back to the Black Table

For some reason, when I talk to friends from home about New York, they all ask me about the parties. Without fail, anytime they call me before, oh, noon, they’ll say, “Oh, jeez, sorry to call you so early, ‘cause I know you were out living it up last night.” This is partly because I’m an alcoholic, of course, but they seem to overstate my ambitions.

Chances are, more likely, that I went to bed at 11 after heading to the Corner Bistro by myself to read the new Nick Tosches book. But they don’t get it. They’re aware there are plenty of parties here, but they never seem to understand that they rarely involve me.

I’ve always been uncomfortable at parties and large gatherings. (I’d say I’m more of a one-on-one person, but I’m not really that either.) Something about them has always bothered me; I arrive, and everyone is already having fun, like they didn’t even know I was coming (had they known, maybe they might have toned it down). It’s like coming into a room just after someone has told the best joke, the type of joke they’ll keep referring back to the rest of the evening. Everyone’s hooting and hollering (which is my father’s favorite expression, by the way), hee hee, haw haw, and they’re all in on the joke, enjoying it together. Except for me.

The more rollicking the shindig is, the less at ease I am. Especially when people are dancing. I have tried to dance before, giving it my all, but I simply cannot dance. I can’t even shimmy; no mashed potato, no twist, nobody likes it like this. Occasionally I can fake it, like back in St. Louis, when I would coerce fellow sportswriters into heading out to a club, if just to avoid another night of ESPN Classic.

Ever seen a sportswriter dance? They go one of two ways: They either look like a chicken pox-infected man having an epileptic fit while being struck by lightning, or they look like a 10-year-old who really has to pee, standing straight up, hopping ever so slightly, eyes dodging around everywhere, hoping nobody notices. It’s highly amusing, to be entirely honest.

To these guys, because I was usually drunk and tossing myself around with little regard to propriety or safety, I could dance. But to the general public, the people who actually dance for fun rather than dancing because their alleged “friend” shamed them into it so he could take pictures and mock them, I’m a disaster. I jump around like a moron, move my hands wildly left to right and eventually morph dangerously into a shucking, jiving “Walk Like an Egyptian” movin’ fool.

It’s horrific. I’ve had three completely different ex-girlfriends actually refuse to go to any kind of dance club with me. I remember in college, the ex-fiancée and her friends used to drag me the only dance club in Champaign that didn’t play Hammer. I had a definite use: I was to hold the table and make sure nobody stole the beer while they were all dancing. I usually tried to remember to bring a book, like Mom used to do at the Cardinals games.

I’m not sure why it is. I consider myself a somewhat social person. But when you’re at a huge party with people bumping into one another and no more than negative-6 inches between you and some 7-foot-tall dude with a lot of body hair who’s sweating out the average rainfall of the Amazon Basin all by his lonesome, you tend to become a bit withdrawn.

Inevitably, I end up playing Frogger with the crowd - for some reason, I insanely insist on saying “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” and “Pardon me” when I bump into someone at huge parties, which only happens every half-second - and ricocheting to the outdoor patio, where I sit in the corner, smoke cigarettes and try to siphon off a cubic foot of space in case there’s a fire or something. Intermittently, I’ll start laughing out loud at nothing in particular, in case someone is planning on punching me and needs to be scared off by an appearance of insanity.

If someone I know comes by to say hello (or, more likely, to remind me I owe them money), I’ll make some kind of joke about being all worn out from all the booty-shakin’ (I find it funny to use the term “booty-shakin’,” though nobody ever laughs) and then wait the requisite 10 seconds - tops - until they notice some random person in the crowd, yell “Thomas! Hi!” then scamper off. Then I go back to my random laughter.

And that is how I party.

Went to a party last Saturday night (Didn’t get laid / I got in a fight / Uh-oh, it ain’t no big thing. Sorry ... I couldn’t resist). It was actually more than a party; DJs were spinning, and it was billed on a promo as an “opportunity to once again lose yourselves in a wash of refreshingly primal bass and beer-soaked memory.” Once again? To me, it was a “rave,” you know, like what they wrote about in Time. (I was later told that it did not actually qualify as a rave. I’ll let you decide.)

Now, I’m new to this whole “rave” thing, with all the “kids” “raving,” “having fun” and “enjoying” their time at a “rave.” I’m not “hip” with the “rave” mainly because I’m a “dork” with “mother issues” and a sticky film that just won’t “rinse away.”

But I was willing to give it a shot. I’d never been to such an event before, and jeez, Wally, I’d heard a bunch about them, and, shucks, they seemed awfully fun. Some fellow Ironminds people were going to be there, and they were much hipper than me, so I figured, if just by osmosis, maybe I could have a good time.

We arrived, and I noticed straight off that this was going to be a struggle. Everyone was all decked out in dance garb, or they were wearing nothing at all (one woman, clearly under the influence of some kind of stimulant, probably coffee, danced topless with black stars painted on her nipples for about three hours; at the end of the night, she was lying down, staring at the ceiling, eyes wide wide wide open). They were all grooving around in a trance, dancing with each other and themselves, oblivious to anything but the beat (that beat, that incessant beat). But they were serving Old Style at the bar.

I hightailed it to the garden outside, finagled my way into the corner and sat down. I got up once, waited for a half an hour for the bathroom, left the latrine, realized I had to go again and stepped back in line. Another half hour. Back to the garden, save for a quick stop at the dance floor, where some guy (I swear) was digging his fingernail into his cheek. I stayed at the garden from then on. If you saw me, it might have looked like I was dancing for a moment, but I just tripped on a rock.

I’ve been thinking of having a party recently. Maybe I’ll invite all those friends from home, show ‘em what a real New York party’s all about. Of course, it’ll just be laughing to myself and tripping over rocks, like always, and it’ll be extra tough to do that “Thomas! Hi!” trick, since, well, I’ll know everybody there. Probably won’t work.

Maybe the only person I’ll invite is me. And the cat. I think the cat can come.



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