A friend celebrated her 40th birthday on Saturday with a DJ in her living room, a man in a chef’s hat doing something to asparagus with a blowtorch in her dining room, and several waiters and waitresses shuttling things between the kitchen and a tent out on her deck. Service slowed down as the party grew more crowded so I resorted to serving myself from the tub of ice and beer bottles which stood next to our table. This seemed like a good idea at first.
The beer bottles had these pull tab tops designed to cut open your knuckles when you ripped them off. Luckily I was wearing a black suit so any blood was not really visible, and after a few bottles it stopped hurting.
You know how the type of guests populating a party can influence your attitude and behavior there? Like, people who are very interesting and sympathetic make me want to stay sober and engage in fascinating conversations? This is not fair to say, since I didn’t know many of the guests, but they struck me as people in their forties who were ambitious, career-wise, but not nearly as successful as they’d hoped to be, and were trying to seem more successful to each other. This made me want to drink pulque or poteen or at least beer.
We were talking to an old colleague of my wife’s, who told stories about the time he and I had drunk a lot of beer and shochu at a Kyoto karaoke place and sang Johnny B. Goode together, which I will never forget, although I will never clearly remember it, either. My wife mentioned how embarrassing it had been for her when we’d punched holes in the shoji screens back at our hotel, which I have no memory of at all, and which shames me deeply if it is true, and my wife almost never lies.
Then that friend disappeared and another ex-colleague joined us. Some sharp young woman to whom I took a liking. Before we got to the party, my wife had warned me not to stand around shyly not saying anything. “Be sociable,” she said. “Look, when I drink enough you can’t shut me up,” I told her. At the time, I’d thought I was joking.
It was a trip through the circles of hell. More talk about my wife’s job. Talk about how we met each other. Me telling everyone how fucking hot this young woman was. Her saying, “you first came to Austria in 1976? That’s when I was born!”
Then someone mentioned George Bush.
Big blurry bit. An hour or so later, I remember, I had the young woman cornered in the kitchen, not really cornered, she could have physically escaped if she’d wanted, but beer in one hand I was still going on about Republicans and the Bush regime. Unfortunately, although my pronunciation hadn’t suffered too much by then, the German grammar center of my brain had shut down and I was having a really hard time producing coherent sentences and even I noticed I was doing a lot of repetition. She had this expression on her face I’d seen somewhere before. Later it came to me – on the face of a pigeon our cat had cornered in the laundry room.
She had these pretty hazel eyes. Same color as mine. Jokingly, as my wife dragged me out of there, I mentioned something about her pretty green eyes. “I don’t have green eyes,” she said. I’d meant it ironically, somehow, don’t ask me, but it seems for irony to work you have to be more coherent.
Sunday morning, I’m in there having a long talk with the plumbing god, thinking, “Well, that was a total waste of Special K flakes,” when my wife, not without a certain understated tone of pleasure in her voice, reminded me that I had promised to go rowing with my daughter at the season-opening thing at the rowing club at noon. Twenty-two kilometers in choppy water.