Monday, July 16, 2012

The Christmas Party, Pt. 2

(The first half of this installment is below this post, or here.)

I won’t lie to you, it had been some time since I’d seen action of any sort, so my sad little body was going into overdrive with the juices and hormones (are hormones juices? Or are they, like, thin clear serums? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going with thin clear serums, on a hunch) it was creating around the idea of this horny woman. And since when are women overtly horny? Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard girls say that they’re just as horny as men, that they practice blowing carrots in the bathroom at the mall and all that, but really, now. Until a woman can convince me that she has masturbated using an old velvet cloche with some rubber bands holding it closed—while desperately trying to tickle her taint with a feather-haired pencil-topper she’s affixed to a chair leg with twist-tie—no dice. Bonus points if she can say she actually went to Goodwill with the express intent of buying this stuff, after thinking the design through, for the scandalous purposes heretofore described. For me these scenarios are usually ad hoc, but women are said to be more cerebral about sex. 

That said, I was ready for some low-hanging fruit, and this fruit was practically jumping off the tree and peeling itself. I had the old man to deal with, and he was probably going to give me guff for doing something beyond the pale like enjoy a party, but then again you never knew with him. His waters run pretty deep, and he’s seen enough of life to accept the ludicrous as a statistical and therefore forgivable inevitability. He also likes to have his fun – ask me about the time he bought a hat on the Internet. Never even tried it on at the store—nope, not wild old Cornelius. He insisted I print out the site’s return policy, of course, and gave me a lecture he felt he had to give about the importance of “taking in the whole man” before knowing that one’s “sartorial oeuvre” could truly absorb such a critical accessory, but in the end he kept the hat (a Goorin Brothers wide-brimmed “Jameson” he thought made him look like a “Westeran scholar with the Pecos at his back”). He looks alright in it, although the crown is a bit wide for his face, which makes me think he’s just wearing the hat so he doesn’t have to admit to his impetuous mistake.

I stood and grinned, and she did something even more surprising. She left. Not leave-the-house-while-her-hand-still-smelled-like-my-detergent left, but walked casually off to another room like it was nothing. I lost sight of her, and while my heart wasn’t exactly sunk, I felt kind of left at the altar. My mind raced trying to figure out what this meant, and in true party fashion I thought things would be helped along with another few slugs of my drink. Bill walked past me, this time utterly unaware of my existence. He was grinning wide and holding two mugs of his famous nog, on a beeline for the same room she’d gone into.

Maybe there was a VIP game of cribbage going on in there, I thought, or it was the room where Bill let people listen to music with guitars. I stood in view of the door so I could check it out next time someone entered or left. I wondered if I wasn’t supposed to follow him in there, if that butt-rummage hadn’t been some kind of swinger shorthand for Follow Me, You’re In The Game. I never know about these things, not that I have a lot of data points to work with. Cornelius sidled back over to me from a giclee print he’d been enduring in the corner.

“Quite a spirited bit of chirosophy,” he offered, taking a long nasal pull off his booze’s wreath. I figured he meant the grab-fanny, but since I was the one who had been violated, I stayed mum and let him develop his thoughts. That puzzler had earned me a moment of processing time, so I was off the clock.

“A fiver says you can’t snag a lap at that lavender-wanded harlot’s fragrant mons,” he said, apparently deeper into the heat of his Scotch than I’d thought. “Five if you do, and can prove the after-effects of giardia.” He brandished a crisp green folded note and tucked it into his breast like a pocket square, an unthinkably gauche gesture he’d never dream of while sober. He seemed to want to give me five dollars; it was the holidays, after all, and he’d be providing himself with the gift of some cheap, highly personalized entertainment while shopping locally and sustainably for my disgrace. Fine, I thought—I’d been planning on trying for either outcome gratis, so this was just icing with the excitement of sport. I didn’t like the bit about him kneeling with his ear to the bathroom threshold while I tooted on the pot after, but he’d probably reconsider the benefits of that angle the next morning anyhow.

“You’re on,” I said, now sipping with purpose, deeply and with steeled eyes, or whatever.

