Last weekend, in their infinite kindness and corporate grace, the folks at my former company held a goodbye/ good luck/ don't go 'way mad party for me. It was held at the suburban McMansion of the Business Affairs Manager, who had multipurposed the affair into a benefit poker tournament for a benefit relay race for an umbrella charity group. Call it a two-tier trickle-down party with positive ramifications for everyone in the community. Except the neighbours.
When I showed up, ferried there by a cabdriver so good-natured that I suspected some kind of brain trauma lurking in his past, it became clear that the party was shaping up differently than I'd expected. The driveway and garage were packed with strangers, smoking and drinking from broad red plastic cups. They were all young, tanned, at least ten years younger than me,* the men with fitted shirts and faded jeans, the women with most of their breasts scooped out of their blouses and suspended for display. Having spent the last few years of my life downtown, I never ran into these kinds of people. I always wondered where they went for their
cannibal sex orgies parties.
I waved at them in passing, shook a couple of hands on the way in, and found my former colleagues around the kitchen table playing Texas hold 'em. At least that's what they called it – I have absolutely no schooling in the variations of poker, knowing only that higher cards and lots of them are good. The host pointed at the fridge. “Aidan. Aidan. Go open the fridge and take a look”. I cracked the door open and witnessed what must be every frat boy's Friday night aspiration – a fridge crammed with cans of Coors Lite, silver cylinders at every available angle tucked around pizza boxes and bottles of white wine. “Go ahead there, buddy” called the host, “Take one. Have as many as you want”. I cracked one open and took a swig, wondering just how many I'd have to knock back to actually get drunk.
The drink situation seen to, I sat down at the table with the poker players. For food there was a mostly eaten shrimp ring, a few swiped-at daubs of cocktail sauce at the centre, shrimp tails littering the gutter along the rim. According to Jeff, the real food was supposed to arrive at 10:30 when Angela came. At least I knew that nothing was going to get between me and the precious alcohol locked away in these cans of light beer. I tipped most of the rest of the can down my throat.
I joined the poker game. My understanding of the rules had grown so vague that I kept on throwing out terms in hopes that one of them would fit the situation. I would throw in two chips and say “I bluff!” or hit the table twice, which may or may not have meant something. I held fast to two rules: keep saying poker-related words and never fold. This lost me all my chips repeatedly, but I figured that sooner or later pure chance would keep me in the game for two consecutive hands.
At first the table found my style endearing, but after twenty minutes or so it was clear that even the most even-tempered of them were losing patience. “What are the face-up cards in the middle of the table for?” I asked, rightly deducing a relationship between them and the pair I held carefully to my chest.
Anita, who was a lot drunker than I'd thought, lost it.
“Aidan!” she called out. “You're a loser! You're a loser at this game! I've never played it before and I'm way better than you!” Later that evening she announced to a roomful of coworkers and strangers alike that obese people made her angry, but for the moment my non-mad poker skills served as the object of her anger.
“Where did you learn poker?” asked the guy sitting next to me, who'd been giving me advice like 'Don't hold your cards out' and 'No, the white chips are yours, those ones are mine'.
“I played a few rounds in 1989,” I answered.
“Dude!” he scoffed. “How old were you in 1989?”
“Eighteen,” I said.
The guy's face seemed to turn colour slightly. If he hadn't expected to end up seated next to such a lousy poker player, he definitely didn't expect a certified grownup to be so bad at the game. I watched his eyes refocus, scan my face, trying to reassemble a picture of me that accorded with the data.
“I look young,” I said.
“Yeah. Yeah, you do,” he said.
“Am I supposed to show my cards now?” I asked.
I caught a brief creas of confusion across his brow. “No," he said. "You don't show your cards in poker”.
“You never count your money either,” I added. The guy nodded and went back to his cards, satisfied that I was a moron.
I took another beer and went in search of food. A brief search turned up some bottles of vodka, a stack of bibles and a weight set in the basement, and a room that contained nothing but a laser strobe and a stereo on the floor blasting rap music. “Bitch, please!” the stereo screamed. “You fuckin' with some real O.G.s!” True dat, I thought. But I couldn't help wonder why a song trying so hard to be hardcore sounded kind of bitchy and gay. Was Snoop Dogg trying to reclaim a saying from the argot of urban gay culture? Was it negative capability? Or blatant appropriation of voice? Then the shuffle function dipped further down the intellectual register and started up a Toby Keith song.
Every party has its preferred spot, a piece of carpet or linoleum or asphalt where all the smartest conversation, the loudest laughter, the best drugs, are located. The best parties have several spots (the worst have no spots, just a few people sitting on a couch playing video games and staring blankly at everyone who shows up). I found the first spot of the night at the foot of the driveway, right between a Honda Civic and a Z-28. My colleagues from the poker game had gathered to smoke and escape the rap-country blend being pumped through the house.
Anita was barefoot, flicking her skirt back and forth and sloshing a martini around. Her body seemed consumed by a jittery greenish energy that only increased as she dragged on her cigarette and threw more vodka down her throat. I gathered from her conversation with Chad that she had just finished a strict exclusion diet and discovered, to her great delight, that it was wheat gluten, not alcohol, that had been plaguing her digestive and nervous systems for years. If ever there were reason to go and get absolutely hammered, this would be it.
As Anita danced back and forth, my former assistant director – let's call him Mike – was telling me what I thought was an elaborate joke.
“Okay, Aidan. I started dating this girl a few weeks ago. Last weekend, we go to this party but I'm getting over the flu”. Mike was always somewhere between catching and recovering from the flu. “I don't feel so good so I tell her I have to leave. She gets mad at me because she thinks I'm ditching her. Which couldn't be further from the truth. So I go home and she sleeps with two of my best friends”.
He took a drag on his cigarette. I waited for the punchline. “And?” I said.
Mike gave me a blank look.
“That night?” said Chad.
Mike nodded. “That very night”.
“What a slut,” said Chad
“She doesn't know I know,” said Mike.
“What, you're serious?” I asked. “I thought you were making a joke”.
Mike shook his head and swigged his beer.
“She slept with Rob right after I left, and then they went to Charlie's and she had sex with Charlie later that night. That's how she got revenge on me for ditching her”.
Which couldn't be further from the truth, I thought. “How's it revenge if you're not supposed to know about it?”
Mike shrugged. “I don't know. Now she's really mad because I haven't spoken to her since. She thinks I'm just avoiding her. She doesn't know I'm actually disgusted with her”.
A car pulled up and disgorged a group of teenage girls with improbable heels and glitter spangling their faces and chests. Mike recognized one of them and waved her over. As Mike talked with a couple of sparkly girls, Chad wandered over to me and laid his hand on my shoulder.
“Aidan, Aidan, Aidan,” he said. “I'm going to miss you”. Then he flipped open his cellphone and turned the screen to my face. “Take a look at what I was doing a few days ago”.
I looked at the little screen. In a bathtub two girls covered in suds were soaping each other and laughing. Chad flipped through several more photos of the girls grabbing at different parts of each other's bodies and throwing handfuls of suds at each other.
“That's my girlfriend,” Chad announced. I resisted the urge to ask which one he was referring to.
He flipped the phone shut and dropped it back into his shirt pocket. “The rest aren't suitable for public viewing,” he said, and wandered off to find more beer. I was missing the room with the stereo.
Mike leaned towards me. “I used to date that girl,” he intoned. “She's filthy. Really”.
I realized then that I was fucking with some real O.G.'s.