Sometimes being the life of the party is stupid

Sometimes being the life of the party is stupid

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate.”

From “The Great Gatsby,”

By F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

On its surface, Jordan Baker’s analysis, taken from the third chapter of what many believe remains the Great American Novel, rings a little false or, at least, runs contrary to common sense.

But I think I understand her logic.

Big gatherings — wedding receptions and class reunions, for example — carry with them the promise of secluded corners where, far from prying eyes and busy ears, there exists something akin to the “Cone of Silence,” a device made famous in TV’s “Get Smart.”

Designed to guarantee absolute privacy, the see-through plastic invention usually malfunctions, often with hilarious results, my favorite of which has Agent 86 and Chief unable to hear each other while their conversation is quite audible to those outside the bubble.

There is a tenuous connection to be drawn between that and Hamlet’s soliloquies, but I’m not up for any more heavy lifting.

I just want to get back to the party.

Over the years, in another lifetime it seems, I used to go to parties every now and then.

In high school they were usually clandestine affairs, news of which was transmitted via sotto voce communiqués, a clique-driven and word-of-mouth jungle-drum grapevine aimed at excluding those deemed unworthy of inclusion, a privilege reserved for the popular, with the hoi polloi kept in ignorance.

That, most of the time, included me.

In college, though, owing to a combination of Notre Dame’s time-honored rejection of a fraternity/sorority system and its daunting 7-to-1 men-to-women enrollment ratio, the rules changed.

Suddenly, any excuse for a party was a good one.

Some, like the day we beat Southern Cal to become the top-ranked football team in America, were self-explanatory. Others, including the release of the new Patti Smith album, were less obvious.

At their pulsing heart, however, was the possibility of meeting someone special, someone who might change your life. When you’re hundreds of miles from home, certain alliances grew less reliable and, given the circumstances, anyone might be tempted.

That, most of the time, included me.

I remember a dorm party — well, to be accurate, a Saturday night second-floor section party — at which I removed my girlfriend’s class ring from my little finger and tucked it into the pocket of my jeans because there was something in the air and not just weed.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was not the best boyfriend.

But that’s what can happen at parties, especially big ones. Intimacy, even shared over the sprawling brawl of Blue Oyster Cult’s sonic assault, can provide a lingering, invisible curtain behind which are shared secrets large and small, connections so electric as to be vital.

When this happens — and trust me, it isn’t often — the obvious move is to escape the throng in favor of something more private, less observable, a place that offers another, better, soundtrack.

Bruce Springsteen, say, or Neil Young, even Jackson Browne.

But what about the vast majority of parties that don’t result in seismic interpersonal shifts, the ones that you go to because you’re in the mood to get out and about, the ones that celebrate a lunar eclipse or invite you to “Come as Your Favorite Dead Celebrity?”

What happens then?

Well, I’ll tell you. If you’re like me — and Lord knows I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone — you’ll find yourself staying well past the expiration hour, hanging around until you’re the last one standing, someone whose capacity for small talk and large libation intake makes him the one willing to help clean up after the rest have left.

This altruistic tendency carries with it a heavy price tag, especially if the person with whom you arrived was ready — even eager — to bolt before most of the guests had arrived. I wish I could tell you this only occurred a handful of times and that I learned early on that when you’re with the woman you love, you listen to her.

That, most of the time, included me.

My wife — once my date, then my girlfriend, then my fiancée — has had to put up with my last-guy-to-leave proclivity for more than 30 years now, and it’s a tribute to her that we’re still happy together.

Well, that and the fact that I’m quite irresistible when I want to be.

I remember one summer night when a state highway patrolman picked me up on a dark country road because I was walking home after she and a friend had driven back, leaving me without a ride.

“Where you headed?” the officer asked me, obviously concerned.

“Back to where I belong,” I said. “Parties can be so overrated.”

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