A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published “The Gregarious Brain,” an article that explored the genetic disorder Williams Syndrome and its symptoms – slight mental retardation coupled with an enormous capacity for conversation and interest in socializing. I anticipate that at least two questions have sprung to mind. A) “Doesn’t that sound like you after an evening at the Fig?” and, B) “Are you reading the competition?” The answer to both is a resounding “Yes.” Here’s how: Intoxication reduces cognitive capacity and makes one chatty; I read the competition because it’s part of my job as an editor of a glossy magazine to assume the Joneses have the jump on me – especially the ones in New York (okay, I’m hedging, I don’t know any New York Joneses, but if I did…) More to the point, there was a turn of phrase cited by the article’s author, David Dobs, describing Williams patients’ hyper-sociability as the “drive to affiliate.”
The phrase struck a chord with me – to extend the metaphor, the chord was a tad dissonant. You see, I’m not a joiner by nature. As I’ve written in this space before, I fancy myself a lone wolf, at least since that bout of lycanthropy in college. I’m the boy who cried wolf, only to reveal that I’m the wolf before sauntering away in my lupine way because, well, I’m a loner. I’ve had to learn to play well with others – and don’t get me wrong, I adore others. Otherly is brotherly in my book, but the drive to affiliate is not a native strength. I’ve been accused of being the opposite of a Hollywood audition: “Call me – I won’t call you.” It’s just that I’m bad with numbers. Ask me how much a candy bar costs and I’ll say a $100 (and not because I’m at Whole Foods). Anyway, I’m going to take this opportunity to respond to a few of the missives I’ve missed of late, be they phone calls, e-mails, love letters and pink slips. Forgive the form-letter response, but please be assured that I had you personally in mind while writing these responses (if you think you can prove otherwise, then you’re psychic and already know my response to your correspondence). Here goes:
Dear 129 People To Whom I Owe Return Calls:
The answer is probably “Yes,” that is if your question was a “yes or no” question. And if your question had nothing to do with actually wanting anything. Otherwise the answer is “No.”
Dear 4,021 People To Whom I Owe a Return E-mail:
I’ll forward your press release to the proper party; glad you like the column; sorry you despise the column; and no, I don’t need your Canadian pharmaceuticals. And to the deposed Minister of the Interior of Nigeria: where’s my check?
Dear 72 Senders of Love Letters:
Please redirect your queries to my wife, The Contessa, and let’s see what happens.
Dear Employer and Purveyor of Pink Slips:
I promise I’ll handle my correspondence better in the future. I know that it looks rather irresponsible of me to be such a slacker but the truth of the matter is that I’m shy. Incredibly shy. I have no drive to affiliate. It’s a disorder, but I can get help. I know a pharmacist in Canada.
In the future, darling correspondents, I’ll endeavor to respond to your queries and comments with greater alacrity. In fact, I can feel the drive to affiliate burgeoning in me at present. Dig this: my new mantra comes from former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali’s improvised poem for a class of Harvard grads: “Me, we.”