Not very long ago, family friends got in touch with me. Their son, Luke, was moving to New York for med school; it would be great if I’d see him and told him where to go in the city; he would be in touch. He was.
“This is three hours of my life I’ll never get back,” I said bitterly to my boyfriend.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Oh, nothing. He’s fine, from what I remember. He’s a perfectly nice guy. But, well, frankly … his parents carry on like he’s some kind of celebrated wit.”
“How do they do that?”
“Oh, you know,” I said vaguely. “Going on about the hilarious things he says … and that kind of thing.”
When I next spoke to my parents, I made a point of bringing it up.
“Thanks a lot,” I said. “I assume you gave them my e-mail address.”
“I really don’t see what the problem is,” said my mother. “He’s a very nice young man.”
“Oh, nice, sure,” I said. “I’m sure he’s perfectly nice. I just don’t know why everyone acts like he’s the second coming of Oscar Wilde.”
“I didn’t know he had that reputation,” said my dad.
“Well, he certainly does.”
“You haven’t seen him in about ten years, have you?”
I saw my brother the evening before our coffee date.
“Ugh, did I tell you I have to see that kid Luke tomorrow? The Kleins’ son who used to come to New Year’s, when we’d go to those people’s house.”
“Yeah, I remember. Why are you seeing him?”
“I don’t know, he wrote me. He’s coming to New York for school.”
“Well, if it’s such a problem, why did you say yes?”
“I just did. And now I have to do it.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“Oh, sure. I just don’t understand why people go around acting like he’s the lost member of the Algonquin Round Table or something.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you know, how he’s supposed to be so witty.”
“Since no one says that,” said my brother. “I don’t think it will be a problem.”
“Everyone says it,”
“No one. Well, you do. But I’ve literally never heard anyone else say it.”
Well, I had coffee with that guy. He was, indeed, very nice. And if you didn’t go into it expecting a celebrated wit, you were not apt to be disappointed.
I looked at him and tried to remember him at as a kid, face illuminated by the flashing primary colors on a game of Simon. You remember that game; you had to remember a series of illuminated patterns, and the sequences got longer and more challenging each round. If you were bad at it, it was particularly nightmarish, a blur of battery-powered sirens and WRONG buzzers and taunts. “You must not have a very high IQ,” he’d said. “That’s how they measure IQ. With games like this. And that shows how smart you’ll be your whole life. My dad told me,” he said, while I wept with rage and frustration.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.