For more tiny miracles, go here.
My friend is the extrovert of our odd-couple friendship—a singer who wears loud big earrings and glittering clothes, whose energy radiates outward in large arm gestures and continually darting-and-focusing eyes, who laughs with her whole body, who believes ardently in spiritual energy and magical thinking, who interrupts the conversation regularly with one more quirky tidbit, damnit. Me, I’m the introvert who’s good at pretending otherwise in short doses, the writer/critic with the sly asides and muttered jokes, the retro-future West Elm design sense, the dry cocktail lover with even drier commentary about things outside rational bounds, the one interrupting the conversation because I need to hear the song playing at the cafe more clearly to figure out what it is and then I can tell you a meandering story about it as it relates to something else you said earlier.
We’re not opposites, exactly. We have leftist politics and social ideals but are similarly bruised by our dealings with real-life leftists who fall below our expectations. Our clothes are similarly loud and brightly colored without being garish. Neither of us is white but are conflicted by whiteness—the amount of white friends in our social lives, and negotiating the feelings of those friends who don’t know what not being white is like. We both love to eat and take long walks.We’re both open with each other conversationally but only, 18 months into the friendship, learning to be vulnerable with each other, and learning the difference between the two.
We work well as friends, with the differences between us being interesting and involving rather than irritating or unattractive, though occasionally she gets as sick of me as I do of her. But that’s friendship. Anyway, my friend tested that vulnerability/openness thing a month ago, almost as an aside in a conversation:
“Sooooooo,” she says, “you see that guy across the street whose hair looks like a bad Halloween costume?”
“How am I even supposed to tell who you’re talking about with that— Whoa, OK, I see him.”
“That seems like a really fun look, for a Halloween party.”
“Parties are fun, sure.”
“We should throw one,” she says. “A costume party with dancing and prizes and everything.”
“Great,” though I don’t feel great about it.
“We could do it at your house, because my townhouse is in a gated complex, and yours would be easier for access, right?”
“You’re roping me into this,” I say, “more or less without asking my permission, aren’t you?”
“I’m already planning the décor. You like disco balls, right?”
And that’s how we ended up, a week ago Saturday, throwing a Halloween party at my house.
I love parties. Right now, I am in fact writing, in stutter-steps, a novella that’s basically a chronicle of a crowded apartment party, a story told from retrospect about this party that was so legendary that it approaches the mythological, that its energy has radiated out for a generation or more. Once I’m actually at a party, I like them fine, even love some. I always have a good time, run into folks I love but whom I see too rarely, maybe even stumble through a few dances and singalongs, maybe even flirt a bit and get a phone number that isn’t fake. But, in the manner of all introverts, I have to steel myself up for a party. Before heading out, I do breathing exercises, internal pep talks, talk a long walk. So, maybe it’s more than I “love” parties, liking the idea of them more than the reality.
Now, take my anxiety about going to a party and multiply it by ten if I’m throwing one. Thank God I wasn’t doing it alone. My friend brought a P.A. system, mics, and setup for karaoke in my guest bedroom. She brought two flickering, pan-and-scan lights that filled the ceilings and walls of two rooms with glowing pinpoint light patterns that fluctuated in tone continually, because it turns out that she doesn’t fuck around on party décor; if she mentions disco balls, you’re effectively gonna get ‘em. Also, she brought a 24-pack of Sam Adams Oktoberfest. She came a few hours early to help hang lights and fake bats.
My party anxiety ritual involves making lots of food—mango/black bean salsa, guacamole, frozen lime margaritas, pecan pies, providing lots of soda for the nondrinkers. My party anxiety ritual involves scrubbing the bathroom obsessively, sweeping the floors over and over. My party anxiety ritual involves reserving the study for the cat and closing that door, making sure no one can get in there to bother her or vice versa. My party anxiety ritual involves spending days refining, revising, and restarting an iTunes party playlist of dance bangers and atmospheric mood pieces, with the oddball quirk song that I love thrown in, and then realizing at the last moment that the entire playlist is oddball quirk songs that I love but think no one else will even tolerate. My party anxiety ritual involves asking a dozen people for advice on party activities because I get bored at parties where the only activity is drinking a lot and making awkward small talk.
My party anxiety ritual, obviously, involves not letting go of things.
So, I did all that, vaguely depressed for the entire week before our party. My friend made Día de Muertos-styled invitations, which we sent to about 40 people at the end of September, and then sent them reminders a week before the party. I bought Día de Muertos plates, cups, banners, stuffed skeleton birds, all the while worrying that I was being culturally appropriative, then remembering that we agreed on this theme in the first time because I grew up in Dallas and around/within Texican culture and miss it dearly, and then remembered that I’m a hip-hop lover who believes in sampling and cultural appropriation as a matter of course and think it’s a cultural normality whether I believe in it, whether I personally like it, and worried that my blasé-ness about that is worrying and insensitive in itself, and around and around we go.
