The party was festive enough when I got there. The place was mostly packed with students from St. John’s College, in Santa Fe. Classes had ended, and this was a little blow-out before people went home for the holidays. The music was loud, people were dancing, drinking, and laughing. Good cheer was in the air that night, but the mood would take a decided turn by the time I had to leave.
I guess if I had been more aware, I would’ve picked up that she was with someone, but I was on a mission to blot out anything even remotely resembling awareness. I also wanted to find a special friend to celebrate the warmth and joy of the season. The prospect I had chosen was a busty, bespectacled, little brainiac in a button down sweater. The combination cat glasses, cardigan, and cleavage is a personal kryptonite for me. But, when a guy stepped in and told me she was with him, I backed off and apologized. Even at my worst, I tried to honor The Code.
That should have ended it right there, but he had to give me this shitty smirk. It said, “Yeah, a proletarian sack of lug-nuts like you wouldn’t even have a chance with a woman like this anyway. You probably haven’t finished a book since Charlotte’s Web, and we Johnnies pride ourselves on the high intellectual caliber of our literacy.” I might have been projecting, but it sure looked like that kind of smirk.
In Lithuanian, we have a phrase, “Ot snukis, kuris plytos praso!” It translates roughly to “Now there’s a snout just begging for a brick!” His was begging for a whole backyard barbecue’s worth. I looked him over. He was about my height, a few pounds leaner, more handsome, secure, smug, and self-satisfied. He was cologned, well-groomed, and nicely coordinated in a wool pullover and pleated slacks. I suddenly felt ashamed of my work pants and sweatshirt ensemble.
“I’ve never even read Charlotte’s Web,” I told him, “but there’s a lot of other books that I have read, and not just about Stalingrad either.”
“What are you talking about, Duuuude?”
I realized I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was talking to his previous smirk. “Nevermind,” I said, “Enjoy having sex with your girlfriend.”
I think he thought I said, “I’d enjoy having sex with your girlfriend,” because he got right up in my face.
“Why don’t you get your drunk ass out of here?” he yelled, poking at my chest, “Before you embarrass yourself anymore!” I don’t like anybody telling me when I should stop embarrassing myself, but I really don’t like to be poked. A poke is so demeaning. Hitting a man in the face is more respectful than poking at him. He was saying that I was not even worthy of the expenditure a beating would require, that a few forceful thrusts of his finger would be enough to cow me into submission. Between the smirking and the poking, I could feel my insides tearing up the social contract.
I grabbed his finger and twisted. He dropped his egg nog. Over the years, I learned that in a crowded situation like that, you can’t excite the herd too much. The more people that realize a fight is breaking out, the more will eventually swarm you. At this point, the guy was going to his knees, but he might’ve been just getting down to the funky beat. So as I twisted his finger, I acted like I was dancing with him, to sort of camouflage it. I waved my free hand in the air like I just didn’t care. Here we all are, just shaking it loose to Oasis.
Anyone who was actually watching wouldn’t have been fooled by my pantomime. The girl saw what was happening, lunged at me, and began clawing my face. Now, I had a problem. Although I had the guy under some control, (it’s not like I could walk him across the floor like a pedigree, but he wasn’t going anywhere) the chick wrapped around my back, shredding my face with her garden rakes, was seriously hampering my dance moves. I couldn’t seem to shake her off. We crashed backwards into a Christmas tree. Now, nobody thought we were dancing. However, nobody was entering into the fray, just yet.
There’s a pause before other people join in a fight. It’s only natural to take a moment to size things up and see if you want to add to the merriment. How long that pause is depends on the crowd. It doesn’t take long for an Irish bar crowd to rush in. Country Western folks don’t tend to over think things either. But these were St. John’s students, and they were going to wax philosophically about cost versus reward, one’s duty to society versus self-preservation, savage warlord glory versus possible ass-kicking and jail time. They had some heavy things to sort out before joining in.
I had a small window to act. The she-bitch on my back was the main problem. I couldn’t get her off of me without hurting her, and the way I saw it, we had something once, before he showed up. I was getting desperate. I was alone at this party, with no back-up from buddy boys, and I knew the crowd would eventually come to defend one of their own, especially a boyfriend/girlfriend combo. There wouldn’t be time to take to the podium and explain the passive-aggressive nature of the poke, or how certain social cues can be misread by the overly sensitive, so I decided to give her my Banshee War Cry.
This is a form of psychological warfare. Like the rebel yell, or the Japanese Banzai, the war cry is used to demoralize one’s opponent into paralysis. If done properly, it also makes you look like a total psycho- one that nobody wants to deal with. But you have to sell it, and in order to do that, you have to sell a piece of your soul’s self-respect. I turned around, looked right into her face and unleashed the most demonic, possessed-by-a-wraith, crazy-eyed shriek I could summon. It’s funny when I think about how earlier in the evening, I was hoping we’d be kissing each other’s naked bodies, and now I was screaming in her face like some tortured mythical monster, and not in a good way. What a steep trajectory our relationship took. How fickle the flight of love’s arrow.
She quickly disengaged. I got up and bolted for the door. Only when I was clearly in retreat did the crowd finally decide to jump in. Now, everybody wanted a piece of me. Saving face at that point was futile, so I ran like a villain in a silent film, out through the yard and down the street. I was being chased by an angry mob of young intellectuals. How absolutely, fucking embarrassing. I really legged it and managed to get away. I barfed a bit, waited in the bushes until it was safe, got in my car and drove home. I stayed up a few hours that night feeling weird about things, then passed out.
The Christmas parties I attend now are pretty tepid. They start early and end early. Sober people only say things once, so their get-togethers don’t last as long. The highlight is usually coffee and cake. That may not be some people’s idea of a party, but that’s what I prefer these days. My idea of a good holiday party was a brutal experience, an endurance contest that destroyed the victor and vanquished equally. Peace and goodwill towards men, got trampled under foot in the stampede for kicks and oblivion, and somebody usually got hurt. Now, I’d rather have cake and coffee, and not get poked or smirked at. Cat glasses still kill me.