“She has made no secret of her salacious intent for you, so if you can simply keep from jacking the whole affair beyond recognition with characteristic word or action, the wealth of her costlew bosom shall soon flood across your own pigeon chest. I suggest playing mute and dropping trou while the erotica unfolds in situ, perhaps inhabiting the role of a supine victim of Medusa.” He tossed his head in the direction of the other room and winked. His cup was talking for him more than usual, and I liked it.

I’m not a total shoemaker when it comes to the tender affairs of the ding dong, you know, so I resolved to go above and beyond the easy demands of the bet. With luck I’d snatch a trophy pair of underpants, and I could use these to seed a collection of hot-gotten gains. Or not, since women tend to remember those garments, no matter how well I’ve ravished them. I’d certainly have memories, at least, and five dollars, which is way better than usual, when all I have are memories, and these are typically of drunkenly buying some Pringles at one-thirty in the morning while absolutely nobody is around at all, anywhere, except for maybe the President, who is asleep at the White House. That’s the way it feels some nights.

I took a hoot of cocktail about three times the volume of my mouth, which led to some of it running down my chin and splashing onto my shirt, so I was going to look and smell a treat, but by the same token I was going to be able to charm my way through cement walls, so I was, as far as I was concerned, as predisposed to success as I ever get for things. I felt the cold bracing surge wash into my bloodstream and shook Cornelius by the hand.

“And what of you, while I complete this randy errand?” I said grandly, like a, well, drunk guy.

“I expect as the evening wears on and these harridans grow dissolute on canarie, I shall have welcome opportunities to exercise my more withering imprecations,” he said, taking an eyebrow for a spin and leaving it pointed toward the bridge of his nose like a check mark. Impressive.

“Well,” I replied, “If I’m not back in half an hour, or an hour, or five minutes, or whatever, well, you know. Whatever.”

“Much as it ever was and will be, my good man,” he said. “Should I require a facsimile of your conversation in the meanwhile, I shall sidle up to the nearest snow globe or dried prey and carry on as usual.”

There was no more getting around it; it was time to approach the door. I set down my glass, picked it back up when I realized I needed a prop, and filled it with something called Key Lime Koromovka, a cheap flavored vodka I hadn’t seen before. I forgot to mix it with anything, but my feet were moving and there I was, before the door. Knock or push open? It wasn’t my house, but then again, being polite about entering a room where such impolite things were probably happening seemed retarded. I went to reach for the knob, but then noticed some mustard on my knee, and bent down to try to lick it off before going in.

Just then the door opened, and I was face to face with the business end of Bill’s crotch, if you get me. Well, the dick business end, not the butt business end, since that analogy doesn’t really make sense given how much stuff crotches can do. But anyway, there I was, nose-to-hose with the guy (he was still dressed, don’t worry), and I figure it must have looked like I’d been peeping in the keyhole, because he let out a guffaw like an electrocuted Jamaican Santa Claus and clapped me on the shoulder.

“Susan! Look!” he called back to the woman, now named Susan, who reclined with arrogant, smiling ownership in an oversized beanbag chair. “Peeping tom here has been enjoying our little show!”

I don’t like being called “peeping tom”—unless I’m walking down the street in a peanut costume selling reading glasses from a cigarette tray, or something—so I was defensive at that, but Susan smiled again and nodded at me, and Bill guided me into the room in a friendly sort of way. He shut the door behind me, and I could feel Cornelius sither-chitting, or chucklepating, or ginny-mugging, or whatever word he would choose, from the cocktail stop. I envied him, in a way, but was also pretty sure I was going to get my wick spitted at some point, so I bucked up.

Bill sank into the bean bag next to Susan, sipping from his mug with his lips pulled so far back that only his teeth touched the liquid. It was a strange thing to see.

“Why don’t you choose an album, Téodor?” Bill suggested, motioning toward a charmingly old-school hi-fi in a wooden cabinet with a glass front door. Big padded, beige headphones (“monitors,” I bet he called them) with a long curly wire were hung on its side, and two boxy, dark-veneered speakers with gridded, textured foam faces sat on either side like mute sphinxes. A stack of records sat on the counter built into the wall, so I started sorting through them. The assortment kind of caught me off guard.

