Some people are great at parties—they know exactly when to arrive, how much to drink, and, most importantly, when to leave. Me, I’ve arrived so early I’ve had to devein shrimp, I’ve laughed wet bursts of wine onto people’s faces, I’ve tucked hosts into bed at evening’s end.
Here’s my usual party strategy: find the liquor, find the food, find the space where two walls meet. Alienate enough people around you to have some breathing room. Find the attractive people—this shouldn’t take long; they’ll be the ones getting everything they want in life. Once you’ve found them, stare hungrily at them all evening, and interpret every alarmed flicker of eye contact from them as a new stage in your relationship.
If an attractive person comes over and says something to you, perhaps something like, “What are you doing over here in the corner?” always, always look behind you, because nine times out of ten a fellow attractive person has strayed from the pack and gotten lost, like a glamorous lamb with a fade and Macklemore tickets, and is merely being retrieved.
If the attractive person is indeed talking to you and seems interested, genuine, or even flirtatious, you’re probably going to get murdered. You could do worse; an ax in the back is still pen- etration. Is he smiling, laughing, touching your arm, telling you you’re funny? Yeah, you’re going in a well. He’s going to make a coat of your skin. But the joke’s on him, because you’ve got eczema.
I was in the kitchen at a friend’s holiday party, hiding near the people I knew and the champagne punch I’d just met, when I caught sight of a good-looking young man sampling cocktail wieners from a Crock-Pot on the counter. I’d had half of a pot cookie and two cups of punch, so I felt emboldened enough to lean in and ask him, “How are those wieners?”
Unfortunately I wasn’t emboldened enough to ask this in a flirtatious tone, so I sounded like I was conducting a door-to- door survey for Crock-Pot.
“Good,” he replied, spearing three wieners on a toothpick.
Still not quite nailing a flirtatious tone, still sounding like someone’s inquisitive niece, I asked, “You take three at a time?” “Yup,” he said, popping them into his mouth, adding, “I’m a triple threat.”
I laughed congenially, trying to imagine the shadow his jaw might cast in the glow from my Christmas tree. Pleased, he reached across four people to tap his friend on the shoulder and say, “This guy asked me if I was taking three at a time, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m a triple threat.’ ”
They both laughed loudly.
He turned back to me. “I dare you to take four,” he said. Before I could think better of it I popped the wieners into my mouth, where they promptly exploded with hot, wet salt. I covered my lips daintily and looked to the floor, as if he might still find me demure even after I’d housed four cocktail wieners in one bite, like a python who just wants to belong.
When I looked up his friend had joined him. They were angled toward each other in a bitchy migratory V, watching me make not-quick-enough work of a mouth full of spiced meat. His friend leaned in and whispered something in his ear, and they both laughed. It was like middle school; it was like they were bullies in the fucking gay schoolyard, where the sandbox is full of cheap coke and the slide is shaped like a raised eyebrow.
Later in the evening I stood in the corner of the living room with my mouth full of cheese cubes and my eyes full of the hostess’s best friend, a lawyer. Gay, Prince Eric–handsome, and super solvent. I inched my way toward him, desperately rack- ing my brain for legal jargon, when someone seized the hostess’s iPod and put on “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls. I saw this as a clear in. I turned to the lawyer and said, “Oh my god, did you hear her mother was just murdered?”
Without skipping a beat he turned to me and calmly said, “This isn’t Jennifer Hudson. This is Jennifer Holliday. The original?”
Apparently his field was musical-theater crime.
I slunk away and took a seat off to the side. That’s when George, an uninvited neighbor who’d spent all evening going around telling each female in attendance that they looked like a porcelain doll, plopped down next to me. “Are you gay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, wondering if George knew how long I’d waited for someone to compare me to a porcelain doll.
“Hey, that’s cool,” he continued. “I love gay people. I’m not gay. I’m into chicks. That’s my thing, what can I say.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Hey, man, you’ve actually got an advantage over me. Girls automatically like you because you’re gay, and then you can bone them.”
“Well, there’s a flaw in your plan,” I said, “because I want to bone guys.”
He leaned in. “Listen, I’m going to tell you something,” he said, suddenly serious. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there’s something wrong with you. You hear me? You are just like the rest of us. We’re all human beings. Some of us like chicks, some of us like dudes.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “You—you are normal. There is nothing weird about you. You hear me?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You don’t have to hide.”
“I’m not, I just told you I was ga—”
“Don’t feel on the outside, looking at us. You’re inside, you’re in with us, you’re just like us at the end of the day, you know?” He leaned his head against the wall behind us, then turned to face me. “I’m a motivational speaker. And I want you to hear what I’m saying.”
“I do; I’m feeling quite motivated.”
“Look, you’ll do fine. If I was gay, I’d probably take you out.” “Well. Maybe in another life.”
“Yeah,” he said, closing his eyes. “See you there.”
Illustration by Tara Jacoby