Remember that set of questions from every single college party, ever? Remember answering them so often that occasionally a waitress would ask how you wanted your eggs and you’d say “Tulane Chris, Texas, history” like a parrot? Remember that odd little silence after you’d all answered those questions because, really, they didn’t give you much conversational opening?
“So, Texas, huh?”
“Do you ride horses to school?”
“Not since about 1890.”
“Yeah, huh. Did you vote for George Bush?”
“I thought everyone in Texas voted for George Bush.”
“Eat a lot of barbecue?”
“So, history, huh?”
Eventually, you started to think of people by their descriptors. I’d be by the drinks table with Rachel Olympia History, watching Berg Baltimore Human Sexuality Studies and Sean St. Louis Undeclared try to coax Audrey Tulsa Evolutionary Biology into a threesome, because hey, we’re in college. It got especially bad after the hurricane. Since a lot of people left, some cliques had to consolidate to save money and to ensure a large enough breeding population, so there were always all these people around who you sort of knew, handing you Natty Light and obviously kind of wanting to have sex with you but not being willing to put the effort into it. I was the same way; it would have been nice to get laid, technically, but unless I happened to fall directly atop someone it was just too much… talking. Hi, what’s your name, where are you from, what’s your major? (My last year of college was essentially a big depressive episode shared with about four thousand other people.) These parties usually tended to be in the same house, and the directions given were always the same:
“Go down Calhoun the wrong way – what cops? What other traffic? – until you get to the 800 block. It’s in the only house that isn’t condemned. Second floor, obviously.”
…well, the nice little lead-in to my post turned into a moody little flashback, didn’t it? Here’s the point: wouldn’t it be swell if we standardized a few more good icebreakers, so we could finally be shut of “Hi, what’s your name, where are you from, what’s your major?,” its post-grad sequel “Hi what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?” and the recession era “Hi, what’s your name, where are you from, have you moved back in with your parents yet, do you want to join my suicide pact?” So here are my candidates for new questions, along with my answers.
“What song will be your bathtub suicide anthem?” This is especially good for pink-slip parties. Imagine it: the cops break down the door to find your prune-toed little corpse in the tub – what song have you put on the stereo on repeat to ease your exit? I have to confess something for my answer to make sense: t.A.T.u. ruined my life. I’ve never been a fan of displays of emotion other than the Big Three (contempt, amusement, and worry), and so now when someone talks to me about their feelings my mind immediately starts playing “ALL THE THINGS SHE SAID, ALL THE THINGS SHE SAID, RUNNIN’ THROUGH MY HEAD…” because it’s the single angstiest song in the world. Mascara running, ashtrays being thrown, I’m drunk and I don’t know where I am and I just vomited in my purse and ruined my cell phone ANGST. So, of course, since suicide is inherently an angst-ridden act, my bathtub suicide anthem is “All the Things She Said,” by t.A.T.u.
“What was the lamest thing you ever did?” In high school, I lettered in theater, orchestra, and French… and Quiz Bowl.
“What is your most embarrassing fear?” I will not open tubes of biscuits or bottles of champagne because the “explosion” makes me nervous. The worst, worst is when you peel the little wrapper all the way off the tube and it still doesn’t open so you have to press on the seam with a knife or, if you’re me, jab furtively at it with a long spoon. I’m also hesitant to inflate air mattresses all the way for a similar reason: what if it bursts and a piece of flying vinyl hits me in the face and blinds me?
“What are your default drunk singing songs?”
God Defend New Zealand
Harper Valley PTA
Good Luck (Basement Jaxx)
“What’s the lamest thing you ever cried at?” Longtime readers of this site know about my love-hate (or hate-hate) relationship with emotions. I find them hilarious, but embarrassing and inconvenient. But hilarious. (At our last business meeting, Meg presented me with a Powerpoint presentation about her feelings about a proposed project. It was fifteen slides long, had sounds and transition, and was titled “I Have Emotions: A Meg McBlogger Production.”) I don’t have emotions in public for the same reason I don’t relieve myself in the middle of a crowded room: some things are private. That said, I once completely lost all control and sobbed at an episode of “Upstairs, Downstairs,” the 1970s BBC series about the resident, both upper-class and servant, of a fine London house in the 1910s and 1920s. It was the episode when World War One starts while the servants are enjoying a day on the beach, and everyone at the beach spontaneously starts singing “Rule, Britannia” and I was GONE, like a Miss America contestant off her meds.
"Do you have any humiliating medical problems?" Sure do! As much as I talk about diarrhea, that’s more a side effect of a beer and bacon diet than any underlying problem (other than being a compulsive eater who drinks too much.) My embarrassing medical problem is a chronic, painful inflammation of the chest wall called “costochondritis.” It’s most common in women over 40, meaning that I officially have an old lady disease. As I write this, I’m in the middle of my worst attack ever in my life. It hurts to breathe, bend down, and even type – so you can see how devoted I am to my readers (both of them [Meg and Dad]) to finish this post. I’ve been wincing and rubbing my chest all day and the ladies I work with are all convinced I have some secret heart problem.
"What’s the most horrifically inappropriate sentence you’ve ever heard?" Technically, I wasn’t present for this, but it was reported to me by more than one trustworthy person. Did you have an Extra Friend in college? The Extra Friend is the girl (usually, but they can be male) who attaches herself to your friend group like a cheerful, judgmental lamprey and imagines herself to be b-b-b-BIFFLES with you all and you like her fine but clearly not as much as she does you and you’re kind of embarrassed to take her in public because she’s never quite appropriate even by your admittedly low standards? That girl. Ours would never shut up about female ejaculation (“I had to change my nightgown!”) which led to a lot of uneaten meals: Louisiana cuisine favors sauces, and her chronicles of fluids a-go-go could turn even the most dedicated eater off Hollandaise for a month. She was also the most disorienting person I’ve ever known in terms of beauty. When she was fixed up, she was absolutely gorgeous; when she wasn’t, she looked like she was having an allergic reaction to puberty. Anyway. The semester after I finished college, some of my friends were having drinks, and Extra Friend came. Gin in hand, she turns to the room and, as an icebreaker, says casually, “So, who here has been sexually assaulted? Mary?” in, like, the tone of voice a sane woman would use to say, “So, who here has been to the new bar on Magazine Street?” If you can imagine it, no hands went up.
Granted, these new icebreakers might lead to some awkward pauses, but isn’t that better and more useful than simple rote responses? And any awkward pauses you create with these will be shorter and less frosty than the one made when, turning in a wide arc to take in the whole room, rye sloshing out of your glass, you bellow, “So, who here has been sexually assaulted? Mary?”