First, I’d never seen any of them before, and I spend a lot of time flipping through arcane crap in dusty old record stores. They were foreign, but the translations were decent, so it was hard to tell by the few mistakes who was making them. Italians put exclamation points at the end of everything, even if it didn’t originally have them (“A ROSE FOR EMILY! BY! THE ZOMBIES!”) and the Germans always put a period after everything, like a lonely deejay floating across the dark airwaves announcing factually and without cadence that the song he is about to play has just died. The graphic design was spare, just a slightly-fatted Helvetica in black on a spot-color red background, so no clues there, and the date and label information wasn’t included, like these were black market, bootleg, or home-pressed artifacts. I finally figured that they were Dutch, given a double-O in a word that usually only has a single-O, and also the word GANSEVOORT hand-stamped crookedly on one of the faded newsprint sleeves, but that was just the beginning of the mystery. It was the titles that threw me off; it was like seeing fake albums in a dream.

The bands had names like ATTRACTIVE SUPER PUSSY, THE DICK-EATERS, and PARLOUR WAD. You know, stuff like your brain might make up if you fell asleep really high and horny during a Russ Meyer flick. Tracks were things like “Two Tickets To Hooray!” and “Lean Up And Fuck.” Whatever Bill and Susan were into, it got way more interesting with this discovery, and I was kind of fascinated to start putting the needle down.

Bill laughed his hard plastic laugh again, the air exiting cleanly and fully from his lungs with each little crut.1 I turned around to see them both smiling intensely but with scrutiny at me, as though relishing my uncertainty. I waited; they were the ones with the pet outsider, they could be the ones to talk.

“So, Téodor!” Bill smiled, finally, looking at me with the fixed face of a toy snake about to devour a marshmallow rat. “You’re a music guy, right? You know these?”

“No, man, I don’t. I go to a lot of record shops, and I’ve never seen any of this stuff.” This is a big admission from one record guy to another, but I was floored, and just trying to sound appreciative to save face.

Hello, Baby? Trans-Press? Flemish Hi-Stride?” He was listing labels, as though to jog my memory. It’s that record guy thing where just because they find one ultra-rare pressing of a forty-year old Afrobeat album at a flea market on the edge of an illegal kidnapping district in Bamako, they expect everyone else to know who sat in on guitar on track three. (“Eric Clapton!”) I nodded in the right way during this litany, which is an art form more complex and nuanced than Japanese bowing, and let it run its uncomfortable and shaming course. As is customary, the instigator must begin playing “just one track,” and while you listen appreciatively as your penance you know, in your heart, that in two hours you’ll be watching Rutger Hauer in “The Hitcher” together. It’s just the way these things work.

Bill dropped the needle on “Thigh Milk,” a kinky track by a group called Polish Spread. It was a blend of late-60s UK mod and what seemed to be experimental Argentinian pop of about the same era—kind of like Os Mutantes—but there was a thickness to the integration of the firm, high-neck bass and a tight, peppy drum kit that was sensual, suggestive, and sexy. It was the musical equivalent of flirting, and it made me feel good-looking, which is hard in a room with a mirror. As the song aligned me with them and gave us a groove to share, I began to sense Susan looking at me.

Sure enough, when I made eye contact, she pouted sultrily and curled a finger towards herself, a picture of come-hither. As I began to walk over to her, she slid forward off the bean bag, and assumed a kneeling position, upright, facing me. This, I thought I understood. When someone goes on their knees in front of a man at a party where cult Dutch hump-pop is being played in a private room, that can only means one thing is about to happen, right? Was this really about to happen? I tried to remember if I’d dribbled in my underpants after using the bathroom, and if it had been bad.

I ran through the next minute in my mind. I would stop just before her, close enough so that her arms could work my pants open, and let her get started. After a minute, before I got too worked up, I’d kneel down too, and slide her straps off her shoulders, revealing the swelling breasts that had started this all. I would cup them, and lean into her kiss, and…and yeah, Bill would be there, but guys like Bill are always somewhere, and I figured he was just there to get his rocks off without abdicating the bonds of matrimony, or whatever unfulfilled married guys say. If he didn’t mind seeing my butt putt-putting up and down while all this was going on, her luxuriating beneath me, her thick long hair spread out all around her like an aura, then whatever. You only go around once, and I got no truck with god or the devil, so it’s all for a laugh, sometimes.

