreos and pint of milk.
I was treating myself, and had been looking forward to it.
Oh, and don’t get me started on Emily. Emily who shall remain forever in italics to me. Emily the gorgeous barista. Always smiling, always courteous. Mixes a mean mocha. Don't get me wrong, I had no higher aspirations. I knew the only time she would see the inside of my cramped little apartment would be as a special guest star in my dreams and nightly fantasies, but nonetheless I appreciated her sympathetic ear and what I thought was genuine empathy.
That was until I saw her leave one night, closing up the cafe with a colleague and ventilating profusely about how much everyone sucks. You'd think that would make us kindred spirits. You'd think wrong.
After my morning Joe it's time to descend into the bowels of hell to catch the subway. Cramped tube packed with a who's who of no one's, crammed together like sardines. But sardines probably have a better sense of camaraderie. And sardines don’t sweat as much. Every morning I see the same faces. Backpack-guy. Pantsuit-lady. Possibly-homeless. Every morning for months. That would make us at least acquaintances, no? I once though so, giving backpack guy a cordial nod-of-the-head one morning. His response was a blank expression followed by a hasty aversion of the eyes. The same with possibly-homeless, judging me for my invasion of his bubble when his stink permanently occupies mine. Pantsuit-lady, on the other hand, reacted like I was greeting her from the corner of her bedroom.
This same continuum of disinterest extends to work. Felicia, the receptionist, greets me with a smile and a cheerful “good morning!”
I used to have a crush on her.
We slept together once, a drunken fumble after after-work drinks on a Friday night when happy hour at the bar was followed by happy minute on my couch. It was nice. She’s never spoken of it since. She's engaged now. To Ed. The colleague who makes fakery an art form. His suits are all custom-made by a nearly-blind Italian man. His car is a Merc or Beemer or Lexus or some prestigious brand with added sense of entitlement and road ownership and air conditioning as standard. Who even needs a car in the city anyway? It spends its miserable mechanical life sitting parked on the street, getting shat on by vindictive pigeons. Them, I like.
And then there's the boss. He’s one of those “if you don't mind” people. Everything is prefaced with it. “If you don't mind sending me the numbers,” “If you don't mind sitting in on this meeting...” He knows and I know what he really means is send me the numbers, sit in on this meeting... He’d save approximately an hour a day if he cut back on the false pleasantries. I feel bad for him, though, sometimes. He's never invited to work drinks, he's not really friends with any of his employees. Perhaps he has some life outside of work, filled with friends and fun. Or perhaps he’s like me.
I attend work drinks, even though they always proceed exactly the same. Ed holds court, regaling his adoring fanbase with tales of his time ‘abroad.’ I've heard of him name drop many different countries, including one which has not existed in over twenty years, leading me to doubt the veracity of his claims. Elsewhere, someone professes their crush to someone else, someone drinks too much and is bundled into a cab, someone tries to bring an outsider into our tight knit circle of colleagues. They usually end up chatting to me, as my isolation renders me accessible.
I'm not saying back home is much better. But back home, in my small town, it at least feels like when someone says it's nice to see you, they mean they're taking pleasure in your presence, rather than just acknowledging your physical, visible form. I like my sister. She’s always been good to me. I don’t care for her partner. He's in a band. Or, more accurately, he's inaband. That's how he says it, at every opportunity, whether requested or un. He lives and breathes Counting Crows covers, with a spattering of power-chorded half-rhyming pseudo-intellectual numbers of his own creation. They're just days away from their big break. Honest.
I still have friends there, too. I'll confess to some late night phone calls at my weakest moments. They've always answered. They've always been there. They are good people.
One of them suggested I join a club, advice which I attempted to take. But my interest in sports or dance or games barely matched the fervour of the other members, and I quickly lost interest.
I joined Tinder. I'm half-way attractive. I got some hits as I scrolled through the gallery of lonely single guys and gals. But after that comes the arduous get-to-know; identikit conversations about interests, work and family, poorly dressed up to make each conversation seem unique. Met up with a few. Decent people. A pleasant distraction for an evening. Even took a few home. But there was never any real connection, that instantaneous spark we all long for, the Hollywood romance that's logistically unobtainable. I made them breakfast. It's the right thing to do. And then they were gone from my life as swiftly as they'd entered, leaving me once more alone.
And I'm fine with that.