Illustration by Jeff Nau
During parties, especially ones in designer-conscious downtown Los Angeles lofts, the couch is coveted territory. People have just spent twenty minutes making polite non-committal remarks around the kitchen island, and all anyone wants to do, at this point, is rest on the cushions and maybe squeeze an end pillow. However, the same competitive drive that applies to every other aspect of life in the city is amplified here. The people on the couch are ruthless motherfuckers. They’ve earned that seat; when a choice spot opens up, you be better be ready for conversational battle, or you will be booted back out into the unfinished concrete of the renovated hallway.
Recently, despite my better judgment, I attended such a party. Weary from exchanging platitudes near a collection of Rocky memorabilia, I decided to sit down on the couch, and found myself engaged in a conversation about conspiracy theories with a bankruptcy lawyer. Clearly, he had sat on this couch before. Not only was he was able to cite specific book titles, but he was making insightful comparisons between presidential assassinations and major terrorism events.
However, he had not consumed nearly as much of the champaign punch as I had, and therefore was unprepared for my counterattack. I began to cite my Basic Theory of Human Nature, drawn from my experience running businesses and running from other people in business environments. My central argument, that incompetence always triumphs over organization, caused him to finally blow out his cheeks in exasperation and get me another drink. No matter what Sun Tzu tenet he may have been trying to employ by getting me another drink, he did legally leave the couch to get me the drink, which officially won me the conversational match point.
Energized, I quickly bested a pleasant woman in a green vest, whose tales of blowing off her friends in order to pass the Bar Exam, although interesting, did not technically qualify as couch material. Self-sacrifice, when paired with heart-warming achievement, is more suited to personal memoir than the sharp-tongued volley of urban happy hour. I felt bad, but this was the couch after all: she would undoubtedly be happier leaning up against the refrigerator while eating some celery sticks.
Now, I was ready to face the alpha couch denizen, the man whose eyes watered only for smoke. I could tell, as we shook hands and settled into our corners, that human emotion meant nothing to him. He had sat on a thousand couches at a thousand different parties, eaten innumerable hors d’oeuvres, listened to tales of prestige and woe with formidable indifference. I was dealing with a master. The only question was: what technique would he employ?
After a quick warm-up, in which we plied some test digs and light undercutting banter, he went for the throat: genuine racial invective! It was a surprise move, cloaked naturally in an ironic tone, but unmistakably a slur. Who calls who a ‘sandnigger’ on a scotch-guarded piece of furniture? It’s a little like lighting somebody’s cigarette with a flamethrower. I began to realize, at that moment, that I no longer wanted to sit on the couch, if I had to sit next to this giant asshole.
It felt like a big moment. He had certainly breached couch etiquette, but who was there to enforce the policy? It fell to me to call him out, and what did I do? I went home. Blame it on the drinks, the late hour, the culminating fatigue of facing down conversational opponents. The point is: I may have lost this couch battle, but I’m still fighting the war.