Monday, May 26, 2014

People's Parties [May 26]

It's Decoration Day!

Fire up that grill; chill down the lager; sit by the picnic table and share awkward family jokes. It's summertime, summertime, sum-sum summertime. My time of year, as best assayed by War. Yessir, eight-track playin' my favorite songs. Hear the song. Face it, how many highly paid, snarky columnists fail to include audio assistance?

At the Holleran Ponderosa, we'd often have a cookout. I've already chronicled some of these gatherings in my May 5th piece. Of course, I would challenge Dad with some smart-ass comment like, "Actually, summer doesn't begin until the solstice, which is on June ..."

And I would hear for the 8,729th time, "Oh, shut the hell up, Tim!"

One of the glorious mysteries of these parties was a dish called sutni szalonna (shootney sul-lun-uh), which was a quasi-healthy amuse-bouche centered on bacon fat. One of my father's Hunkey goombas would get the fire going—hadda be a wood fire, mind you; eighty-six the Kingsford. Then they'd take huge chunks of bacon the size of my Uncle Frank's fist, score the meat and impale it on long forks. These would be held over the fire, then you'd press the mess onto a slab of rye. Add some onions, cukes to the bread and you had what was considered a delicacy. I could smell when the party was breaking up, hours later, via Mom's percolator.

Off topic: I am beginning to launch a strident campaign to teach people how to dress macaroni salad with something other than a fire hose. Just sayin'.

I didn't become my own Perle Mesta until I hosted a Twist Party in my basement. This consisted of seventh graders, 45-rpm records, chips and soda. And dancing. Catholic girls loved the Twist because it entailed no intergender touching. I liked it because there were no "steps" involved. You just had to watch Chubby Checker's TV spots. And gyrate.

Not much later, dancing was abandoned so that we young swains could concentrate on something more important: the art and craft of Making Out. At my first such event (chronicled in more detail in my May 14th effort, Girls, Girls, Girls) I was successful in Hugginggarten and Osculation 101.

My second didn't go as well. Somebody's dad dropped us off in—yes, it's true—Fairfield! Just a couple of miles away from my 'hood, this toney suburb was the home of mansions the size of the Bastille, kidney-shaped swimming pools, Country Squires, perfect girls displaying impossibly seamless sheets of perfect blonde hair ... and, most importantly: Parents Who Went Away on Vacation and Left Their Kids Alone. Just this thought stretched the reaches of my understanding of grown-ups. I was pretty sure such parents weren't making holidays in Shamokin, Pennsy, as the Hollerans did.

I was shocked that this al fresco soirée was at a place no larger than my house. No servants. No small, crustless sandwiches. I knew only a small portion of the gang. I fit in like Spike Lee at a DAR convention. Spin the Bottle was first on the agenda. One of the prettiest girls was of the Blonde Brigade as described above. She spun the Hires root beer flagon ... and it landed at me.

Here we go, Tim. You have arrived. Okay, it's not making out, but you're about to buss a real Fairfield girl. Man up, pucker up, and get 'er done.

I had to get up and walk over to her. We touched lips for a picosecond. I felt a galvanic frisson of pure, sinful delight. My gait impeded, I duck-walked back to my chair.

That's when I saw her wipe her mouth.

This one gesture lowered my testosterone to Liberace levels while it set back my nascent claim to manhood a few years.

In high school, I went to a party where the punch was said to be spiked. However, the venue was home to a half-dozen feral dogs whose hygiene standards were fairly close to those Swamp Cretins you see on the Great Unwashed Network. This ordure pushed me into the backyard , where I urped up the Charles Chips and blanketed weenies I had consumed earlier.

At Villanova, the popular gathering place was a "TG." Yes, held on Fridays. You'd find out where the off-campus site was, bring your own vessel and pay a dollar at the door. The fuel was usually a vile concoction called Ortlieb's, a cheap brew worthy of Macbeth IV,1. I didn't see any crones in the area (only Rosemont girls). But I thought I tasted wing of owlet. After an hour, I didn't know what I was tasting.

