Mr. Cordyceps was reminded by his wife that a parents’ evening was scheduled at their daughter’s school that same day; she had forwarded to him an e-mail from said daughter’s home-room teacher with the pertinent information, which included room number, time, and an invitation to dine afterwards at a nearby Italian restaurant, which invitation Mr. Cordyceps and his wife had gladly accepted. Immediately after reading the pertinent information contained in the forwarded e-mail, Mr. Cordyceps forgot it again, like an opening scene from some alternate universe anti-matter Mission Impossible episode.
Normally, this social event would have been a source of distress for Mr. Cordyceps, suffering as he does from social anxiety and tinitus, as well as debilitating exhaustion after 6pm. However, the previous day at the airport, he had happened across a self-help book at an airport news agent entitled “Fuck It!” (the book was so titled, not the bookshop), which purported to distill millennia of Eastern wisdom down into that sentence. Mr. Cordyceps decided to experiment and apply that phrase to his daily life, beginning with the decision of whether or not to purchase the book.
His wife turned out not to be thrilled by his surprise reception for her at the airport, so he applied the phrase again. It worked, he was refreshed by the resulting lack of frustration over her dismay.
So when the evening of the school visit approached, he leaned on the phrase hard. There were genuine grounds for worry, many things could go wrong. Their daughter was new at the school, and it was a posh place. The oldest school in town, proud of the quality of the families who sent their children there. Most of the other parents had already known each other for at least four years, they would be newcomers, possibly viewed askance, or at least with skepticism. And there was the matter of his table manners. Mr. Cordyceps had recently observed himself dining and realized that he had the table manners of a starving homo erectus.
The Plain People of Ireland: You just said homo erectus.
Mr. Cordyceps and his wife arranged to both park at a park and ride facility and proceed together to the school, but neglected to arrange a meeting time. As a result there was a slightly tense moment at five pm when his wife called from the park and ride to say that she had arrived and where was he, and he was on the verge of sliding into a dither before putting his new phrase to work. Somewhat calmed, he informed her of her options: she could wait 15 minutes for him to drive there and pick her up, or meet him at the school. Had he parked there, he would have needed 30 minutes to get there anyhow, he told her. Later they discussed the matter briefly and agreed that their decision to meet at the school was the best possible choice, since she had arrived so early; if they meet at the park and ride in the future, they will have to do so half an hour after he gets off work so he can walk down.
Despite all that messing around, they were still the first ones at the school. Then the others arrived and the meeting began. Coincidentally they sat at their daughter’s desk, so they were able to rifle through her things prior to the meeting. The desk was covered with graffitti, but so were all the other desks. Mr. Cordyceps considered adding, “I love my dad” but then applied his phrase, because getting in trouble for writing on a desk would not be a good start to his new relationship with the school.
The home room teacher explained various things. Mr. Cordyceps understood about 75% of what she said, and about 50% of what the other parents said. This was due primarily to his tinitus and general deafness, he decided, but he had to wonder how much was due to the scores of 32 and 33 that he had gotten that day on two test-yourself-for-Aspergers tests he had taken that afternoon on the Internet. 30, according to the tests, corresponds to borderline Aspergers, or suspicion of possibly having Aspergers, or thereabouts, but Mr. Cordyceps was well aware of his ability to suss such tests while taking them, which may have resulted in him achieving a score higher than would in truth correspond to his actual position on the spectrum; moreover, he recalled a conversation with a wonderful German friend years ago who had been in a frustrating relationship with someone who really did have Aspergers and who had assured him that he did not have it; therefore, he concluded that at most a small percentage of his not understanding was attributable to his test scores.
Other teachers came in and explained to parents the importance of participation and homework and organization and neatness. In general, it seemed like a good school; both Mr. Cordyceps and his wife were satisfied and reassured, although Mr. Cordyceps had found the Latin teacher a bit scary, a youngish, slender, sexy blonde woman with a prominent jaw and unnerving tendency to stress the fact that the pupils came from good families, which made Mr. Cordyceps dread dining with the other parents later that evening.
Nevertheless, dine they did. First they walked to Mr. Cordyceps’ car to put in a fresh parking pass because you are only allowed to park for up to two hours on the street in that district of town, and only with a parking pass filled out in the window, after which you have to leave or put in a fresh pass (that is what Mr. Cordyceps believed, and in fact when he met a husky, uniformed woman later that night checking parking passes and writing tickets and asked her how long one was allowed to park, she confirmed this, saying “one is allowed to park for two hours, but we tolerate three,” which he found charmingly Viennese). They had to walk clear around the block to do so, about which his wife complained. She knew a shortcut, so the walk back to the restaurant was shorter.
