Marco looked around the table at his friends. Beautiful and interesting people with radiant smiles. Ten years before, those same smiles would all have glinted with tiny metal plates held in place with a jumble of wires, commissioned at great expense by proud parents. But today, the smiles were perfect. And tomorrow they’d be viewed enviously by other beautiful and interesting people using state-of-the-art electronic devices on a variety of social media sites – but only the edgiest ones.

The friends were equipped with the latest clothing and gear. Expensive sunglasses, wireless earbuds, and cell phones were tossed casually on the table. Or maybe not so casually – there was certainly a consideration to maximizing visibility in the placement, at least at a subconscious level. The group often debated the pros and cons of various brands, but it was as much about having the best and latest than about functionality. Often the things were only used briefly and discarded when something newer and better came out. But, until then, the people who mattered would immediately recognize someone else who mattered.

The five friends were having dinner at a new place on New Year’s Eve. The place had been open only a few weeks and hadn’t been discovered by tourists and gourmand wannabes. It wasn’t really a restaurant in the traditional sense, or a bar either. It didn’t even have a name yet. Maybe it never would. It didn’t advertise or have a sign. You just had to know about it, as Marco and his friends did.

The music was a mix of hip-hop, indie and retro, carefully chosen by a computer app somewhere. Marco found it a little loud, truth be told, and a little heavy on the bass. But he didn’t mind having to yell over it, and his slight headache was worth it if the app had determined it was right. It wouldn’t do to question what the latest app had determined.

The cocktails were sensational, but the best ones weren’t printed on the menu. You just had to know about them, and let the mixologist know you knew. The brands of spirits served weren’t mainstream. They were mostly imported from somewhere special where people knew how to do things right. Of course, a few locally crafted spirits and beers were available too, but only the newest ones that hadn’t yet caught on with the general public.

Tonight, as often happened, the conversation turned to travel. All the friends had been to many interesting and exotic places. Each story was a subtle one-up to the last. Each successive sunset described got better and better. The nightlife crazier. The waterfalls wetter. The mountains taller. The local produce more organic. The conversation got more animated as the mixologist worked his magic. Marco realized that, at this moment, his life and the lives of his crew must seem nearly perfect to anyone who looked. That made Marco happy. And things would only get better in the coming year – Marco was sure of it.

Emily got up and headed to the ladies’ room, alone. Emily always headed to the ladies’ room alone shortly after eating. She would come back looking refreshed and fantastic, with a breath mint and a smile. Marco couldn’t help but appreciate her long legs and tiny waist. While Emily said she didn’t care for people looking at her like she was an object, she usually seemed dressed to attract attention. Marco had a thing for Emily, but she didn’t reciprocate.

Daniel also appreciated Emily on her way out, and he noticed Marco appreciating her as well. Daniel and Emily had once been a couple. He’d ended it when she’d started to act too possessive after their visit to the clinic. Like she expected him more out of him after that. Like he should be there for her in ways he wasn’t prepared for. But still, even though Daniel really didn’t want Emily back, he didn’t like the way Marco was looking at her. And, while Emily and Daniel continued to hang out when the group got together, there was still tension between them. Although they were both sure no one else in the group noticed.

Katie caught Marco’s eye when he looked away from Emily. Her smile had disappeared, and her mouth was a harsh horizontal like. Katie was a staunch feminist and reacted swiftly and harshly to any statement or action she judged to be sexist or politically incorrect, intended or otherwise.   She abhorred objectification of women and all forms of racial or gender stereotyping, and was diligent about confronting them, especially when exhibited by Anglo males. In her experience Anglo males, like Marco, all thought alike and were the source of most of the world’s inequities throughout history. It made Katie angry. Katie was angry a lot.

TJ was scrolling through various posts on his phone. There were several from another group having a similar evening across town. It somehow looked more fun than the one he was at. Maybe he should head over in that direction – he really didn’t want to miss out on anything, and he was having trouble sitting still. Sometimes the medications TJ took for ADD and depression didn’t mix well with each other or with cocktails. It was shaping up to be a rocky night.

And TJ couldn’t take much more of the negative energy between Emily and Daniel. Or maybe the negative energy was coming from Katie and Marco? Or Daniel and Marco? But TJ was pretty sure it wasn’t coming from Emily and Katie – there was no energy at all there. He’d never known the two women to interact at all outside the group, although they smiled, hugged, said all the right things, and acted like best friends inside it.

Marco looked around the table at his closest friends. Beautiful and interesting people with radiant smiles trained into them from a young age and perfected through countless selfies taken with expensive cell phones. Smiles that meant nothing but would be viewed enviously by other beautiful and interesting people using state-of-the-art electronic devices on a variety of social media sites on New Year’s Day.

It was going to be a great evening!


PC: Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash