Sunday, June 26, 2011

Role-playing (Part 2)

Today's entry gets a wee bit more embarrassing for our hero. But heck, I wouldn't be interested in non-fiction if I wasn't willing to share this stuff.

It takes a special mix of ego and ignorance to hand out a pop-quiz based on yourself to a room full of your friends, and I just so happened to have that mix right around my 19th birthday.

I'll leave the rest of the details to my story. Enjoy!



Matt Shafeek The Narcissistic Quizmaster
Shafeek Home / Valley Stream, NY / January 1998

It's a few days after my 19th birthday, and I'm standing on pins and needles. I've been planning this night for weeks. Most of my friends have stopped making a big deal out of their birthdays by now, but to me that's a tragic waste of an opportunity. Why settle for a boring dinner with a few close friends, where you blow out the candles from a cake (that you knew was coming but had to pretend you didn't), and call it a night? Is that really "celebrating" another year of your life? Nuh-uh. I have bigger plans.

My mother actually tried to put together a surprise party for me, which was a really sweet gesture. Unfortunately, several weeks before she tried to organize it, I had already begun reaching out to people, telling them to save the date near my birthday and not to make any other plans. I had a surprise of my own in mind for everyone else. She wisely decided to let me keep the reigns.

I've asked everyone to come over to my family's house in Valley Stream and meet in the basement for a party. It’s winter break just after all of our first semesters at college. I miss hanging out with all my friends from home, who just six months ago I was seeing regularly. Everyone agrees to come but there’s a bit of skepticism just below the surface. I know exactly why this is. For starters, I'm friends with a lot of different people who don't necessarily all get along with each other. I happen to pride myself on being a friend of the people. All people - jocks, nerds, the friendly, and the willing to tolerate me from time to time. You don't make friends in school by selectively picking and choosing the people who treat you right most of the time. No, you just accept everyone, and the ones that are jerks you hope will stop with the short jokes and eventually give you back your copy of F-Zero and the $10 they owe you.

My hope is that after today everyone will see how much fun it is hanging out together, and they'll all get along as big group forever and ever, making me the key figure in this global friendship unification.

The other cause for concern is that my parties and gatherings usually didn't involve any drugs or alcohol. And not just because I'm throwing parties at my parent's house (which was cause for concern #3). Beer and liquor happen to make me sick and marijuana has literally no effect on me (arguably the lamest super power ever), so I’ve become associated with sobriety by default. 

None of this matters because what I have planned is going to be so amazing that everyone will soon forget their concerns. As people start to arrive, I let them settle in, I show them to the table full of snacks and sodas I set up, and I put on my Nintendo 64 to amuse the room while we're waiting for the others to arrive. I play an efficient, if somewhat controlling host.

Soon I have a crowded basement full of willing participants, which is more valuable than any present I could have ever received. Spread out over a futon, some folding chairs and a recliner are Bob, Geo, Dave, Ryu, and Justin, close friends of mine that I've known for years. There's Alethea, Debby, and Shoshanit, a trio of lady friends whose closeness came about mostly from me being super cool with having attractive female friends I'd never think to make a move on. There’s Danny, David, Jon, Josh and the three Jasons, who I've grown apart from since they’ve fallen in love with pot and Phish music, but they still love The Simpsons enough for all us to get along just fine.

And of course, there was Stacey, my longstanding crush (officially MegaCrush #3 in a series of longtime, unfulfilled MegaCrushes I'd developed since middle school). I’m always able to befriend each MegaCrush and get them to come to my birthday parties and miscellaneous social events (Stacey was even my awkward, pitying prom date – easily the emptiest victory of my life), so long as it is clear how very plantonic our relationship is. 

I get the room's attention with a wave and a shout, and I formally thank everyone for coming. Some of them are still focused on the television screen displaying a multiplayer game of Goldeneye, so I shut it down to a chorus of boos.

"Ok guys, we're gonna do something really fun now. You ready for this?" I ask the room.

"Oh no - are you going to make us play some kind of board game?" Stacey asks. My dear, sweet, beloved Stacey. Your unsupportive tone is still sweet music to my ears.

"Nope, not now. We can do that later, maybe. Right now I have something even more exciting in store!"

I reach into a carefully hidden folder and pull out a single sheet of paper for every lucky partygoer in the room. I hand out a sheet to everyone, along with a pencil or a pen. Typed on each sheet is a quiz I’d spent hours writing just a few days before. The quiz is, of course, entirely about me. My life, my history, my unabashed love for the video game Zillion. It's meant to test how well everyone in the room knows their good friend Matt Shafeek. Questions include:

  • What are Matt's three favorite television shows?
  • How many issues of the Matt Shafeek Fan Club Newsletter[1] have their been?
  • What were Matt's first pets named?

I thought it was a brilliant idea. Soon everyone would be racking their brain trying to be the first to answer all of the questions, and to prove themselves to me. Everyone in the room was now on a game show where the grand prize was the satisfaction of knowing they knew me better than anyone else. 

The quiz is met with a number of surprising reactions. Some people are snickering as they read, some are skimming and shrugging, and others are dismissing it entirely. I pace around the room with a nervous pit in my stomach.

"Shafeek, how the fuck are we supposed to know some of this shit?" Danny asks.

"Yeah, seriously. Hey, what's my great aunt's maiden name Shafeek?" Josh adds.

"Guys – come on, do the best you can. You can work together if you want, if that's easier," I concede, before retracting, "no actually, that won't work, forget it. Just answer what you can, and I'll tell you guys the answers when you're done."

I am now sweating profusely. Something has gone horribly wrong. How could I not have imagined that a room full of my friends wouldn't jump at the opportunity to fill out a super fun quiz about me? I must have made the questions too hard! How many of them knew about Link and Zelda, my pet hamsters that I had back when I was 9 years old? I probably told Stacey about them, but was she even listening?

Eventually my friends figure out the quickest way to end the awkwardness and they start answering whatever they can. After what feels like an hour but is probably closer to ten minutes, I call time and pick up a copy of my own quiz to read to everyone.

"Ok guys, does someone know the answer to the first country I ever travelled to?" Silence. I thought that was an easy one. "Ok, it was Barbados, guys, no problem."

"I didn't get that one Shafeek, but I think I know the answer for when you got your first pube, and it was yesterday, right?" Danny says. The room is filled with laughter for the first time all night.

"Haha, ok, that's funny man. But not on the quiz, so moving on..." 

"Oh wait, I got another one. How many girls has Matt Shafeek kissed in his life? Is the answer zero, or less than zero?" Danny says, fully on a roll now. Jesus Christ, why did I invite him? And how could you kiss someone less than zero times?

"Alright, alright. I get it. We can stop doing this..." I say, blatantly pouting. This is my comeuppance for my ego-driven party planning. 

"No, no Shafeek, come on, we love you. Finish your quiz." Danny says.

I reluctantly continue along. I get ribbed a few more times, but it looks like everyone else is enjoying themselves, so I try to take each one like a champ. We finish up, and for the sake of moving things along, the winner of my quiz is never named. Soon enough, everyone is back to just hanging out, the way they all seem to prefer doing things. The different groups all segregate themselves. I bounce around, eager to ensure the rest of the night goes without incident. At some point I find out Stacey is dating someone new, and I decide at this point that my life literally could not get any worse.

The night comes to a close and I say goodbye to everyone, knowing I probably won't see most of them again until the spring break, or the summer. I pick up all the leftover copies of my quiz, and toss them in the garbage. Just before throwing the last copy away, I scribble in one final question before saving it for posterity:

  • What event lead to Matt's disaster of a 19th birthday party?

None of them would ever forget the answer to that one.

[1]    The Matt Shafeek Fanclub Newsletter was a gag I started in middle school and kept going through college. It was a self-depricating monthly piece of mostly made up news on my life that I'd distribute to my friends in the hopes of getting a few laughs. As popular at it was, suprisingly, throughout its entire 7 year run it scored me a total of zero dates.

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