Early spring. John and Z go to the reception of the new Dutch ambassador in Bratislava. Abroad the Flemish seem to blend rather easily with the Dutch.
As a guy who grew up in a rather poor family, relatively speaking, John is both drawn to and repulsed by fancy settings.
His friend Andy is also there, without his girlfriend. Although John is what women call a cheater, he and Z have the more supportive, more intimate relationship. Andy and his girlfriend have a peaceful, easy going relationship, but they live more separate lives, they don’t get deep into what the other one does or desires.
John didn’t want to go to the reception, but Z pushed him. Z was just curious, she doesn’t like fancy events either, but she likes adventures, and she wants to take a look around. She also likes to see her husband in settings where she feels he belongs.
Andy hasn’t told John there was a reception at the Dutch embassy. They are best friends, but the last couple of years they don’t help each other any more. John found out because he used to work at the Dutch embassy. He’s the one that created the embassy’s Facebook page. But he left when he got annoyed about the amount of money a Dutch ambassador makes. 25,000 euro a month, for doing little. Just give speeches in bad English. His father spoke 4 languages well, but was a factory worker all his life making something over 1800 euro a month. And it stings. As a small child John drank in his father’s depression, his ambition and potential to be doing something else. So when John sees uninteresting people in high positions, it cuts a knife through him. Every mistake the ambassador makes in his speech is like a barrage of mortar fire.
One of the many things John likes about Andy is that he is easily the most casually dressed person at the reception. Andy could be an anti-fashion icon, for some reason he likes to combine gray and black colors with bright, fluorescent baths of light that almost hurt the eyes.
Although the two of them have managed to wreck 50 percent of their friendship (more like a de facto platonic marriage than a common friendship) they give each other a big, tight hug when they run into each other in front of the ambassador’s residency. John wants to ask where Yoko Ono is, but bites his tongue. John knows he grew up in a town where being cynical and rude to people means you actually like the person, but he also knows that people can’t understand this.
Andy is here to get some advantage. He teaches Dutch at the university of Bratislava and the embassy has funds to support certain projects. Andy doesn’t make much money, but he has a lot of patience and skill to pry away funds for university projects. John would like to see Andy uses that talent to get funds for the publishing house they run together, but he doesn’t want to tell him what to do. The weird thing is that John found most of the funding for their publishing house, mostly from common people, not from institutions. If John and Andy would really work together they could practically take over the country, but Andy doesn’t want to put much time in something that seems risky and John is tired of letting Andy benefit from his ease when it comes to risk taking. To be fair, John easily launches something new, but then loses interest, after the risk taking is no longer necessary and a tedious routine settles in and discipline is needed to keep it up. Z does the paperwork of three or four projects that John’s launched. They could work, but John gets bored too easily.
The same mechanism is behind his womanising. He loves the thrill of the risky opening face. He likes getting into a conversation with women and have them share everything they like in bed after a mere two or three hours of talking to them, sometimes much faster. He needs the risk, the challenge, the possibility of being rejected and preparing everything to minimize that risk of rejection.
He’s read every seduction book he could find and has tested most of it. He’s not great at it, he knows what great would look like, but he can sort of apply what he’s learned. Like at this reception there’s simply no target. There are not many people. Apart from Z there’s only one attractive girl and she looks very young and gullible. She wouldn’t be a challenge, he wouldn’t enjoy their conversation, the chase would be dull. The girl is responsible for the economic affairs of the embassy, and you can see she’s been hired for her looks. Or perhaps because her family is well connected AND her looks or because she can be molded into whatever the embassy needs.
Z spots this as well: ‘That girl has zero experience in these circles. She greeted us as though we are important.’
The more experienced embassy staff doesn’t make that mistake. They are friendly to Z and John, but they both know that they are categorizing John and Z as lowly, useless people they can’t use for anything. Andy is useful to them, through the university and because they let him teach Dutch at the embassy, a gig Andy could have split with John, but choose to split with an other friend. John makes a mental note to not split anything with Andy either anymore, although he would want to, but he needs to curb his altruism.
John tries to talk about the situation in Syria with the ambassador and is shocked when the ambassador says he’s completely sure Assad is using chemical weapons.
They get into an interesting conversation, but Andy asks the ambassador in which language he communicates with his dogs.
The secret of a life long friendship is limitless forgiveness, so although John is frustrated, he knows Andy is like this because his mum is like that. Andy’s mum cannot listen and never stops talking and just rambles on about the most dull topics, like shower curtains. She asks questions and then answers them herself. She wasn’t seen as a child and now she always talks in a vain attempt to be finally seen. The only thing that matters to her is how much money her son is making and it’s not enough, so ever since most of Andy’s friends make far more money than he does she’s been on the brink of mental collapse. Andy has a sister, but his mother is passing on her trauma, she doesn’t really care about the daughter, her son is her God, her legacy, her proof to the world that she matters, except that he needs to make a lot more money for her to really feel like she matters. John knows all this and the frustration he feels towards Andy transcends into something close to unconditional love.
John himself is the boiling mixture of good will, envy, ambition, hatred, social justice activism and sheer despair and risk seeking, because
his father wasn’t an ambassador.
If you understand the root of your own pain you become compassionate towards others.
John goes home in a sad mood, feeling like a loser. Something he will compensate for by going out with women.
Z calls her family and cheerfully talks about the evening. It’s not spelled out, but John can judge by the tone of the conversation that her parents are impressed that her daughter was at the reception of the Dutch ambassador and John is glad that he at least managed to make Z and her family feel good.
Z says she will spend the weekend at her parents’ place.
He will try to see O on Saturday.