Lady Liberty at The Party
So I get dressed, put on my make-up, straight seams on the stockings because I’m old enough, I know how to do this. Get carded at the liquor store on the way, which at this point means the cashier is either way younger than me, way older than me, just doing their job for benefit of the camera or, flirting with me. The last option there I’d like to believe but usually don’t most of the time anymore, because, I’m old enough, I know how to do this. But then, I think, take it if you can get it, and dutifully hand over my driver’s license with a very direct look and nary a hint of blushing saying the obligatory, “Wow, thanks.” Note to self, You just used the word ‘nary’ in a sentence.
I hope the cashier is smart enough not to say, “Oh, just doing my job.” Because the truth is, in the right light, with my sunglasses on, on my best day…No, I don’t look like I’m under twenty-one anymore. But the truth about that is, when they say, “Oh it’s the camera’s, I have to…” which is a kind of self-defense on their part, “Hey, lady I am not flirting with you.” I don’t take that particularly personally either. I know I’m an attractive woman. Though sometimes, I do think, it’s like some kind of strange Orwellian mess of voyeurism with some snickering spy in a back room making sure all the employees do what they have to do, for the camera. The money shot. The driver’s license. A moment of flirting between two strangers viewed by the manager whilst deep in a Big Gulp and half way through a… Snickers.
How very chaste.
I don’t know why I’m even buying alcohol. That’s a lie. I don’t even really like it all that much. That’s the truth. But all those other things, read for medicinal purposes, well, no one does them much anymore because gainful employment is important. The 80’s were good for that, for all those other things. I am reminded, briefly, of the first time I ever purchased alcohol and didn’t get carded. Sixteen years old, cigarette in my hand, bottle of Thunderbird because it was really for a bunch of guys who I knew who had pooled their change. I think about that, look closer at my purchase, really then, just want to go home. But, not alone, and so, on to the party. Which is not to say that’s why I’m going to the party, not at all. That would be presumptuous and I think we’ve previously discussed assumptions and what they do to you and me.
The party is the usual. Even though that usual is dependent on many socio-demographic factors, none of them relevant here. There is the prerequisite bounce and giggle crew of mid to late twenty somethings, spilling drinks. They will all find rides home if they want them. They think “Twilight” is the second coming, boob jobs are just a matter of when, and already I’ve said too much and wonder if everyone will think I’m a raging conservative if I say anything that isn’t politically correct. Because in their world it has to be one or the other, doesn’t it? We couldn’t possibly think for ourselves and refuse to be classified as… I’ve said too much.
I go into the bathroom and do that thing you’re not supposed to do as a woman, as a writer, as a human being, I look in the mirror. I’m not checking my make-up, like I said, I know how to do this, my make-up is perfect, water-proof and everything it needs to be. I re-apply the very grown up red lipstick, but not that orangey red that ages women my age. No, it’s the perfect red, the kind of red that looks tarty on younger women, and certainly that has its merits, but finally, just perfect, on me. In my purse a Derringer. Because a twenty-two-caliber bullet will roll around in there and mess you up and me love you long time. A pocket knife, really for cutting tags off of things that can’t wait until I get home to cut the tags off them, kid’s shoes, hats bought at mini-marts, assorted redneck goodness. Really, I’m justifying because the truth is, I’m the kind of girl who turned into the kind of woman who has a knife in her purse, and a pair of flat shoes in the car.
Dumb it down, tone it down, chill it out, because it’s a party and no one cares. That’s why liquor stores exist. Why did you wear the garter and silk stockings if you were just going to show up and ruin everything with your brain? If you were really smart, you’d keep it to yourself. I could cry, but I don’t.
Back to the party.
