DEATH OF THE COOL

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On the right: my inner self. 

There was once a time that I thought I was really cool.

This cool person, this other me, went to a live music show almost every weekend. She could hold her own in a conversation about obscure bands. She rocked her some legit vintage, and she spent her paycheck on additional vintage. Or tickets to shows.

This person was in her mid 20s, and could appreciate what is commonly referred to as “the scene.” And this person – let’s be honest – posed not infrequently for Annie Ray photo booth pictures. Here! There is proof:

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Can you tell what Cool Me is thinking in that picture? It is: “Here I am, being really cool.”

But most importantly, above the shows and the vintage, was the fact that this person was socially savvy. She could small talk a blue streak. She could listen, too. Others felt at ease in her company, because she was cool, not in a cold way, but in an easygoing, non-awkward way.

Friends, this time has passed.

I have done everything but given my coolness a proper funeral, waving as it floats away on a burning Viking burial. Goodbye, coolness! You were fun while you lasted. Slightly irresponsible, but fun.

My coolness put in its official notice last week, notifying me that it’s had enough. It will no longer be at my disposable, leaves no forwarding address, and cannot be contacted until further notice. “My tenure has been long and devoted,” it said, “but now, our time together is through.”

Here, in no shortage of detail, is how it told me.

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The Thursday before last, I was having dinner at this really nice place in East Austin. Swoop House. Things like these tend to make me nervous anyway, not because they aren’t terribly lovely, but because they are. And in my eagerness to make for pleasant company, I tend to chuckle lightly when I don’t completely understand what someone is saying; this is how badly I want to keep the conversation moving at a nice clip. But there are times when you really should ask the other person for clarification.

Such was the case with a well-heeled, charming couple, new to Austin from the Bay Area. Both in the tech industry. We were all seated at a long dining table, and they were directly to my right. As the first course was placed in front of us, some impossibly lovely salad with croutons like tiny beignets, the manager came out and made a joke about them not being able to sell wine to us, as they were BYOB, but they could give it to us. The server then came around with a bottle of white.

“No thanks!” I said, “I’ll wait for the red.”

Fortunately, there happened to be a bottle of red already placed on the table, right in front of me.

“Oh, that’s a really special bottle, the wife-half of the couple said, followed by something else I couldn’t make out.

“Heh!” I replied. Chuckled lightly.

“Mm-hmm, yeah, it’s very special-”

“Can’t wait to try it!” I said, tipping some into my glass.

“It’s, um,” she said, looking at her husband, “it’s a South Africa wine-”

“From our honeymoon,” the husband finished.

“Huh!” I said. “Weird they have it here.”

I tasted it. It was OK.

“Umm,” the wife said, gesturing to her husband at my glass. She was, like, really interested in this wine.

“This red’s not bad,” I called down the table, “does anyone else want some?”

I picked up the bottle and began passing it down to my fellow patrons. “Here you go,” I said to a woman on my left.

It was at this point that the husband gently, but firmly, took the bottle out of my hand.

“We. Bought. This. Wine. On. Our. Honeymoon.”

It was then that I finally decoded all the previous, subtle signals from the wife. The wife that I thought was simply trying to tell me how neat it was that Swoop House also stocked their special honeymoon wine! But no, that wasn’t what she was trying to tell me at all.

“Oh my God,” I said to the husband. “I am so sorry. I thought-”

“It’s ok,” he said graciously.

But it wasn’t. I sat there with my glass of shame, unsure of whether I should drink it now or not. What would be the socially appropriate thing to do? The cool thing to do?

I took a tentative sip, but it just felt wrong. Swallowing, I imagined what exotic locale this couple must have purchased this bottle from, how expensive it probably is to travel to South Africa, and how successful they must be. Fuck. Should I have gone into tech? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? Like in life? This is what happens in your 30s, I thought, the social class chasms start to spread and soon, you’re slovenly drinking out of rich people’s wine while they stare on in horror. In your 20s, you’re all drinking cheap beer or wine out of a box and it’s easy to be cool because you’re all broke and sharing. But then, some people make a bunch of money and those people learn social graces and buy nice things while you, hippie, don’t have the wherewithal to understand basic social cues or bring your own damn wine and does this mean you’ve made bad choices? Or are you just unclassy? Probably both? Jesus Christ, these people are probably so embarrassed they can’t say anything and you can’t say anything and should you quietly leave or just keep apologizing or-

“Hey,” the husband said, “seriously. It’s OK. Enjoy it.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah,” he toasted me, raising his glass and clinking mine. “It’s cool.”