Some notes from a day of corporate citizenship at a community center in Hudson Yards

The train smells like shit. The car I was in was split in half between two sections. On one side, there was a homeless man with an entire shopping cart filled with his belongings. He also carried an Ikea bag with him. Next to me sat two white men in their twenties, who I presumed to be bankers from the quality of their silk pants and their air pods, reading the Wall Street Journal from their phones.

I found the sight to be funny, as if it is human nature to err away from the laws of diffusion whenever poor people were introduced into the mix.

Yesterday, a friend had told me that my feelings of alienation were a choice. Today, I walked past a Swiffer in CVS and thought that it said ‘suffer’. Where was the choice in that?

There was an intern who sat across from me. She introduced herself as M-something, and that she hailed from southern California. She was 6′, blonde, and immediately identified herself as a sorority sister at the University of Arizona. I tried the best of my ability not to stereotype her.

We were making chicken fajitas as our first act of community service, and throughout the entire cooking session, she kept on repeating the fact that she had never cooked in her life, and I kept on thinking that that’s not something she should be proud of.

At one point, she asked one of the workers at the community center to take a picture of her stirring chicken in a pot. The worker agreed. She posed. No flash. Her phone was then handed back to her. She looked at the photo for a bit. I have no idea what she did with the photo.

Cooking — what an #exotic #experience

A little later, there was a problem with distribution because everyone decided to sit down and not bother with actually handing out the fajitas. Everyone wanted to eat a fajita, but no one wanted to give out the fajitas. Eventually, I helped out with giving out the fajitas, and the fajitas were distributed.

But, seriously, …

After we finished making fajitas, we were packing some goldfish and grapes into bags to make snacks for children. It is an interesting sight — watching a roomful of interns who have no heart in community service being forced to do community service.

At one point, a girl stopped working, and someone asked her why she stopped working, and she replied that she already packed a bag. Down the table, a squad of chads were talking about how much they drank last night (it was Friday) over the blasting sound of hip-hop from their phones. There was not that much conversation going on; most people were just on their phones or staring into the distance. But, regardless of their boredom, no one wanted to pack their bags with goldfish and grapes.

There was conversation happening. I did not participate.

I finally get it. Holden Caulfield.

I re-read this paragraph recently:

You should’ve seen the way they said hello. You’d have thought they hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. You’d have thought they’d taken baths in the same bathtub or something when they were little kids. Old buddyroos. It was nauseating. The funny part was, they probably met each other just once, at some phony party. Finally, when they were all done slobbering around, old Sally introduced us. His name was George something–I don’t even remember–and he went to Andover. Big, big deal. You should’ve seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady’s foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body. He said the play itself was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were absolute angels. Angels. For Chrissake. Angels. That killed me. Then he and old Sally started talking about a lot of people they both knew. It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life. They both kept thinking of places as fast as they could, then they’d think of somebody that lived there and mention their name. I was all set to puke when it was time to go sit down again. I really was. And then, when the next act was over, they continued their goddam boring conversation. They kept thinking of more places and more names of people that lived there. The worst part was, the jerk had one of those very phony, Ivy League voices, one of those very tired, snobby voices. He sounded just like a girl… They kill me, those guys.

J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Am I searching for something genuine, or am I just being snobby?

The latter, probably, if I am being honest.

I also don’t like snobbishness.

Like, I really don’t like snobbishness.

Like, why do people want to draw hierarchies when they didn’t previously exist?

How hypocritical of me.

I don’t get it.

I remember when I first read Catcher in the Rye for my 10th grade English class, I really did not like it. For one, I thought any literature that was not stylistically flower-y was not good literature. It was a pretty primitive state of being for me.

I suppose a large part of my distaste was that I never really identified with him at the time. He was just weird… and lonely. Of course, I was also weird and lonely, but I didn’t want to admit it at the time. Now, I am completely comfortable identifying as weird and lonely. Well, I wouldn’t say comfortable. But, I am weird and lonely, regardless.

I have long identified with the problem. I am different from others. I do not get along with others. This, I know. Because I do not get along with others, I often rationalize to myself that they are inferior to me… such as ascribing their conversations as “phony”.

I think, realistically, it’s not that the conversations I have had throughout this summer were phony; mostly, it just that I have been denying that the problem has been me this entire time. If I am the only person that pursues interactions that are “genuine” to me, I have to realistically consider that it is not others that have conversations less “genuine” than the conversations I seek to have; mostly, it’s just that I’m being weird — although, I am still not sure if I should stop being weird or not, or, on that note, if it is even a choice to be weird or not.

Was Holden weird? Yeah, he was weird.

Do I want to be Holden? No, I don’t want to be Holden.

I get where he is coming from. I truly do. But, it seems that he does not understand what qualifies as a genuine interaction himself. I could say the same about my own life. I pursue an abstract ideal of what I consider to be a genuine interaction, which mostly revolves around a sharing of sadness that does not nearly have the same effects as it used to. But, it seems to me that if Holden had ever encountered an interaction that was genuine, he wouldn’t even be able to identify it. He is so bent on the suffering in the journey to find some sort of perfection in interaction that he does not even want nor does he have the understanding to complete his journey.

So, if I consider conversation topics such as the weather or

  1. What school do you go to?
  2. What do you study?
  3. Where are you from?

to be “phony” conversation topics, then what is the genuineness that I have been seeking throughout my entire life? I wonder if I have already experienced it. No, I’m sure that I have experienced it. In my past. Twice or three times. I’m not sure if one of them counted. Is that what I consider to be genuine? All of those interactions seem to revolve around some sort of sharing vulnerability. Well, I have basically no more vulnerabilities left to share, so what am I supposed to do now?

I have become the cynic. I have developed the same bitterness towards others that Holden has. I feel alienated, estranged in a world of interactions that seem to revolve around a base of nothingness, in which I could never find myself to enjoy. Would I pay for a prostitute and attempt to have a genuine conversation by paying her more? Probably not. That scene was a pretty weird. I don’t remember much of what happened in The Catcher in the Rye, but I remember the sentiment. And, I am really feeling the sentiment at the moment.

It’s not that I hate small talk. I get the point of it. But I only use small talk to transition to topics that I find more fulfilling to talk about, and, lately, it often feels that these transitions do not get to anywhere meaningful. Sure, I am able to penetrate slightly deeper into an detail or idea that I find interesting, but it doesn’t go much from there. It is not that the same topics of conversation no longer appeal to me; it is more like I am unable to find things that appeal to me anymore. So, lately, I have stopped trying at all.

Is this what developing a tolerance feels like?