There were parties then: there was a party, it seemed, to commemorate every weekend, a party to fit every holiday or excuse for one. My parents were still so young—I reached 10 before either of them had reached 29—and they had a great accumulation of friends who they could assemble at whim: work friends (my mother was a middle-school teacher, and most of the faculty came to her parties), stray friends, half-friends, ex-husbands of friends, employers of friends, friends of friends, neighbors. Of the latter, the regulars were the Peters’, from across the way, and the Robinsons, from beyond the wood (Miller, from across the road, never came. All I knew of him was that his house had once been robbed).
Sometimes there was a reason for a big bash (Whitney Peters graduating high school, for instance, inspired a pig roast, with a vat of hush puppies fried out in a barrel in the Peters’ yard, and men gathered around it drinking straight out of bottles of Jack Daniels). Our house swelled with people on Friday and Saturday nights, or any night, really, once school was out in the summer: Eubank, Wingo, Yeary, Franklin, Swortzel, Eggers (I knew all of my mother’s teacher friends only by their last names). There was Kern (an English teacher), who I once saw demonstrating a viewer the size of an index finger which, when brought up to the eye, revealed a kaleidoscope of bawdy pictures and Kehela (a coach), who, once in a state of rather distinguished drunkenness, called out to someone coming across the lawn: “Identify yourself or you will be shot.”
I was always the kid at the party, and I soon learned to adapt, making sure that my mother brought something for me to drink at the houses where the only things in the refrigerator were limes, mixers and bottles of seltzer. I would wander around, watching the somber men smoking their water pipes, the hash piled on a stack of Field and Stream and Shotgun News, and sometimes I would occupy drunks. One evening I sat on the couch with some utterly destroyed man (I had no idea who he was, perhaps a friend of a friend of an ex-husband) and Pete Townshend appeared on the television. This was around the time that the Who broke up, so Townshend was likely promoting It’s Hard or something. The man did a double take upon seeing Townshend’s face, turned to me and, like a second-rate silent film comedian, actually flapped his arms. “Oh my god, he’s so fucking OLD!” he howled, barely able to form his consonants. He was probably 30, Townshend wasn’t yet 40, I was 10, but the statement had implications.
Occasionally there were other kids. One, Ian, was a few years older than me. I desperately hoped for some crumb of attention from him, but the few times he appeared, he just sat sullenly on the lawn and read issues of The Savage Sword of Conan. The younger kids, the whining five or seven year-olds who sometimes accompanied an unhappy mother, were just useless. Then there was Christie, who I was in love with. “The Hardy Boys are so old fashioned, dear. The Three Investigators are much more with it. In the one I just read, a cop says ‘the jig’s up.’ Doesn’t that sound so much more up to date?” She was the daughter of a divorcee, an English teacher. This gave her history. She and I traded mystery novels. Flighty, vaguely witty, bookish and ultimately indifferent to me, she would prove to be the template of the sort of woman who I would obsess over and sometimes date (generally ending in disaster) over the following twenty years.
I wended through the overfilled living room, with the stereo blasting Endless Summer and Silk Degrees, Aja and Hotel California (there would always be someone miming the Don Felder guitar solo on the title track), Rumours and (my father’s precise choice) the second disc of the Beatles’ Red Album. I would pick up pieces of conversation (Yeary: “Did you hear that Marvin Gaye song? ‘Get up, let’s make love tonight?’ Jesus. Nothing in it for the woman of course.”). At other houses, my parents would pack me off at some point, send me up to some room to read; it was often the same guest room where everyone dumped their coats (one night, the hosts got in a vicious fight in the hallway outside, while the party was still raging. It soon devolved into her screaming “my friends!” and her husband screaming back at her “Your friends!”). In the morning after a party at our house, I was usually first up, and found some odd enjoyment in walking through and cataloging the ruin of the previous night—-the empty (and not so empty) plastic cups strewn on the lawn, the cheese platters and baskets full of Ruffles and Fritos which had been left out overnight (sometimes pillaged by a dog).
So I was a child in a place and at a time where no one seemed to have yet reached 40, and lied if they had. The old people, all of the encumbered, respectable lives, were elsewhere, penned up in Connecticut or in Florida, only to be visited at Christmas or on occasional weddings. We, my mother and father and I, and their countless friends, could easily put off the past, could deny its agency, at least for now, in the years of the parties.