Number 6: Party Lines | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

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Number 6: Party Lines

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The invitation reads,

The party:

A gathering of like-minded

individuals

for the purpose of either

celebrating or forgetting

the agony of the human condition;

a refuge amid abject routine.

Your attendance is required.

BYOB

The revelry is well under way. Half the crowd are very drunk on gin martinis and are winding down. The other half are very drunk on tequila and are gearing up. The gearing-up half are taunting the winding-down half, blowing bubbles in their faces from little soap bottles Victor has set out about the rooms, which are dim and candlelit. Someone, it seems from the winding-down side, is fighting back, however, and has seized control of the DJ booth, replacing "Disco Inferno" with the theme song from Valley of the Dolls. The DJ, D'Armour, is putting out a small fire that started when his cigarette fell into a coat pile. I am drinking Chablis.

The party is crowded and rambunctious. Someone has brought a baby Vietnamese pig and it's squealing about, running loose between people's legs. I beg your pardon, it's a small child. I'm not wearing my glasses.

The party is crowded and moody. The line to the bathroom is long and slow moving. I decide to kill a little time, make a new friend. "I like your hat," I tell the woman standing in front of me. She looks familiar but I can't quite place her. The hat she's wearing is a phallic affair with two large crescent horns coming out of each side, Gothic really, sans wimple. "I'm not wearing a hat," she says. "Yes, you are," I say. "Look." I tug at her head. "Oh!" "It's a do," she says, "a hairdo. Ever heard of one? I copied it out of a book." Which book? Fourteenth-Century Pinching Clamps? I ask her how she knows Victor Helmut. "Victor who?" "Victor Helmut...the host of this party." "Oh," she says. "Is this a party?"

Behind me is a younger man wearing a T-shirt that reads "Kurt Is My Co-Pilot." I sense he's a bike messenger and ask him if he is. No, he says, a futures broker. We leave it at that.

In the kitchen across the hall I can see Matt and Veronica and Lucy and Fritz raising their glasses. "To the good life," Lucy says, eyeing Matt. "No, no," Veronica says. "Here's to us." I happen to know Veronica has a wild crush on Lucy, who in turn is hungry for Matt, who is hopelessly in love with Fritz, who is indifferent to them all. "Yes," Matt says. "Here's to us." The four toast and Fritz walks away. Matt finishes his drink and follows him. Then Lucy. Then Veronica.

Two women have just joined the futures broker in line. They seem odd to me. But not odd. It's strange, they don't really look alike...and yet they appear to be twins. I think it's their frosted hair and cubic zirconia. One of them mumbles to the futures broker that she wants to get out of here. When he makes a face, the other one laughs and says, "Just kidding." A conversation between the two women ensues.

"I hear they're going to put a Super Gap in that space."

"Oh no. What next? What do they want from us?"

"There's already a Cappuccino Hut in the dry cleaners."

"I know. Thank god. Those flower children at Effluvia don't know how to foam milk."

"And the Korean lady does?"

"Her daughter does. She doesn't mind taking the time."

"Hey, you there," one of them says to me. "I've seen you around. Don't you think that Korean girl at the dry cleaners gives good foam?"

They both laugh. Gives good foam. Oh yes, very funny. I tell them I don't wear clothes that need to be dry-cleaned and so I don't have cause to visit the Cappuccino Hut outlet. This could have been an opportunity to branch the conversation away from good foam, but apparently more on the subject needs to be said.

"Well," one of them says, "at Effluvia they just scald the milk. They haven't a bit of worker pride. It takes a little time to get the foam just right. You don't just lay into it, even if you've got tables waiting. The entire system there is a freak show. They need to hire someone who'll just steam and foam."

"Well nobody's going to do that. Nobody's going to work all day just steaming milk."

"I would. I'd do it in a minute. I'd say good-bye, J. Walter Thompson, you're on your own."

"Well what's stopping you, then?"

"Oh, please."

Their idle chatter moves me. To the buffet. Caviar is provided and everyone is walking around with it in their teeth. Which is why Victor serves caviar: he calls it "the great equalizer."

The music has changed now to "Love Rollercoaster." Someone jostling by has just fallen on me, spilling a bottle of bubble syrup onto my blouse. Someone else close by, from the gearing-up set I suppose, laughs and pours their glass of champagne on my blouse. A dance parade has started up, led by Victor Helmut. Nude.

I recognize now the woman with the horned do. It's Mary Slot, the lead singer of Shaved Cow. Shaved Cow is the girl band that came together during a three-week stay at Charter House. Their first album, I Hate You, hit platinum in two weeks. Shaved Cow's lyrics probe deep: "I call your name and you say hello / Made you look / Made you look." Now that I place her, I'm sorry I paid her the compliment. People like her are always expecting others to notice them, then when you do they act like it's such a bother and you're made to feel so entirely middle-class. I mention this to Fritz later when he boasts to Matt and me that he's had a drink with Mary Slot. "What are you talking about?" Matt says. "There is no middle class."

I cannot connect. I am neither winding down nor gearing up, that is my problem. I will not choose sides. The word "pacifist" comes to mind. Also the word "static." A conversation does start, finally, between myself and a stranger wearing a forest green pullover acrylic sweater that says "Love Me...Love My Dog." The dog pictured is an appliqued basset hound. The talk starts out simply but quickly looms into the metaphysical. "But pure potency is prime matter, that's what I'm trying to tell you," he says, bouncing up on his heels, making his point with little slaps of one hand into the palm of the other. I'm not sure what prime matter has to do with it. I thought we were talking about E. coli bacteria. He asks if I would like to be in his photo shoot. Paddles the S/M Clown is here.

I thought this was going to be a love-in. An ecstasy party. That's what Veronica had told me. She and Lucy are playing a little game of cat and mouse across the room while Matt plays bird and worm with Fritz. Maybe this is what Veronica meant by ecstasy. Provocation and defeat. The party is in the hands of those winding down again as the music changes to Nico singing Das Lied der Deutschen. I can't tell if a lubbering fellow with a shaved head and black vest is gearing up or winding down, but he's started dancing with himself in the middle of the room. He stumbles into the buffet table. A woman who'd been dancing on the buffet table falls and knocks over a lamp. "Oaf," the dwarf transvestite next to me calls out. Monte Cazazza is here.

Out front a squad car pulls up, whirling its blue light, near a group of teen dopers who have been acting as doormen for the party. The blue flash through Victor Helmut's bay windows creates a strobe effect inside, and the party picks up again with LaBelle. The futures broker has made a new friend and is handing his card to Paddles.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Dan Grzeca.

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