I’m a shy Boy. I always have been. Open-house parties—the local parlance for “keggers” where and when I grew up—were an intimidating prospect, but an appealing one just the same. Where else could I expect to expand my social circle, pee in the woods, and kid myself into thinking I might work up the bravery to smooch some girl?
Anyway, aside from peeing the woods, those things never happened. But I did learn a little about what I could expect from myself, anyway. And beer helped a lot.
Sorry, Mom and moms. Yes, I had beers. Beers aplenty, all before I was even eighteen, and that wasn’t even the drinking age anymore anyway. So you can imagine how many beers I had before I was twenty-one! Oh my word.
Where was I? Oh yes. Open-house parties and social lubricants.
I’d better back up a moment and tell you this: The Gap ran a lot of TV ads back in the early 1990s. I imagine they still do, but who the hell sits through commercials on TV anymore? Not this guy. Back then, though—sure. We had five channels. We watched whatever they hell they put in front of us. Anyway, one such ad featured a montage of black-and-white photos of models in Gap clothes, I think. The music, though, I’ll never forget, because it was tune that has become so a part of me that to this day I know every word, every shift in pitch, every breath. I even sang it at my brother’s first wedding in a duet with my aunt.
The commercial didn’t feature the whole song. It merely featured the first thirty seconds—not enough to even reach Blossom Dearie’s vocal part. My father, though, had quite a jazz vinyl collection, and it included no fewer than three versions of this apparently hit jazz tune by King Pleasure and Blossom Dearie. So I listened to the whole thing—constantly. I forced the song and all its lyrics and its melody deep into my gut and my heart. I was one with the song.
So. Open-house party. Kegger. I think I remember whose house it was at. I know this was the night I first heard of “Special K,” aka cat tranquilizer, aka Ketamine. And here, moms and Mom, you may rejoice, because I did not partake of that drug that night, nor ever since. But many people did, as I recall, which meant my social anxiety went absolutely through the freaking roof.
Keg parties where I grew up were generally held in backyards, lest partygoers jostle or break something important inside the house, where parents might notice upon their return from Europe, for example. This time, though, a select few kids were invited inside. After a few beers on the patio, I think I probably grabbed a mutual friend’s coattails and hobbled in as well.
The TV was on in a big, well encouched family room. Everyone in the room, including myself, had by this time relaxed, either through pill or joint or beer, and the faces in the room were nearly expressionless as what had to be Saturday Night Live flashed before our eyes.
Then it happened. The Gap commercial. It happened.
Now listen. I was drunk. I was really about as drunk as I’d ever been in my (I’m guessing) seventeen years. If I hadn’t been, I might have hummed along under my breath, or lip-synced even. But sing out loud? At the top of my lungs? Even after the thirty-second commercial was over, and well into Blossom Dearie’s section—in falsetto, mind you—until the very last line of the song?
I never would have done that.
Not without beer. (This probably sounds like a pro-beer story. It’s not. It’s an anti-fear story. Which, to some degree, is the same thing. I am going to get in big trouble. Don’t drink!)
With beer, though, I sang out loud, and I sang out clear. Or as clear as you might expect a drunk seventeen-year-old to be. And I sang every word, and probably quite well. I’m not too shabby on the vocals, thankyouverymuch. By the time I was done, all eyes were on me, slouched in a chocolate-brown leather sectional with a warm cup of beer in my hand. Saturday Night Live was back from commercial, but all eyes stayed on me.
I grinned and took a sip of that warm beer. I hated beer then. Who didn’t at seventeen, especially that swill we always ended up sipping—Coors Light or MGD or Bud? But I sipped it and smiled.
Now, no one clapped. No one even smiled back at me. One girl said, “Woah.” Then we went back to watching TV. But to me, things had changed. No one would forget I was at that party—as they probably had with every party I’d ever bothered showing up at. And that was something for a shy Boy.
A couple of weeks later, I crashed my car into another kid’s car outside of a kegger—I mean, just the tiniest bit—and then tried to flee the scene right down a dead end. I didn’t get far and took a punch in the face for my trouble. So no one would forget I was at that party either. Not as fun, oddly.
Don’t drink, kids.