As I started to walk toward her, Bill did too, and he and I kind of matched step for step, me eventually just following his lead since he seemed to have done this before. As he got within a few steps of her, he started to crouch to a kneel as well, so I did that, and pretty soon we were all three on our knees facing each other. Susan took my left hand and Bill’s right, and Bill took my right hand, and I started to get pretty oggy inside. Whatever was about to happen, it was starting to look less like Acapulco party-head and more like Bill somehow having Missionary-style sex with me while Susan deejayed.

Then, the music gathering up its solo and striding to its crescendo, they leaned toward one another, and the corners of their mouths touched in a kiss. It was clear that my mouth was supposed to complete the third part of the kiss, but what with my sense of joy deflating so quickly it could have filled a car tire, I paused I guess a bit too long. Each of them opened one eye, eyed me coolly, and then they blinked and leaned back.

The single came to an end, and the tonearm tucked itself away, kind of like what was happening in my pants. Faint party sounds could be heard outside the door, along with the tinkle of ice cubes in somebody’s glass. I didn’t really know what to say, but knew that saying anything was pointless, because nothing fun was going to happen until I was squarely off Bill’s property, and ideally situated somewhere behind Mars. I gave them the benefit of First Noise and prepared to bolt.

“So, Téodor,” Bill said. “I guess…guess I mis-read you.” His voice was firm, not embarrassed. Somehow I had been giving him big, clear, false signals, leading him on, he seemed to be thinking.

Susan seemed no less disappointed in me. She looked aside angrily, sitting her ass on her heels and waiting for Bill to give me my dressing-down, for it to be over. She closed up her shirt and held it that way. Bye, boobs.

“That could have been a really great moment—this could have led to something really magical,” Bill continued, “If you had any concept of respect, imagination, or follow-through. Now we’ve wasted nearly an hour, and the energy in this room is just shot.”

I got kind of pissed, because I could afford to. It’s not like I had his lawnmower or something. I felt a little punch in me and wanted to see it grow.

“Look, dude,” I started. (I’m from California. This is our “Friends, Romans, countrymen.”) “What kind of a world do you live in where three people—two people and a stranger—kneel in a circle and fucking three-person kiss?! Without talking about it first! Like that’s expected? Like I have some model for that? I don’t know what god damned movie you both saw when you were eleven but that is not how things work at parties.” I motioned at the record player. “Yeah, you’ve got neat records. That doesn’t mean I want your bag on my chin.” I shot an insinuating look at Susan, who scowled and looked further away. That is what you think neat records mean, I said to her with my eyes.

Bill, it seemed, wasn’t used to getting challenged, so he went silent, which in a situation like that is as good as retreating. With the sexual economy between us evaporated, I was basically just in a room with two people who were trying to make me feel bad for being different from them, I realized, and suddenly they were just two dopes with old records and weird ideas about kissing. I don’t know what they were after, what their “scene” was, if anything. I just felt put-out, and after a lifetime of trying to be nice to assholes who walked all over me, I was cooked.

“Stay in here and kiss sideways, for all I care,” I said, getting to my feet. “I am going out to the bar, and I am taking a bottle of whatever is most full and least expensive, and I am leaving. As I go, I will roll your wife, whose name rhymes with benzodiazepine, on her side, so that she does not meet our Father with a throat full of holiday cheese loaf.” I showed myself out, to six-pound silence.

I figured I had about thirty seconds of clear time before Bill and Susan would have a game plan, so I stormed to the table, flew a high sign at Cornelius, who was dispensing with the harridans left and right, and grabbed a bottle of something clear. He read me straight and we were out the door like surgery, complete. I had an invigorating pull, he shared the gesture in solidarity, and we strode home, two men with one task behind them.

“I read in your gait the unconsummated loins of anger,” he offered, after some head-clearing.

“Bill wanted in on the mix,” I said. “I wasn’t down.”

