Battle of the Blowhards
Saturday morning I was feeling so languid and lazy that I almost skipped out on Tot Shabbat altogether. Then I remembered the damage that two cooped-up kids can wreak in a single morning, and the very thought bolted me out of bed with renewed determination.
I smiled when I walked into the classroom and caught sight of Sweet Sue, who I hadn't seen in forever, but my heart sunk when I saw that she was accompanied by her husband, Windbag. Windbag is the person that people fight NOT to sit next to at potluck dinners. It wasn't always quite this bad. He is about 20 years older than most of the others in our group, and so at first we tried hard to be charitable when he blurted out completely outdated, vaguely sexist or racist expressions, things that your great-grandpa might have uttered while shaking his cane menacingly.
But after his son was born, his behavior became even more execrable. He was paranoid about germs and would not let anyone so much as breathe near the baby. Worse, he would not allow Sweet Sue to leave the house for months for fear that the kid might catch something. He could have watched his own son for a couple of hours just to give her a little break from her quarrantine, but no - as a man, it wasn't his job to do the dirty work of changing diapers and cleaning spit-up. His offensive, ignorant comments became more blatant. No kid of his was going to the grocery store, where some illegal wetback might breathe diseases onto him! Eventually his controlling behavior drove everyone away, including Sweet Sue's parents who had flown into town to help care for their first grandchild.
We've all done our best to maintain a friendship with Sweet Sue while minimizing our contact with Windbag, but it doesn't always work. Being her husband, he does tend to show up every now and again. And so it was that I found myself stuck next to him, perched on a tiny orange plastic chair in the toddler classroom.
Maybe it won't be so bad, I thought, to make a few minutes of polite chat while I keep an eye on the kids. I was wrong. It was excruciating. Our dialogue went something like this:
Me: So, how is your little boy doing?
Windbag: Oh, he's great. He's really lucky because Sweet Sue stays home with him. That's what kids really need, is for their moms to be there for them full-time instead of running all over--
Me: --ooookay, uh, how's your job?
Windbag: Good - I have a home office, you know, so I am there most of the time. I like to know what's going on at home. Sweet Sue probably thinks I micromanage too much, but hey, I can't help it! Gotta keep everyone in line, that's a man's job right?
As I sat there fervently hoping someone or something would save me from this dreadful conversation, the classroom door opened and - just my luck - in walked the *other* most annoying person I know, Nebbish.
Now, Nebbish and I have a long history, of which he is entirely unaware. Almost 15 years ago, my friend Eve was recovering from a failed romance with a coworker. On the rebound, her self-esteem shot, she fell into a long-distance correspondence with an older guy, a grad student she'd met at Hillel while attending college on the East Coast. They spoke on the phone for hours, wrote each other 20-page missives detailing their devotion. Within a month they were making plans for him to move cross-country. Like most 19-year-olds, she was impervious to suggestions that she slow down a little, maybe spend some day-to-day time with the dude. She flew to Boston, helped him pack up his apartment, and several weeks later showed up in Berkeley with a paunchy, balding, middle-aged man who looked not unlike George Costanza. This was how I first met Nebbish.
We took an almost instant dislike to one another. After a brief conversation, he pronounced me a "bleached blonde bimbo" (my response to that was "hey - my hair's not bleached!") and I, for my part, had no clue what my bright, smart, talented friend was doing with this dull nerd who always managed to bring conversations to a thudding stop with his awkward, unfunny jokes. Eve came to the same conclusion shortly thereafter - in fact, she later confided to me that the knew it wasn't going to work the moment she arrived at the airport and saw him standing there, a big cheesy grin on his face and a bright red carnation pinned to his lapel.
After they broke up, I never saw or even thought about him again . . . that is until he showed up with his kids at Tot Shabbat services a year ago. He must have gotten married and moved to the suburbs in the interim. Between his thick Boston accent and his distinctive name, I figured out it was him right away, though I somehow managed to keep my composure and not reveal that I was his nemesis from years ago. In fact, to this day he has no idea that we have ever met before.
Because we run into each other so often at shul, he now sees me as an old pal. This means that, without fail, each time I see him I get stuck in some tedious conversation about the merits of various automotive engines or computer operating systems, or I have to listen and nod politely while he advises me on how to further my career by networking with this or that person or joining some sort of professional organization or other. Never mind that I have worked steadily and successfully in my industry for the past seven years while he has been unemployed the past two. So I wasn't too thrilled to see him show up that morning when I was already gritting my teeth through Windbag's endless blatherings.
Then suddenly, I was struck with the type of brilliant inspiration that comes only when you are truly desperate.
"Hey Nebbish, over here!" I called across the room. "I want you to meet my friend Windbag. He was just telling me about his new camera."
"Not the Blahblahblah XSJDKE 740, I hope! That one has some major flaws, the shutter speed is off and - - -"
"No way! The 740 is much better than the old model, the Blahblahblah XKDSI 656, the enhanced lighting options alone are a reason to upgrade!"
And so they were off. For the next hour, I sipped apple juice and caught up with my old friend Sweet Sue while the kids made Play-Doh sculptures and the two most annoying men I know happily talked at each other until the morning drew to a close.