I think it was The New Yorker which ran a great cartoon based on the old Thurber story, "The Unicorn in the Garden."
As the story goes, a husband sees a unicorn in the family garden and tells his wife about it. She ridicules him, telling him "the unicorn is a mythical beast" and calls him a "booby". When he persists, she threatens to send him to the "booby hatch" (the mental institution). He persists, and she summons the authorities. However, after she tells them what her husband saw, they force her into a straitjacket. They then ask the husband if he told his wife he had seen a unicorn. He tells them that he has not, because "the unicorn is a mythical beast." Thus they take the wife away instead, and "the husband lived happily ever after."
As I recall the cartoon, it's a man looking out the window saying "I SAID there's a unicorn in the garden," while the wife ignores him. (Maybe you hadda been there.)
But I think of the unicorn in the garden and the man's wife's indifference whenever we are with the guy we spent the evening with last night. I have probably written about him before. He's so centered on himself, his kids, his life, his famous acquaintances, and whatever trivia he can impart to enrich our lives, that nothing you say makes an impact.
We were discussing an actor we both know and how I had just learned that he was the cousin of a friend of mine, that the cousin had told me about the actor's family, which is kind of like the Barrymores of Northern California, with several generations involved in various aspects of theater and how I learned that I had probably seen his stage debut, as a small child in a production of a musical in which his mother starred, back in San Francisco in the 1950s.
So far he was following me, but I made the mistake of mentioning that the cousin (someone he didn't know and thus could not contribute anything to the conversation) had gone on to do great things, too, and had, in fact, had the lead in an opera in San Francisco, a huge deal. I said "That was the first time I ever got to go backstage after opening night at the San Francisco Opera House."
Without missing a beat, he said "I don't know what it is with my wife. She has terrible allergies." He then went on to tell me about his wife's allergies, how he can't keep the windows in his house open because of her allergies, etc., etc. Needless to say, it effectively ended any conversation about the exciting appearance of our friend in a starring role with the San Francisco Opera.
Earlier in the week, we were having an e-mail exchange. We are both dealing with aging parents and the problems that come along with them. His mother also lives in the Bay Area, so we are both driving back and forth the same distance, when our mothers need help. He was complaining that he seemed to be bearing the brunt of all of his mother's care, since his siblings are busy with their own lives. I tossed out a statement I would never say to most people, but the evil in my soul makes me do it just to see if he can notice the unicorn in the garden.
"It's all relative," I wrote. "My sister was murdered in 1971, so I have no siblings to be angry with for not sharing the burden!!"
Hopping neatly over the information that my sister had been murdered, he assured me he wasn't really angry with his siblings and went on to explain their inability to help with Mom because of their impressive jobs.
I suppose it would be easier to just avoid him, but we are frequently thrown into contact with each other. I roll my eyes a lot, but it has also become a game for me. Can I say anything that will cause him to react to what I've said, or will everything I say be a challenge to one-up me, or turn the conversation to be about him.
I remember the time we were driving somewhere with a mutual friend. The friend and I have a mutual friend, whom Mr. Me-Me-Me does not know and the two of us were talking about her, about her upcoming visit from the country where she lives, and how much we enjoy her company. There was a break of a couple of seconds where Mr. Me-Me-Me broke in with a story about his son, who was currently traveling in Europe. Needless to say, the rest of our drive together was filled with talk about the son's experiences, and any other opportunity to continue our original conversation ended.
His saving grace is that he is an interesting guy and I suspect totally oblivious to how he appears to others. Another mutual friend and I were discussing him one day and he said "Yes, he's interesting to listen to for awhile, but I'd never invite him to a party."Pretty much how I feel about it.