When I first moved to my new home I felt cut adrift. I’d moved to pursue a job several states away from my family and friends and was, literally, lost. I didn’t know the roads, where to buy groceries, or even who to call to get my Internet connection set up in my apartment. I’d never lived on my own before, it showed.
I don’t know why Michael, a neighbor from down the hall, decided to take pity on me. I was just glad he did. He helped me wrangle an appointment to get my Internet hooked up, showed me the best way to get to the grocery store, and even helped me begin to understand the non-human layout of the local roadways. I was by no means an expert on my new home, but at least I no longer felt like a complete alien. Until, that is, Michael asked me a question that would change our friendship forever.
“Hey, I get together with some friends every week. It’s kind of like a friendship circle slash support group. Seeing as you’re kind of new around here, I thought maybe you’d like to join me this weekend. Maybe it’ll help you settle in some more.”
I wasn’t all the interested in a “support group” to be honest, but Michael did give “friendship” the top billing. I though it might be fun, so I said, “Sure, a party sounds like a good way to connect with folks.”
“Well, it’s not exactly a party, but we do have a lot of fun. I think you’ll like it.”
It definitely wasn’t a party.
Michael and I left the apartment building around quarter to seven and drove to one of his friend’s homes nearby. We walked up to the front door and, rather than knocking, walked right in. I have to say I wasn’t quite prepared for what greeted me in the living room. There were four rows of chairs set up, with an aisle down the middle. Three chairs make up the row on the right, and two on the left. Most of the seats were filled already and, most unnervingly, no one was talking. Michael silently motioned to the back row on the left and I took my seat. The silence continued for a few more moments, which did not help my nerves. Before I could whisper a question to Michael, however, one of the strangest sights I’d ever witnessed came strolling down the aisle. It was man, at least I assumed it was man, wearing one of the oddest outfits I’d ever seen. His pants were a patchwork of different fabrics, all bright and clashing colors and several sizes too large for his slight frame. He wore a loud orange shirt with a Hawaiian print, adorned with turquoise suspenders (which held up the over-sized pants). Glancing down, I noticed his shoes were far too large for his feet and with a shock I realized the squeaking sound I was hearing was broadcasting from his soles as he strode forward. When he reached the front of the room he turned and, I promise I am not making this up, I discovered he was wearing a smily face mask.
Given my already existing unease I did the only thing my body felt would relieve it’s sudden stress. I laughed. I was not the right thing to do. Several heads turned an shot me a warning glance. I looked to Michael for support only to find his friendly face had been transformed into a mask of anger. I dared to turn back to the front of the room and witnessed the most horrifying vision I’d ever witnessed. A smily face was giving me a silent death-stare.
I didn’t laugh again.
That’s not to say I didn’t have to try extremely hard to choke back my chuckles, even with the threat of additional silencing death stares from Mr. Smily. Every time the guy shifted his weight the room was filled with a loud squeak, causing the assembled people to respond with a mirthless, “Ha Ha.” There were readings from some book of jokes, none of which were funny, and completed with, “This is the reading of the joke.” The crowd responded with, “We find that interesting.” Towards the end of the service two teens were brought forward and seated in chairs facing the crowd. Their faces were solemn and, when Mr. Smily shoved two cream pies in their faces I thought I saw two women actually crying. I was not in Kansas any more.
After the meeting ended Michael escorted me out of the house. No one spoke to me, though I did hear someone mutter how I had ruined the evening as I exited. Once we were in Michael’s car his mask of calm anger fell away. He was just plain angry.
“I can’t believe you laughed, what were you thinking?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, Michael. The whole thing struck me as odd. I was really uncomfortable, so when I saw the smily face I just felt the need to laugh.”
“Uncomfortable? What would be so uncomfortable about that house. Those are my friends, and you embarrassed me by not showing Mr. Smily proper respect!”
I couldn’t believe my absurd nickname was what they actually called the guy in the mask, but I bit my tongue. Instead, I said , “Respect? Michael, the guy’s shoes squeaked. Loudly.”
Michael shook his head, “I know his shoes squeaked. That’s the point. We’re supposed to see beyond the surface humor and into the deeper and more meaningful reality! How do you not understand that?”
It would be an understatement to say I was confused. “Deeper reality? What do you mean?”
Michael threw his hands up off the wheel, which is not a good thing to do at seventy miles an hour, and grunted. “Look, I thought you’d understand what we were doing there, but it appears you can only see with your eyes. If you don’t see the deeper reality, then there’s nothing I can do for you.”
I didn’t understand what Michael was so upset, but the guy had been a good friend to me during my first few weeks in the city. So I offered a sincere, “Look, man, I’m sorry I offended you – I just really didn’t understand.”
Michael responded with silence. When we arrived at our apartment building he marched inside and entered his unit without so much as sparing me a glance. I haven’t seen him in over a month. I’ve lost a friend, and I’m not even sure why.
Also, my Internet has stopped working.