The bounce and giggle crew is doing their thing and there’s no competing with the super savvy politically correct girl whose intelligence supersedes her emotions in all things. She’s holding court in the corner. Her sparkling wit laying waste to the those looking for affirmation that we are all intelligent, charming, wonderful beings. She assures them that they are. Some of them would die for her forever after and really, who can blame them. Perhaps we are all wonderful, and though I don’t know that I was ever that sparkling, I’ve believed that too. We are all joy. Still, I’ve never quite been able to get my noggin around how they do it, those ones. How they effortlessly ride the waves of ever-changing everything with nary, there’s that word again, a ruffle of their feathers at all. The true social butterflies of the world, people love them. You will not ever find any over turned apple carts in their wake, or burning bridges behind them. I have matches, and a Zippo lighter set on Napalm in my purse and I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore. I can’t help it, just in case. I begrudge her nothing. Nor would I take anything away from the bounce and giggle crew. I see right through them and I suspect, some of them see right through me. We all serve our archetypal purpose and that’s certainly better than a stereotypical one, maybe. Anyway you look at it, it’s a masquerade ball. Jaded? No, not really, not at all, that’s the point. I should be and I ‘m not and I know it. I’d probably be doing better if I was, jaded, that is. But I still believe and want to believe and all that, only I’ve got to hide it now, because that makes me an open wound in shark infested waters, and I know that too.
I’m looking for what used to be that guy, then was that dude and now is that man. I’m looking for him. I don’t know why I’m looking for him because I know where he is. He is where he always is and where I always end up at a party, on the edge of it. He’s outside, on the patio or the balcony or if there is no outside, he’s in the corner of the room either by himself or with just a few people around him and by a few, I mean, maybe one or two. It’s not romantic. He’s not the love interest, he’s not the hero. That would be too easy and doesn’t ever really work, on paper, or in real life. He’s the guy who’s rolling something that will make the party tolerable and me, perhaps palatable to the coolest guy in the room, who is the guy, the man, I, inevitably, am with. I don’t know why it’s that way, it just is. It always has been and will be. Once or twice they have been one and the same, the guy rolling and the coolest dude at the party, but that’s really rare, and maybe a dream come true when it happens because, that can work, that’s why it’s so rare. And here I say to myself, at what age do they stop being the “coolest dude” and become…yeah, saying the “coolest man” in the room, does that work? He was the coolest man in the room. Does that read too noir? ( Because it isn’t, not really.)
So that dude understands some things about the world, the man who is rolling something, and I sit down. It’s weird because it’s the few people at the party I could probably have all those conversations with that get me into trouble with every other clique at the party but no one says anything. After a while, the coolest man in the room, he finds his way outside too. By then I’ve squinted my vision enough, looking through the slider, that most of the party guests are only two feet tall. The Chex Mix is crawling with flies rising up to eat the party guests and the walls are bleeding in the glow of the tea lights and chic atmospheric oil lamps of our gracious hostess who has long since been tucked into her own bed, all the purses and jackets pushed aside, because she had never tried Goldschlager before. There’s a monster made of dust bunnies, a lost phone charger, two saltines and a lone fuzzy slipper, hiding under her bed. My purse and jacket stay with me.
I brought the Goldschlager.
I’m glad I’m outside.
The Coolest Man in the Room sits down, participates, he’s welcome everywhere, and he says to me, “What are you doing?”
I squint more, and smile, “Killing everyone.”
The Man Who Is Rolling Things makes a noise that lets me know he does not respect or support this decision. A waste of my intelligence, talent, time, something.
The Coolest Man in the Room kind of nudges the side of my foot under the table and says, “Cool.”
I look at him.
On the way to my place he’s all smoldering cooler than cool and I’m all nervous wreck wondering how long it will be before my facade collapses into reckless chatter. I like the way his hands are on my steering wheel. I like the radio station he listens to. I think to myself, Well, he must like me because he could have gone home with anyone. (After all, he’s the coolest man in the room.) And realize that’s the easy part, that’s the obvious. I don’t know if I can do it, let someone in. Like every time before, I understand what it means for me if I don’t dig down deep and find my guts. Maybe next time I’ll have someone to stay home from the party with, because that’s the sweet time, isn’t it? Does that time ever last? Maybe next time I’ll have someone to go to the party with who… Who what ? I wonder how long his list is and is it fair to have a list or is that just something we create to try to keep it from happening again? Falling in love? I decide to let him in.
Maybe he’ll stay. Maybe he won’t.
“You’re awful quiet.” He says, not awkward. He’s flirting, a side-long glance.
“I’m even worse when I’m not.” I close my eyes, realize, I’ve said too much.
copyright, 2012, Teri Skultety