Then, I seesawed between worrying that nobody would come and worrying that lots of folks would come and then not get along. After all, my friend and I have social circles that don’t overlap all that much, and the different subspheres in my social groups don’t necessarily mix. (Atlanta’s a big city. I have varied interests.)
All this is why I don’t throw parties more often. All this is perhaps exactly why I should throw parties more often.
People came, 15 to 20, a healthy amount for a small three-bedroom house with one bathroom. Karaoke was a hit, as were my margaritas and my back deck on a pleasant, slightly chilly night. Another hit: The random disco playlist on Spotify that I found at the last second—literally as the first guests were ringing my doorbell—because my laptop decided suddenly not to allow me to transfer my playlist from it to my phone, which acted as de facto jukebox. Everyone ate all the food. People mixed freely, found their ways. There were at least three people present that neither I nor my friend knew before that night, and they all behaved themselves. I belted out Backstreet Boys and Wham! and Madonna with everyone else in the disco lights. The dim lighting scheme, with tea candles everywhere punctuating whatever the disco lights didn’t, encouraged pockets of communion to develop, as did the background disco that everyone knew. No one got shitfaced or out-of-hand. The house wasn’t trashed. Everyone left just around midnight. A small part of me was grateful for that but a larger part of my heart wanted them to linger just a bit longer.
So, we threw a good party, people came to it, and had a good time. That’s a small miracle in itself.
But I want to write here about a smaller miracle nestled within the larger blessing of hosting a good social time. As with my friend, I invited a few people who were, let’s say, Facebook Friends more than real friends. This particular woman runs a cool activist initiative here in Atlanta that combines civil rights history with a nuanced understanding of urban studies and human geography. I had met her once, back in early September, because I had come to a presentation she had given at a local bar. She’s a friend of a friend. I liked her immediately; we chatted a bit after her talk; we friended each other on Facebook; and that was that. I thought she would be fun and interesting at a party, and I wanted to get to know her a bit better. So, I invited her.
It’s weird who decides to show up to a party of a drizzly Saturday night. She showed up, only having met me once, with a friend in tow. And she had a great story, and that (finally) is the little miracle that I want to convey:
Around 10pm, Sydney and her friend Jessica burst through the front door and into the living room, scanning the room quickly, and flashing on a hug as soon as she found me. “Walter,” she said, “thank God it’s you!”
“Yep, it’s me,” I said, “Sydney, thank you for coming.”
“No, you don’t understand,” she said, waving her arms widely.
But I did, even if no one else listening could understand it. I live on a street, let’s call it Tiffany Street, that is very, very close in name to Tiffan Street. There’s even a house on Tiffan with my address number. Even worse, Tiffany and Tiffan Streets are only a mile apart from each other, in the same zip code. Last Christmastime, I spent a week thinking that packages sent to me were being stolen from my front porch, when in fact they were being sent to my unknown compatriot on Tiffan Street, because Amazon auto-corrects the shipping form to the wrong street unless you tell it not to. In turn, I’ve received shipments instead for the Tiffan resident. I’ve dropped off stuff on her porch but have never met her. I’ve gotten used to telling friends and family to make absolutely sure that they’re sending to Tiffany Street before hitting the “confirm” button. I even mentioned this on my party invitation.
And still GPS failed Sydney and Jessica.
“The Lyft driver dropped us off there,” Nedra continued. “And here’s the deal—the other place was throwing a Halloween party, too. So, naturally, we thought we were in the right place. We went it. Nobody questioned it. Somebody offered us a drink, and we took ’em. But we looked around for you, and didn’t see you around. It was nothing but white people”—Sydney’s black, as am I—“and the music seemed wrong somehow. Plus, there was a dude dressed in a sombrero in brownface, and I felt like youda kicked him to the curb for that or something. Finally, Jessica started asking folks, ‘Where’s Walter?’”—mind you, Sydney’s friend Jessica had never met me before much less knew what I looked like—“and people were like, ‘We don’t know any Walter.’ We were there for thirty minutes before we realized we were at the wrong party. So, we booked a Lyft and got our asses over here. And this feels right, and there you are.”
And that’s the miracle. With my introversion, I would have called it quits under that scenario, headed back home, called it an evening, and moped alone. Sydney and Jessica, they just rolled with it, and ended up where they were wanted, where they wanted to be in the first place, and with a story that I’ll remember.
I love parties after all, in theory and in actuality. They are vehicles for stories, some of them grand.