the tag is not the tale
Editor’s note—A hundred and fifty of you subscribed in the last month🤯. Which is quite ridiculous tbh. Welcome welcome. I’m glad to have you here. So you know what to expect, every week I alternate between light travel stories (like this and this) and reflections on my life (like this and this). Going forward, I’ll publish on Saturdays (noon-ish California time). I hope my words bring some light to your day.
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Okay, onto today’s story
A few years before the pandemic spread its tentacles and held us in its tight grip, I got a pleasant text from an acquaintance. He invited me for a pregame at his place.
The pitch was simple—music, drinks, games, and single women. I didn’t need much convincing to clear my
empty busy schedule.
Six hours later, I arrived at the door, showered, stretched, and smelling like the woody, rustic cologne sample I was gifted by a kind Nordstrom attendant who had mercy on my poor soul. The stench of my stiff whiskey shot masked by the redeeming mint on my tongue. I wore a crisp, oversized cream shirt, in a bid to accentuate my dark, moisturized skin. Oversized because the craze of wearing tight clothes under gritted teeth had thankfully died by then.
I ring the bell and he buzzes over like an excited puppy. “Oooh, you’re gonna love it man. Everyone’s a vibe.” I rub my palms in anticipation.
I walk in with the feigned confidence of a man who knows the layout of the house. But I don’t. It’s empty bravado. I’m pretending to know where I’m going because I’d rather confidently walk to the wrong place…than ask for directions. Sigh, the sins of my youth.
Through luck and bluster, I end up in the general living area without making a total fool of myself. I say wassup to someone I recognized and greet the ladies one by one. I garnish my hugs with a sliver of eye-contact and a cheeky question to look for small trouble.
‘Sophia with an “f” or did you leave your edge at home😅?’
“Boy, stop!” My arm is greeted with a playful slap.
I turn to the group: “Okay, what games are we playing?”
My question seems to hang in mid-air, lonely, unanswered and devoid of touch. Like the singles during the pandemic. All of a sudden, the host cuts the light music that danced in the background. He taps his glass with a plastic knife to grab our attention…as if to rouse us with an impromptu toast to the wedding couple. Only there was no couple and no wedding. Unless I missed something in the text.
The room goes dead silent. What was previously a light, airy vibe has turned super-serious. Smiles and laughter have hardened into raised eyebrows and mild concern. Between rushed sips and subtle side-eyes, the guests try to communicate with each other. What the hell is going on?! Our host takes a moment to gather himself. He clears his throat and borrows a clearly-rehearsed opener from his box of tricks.
He thanks us for coming and tells us he wants to introduce everyone personally so we knew each other’s names. In principle, this made some sense…but my skeptical tail began to wag a little. There were only five of us and everyone seemed easy-going, social, comfortable, well-adjusted. We didn’t need name tags or a teacher to introduce us to our project partners.
We were playing drinking games—hardly the stage for diplomatic formalities or ceremonial processions. Part of the fun is messing around in the mud, making new friends (and enemies), forgetting their names, plotting how to ask for a reminder, committing to relearning them, laughing over the whole nonsense. Since when did single tipsy adults need a facilitator to exchange names?
Nonetheless—I assumed a quick, meaningless intro with a little waffle to satisfy his thirst for centre stage.
I should have known better. Our fearless leader chose an unsuspecting first victim to parade. Pointing to his left, he let the prose rain—“This is Vanessa, she used to work on AI at Microsoft but left and raised $10 million for her startup”. The introducee sheepishly took a sip of her drink and lowered her head as if to will the conversation to the next person.
Oh, no. We’re doing those kind of intros?
Our sovereign sheikh rages on, for each person, he highlights a run-down of what he thinks will impress the others in the room. He dangles schools, titles and companies about. Sometimes going back to high school achievements. It’s a prestige pity fest. What happened to the party I was promised?
The only thing impressive in this slimefest was the fact he remembered everyone’s resume.
In my head, I’m cringing but trying not to make a scene. If I sip and stay silent, maybe the scourge would end sooner. My mind starts to wander. How do the others feel? I look for clues in their eyes. Is someone secretly enjoying this? Was this Vanessa’s idea—to flaunt her fundraise in our faces?
Wait—how is he going to introduce me?
On one hand, the whole saga is rather infantilizing, but I’m intrigued how he plans to sell my story to strangers. Imagine being in the room with the hiring manager discussing your fate. I grab the popcorn and zoom in.
It’s my turn now. Deep breath in.
He half-mumbles a word salad of true statements that he thinks will impress the crowd. Something something “Engineer at Pinterest“, “plays soccer three times a week”, “lived in the UK for 8 years”. The first two statements pass without any fanfare. Unimpressive to the audience. I’m now in the uncomfortable space between a half-nod, half-smile and wanting this charade to immediately end. The last statement however, elicits an audible coo and a few not-so-subtle double takes in my direction. “Vanessa” goes “say something British for me💁🏼♀️” and I roll my eyes out of the damn socket.
On the surface level, I know my friend was only trying to do me a solid. He wanted to make a positive impression for me…for all of us. But it felt being a felled beast in the Sahara watching hyenas circle as they wait for your final breath. Like a dehumanized object being examined on a bench, rather than a three dimensional being. I’m a person with layers, textures, bumps n bruises, cognitive dissonances, and perfect imperfections, not a list of contrived highlights. Also, this is a bloody party?!
I’ve always found externally-applied labels weird and uncomfortable. For a long time, my number one “ick” was someone who thought they could “figure me out” based on one fact—my age, my zodiac sign, my job, my degree. Like you, I’m full of multitudes and contradictions. I don’t exist as a perfectly mixed fluid1—some bits are sweeter than others, some zones are hotter to the touch, some areas are battling to figure out which direction they should flow.
How someone chooses to describe you often says more about them and what they value than your true self. Especially if that person knows you fairly well. Why do they omit certain facts? What do they emphasize?
Our host decided to sacrifice us at the altar of credentials. “Talk to this person, they’re cool because of their professional accomplishments…”
Did I trip and fall into hell in my sleep?
If you can’t guess, this travesty happened in San Francisco. I already worked in tech—surrounded and enveloped by its bear hug daily—the last thing I wanted to hear at a party was “AI”. Or anything remotely close to “disruption”.
Lie to me—assume a different name and personality, tell me you’re visiting from another city, test-run that fake French accent you practice when you’re alone. Make up a story about how you met the host. Convince me you’re a retired tattoo artist who remembers every single stroke. Commit to the bit. Introduce yourself as your alter ego. Or yourself in third person—I don’t care. Spice it up. I’ll play my part. We can workshop it together.
But please don’t invite me to a fête that’s secretly an excuse to recite resume highlights. “LinkedIn in real life” has a rancid taste to it.
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The first and probably last time my fluid mechanics lectures have ever proven useful in my life