“Of course he did, lad,” Cornelius sighed. “The particular artifice of his life’s camouflage broadcasts deep signals of oddity at the core; why else would he compensate with such a catalog of fluff?”

“I’m not bugged or anything, just kind of annoyed.”

“The conscious mind is a hungry pathology, our exteriors manifestations of truth and misdirection. We hide in plain sight that which we think we contain most deeply.”

When he passed the bottle back to me, I noticed something wrapped around the label. It was the five.

“Even if you can guess the ending, some shows are worth watching,” he said. We crunched off down the shortcut home and got some cold cuts going before too long.

* * * 


1. Here I think Téodor means to say “eructation.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Christmas Party, Pt. 1

I was standing there at Bill and Shelley’s Christmas party (our new neighbors two doors up) when I felt something hard bump into my elbow. It was a breast, apparently in a pretty supportive bra, which got my mind going about sizes and cups and all that before I had even figured out whether to say sorry or not. The woman, who was about my height, hadn’t paid much attention to it, and was refilling her drink, holding the arm part of her big drapey shawl or whatever it was back while dipping her cup into the antique silver punch bowl. It had tasseled fringe (the shawl, not the bowl, although I guess that wouldn’t have been too surprising given its vintage) and was kind of hippy-dopey for my taste, but you can’t, or shouldn’t, really judge someone by their scarf, as it might have been a gift or handed to them from a particularly special deathbed or whatever. Scarves come and go, and I had on a stripy black-and-cream number I’d found after a party at Ray’s. It was Calvin Klein, and had a little silver tab that said so, but I was always careful to tie it so that that part was hidden. I don’t like clothing with names. I can get behind a Who t-shirt, but when it’s just an ad for a manufacturer who never wrote Heaven and Hell…you know what I’m saying. Anyhow. There was this woman, and she had a breast, and she was pretty fast and loose with it.

I filled my glass mug thing with some of Bill’s “famous egg nog” and gave it a try. We were all around the drinks table in their nice dining room; there was a fancy silver bucket of ice, with tongs, and pretty good handles of Maker’s and Aviation and stuff. I figured that I could have like twenty dollars’ worth of cocktails for free, and might even fill a Dixie cup with gin for the freezer at home. Work has been pretty scant lately, as not a lot of people are banging down my door wanting half-written guitar intros or untested recipe concepts scrawled on the back of that sticky cardstock paper that comes wrapped around a set of three new pairs of socks (birthday present from Aunt Brezna).

Cornelius had agreed to come along for a bit, which was a relief because I’m terrible at making small talk at parties until I’m kind of flippant from a drink or two. After that I can make jokes about the bathroom or whatever it is people like to chat about at parties, but until then I know I’m a wallflower, I own that I’m a wallflower, and that’s my job at the party. I do my job well. I’m that guy that makes people feel awkward, and they can take comfort in knowing that, as with any perfect party, the universe has provided the requisite awkwardness-making guy. Cornelius is old, and people also like having a guy around who isn’t sexually threatening, so we made a pretty perfect pair. They were lucky to have us.

Cornelius sidled over with his mug of nog.

“Hideous stuff,” he confided in me, putting the rim to his closed lips and feigning a sip. He was really good at it; I tried it a few times, and there are definitely tricks you have to know to take a convincing fake pull. He’s always surprising me with little social courtesy things like that. It’s nice.

“Yeah, look how proud Bill is of this stuff, over there in his big dopey red sweater,” I said, maybe too meanly. Bill was handsome, had his hair combed well, and was every bit the holiday host. His sweater was just red enough for the occasion, and had a nice white collared shirt underneath. He shared a big laugh with a tall guy who wore dark brown leather fashion sneakers, the kind of guy I’m inclined to call a PR-firm prick before even meeting.

“I don’t know how he makes it so damned thick.” Cornelius slid this line over like a snide comment jotted on a bar napkin. It was the eggnog-insult equivalent of a karaoke slag like KARRIE SINGS FIELDS OF GOLD LIKE SHE WAS WIPING HER ASS WITH THE SHEET MUSIC PASS IT ON. Sniggers and smiles hidden by quickly-hoisted green glass Heinekens. Poor Karrie. Poor Bill…his thirty-dollar cream flop was making him a target at his own party. Sure, we were jerks. And it probably cost more than that; cream’s like three bucks a pint and the bowl it was in was the size of a Beverly Hills holiday squash.

