Floyd is one of those people who I have everything and nothing in common with. We both love food, but he is a functional vegetarian, so what's the goddamn point? We both love music, but he thinks Bad Brains' I Against I is the greatest album ever recorded. (He hates classic rock, which I love. "I like rock and roll," he says with a worldly air. "I don't like rock.")
We both love to read, but he prefers depressing tales of alienation (the dude is a major-league J.T. Leroy apologist) and I enjoy a loverly British "cozy mystery" now and again. Still, I can't help beginning our conversation with, "So what are you reading these days?"
"Genocide," he says. "Nothing but genocide." The bartender puts our drinks in front of us: Floyd gets a Manhattan, I a martini made with Anchor Brewery gin. We are at Absinthe in Hayes Valley, an upscale bar and eatery meant to look like something out of a Toulouse Lautrec painting.
"Genocide, cool!" I say. "You mean like Nazis?" Finally, something we have in common, I thought. I have read everything I could get my hands on about the Third Reich.
"Feh," he says with a sweep of his hand. "That's old news. I'm reading about the Sudan and Rwanda and the Balkans." I am shocked that someone wouldn't find the original genocide "movement" more fascinating than its modern-day equivalent. But you know what they say, one man's blood bath is another man's kiddie pool.
"They said it would never happen again," he noted. "That we would never allow it to happen again. For me, that is what is interesting about, say, Rwanda."
"Yeah," I replied, "But I think we say that it will never happen again to appease our own guilt for letting it happen to the Jews. We don't really mean it."
Oh man, the debate was on. Did I mention that Floyd and I fight a lot?
As for the bartender, he was doing his level best to remain stoic during our fierce discussion. He mixed drinks right in front of us, shaking and tossing and squeezing this and that all the while. The guy sitting next to us was pretending to read his Onion, but he occasionally peeked up to look at us when something particularly gross was mentioned.
"They used machetes!" said Floyd. "They hacked up over 800,000 people in one week!"
"Yeah, but the Nazis were just so mechanical about it," I retorted. "Come on, that's way better!"
The room began to get a bit spinny at this point. I don't really drink much anymore, and this martini was killing me softly. I pushed my glass away. Floyd prattled on about the Tutsis and the Hutus and something that sounded like the Badonkadonks. Finally, the bartender broke through the proverbial fourth wall and interjected.
"Interesting conversation," he said. We laughed, as it had seemed to escalate further and further into violently gloomy hopelessness. "Hey, I've got no quarrels with what you are saying," he added. "Life is a swirling, sucking eddy of despair, built on false pretense and ending in miserable death." Whoa. (Note: I'm paraphrasing him here; this is the best that my gin-soaked memory can dredge up.)
After we paid I decided that I needed a brisk walk to get my circulation going again. I was determined to find one thing, just one, that Floyd and I actually had in common. I asked him if he liked the author George Saunders. Nope. I asked him if he liked Colonel Sanders. Nope, he appreciated his eccentricity but didn't really care for the man himself.
"If I'm going for a cultural icon in an odd tie," he replied, "it's going to have to be Orville Redenbacher." Bingo! That was it, the missing link, our one thing we have in common feelings of fealty for Orville Redenbacher. You see, he was the neighbor of my beloved Great Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Milt. I've actually seen the guy in a bathing suit. Floyd had dinner with him once when he was 8. "I couldn't think of what to say to the guy," he said, understandably shaken in the presence of the man who discovered a superior strain of Zea mays subspecies mays. "So I asked him if they let him bring his own popcorn in whenever he went to the movies."
We laughed, content in the knowledge that we would always have the undisputed king of movie snacks to fall back on when the conversation veered off into hostile territory.