Who Belongs

They are both from small towns in Idaho. Did you ever see the movie Napoleon Dynamite? She is from there.

When I met them she was in PA school and he was working in a lab extracting stem cells from rats. She graduated and they moved away so he could go to med school. He’s done now and they live in Boston. I was there earlier this week.

The night before I got to town he called me and asked if I was free in the evening. I replied I was and he said, “great, I’ll make reservations.” He’s not normally the kind of guy who goes to places where you need reservations but I didn’t think too much about it. I was perfectly happy to see some old friends and wouldn’t have felt put out if we were dining at the gas station. We weren’t going to the gas station.

We knew jackets were required because she checked the dress code online. He thought his jeans with a jacket looked “snappy”, she made him go change. Walking through Cambridge toward campus we chatted about a bit we had both seen on Jimmy Fallon recently. Jimmy had Napoleon Dynamite as a guest on the show, not the actor, the character. The two of them used atl atls to launch spears at a faux mastadon. It was marginally funny but strangely enough we both have experience with an atl atl. Both of us not only knew what that was, but in our respective youths, had actually played with one. In true Napoleon style I offered to one up my companions by bragging that I also know how to use a sling ala David and Goliath and that it does not involve any helicopter swinging of the stone over one’s head. He retorted that he had no experience with actual slings but in his youth he would simply tie bailing twine around a rock, and then “I would huck that thing.” She was walking a few steps behind us and dryly remarked that she doubts anyone wearing a sport jacket had previously said “huck that thing.” She can’t possibly be right.

She hesitated at the door and admitted to being a bit nervous. She looked at him with that sort of spousal distrust that comes with knowinng someone too well. He walked right in feigning confidence but I could see it falter just a bit when there was no greater inside the door just a living room with a leather sofa and piano. The sofa came complete with a grey haired man wearing a bow tie.  After looking nervously around a bit we found a woman behind a counter talking on the phone. We waited for her to finish and explained we had reservations for three. She explained the dining room was through those doors over there and they could help us, over there.


Once we were seated  she  again confided she didn’t feel like she belonged there. She loved the place, wanted to be there, but explained she couldn’t escape the idea that someone was going to come ask us to leave at any moment. He continued to keep his cool even but did admit that he was wearing the first jacket he ever owned that didn’t come with matching pants.  I chuckled because I bought my first odd coat just two years ago and being much older than him, he wins by at least two years. I acted like I belonged, which is amusing, at least to me, since I was the only one who didn’t really belong.

You see, they actually asked him for his card when we were seated. He had the card, a real one, with his picture on it. He is in fact a member of the Harvard Faculty Club. Card Carrying, bona fide, legit. We were sitting at the table of the Harvard Faculty Club, them as members and me as thier guset, but they didn’t quite feel it. Not yet at least. I know that feeling; have felt it for most of my life.

I would feel it when I would get sent out to the farm as a kid, when I visited family in Wyoming, or when I was at home with all the other suburban kids. I felt it the first year I tried out for football and then when I went away to college. I didn’t think I belonged when I climbed into a boxing ring nor when I sat in a class at Penn. I know that feeling of not belonging, of fealing like a fake. It never really matters if you are carrying the card or not, you just feel it.

It is two things really. First is learning to get over that feeling; or at least learning to ignore it. I decided some time ago, after countless numbers of rude rejections, that things could get no worse so I might as well show up and assume if I don’t belong someone will ask me to leave. That theory has for the most part held true. I assume I belong everywhere unless told otherwise.

Second is the value of a friend. I imagine that dinner, while it was very nice, would have been so much better if someone, anyone, would have noticed our awkwardness and said, “are you new? Welcome to the club. I remember when I was new, we are glad you joined.” A friendly face or welcoming gesture is of great value. I’ll bet it would have made my leg of lamb taste better. Awkward has an odd taste.

Most of us need a friend or a guide, and more often or likely, could be one.