“I’m guessing,” I guessed, “...he whips the cream past the soft peaks stage to the point where it squeezes out its own moisture. It’s kind of like overworking a dough, and I don’t know of any way to rescue it.”

“Well, a gentler soul than I ought to pass along an anonymous card with the correct technique. I’m suffering a fool’s syllabub here and I don’t like it.” Cornelius wasn’t usually this grouchy, and I was liking it. Maybe we’d hassle someone later, like two wild dogs gone wrong on grog.

“I’m going to dump this out in the toilet, old man,” I said to him. “You can go next.” I liked calling him old man. It put me in my place.

“Mum’s the word. I shall follow your lead upon your reëmergence.”

I found the bathroom under the stairs, but it was closed, so I waited a minute. I don’t like to jiggle the lock and bug people when they’re exposed; it creates bad energy and I hate when people do it to me. I wish more people knew to leave the door cracked when they’re done. Anyhow, pretty soon the door opens and out comes the woman with the breast, and she gives me a freshly-peed smile or whatever you call it. I like a woman who can make eye contact with a stranger even when everyone knows the score about who just had whose pants down. Maybe she was a painter. I smiled back, hopefully quickly enough so that she caught some of it. I wanted to know more about the breast, I’ll be honest. What was it up to? Having a good time? Had the breast heard the new Vampire Weekend single?

I spent a minute checking my nose hair and gums and stuff, just to be sure I wasn’t about to start up a conversation with a piece of alfalfa sticking out of my eye, or one of those other little social gaffes. All clear, I let Cornelius in to dispose of his fatty, fluffy logjam. I wandered back to the drinks area to try something else.

The woman was there again; I guess she’d had the same trouble with the egg nog, and had moved on to bourbon with ginger ale. I forgot what that was called, which sucked, because I could have used that term when talking to her. Oh well, two fewer words in the universe at my disposal. I’d find a way. I grabbed a fresh glass, clinked in some ice cubes (perfect cubes, not the usual…interesting…it would seem that Bill had some fancy theories about ice cubes), and did a half and half of Grey Goose and that fancy full-calorie Braintree tonic water that comes in the little brown Old West bottle. There were some lime wedges, but I wanted to see if the Grey Goose actually had any of its own citrusy flavor, so I held off. I wondered if she’d notice that I evaluated the limes but then didn’t choose one; any little detail can catch a person’s eye. She might think I had been a lime snob and didn’t see a nice enough one; we might hit a good stride and I’d just be honest and tell her I wanted to see if this fancy vodka had any distinctive flavor that made it worth the extra money. She’d point out that if I really wanted to find that out I shouldn’t have mixed it with anything, and I’d laugh a little, and she’d have the upper hand, and people like that, especially at the beginning of a conversation when it’s anybody’s game and the power is up for grabs. Who wants Canada? What about Alaska? No? Okay, that’s where we’ll put nice people who don’t know what calzones are. Boom.

Oh, I forgot to mention that she’d left a napkin in the toilet. It had balloons on it. There weren’t any napkins with balloons on them at the party. Did she have a kid? And who leaves a napkin in the toilet after flushing? Maybe she’d been picking her nose with it after the fact, or doing one of those secret things ladies do in bathrooms, like wiping her makeup around to make better cheekbones, or hiding the hole where the little alien baby wriggles its hand out. I tucked that one away.

As I said, she was about my height, maybe a little shorter, which explains the breast/elbow thing. She had long mid-back blonde hair and a long flowy gypsy-type skirt thing that stopped just short of her funny boots, which I happened to know were Fluevog Grand Nationals, because I like shoes. Maybe she’d like that I knew that. I tucked this away as well, and had a celebratory big sip of my drink. If I was going to get into Stranger gear, especially with a mysterious woman, I was going to need some help, and I wasn’t there yet.

