Can it be possible that you are at another party?
You sit at a crowded table in a large dining room in a nice house in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Northern California in a country that is currently at war in a world where some people still sing karaoke in a universe expanding at 100 kilometers per second per Megaparsec.
You were invited by Jenny. The house belongs to her. The food is catered, but you don’t know why it is catered or why you are there. Jenny probably knows. People seem to be celebrating something. Conversation is louder than you would think possible of people talking mostly about traffic and the cost of wicker furniture.
Across the table sits a man whose face is half-obscured in a highball glass. His hair is disheveled, his highball hand thick-fingered. His skin is tanned a deep chestnut color. He wears a rayon baseball hat and a friendship bracelet with a dolphin charm.
You say your name and offer your hand over the table. The stranger grabs it with a sideways-shooting motion and waggles your arm like one end of a jump rope.
“Name’s Perry,” he says.
“How do you know Jenny?”
“Jenny? Oh, we were pen pals for fifteen years before we slept together last Christmas,” Perry says.
“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” you say.
“Just generally. So what do you do, Perry?”
“I steal luggage at the airport.”
“Much money in that?”
“No. But it’s GREAT exercise,” he says.
“Because of all the running?”
“The running… The running and the tackling.”
Perry shifts in his chair and raises both hands oratorically.
“I was always taught, you steal a suitcase and get away with it, great. You steal a suitcase and get caught? You damn well better run around until you’re tackled and the thing is pried from your fingers. You know?”
“I think so.”
“No school like the old school.”
“Just the way I was brought up.”
“Pardon me. I need to go commit suicide.”
You rise from your chair with your arm crooked at the same forty-five degree, glass-in-hand party stance used since the first social gathering of cavemen in the Pliocene Epoch. You scoot past the backs of the dining room chairs to the kitchen. Jenny has just set fire to a Cherries Jubilee. She zooms past you through the swinging kitchen door. You are left in the kitchen with a dumpy bald man standing at the sink with a glass in hand, looking like someone’s landlord. You bite the inside of your cheek and introduce yourself.
“Hi, Jerry Jurgensonbjornberglandon,” he says, leering through clenched teeth.
“That’s quite a name. Is it Swedish?”
“Oh, I’m a Satanist.”
“So your family comes from Hell, then?”
“No. My mother’s German, and my father’s a Springer Spaniel.”
“Oh, German… Hm,” you say, hopeful of some comet hurtling toward the earth.
“Did I say German? I meant German Shepherd.”
“Of course you did.”
“So what are you going to say now, I wonder?”
“Do you have a personal relationship with Satan, our dark Underlord?”
“I have these pamphlets…” he says, reaching into his back pocket, a gleam of murder in his eye.
“Ring, ring!” you say. “I’m sorry, I have to take that.”
You exit the kitchen and sit back down at the table, where Cherries Jubilee have been served. The table is listing up and down with a drunken, sucrose fervor. In the Cherries Jubilee excitement someone accidentally stabs you in the eye with their dessert fork. You paw at your face and swing your elbows like an NBA center posting up in the paint.
Recovering your sight, you notice that seated to your left is a stunning blonde in an angora sweater. Her hair is the color of hay, her body like some work of modern art meant to make you think about World War II, if World War II was a pair of perfect tits. That you have not noticed her until this moment is some kind of reverse miracle.
The blonde turns to you, hitching her elbow on the table, propping up her face on her hand. You are powerless to the ministrations of her perfume, her neckline, her ever-so-parted lips.
“I hate parties,” she says to you.
“Me too,” you say. “Like chilblains.”
The blonde laughs.
“I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Yeah, I know you from Jenny’s bra-and-panty slumber parties,” you say. “I was the one hiding in the laundry hamper.”
You wipe the cherries and tears out of your eye. You finally blink away the last of it and find that the woman with tits best compared to military conflicts of international portent is actually a large bearded man dressed in the robes of a Greek Orthodox clergyman.
“Oh,” you say.
“Sorry I was just hitting on you. I thought you were someone else.”
“I’m sure you’re a lovely man. Have you met Perry?”
You signal across the table, where Perry is unsuccessfully fishing an olive out of his glass with his tongue. The robed, bearded man coughs and loses himself in his dessert. You achieve a new appreciation for the subtlety of Perry’s social graces.
“Perry, do you actually know anyone in this room?”
“No, I just saw through the window that a bunch of people were sitting down to eat and thought I’d join in.”
“Makes sense to me.”
“What about you. You friends with these folks?”
You look around the room with infinitesimal briefness.