|The husband as Pool Shark|
Stanley’s company holiday party was Saturday night. So we slipped on blazers and bowties and went. It can be awkward going to a party where you don’t really know anyone, and Stanley is not often at ease in social settings but we went anyway. It was a chance to get out of the house on a Saturday night and he seems to like this job. We actually had fun. For me it was great to see Stanley relax and enjoy himself. He and his favorite coworker, Loretta, played pool. 18 years together and I had no idea he could “shoot pool.” While he and Loretta played, I mostly stood off to the side, armed with Gin & tonic, and watched the people, which is what I tend to do. I’m a writer, but mostly I’m an observer. There was the woman in the red suede wedgies and too short white skirt (White! In January!) and the short, beefy guy who did one armed pushups with the owner of the company sitting on his back.
A few weeks ago, I started work on my next book. The other night I got up at 3 a.m. and wrote a pivotal scene which takes place at a high school reunion. I had the key characters in place, the scene set up and most of the dialogue which is pivotal to the story. What I was missing was the background, the color commentary that would flesh out the scene, give it authenticity, and bring it to life. We got home about midnight, and after we walked the dogs, I sat down and armed with yet another gin and tonic, wrote the rest of the scene—filled in the background and the minor characters and secondary actions based on what I’d seen. I thought about everything I had seen and heard all night, then I thought about what the scene needed to accomplish and the mood I wanted to convey. Because I like to keep my stories short and tight, I discarded a lot of what I’d noted because it didn’t drive the plot forward or contribute to the mood or foreshadow oncoming events.
Reading over what I’d written in my notebook (by hand in ink, of course) I thought back to other party scenes I’ve included in my books. Below are two scenes that remain my favorites. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you wish you had been invited to either party?
***Dondi called a few months after our return to invite us to a cocktail party. He’d been living in New York, with Leonardo. He was feeling much better, had gained weight. Some days he could almost forget illness. The party was to celebrate their new house in West Claw. “I know you don’t like Leonardo, so come for my sake.”
“I don’t dislike Leonardo,” I said. “I think he’s silly and vacuous, but I don’t dislike him. Your brother dislikes him.”
Yet despite Matthew’s objections and my own misgivings—in this case, a certain nagging voice that said: “Don’t do this. You’re making a mistake. You’ll be sorry…”—we found ourselves, early the next evening, driving out to Dondi’s house on Long Island.
A twisting gravel drive pulled us up the side of the hill and a series of sharp left turns drew us within sight of the house. It was a sight to behold, lit from basement to roof. The house itself was a huge glass box hoisted into the clouds on stilts. It was massive, swollen with architectural self-importance and self-conscious wealth.
The driveway was littered with dozens of cars. Parking, we stepped onto the drive and looked at the house. Through its glass walls we could see men without jackets, in gaily-colored vests and cummerbunds of Kente cloth, darting through the vast house like exotic tropical fish, while exquisite women in jewel-colored gowns swept across the black marble floors, displaying themselves in the dark night like precious gems in a jeweler’s velvet box.
“C’mon,” I told Matthew, who stood staring at the house in disbelief.
Grim determination bore us across an enameled lawn into a wood—not of trees but of people, overdressed poseurs folding hors d’oeuvres down their elegant long throats, their elegiac eyes swimming with martini-induced vagueness.
We spotted the three furies. They stood together, Panther like a queen in a court of commoners. “Hello, fellas,” she said drunkenly. Her eyes danced away as she spotted a woman, an aristocrat’s daughter, moving through the crowd toward her. “Darling! You look fab-ulous,” she cried.
The two women lunged at each other, arms open. Stopping fully a foot shy of actual contact, they loudly bussed the air once, twice.
The aristocrat’s daughter regarded Panther’s bosoms. Nestled in her cleavage was a pear-shaped sapphire. The stone was as large as a bar of soap. Looking over her pince-nez and down her nose, the aristocrat’s daughter cooed, “Darling, don’t you think it’s a bit flashy?”
The model glanced at her bauble. “Mm, I used to think it was vulgar too,” she said. “Until I owned it.”
The aristocrat’s daughter blushed, waved to someone in the crowd and beat a hasty retreat.
“Bitch!” Panther called after her, rather too loudly.
“In the house,” Clare said, rolling her eyes. “With that trashy boy.”
We continued across the lawn and, making a left at the apron of the drive, found ourselves in front of an alarmingly wide gray metal door.
“Is this the front door? Where’d they get it? First National Bank?” Matthew asked.
Inside, vast open spaces cantilevered over emptiness. Exposed pipes of shiny chrome and black matte snaked through its monstrous square footage, carrying hot water and electric current. Narrow circular staircases with treads of perforated stainless steel like wedges of lime, cartwheels of imminent danger, flimsy, noisy, spiraled up and down leading nowhere.
After wandering around for ten or fifteen minutes, smiling at people we’d never seen before, we discovered Dondi and Leonardo in the living room behind a pair of bronze doors.
“Why are you two in here,” Matthew asked, “when you have guests outside?”
Dondi waved grandly in the air then set about mixing a fresh batch of martinis. “Leonardo has tired of their company.”
“They’re boring,” Leonardo whined.
From What Binds Us
The party was a carousel. The crowd revolved every few minutes so that someone who was a stranger glimpsed across the crowded room one minute, was an intimate, invading one’s personal space, the next.
They stopped for a moment on the periphery of a group prevailed over by a blonde god of such vitality that he drained everyone else in the room of color and interest.
“My God,” Smith breathed. “He has so much energy.”
Brooklyn dismissed the false god with a word, “Cocaine.”
Later when the blonde spun past him, Smith noticed the tip of his nose was dusted with a fine white powder and his eyes were so dilated that his irises appeared to be a narrow band of navy blue.
The crowd revolved, parted, allowing her passage into their midst. The crowd revolved again. A keyhole opening gaped. At the end of a tunnel of empty space stood a thin ravaged young man known only as Q. He was as spare and angular as the Mondrian hanging on the wall against which he leaned and whose spotlight he shared. A former hustler, he was but a dim memory of his former self. He now worked for IBM and had gone from hustler to trick, paying boys as he had once been paid. The older hustlers shied away from him for as they were, he had been; as he was, they would become. The crowd revolved once more, closing the gap. Q disappeared like an old memory.
The crowd rotated and revealed a small band of Lost Boys, inebriated, standing a little apart. Smith thought they did not seem as statuesque, as distant as they did in the night on The Merry-Go-Round. Relaxed, freed from the exaggerated poses of masculinity that usually paralyzed them like Rigor Mortis, they seemed oddly like broken, discarded dolls.
Late in the evening, Cocaine in mid-sentence, keeled over dead, startling his coterie of erstwhile admirers into shrieking silence.
The wailing cry of an ambulance flamed into the room. Red light evolved, painting shocked white faces with horror like splashes of blood. The paramedics loaded Cocaine onto a stretcher and rushed the corpse to a nearby hospital where a harried young intern pronounced him dead. The revolving light receded from the room, draining the life from the party. Joon, bereft, alone, robbed of his beloved shining god, trailed after the ambulance.
In the enervating aftermath of the party, the stale smoky air hanging about them like cerements, four vile bodies lay in state. Silence trumpeted into the room like “Taps.” Glad trash bags, half full, yawned like open graves. On the dining table, the corpse of the roasted pig awaited interment. An army of exhausted cigarettes lay dead and dying. In the dishwasher, a congregation of dirty glasses clamored for resurrection.
From “The Hunger,” Damaged Angels