Friday, September 30, 2011

The Lehigh Maneuver

Way back when I was an undergraduate in college, I used to frequent these things called parties ... semi-often. (Those that know me: stop rolling your eyes.) I couldn't help it I went to a supremely dodgy, astoundingly cruel institution for my learnings; it was just the culture to drink, drink, drink (the infamous chant of "Drink that drink" still keeps me up at night). So on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday or whatever other day something was going on, I'd be there, Solo cup in hand, standing or sitting around, watching the inanities unfold. There was drinking, there were retarded beer games, there was blaring, awful music, there were my classmates fighting against time and the call of adulthood.

One friend of mine, "Derek" - name changed because he's now a professor of philosophy at a prestigious university in the South - was one person who used to (sometimes) accompany me to these 'festive gatherings.' You see, these 'gatherings' used to, in the best (or worst) of cases, get supremely out-of-hand. Like, violent and ridiculously out-of-hand. Not always, mind you: sometimes they would fade out and die peacefully and everyone would stumble on their merry way. But in the case of the Bad Ones, alternative measures needed to be in place.

Derek and I got trapped a few times in some bad situations, enough so that simply talking our way out of whatever shitstorm brewed was becoming stressful and there were certain 'locations' and individuals we learned to steer away from. We've seen girls "pushed" off balconies, guys thrown off balconies, people vomiting blood, people tossed in pits of chocolate (and, as it turns out, feces), sparkling wine dumped in Jacuzzis (not a good idea), bricks thrown through car windows, bottles thrown at locals and other things it's best to keep repressed. Now, I never got hit by any objects (... intentionally) or tossed anywhere or gotten slammed with a bar stool (I know someone who did) and the worst things I ever got involved in were shouting matches with strangers (some of whom went on to become half-decent acquaintances ... and investment brokers) and a precious few tasteless shenanigans. The reason why neither Derek nor I got into any major trouble is that we learned how to figure out when That Precise Moment was going to take place in which things were going to take a turn for the worse and it was time to Run ... Like Hell.

You see, That Precise Moment is the Exact Time in the evening when The Mood changes from fun and pleasant to something more dark, ominous and potentially hazardous (or, conversely, crushingly mundane). Don't get me wrong, danger in small doses is quite thrilling. But there are those (cough, cough, my father) where the level of danger is simply never high enough: the threat of physical harm, police intervention or a messy brawl with neighborhood thugs, for them, is where True Bliss is at. For those of you that delight in anarchy, God Bless. But for Derek and myself (not to mention a few other people we knew), that became tiring and, frankly, stupid.

Derek was an obnoxious Philosophy major and I was an obnoxious Psychology major, and together we thought we had it figured out. See, parties generally don't just start off batty (and for those that do, do a 180 and find someplace else to go). It's the environmental factors that play into it: what kind of people are at the party? Who will eventually show up at the party (invited or uninvited, it doesn't matter)? Did two (or more) people enter the party already arguing? Is there some sociopath at the party who has a history of stirring the pot and causing problems? Exactly how much alcohol is there? What kind of drugs are there? What time of year is it? Is it cold outside? Is it warm outside? Is it exam week? Is there a serious rivalry underway between two fraternities or sororities? Is the school cracking down? Are the police out and about? Are the locals/neighbors pacing around outside with nothing to do?

Factoring all these elements in, Derek postulated The Lehigh Maneuver. It's based on intuition and experience, and can technically be applied to any number of situations. The Lehigh Maneuver basically states: when the official Mood of the Vicinity changes, it's best to find the nearest exit and excuse yourself from the place because once The Mood Changes, the Maximum Potential for Pure Fun diminishes when compared to the Maximum Potential of Ugliness (or, in select situations, Deadening Malaise). You think things will get "way more fucking cool" when they most likely will not. A night ended talking to the police or dragging a friend to the hospital or seeing a half-naked young lady run from a room and claim she was raped puts a damper on things.

Now, I learned ... and this was reinforced in other ways a little later in my life ... about always being aware of the exits in any location you are ever in. You walk into, say, a house, and there's a garage, a back door, a front door. There are windows. There may be a raised balcony/patio with steps. In an apartment, there's a main door but there's also (usually) a fire escape. In a fraternity, there's the pig chute (if you don't know, don't ask). Some bathrooms have windows you can squeeze out of depending on your size. Once you're aware of the exits, you will know which ones to get to should you need to.

I can tell what you're thinking. "Matt, you putz, why worry about ways to get out? It's a party! Sometimes things get out of hand, and that's all right! If you leave early, you might miss out on good stuff! Leaving is rude!" To this I say: I'm sorry you went to a liberal arts school. I hope you enjoyed your strawberry daiquiris and potluck and Carole King albums. And you apparently haven't been where either Derek or I have been. If you're afraid of missing something, you will find out about it later. People chatter. If you screwed up when you were there and feel compelled to just Get Out, time will pass and tempers will subside and the alcohol poisoning in the people you offended/irritated will have gone away and they will be in a much more civil mood. Derek, being the philosopher, always applied Bentham's rule: it's about maximizing enjoyment and minimizing drama and conflict and unhappiness.

Someone shows up high and carrying a crate full of pellet guns? Unless you feel like getting shot at (and you very well might), get out. Someone opens the front door and chucks in a (cheap) bottle of whiskey that smashes on the nearest wall and the ladies present yelp? Get out. You're bored as all get out and you can't stand talking to the same people about the same dumb crap over and over again? Pure Fun is over: excuse yourself to the bathroom and then make a hasty retreat. Someone outside crashes into a neighboring car and everyone inside runs out and starts yelling? Get out (or view the proceedings from a safe distance). Some pathetic drunk girl is leaning on you and burping uncontrollably and worried about the small-time issues in her life? Lean her against something else because she's a Fun Exterminator. The campus police arrive? Who cares if you're over 21, get out.

This maneuvering has led me to being something of an oracle nowadays to my (somewhat younger) friends, who are always amazed whenever I, out of the blue, say, "I'm leaving." Or just leave without saying anything. I can't tell you how many times, after I bid a hasty exit, they say to me the day after, "Oh man, you won't believe what happened after you left! It was ... awful. So-and-so got into a fist-fight with so-and-so over [Something Moronic]." Many, many, many times.

So if I'm at a dinner party I'm sickened with (for lack of Pure Fun and mandated Pleasant, Fake Interaction), I know when to leave. If I'm at a wilder gathering with caustic substances and a stressed and irked idiots, I know when to leave. Make yourself seen, then make yourself un-seen; maximize Enjoyment and leave when that Enjoyment is under threat by outside sources. Maneuver your ass out any available door. "But how do you know when to go?" I've been pressed. I just do. If you pay close enough attention to The Mood, you will too.