Becoming a real musician cast a new light on parties. We weren't only invited, we were celebrated. After a while, tired of seeing the acoustic-guitar guys get swoons from perfect blondes, I shelled out for a pair of bongos—such the trials of drummers be. I can tell you this: Women weren't wiping off their mouths anymore.

Once on the road, I got my baptism into Real Parties Somebody Else Paid For. After a show in Maryland, we were feted to a groaning board of shrimp, crab, lobster and whatnot. Excellent wine and potables of a dark amber color. The cognac matched the honeyed hair of a winsome, bright, bosomed, Shalimar-scented, magnificent minx who was fawning over me profusely.

"Oooh," she said. "I loooove the drums. You're still in town tomorrow? You have to let me show you around."

In fact, we had two days off. I silently thanked my dad for the lessons. A liveried waitron brought us champagne and Sevruga. This was why I got into the business.

Until our tour manager buttonholed me and spat, "Hands off, Ace. She's the promoter's girlfriend, and we've got six more gigs with him on this leg of the tour." Nur ein Traum das Leben, I thought. Rats.

Also in the not-too-shabby genre was an Eagles' post-gig bash, The Third Encore, as they called it. As I loaded up from the larder, sipped a cocktail and chatted with Don Henley, Joe Walsh sauntered by. He held a bottle of Courvoisier in one hand, three snifters in the other, and accessorized his arms with a pair of lovelies who would surely be late for Home Ec the next day.

As I entered my own grown-up phase, party options dwindled. I learned to avoid the horrid amateur pig-roast spectacles, due to the fact that the beast was tended to by besotten thugs who had no clue how long the process would take. I was invited to many of these, usually with the codicil, "Bring the band ... and your instruments."

The worst, in my book, were rich people's parties. One galpal blandished me into attending a couple two three of these. Worst and first, you had to get Dressed. Then sit for three hours with Uninteresting People Who Owned Things. It seemed everyone was obligated to wrap a napkin around the base of their stemware—I guess to ward off errant condensation from their Pouilly-Fuissé.

At one such get-together, I was pinioned next to a seersuckered, bow-tied dandy who succeeded in nauseating me in record time."Look at these finger bowls," he said, "Aren't they fun!"

No. They're frigging finger bowls. Fun would be dumping it on his noggin.

[Before the month is out, I will chime in on my general abhorrence of the use of "fun" as an adjective.]

Mr. Fop later decided to regale us with what he considered to be a joke: "When Constance and I summered in Nantucket last year, I stopped at a local store. The proprietor said, 'Good to see you again, Mr. Blythe-Shitwood! Your daughter came in yesterday for some camembert.' I said, 'Actually, that was my wife!'"

He topped off this hilarious escapade with a grunted, "Huh-huh-huh-huh!"

"Huh-uh-huh-huh!" said the table, in concert. Except me.

My date gave delivered a fairly good sub-rosa punt to one of my shins. So I said, "Huntley, you're a fucking riot!" That silenced the huh-huh cadre, but quickly.

As we left, I felt the same relief as I did when Walt Devanis announced a school closure on WICC.

I did go to a few wonderful, bashes at the home of well-off folks, where actual laughter, terrific food and great stories abounded.

I took the same galpal to one such event, not bothering to inform her of our host's name. "Don't worry," I said. "There will be fun people there."

Minutes later, we pulled into a driveway, where we were greeted by William F. Buckley, Jr.

"ACE!" he said. "So good to see you!"

He then took us into a room and served us from a monster-truck-sized wheel of Stilton, accompanied by world-class glasses of port. He couldn't have been more gracious—or witty. My date lanced me with a look that said, "If you ever sandbag me like that again,you're toast." Never mind that. My predilection for these two items was now ingrained in me.

Just yesterday, I was invited by my buddy Joe to a cookout at his folks' house over in the Fifth Ward. Nice folks, good eats, oldies on the juke, homemade sherry of the highest water and plenty of laughs. In place of the usual Coal-Country-keep-a-defib-handy fat fest, I munched on some serious chicken teriyaki, homemade soupies and more.

Now, that was fun.

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