How many times has this happened to you: your friends invite you to the bar and you arrive to find an interloper sitting in your chair?
This man, with his half goatee and camouflage cap, sticks out amongst the artistic misfits you usually hang out with. He slams the table, drawing the attention of the wait staff. He enunciates the words ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, like an alien who’s read about laugher and mistaken the onomatopoeia for the real thing.
Your friends look to you with pleading eyes, hostages too scared to signal for help.
The interloper flashes you a nasty sneer, a wolf signaling that this is his deer carcass. When it’s clear you’re joining the table he stands for introductions.
“I should warn you I come with a trigger-warning.”
He doesn’t shake your hand so much as he yanks it by the wrist. He says his name is Tanner.
You have to ask, “So how do you know everyone?”
Tanner doesn’t. He was eavesdropping, interjected himself into the conversation, and played musical chairs until he sandwiched himself between the women. Your friends were just too Minnesota nice to get rid of him.
He’s your problem now.
You’re trying not rush to judgment, but Tanner is determined to get there first. He drops conservative code phrases in casual conversation, calls himself old school, calls the waiter a cuck with a hard C, tells a couple that glances in his direction to go back to their safe space.
Before long Tanner’s on a rant about all of the “woke-splaining, virtue signaling, echo chambering, social-justice-libtards” who hang out in this bar. The only thing that slows him down is a notification on his phone. He flips the screen around and presents a snow emergency alert like it’s a revelation. “I wouldn’t go calling this global warming.” He mutters, “Fake news” as he slides it back into his pocket.
Conversations are supposed to be a game of catch, but Tanner holds onto the ball. He wants to share his thoughts on Shariah law, to have a deep state debate, to go through a line item checklist of everything that sucks about political correctness.
It turns out your friends have some nuanced takes on each of these topics, but Tanner doesn’t want to hear it. He sees things in black and white. When it comes to shades of gray he’s colorblind.
There’s a merciful lull when Tanner feels a need to sneeze. Your eyes shift to the mounted televisions above the bar. The news is on. Oh, for the love of fuck, the news is on.
Tanner sucks his lip into his under bite. Something is stuck in his craw. It’s on the tip of his tongue. He’s held it in this long, but it’s only a matter of time before he takes a big runny Trump on everyone’s evening.
When a Hispanic barback clears the neighboring table Tanner mutters, “I can’t wait until Trump builds the wall.”
There is no way you’re letting this administration dominate the conversation. It’s time you the aspiring author and hero of this story swoop in for an interception.
“Hey guys! I just finished my novel.”
Usually your friends aren’t too keen on being captive audiences for your pitch sessions, but tonight with Tanner itching to share his love for the President, they’re looking to you like Moses on the mount.
“What is this one called?”
“I Am Fire.”
“What’s it about?”
“Yeah, tell us everything.”
This is where you spread your fingers and dazzle everyone with your tagline. “A game of truth or dare turns deadly when someone brings black magic to the party.”
You lean in, encouraging everyone to do the same.
“The story is about a teenager named Gretchen who finds herself discarded by all her friends. None of the cool kids will talk to her anymore, not even to tell her what for. When Gretchen hears her best friend is throwing a masquerade ball in the Hollywood hills she comes up with a plan. It turns out Gretchen is a witch from a long bloodline and she knows some shit. She fills a bottle of Adderall capsules with a potion, and uses the pills to con her way in.”
Tanner makes a time-out motion. “Dude, there should be a witch hunter waiting for her.”
Give Tanner a little tsk-tsk and a wink. “I write alone.”
Then get back to your pitch. “Gretchen tricks her friends into breaking the capsules open and inhaling her concoction. Then she has to bide her time until it kicks in. They’re all playing strip poker. Everyone is cheating and Gretchen has to give up her dress to get dealt in.”
Tanner rubs his palms together. “Now you’re talking.”
“When Gretchen’s friends start to feel flustered she takes control of the room. The potion lets hers command her friends into saying or doing anything she wants.”
Tanner perks up. “You should have her tell someone to fuck themselves and then they actually do.”
You shake your head. “Gretchen attempts to use this power to root out the source of her banishment, but when her best friend goes up in flames she realizes she mixed the potion wrong. Worse still, the spell won’t ware off until Gretchen gets the truth that she came for. The party turns into a deadly game of truth or flare.”
“You should make some of the girls kiss, at least.”
You raise your finger to Tanner’s lips. “The story is not a democracy.”
Tanner interlocks his finger behind his head. “I’m just saying I’ve got good ideas too.”
“So does everyone, but I wrote mine down.”
“Yeah but I’ve got a million dollar idea that’s way better than this thing.”
“Then don’t tell me or I’ll steal it. Now pay attention. There’s going to be a quiz.”
You’re never going to match Tanner’s intensity. So try a little linguistic jujitsu. Lower your voice so he has to quiet down just to hear you.
Work your way through the second act of your pitch. Draw out the conflict, the shifting of the alliances, the big emotional changes, then hit everyone with the twist.
“It turns out Gretchen’s potion got into her bloodstream through a cut in her skin. All her friends can tell her what to do too.”
Tanner slaps the table. “So they tell her to fuck herself.”
If Tanner keeps interjecting call for comments from anyone other than him. “I’m getting a lot of feedback from this side of the table but what do you folks think?”
If Tanner presses on ask, “What’s with all the interruptions? That’s a rhetorical question, not an invitation.”
Tanner feigns shock. “Jesus where did this little bitch come from?”
At this point your face should go deadpan. “I came from home. I got a text asking me to save everyone from some asshole who couldn’t take a hint. Any clue who that might be?”
If you catch Tanner balling his fists hit him with a little Isaac Asimov. “You do know that violence is the last refuge of the truly incompetent?”
Tanner squints. “They why are you being such a little shit?”
“I’m sorry Tanner. I should’ve given you a trigger warning before I sat down. If you’re looking for a safe space one just opened up at the bar.”
When Tanner stands up expect him to do that thing bullies do where they pretend to lunge at you just to see if you flinch. If you really want to confuse him give him an air kiss at the moment he raises his fist.
“Now you don’t get to find out how the story ends.”
“Your story is bullshit anyway.”
Tanner ambles up to the bar, up to the television, to the subject you’ve all spent the night avoiding. When the news shows a clip from the state of the union address Tanner applauds like he’s actually in attendance. He hoots over his shoulder for your benefit.
You can’t help but snicker.
Tanner is just not your demographic.
(Apologies to anyone actually named Tanner. Some of you, I assume, are good people).