In the restaurant it was very crowded and noisy. The acoustics were terrible, and all noise (kitchen and conversation) was focused at the corner in which they sat. Mr. Cordyceps was on his best behavior. He observed the others and did what they did. He found it difficult to arrive at a comfortable sitting posture, and tried out several. Luckily his wife’s hearing is fine and she is a good talker; he smiled and nodded. When the waiter came, he ordered Merlot, so did his wife and another woman sitting across from him. From this he concluded that the Merlot had been a socially-acceptable choice, while entertaining the possibility that the others had themselves been unsure what to order and opted on the I’ll-have-what-he’s-having choice, which he found slightly humorous given his profound lack of wine knowedge.
The Merlot was okay. Mr. Cordyceps was sitting next to the only other man in the group, but he did not talk to him because he would not have been able to understand what the other man said, and besides the other man was apparently engrossed in a woman with maroon hair and deep in conversation with her. Mr. Cordyceps studied the menu, looking for an entree that matched the color of his tie (off-white, stupidly, given that they were eating in an Italian restaurant) and would be easy for a hungry homo erectus to eat politely.
Plain People of Ireland: Fuck it.
Mr. Cordyceps decided on pizza. No, not pizza, because that involves a lot of fork and knife action, which allows far too many opportunities for mishaps, such as when one has a knife that is insufficiently sharp and pushes the pizza from the plate, or when one does not slice 100% all the way through the crust of the pizza and instead of raising just one bite to one’s mouth lifts the entire pizza. Risotto would be a good decision, and his wife did recommend the shrimp risotto, which she had eaten on a previous occasion, but Mr. Cordyceps was not hungry for risotto. Pasta, which he loved, was out, due primarily to the tomato sauce, which did not match his tie, but also to the twirling it onto your fork process involved, which also bore excessive slapstick potential.
Mr. Cordyceps applied his new phrase and decided on spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino. Pepperoncini? The woman across from him ordered that as well, so he felt more comfortable. In a worst-case scenario, he would copy her methods of eating it. And, in fact, he did just that. When the food was served, the spaghetti came with a spoon, which Mr. Cordyceps knew was to be used as a base for twirling the noodles onto your fork. He had also heard that this was not an authentically Italian way to eat one’s spaghetti, and endeavored at first to eat his spaghetti fork-only.
All this time, it was impossibly noisy. It was a wall of sound. It was an Einstürzende Neubauten wall of posh restaurant conversation and tinitus. Mr. Cordyceps focused on his spaghetti with a laser-sharp concentration. At home, he basically got the whole plateload of spaghetti twirled around his fork all at once and sort of gnawed it off in as few bites as possible, but he knew that would not be well-received here. Everyone else was using their spoons, so he did as well. He noticed that they did not try to minimize the number of forkloads they ate. On the contrary, they were eating relatively small bites, so he also did. Despite this, he was the first to finish, as he was eating only and not eating and talking. There was a lot of oil at the bottom of his plate, and there were a lot of garlic slices. He avoided the oil, which guaranteed nothing but grief, tie-wise, and concentrated on the garlic.
The woman across the table mentioned a town. Mr. Cordyceps understood his wife to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been there. He decided he had misunderstood her, since she went there a lot to go shopping with the girls. Then she looked at him. Apparently she had thrown him a conversational bone and he was expected to pick it up and manipulate it somehow. Oh, I’ve been there, he said. I even played a concert there. He explained that he had composed a piece for voice and theremin and performed it in a concert location there. The other parents they were talking to were all musicians of one stripe or another. Mr. Cordyceps’ wife mentioned that he played the cello. He added, badly. His wife accused him of tiefstapeln. Everyone smiled. Mr. Cordyceps considered adding, And the singing saw, but ultimately did not.
Trapped there in his snow globe of noise, the look on the other woman’s face told him that he had just scored a status point somehow. He wasn’t sure what for, thanks to his scores of 32 and 33, but he thanked his wife internally. He resolved to thank her externally as soon as he got a chance, but he forgot.
Then they paid their bill and went home. There was a small problem getting his wife back to her car, as it was impossible to get there from where they were, by car. The closest he could get her was the station, from which she had to walk a few meters. Nothing remarkable; afterwards it occurred to him that he should have walked to her car and let her drive his, but that would have entailed the problem of him finding where she had parked her car, and she did ultimately make it home safely so in the end all was well. He applied his phrase again.
Then he went to sleep, and slept until the rain woke him in the morning, after which he lay in bed a few minutes listening to it. It was the most beautiful sound.
PS The Irish Times is celebrating the 100th birthday of Brian O’Nolan by reprinting some of his columns, bless their hearts.