Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three Parties I Have Known

If you’ve ever been to a really good party, or a happening nightclub scene, you know what I’m talking about. And I’m not even a party person. But I know a good time when one’s swirling about my legs and crawling up my spine.

Yes I do!

But writing about parties, as I’m about to do, is tricky business, especially if the parties you are writing about happened half a life-time ago and have left few memories which you can recount in appropriate detail. Without the detail, what is there, but the...feeling is not the word, nor ambience, perhaps residue, Benjamin’s aura? Somewhere in there.

I HAVE known some good parties. Some of the best are those where I’ve performed as a musician. But I was not a musician at these parties, though I helped organize the third. These are the parties that stick in my mind as (among) the best I have known.

1960s at Johns Hopkins

I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student (master’s program). I don’t recall whether this party happened during my undergraduate or graduate years. Not that it matters.

It was in the Hopkins gym on the north end of the Homewood campus. So the room was large and the ceiling high. The music was rock, with a bit of a psychedelic vibe. There was a light show, colored oils floating in water in shallow dish atop an overhead projector – do they still exist, overhead projects, or have they been completely replaced by digital projects of various kinds? The light show required a certain ambient darkness which it could then illuminate.

But I forget just where the light show was being projected. One wall, the ceiling, both? Don’t know.

Nor do I recall the music, not in the sense that I can bring it up in my mind’s ear. Though who knows what could come bubbling forth under hypnosis. The band was a trio, guitar, bass, and drums. And I have a vague sense that they were spread apart a bit on the floor rather than being tightly grouped.

It was the guitarist that caught my ear, his expertise with the wa wa. Sounded like Zappa. I told him so during a break and we had a nice chat. Zappa at Hopkins. What fun.

Somehow it was all magic. The world melted away and we all melted into the party.

1970s at UB

That’s the State University of New York at Buffalo, known as UB (it used to be a private school, the University of Buffalo). This party just happened. No one planned it. It just grew up out of the ground one afternoon.

At that time the English Department was housed in two long, low buildings that had been erected at the north end of the Main Street campus as temporary structures. Somehow they became all but permanent. The buildings ran parallel to one another about, say, 20 or 30 feet apart, with enclosed walkways between them and one or two points. This little complex was surrounded by grass of some useful extent.

It was Spring, of 1977 or 1978, and by then the grass had come back, the leaves were on the trees, and the temperature was comfortable. For some reason, somehow, the faculty decided to throw a party that afternoon, for the graduate students, for the undergraduate majors, for themselves, and, as a practical matter, for anyone who came by. They set up a temporary bar outside on the lawn and started serving drinks.

Where did the tables come from? I don’t know. And the booze? Don’t know that either. Someone had an idea and someone did this and that, and things happened. Word spread and a party was on.

We drank and talked and many of us got pleasantly tipsy, though some, I recall vaguely, drank to the point of nausea and throwing up.

Somehow it was all magic. Some people kissed people they’d hardly even talked to before, even me, though I forget the woman’s name. We had one date after the party, and that was that.

1980s at Grafton, NY

I was on the faculty at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. My friend Al and I rented a small house on the top of a hill in Grafton, about 15 miles outside of Troy. You could see into Massachusetts from our second floor.

We decided to throw a Halloween party. We sent out invitations – just how, I forget, but this was before email and I don’t recall stuffing a lot of envelopes. We hired some undergraduates to form a jazz band and set them up in a largish downstairs room. One of them wrapped himself in toilet paper so he became a mummy.

I forget what I did for a costume, but Al managed some kind of penguin costume.

A couple of hours before things began Al was cutting veggies for hors d’oeuvres when he managed to slice into the meat of his hand (I forget which one–all this forgetting) down to the bone. The party was set to begin in two hours and I had to drive Al to the emergency room–keep calm. Which I did, and left him there. Someone else would pick him up and bring him to the party.

I returned to Grafton, finished whatever needed to be finished. People began arriving and, by the time our little house was packed, Al had returned from the hospital and was in fine spirits. The joint was rockin’.

I remember one woman, a faculty wife, had costumed herself as an upside-down person: pants pulled on over her arms, some silly head hanging between her legs, which had shirt pulled over them so they could pretend to be arms as her hands pretended to be feet. Ridiculous. Fun. I mean, when talking to her, where do you direct your voice, to her pretend head (down there) or to her pretend crotch (in your face)?

Somehow it was all magic. The mundane world was gone and the cosmos filled our house.

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