Saturday, July 12, 2014

How Many in Your Party?

You, who are always looking for clues, traces, memorabilia that will link you to to useful things for storytelling, try your hand at considering this: Stories are like parties where things have got out of hand, where someone has slipped quantities of vodka or rum into the punch bowl, where someone has said something a touch beyond the borders of caution, where someone has in the midst of the festive chaos come to a cosmic understanding, previously not understood.

Stories and parties are convergences of persons with ideas and hopes and, yes, even dreams.  The act of typing these words has sent you reeling back into the managed sincerity of a party you'd not wished to attend in the first place.  

The party in question was a given by a friend of your mother, given for the daughter of your mother's friend, a girl for whom you'd spent considerable time in the dictionary, seeking and learning a word somewhere out of your range.  

The word, supercilious.  Your mother, hearing this word, was at some pains to enjoin you--another word you'd had to look for, but liked it the moment you understood what it meant--from using that word, supercilious, at any time during the party.

You would probably not have used the word, only thought it, but being enjoined, as it were, from its use caused you to attend the party with yet another word new to your vocabulary, agenda.  Your previous agendas relative to parties were to take fun where you found it, check for signs of potentials for seconds of ice cream and cake, make sure you found some way to compliment the hostess during the course of the party.  Such compliments were bound to make points; the hostess was likely to have told your mother how thoughtful and polite you were.

At that time of your life, you had nothing against being polite or thoughtful or both in combination.  Your agenda was to build up a sort of social disposable income, an insurance at mitigating--another word you knew back them--the inevitable discussions and behavior relative to your being a boy of a certain age, a boy with , as your older sister put it, "a heart of mischief and impish curiosity."

"How,"  your mother once asked you, "could a boy who saw fit to complement the Wagers for their imaginative birthday party for their daughter be so thoughtless?"  Your crime was applying Easter egg dye to the tail of the Bernstein cat.  Your lecture and any chores or consequences applied were, at least in your mind, mitigated by the parental awareness that giving Buster a blue tail be taken in context with you being polite.

This time, knowing the highly structured nature of the hostess of the party you did not wish to attend, the hostess with the supercilious daughter, your agenda was to avoid at any cost coming anywhere near pinning the tail on the donkey.  You were successful enough in your goal, which had to be accomplished, you believed, not as an act of overt rebellion, but as a plausible ineptitude at what you considered one of the dumbest party games known to mankind.

What you'd failed to account for, and what in effect one-upped your early ventures into passive aggression, was the extent of the hostess's management style.  Being so far off in your attempts to pin the tail on the donkey won you the booby prize, which was a squirt gun any boy with a heart of mischief would have coveted.

For good or ill, you have the ability to stop reading a story that has failed to draw you into its web of contrivance and causality.  To the same degree, you have the ability to leave a party where a degree of involvement does not seem to have you in its cross-hairs.  You give each a final try.  With the story, perhaps another page, or a skip to what appears to be an exchange of dialogue, which might change your mind.  When a party seems to be splitting its seams or moving toward adult versions of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey, perhaps a spirited conversation or the introduction of some volatile subject matter.

There; you have done what you set out to do.  You've made a comparison between two entities of potential volatility in nature.  You vastly prefer the volatile in stories and in party.  You even like the metaphor to the point where you might well use it in class.

You have also opened the possibility, at least in your own mind, that you had, squirreled away in your young boy's tool kit of yo-yo's and string and chalk and pencil stubs was a strong hint of the manipulative.


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