I found Cornelius in the library off the living room, a little alcove with candles burning tastefully atop tasteful stacks of tasteful books about Giverny and Baroque furniture and all kinds of other tasteful, tasteful stuff like that. Cornelius was looking this all over with his nose delicately clenched in a way that I had come to recognize. With him that was the equivalent of throwing a chair through a window in unhinged disgust.

“An assemblage of conspicuously sourced, unleafed dreck, if you ask me,” he slipped over. “Veblen would be smug as a bug in an ugly rug over it all.” He sipped from what looked to be a Baccarat of light golden Scotch. There wasn’t any Scotch on the drinks table, so I suspected he’d filled it from his flask. He may have even brought his own folding Baccarat tumbler; you never really knew with him.

“Yep, pretty damn tasteful stuff, I have to say.”

Bill came over to us, ever the consummate host, the superheated light of pure hospitality shining out from his collar like a crack in the surface of the sun. I took another sip so that he’d talk to Cornelius first.

“Gentlemen!” he boomed, scarcely able to contain the great good fortune he felt at having found two guys standing around in his house. I think he had pomade on his teeth. “How are we this fine evening!”

“One bump shy of a vacation in Rome, my good man,” Cornelius said. It sounded pretty worldly, but Bill and I had no idea what he meant. Sounded like a stab at bad Italian roads, but also made the party sound kind of like Rome, which generally seems like a good thing, though I hear the place is overrun with feral animals.

Bill slapped Cornelius on the back, holding his own mug of nog in his odd-looking hand. For a guy who was built just a little stronger than average, he had pretty fat hands. They seemed like the kind of thing that would happen to a guy who loves to eat French fries with his friends and then go home to have a baked potato and frothy golden beer. They were starchy hands, puffy with tuber tension. You didn’t get the way Bill was by avoiding potatoes. Cornelius took it in effortless stride and asked him to which year the house dated. I wondered what he was getting at.

“1975!” Bill boomed again. “My, you’ve really got an eye for architecture! You ever check this out?” He pointed at a book about Frank Lloyd Wright. The Masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright, or something. All I knew about Frank Lloyd Wright was that he was an asshole, but it was alright, because he made houses that people got F’s about in college.

“Quite a mind,” Cornelius mused. “Vibrating madly, just off-key in the mudroom of genius.” Bill didn’t know what to make of that, so he offered a hard-to-argue-with “Precisely!” and pointed out a few more architecture books, including one by that Le Corbusier piece of work (Le Corbusier is the guy architecture students vainly pretend they’re not directly ripping off by wearing severe little dark-rimmed circular glasses). Cornelius nodded in confirmation, and Bill said something about having to turn down the fire under the nog pot. He didn’t even bother to ask if we liked sports scores, which was kind of a relief. Good read, good play. Tie game.

Bill’s wife Shelley or someone had turned on one of those Pottery Barn holiday CDs in the living room, and some rich people were “getting loose,” inasmuch as there were basically quotation marks surrounding everyone on the dance floor, metaphorically speaking. Women in thin white sweaters and tall leather boots with spiky heels were physically moving around on top of the cream colored carpet in ways that said, “Sex with me will be a painfully one-sided, seven thousand pound letdown after a long, horrible night of lying to yourself.” One particularly wild woman had taken her shoes off. Perhaps she had been at Woodstock, or knew how to hold an ocarina.

Suddenly, a hand landed on the middle of the back of my thigh and crawled up to my ass. It didn’t stop there and, in fact, started looking for change in the space between the cushions, if you know what I mean. Interestingly, I stood stock still. Thinking about it later, I’ve never really formulated a game plan for that situation, because I never really had reason to. But there I was, standing stock still, I guess lest I make the situation worse. That’s how I react to surprises, I found out just then.

Trying to keep my eyes from going wide open, I carefully turned to the side to see who was doing this. Part of me wondered if it was Bill, finally revealing his insatiable appetite for all things sexual and depraved. No, in fact – it was the woman with the breast, and in her other hand she held a stiff golden tumbler of bourbon. She smiled right into me and left me no choice about it. I stood there, helplessly smiled into, and did the only thing I felt capable of: I smiled back, quizzical but delighted. Or at least, that’s what I was trying to convey. I was probably making a face like Tweedle Dum with a bee on his nose.