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VARIATIONS ON A PARTY
BY CHARLES ULLMANN
 

I. Stasis

It is 11:30 PM on a Friday night in May, and no one can get through the front door. The entrance is crowded with people who have not advanced any further into the house since they arrived. Down the hall in the kitchen are the smokers, smoking and drinking and spilling things. A girl named Dominique sits on the counter, showing off the surgical scars on her upper left leg. People are paying attention. In the living room there is an assortment of elegantly upholstered chairs, but nobody is sitting in them. Most of the guests are standing up. Others are on the floor. What the rest are doing is unclear. Scoop McBride has started in with the butt-slapping. The question of who invited him, a perennial leitmotif in these circles, follows Scoop around the room like an aluminum can bobbing in the wake of a canoe. There is a long line of people waiting to pee, but theyíll have to wait. Doug Kulokowski, who has vowed to overwhelm the crowd with his lyrical skills before the night is through, is in the bathroom, constipated, breathing deeply and visualizing mudslides. Two hours ago, the first guest to arrive realized that he had the wrong house but decided to stick around anyway. By the time the sun rises, Doug will have received a standing ovation for an impromptu freestyle rhyme about particle accelerators and Dominique will be apologizing to Scoop for attacking him with the fireplace poker. For now, there is only the day of the week, and the time of day, and the state of things.

II. Evolution

Subjects float and mutate, confounding observation and analysis. Two newly acquainted young adults who would like to be fondling each other are, instead, discussing the merits of a painting hanging above the fireplace. According to Mr. A, the colors and composition are a metaphor for political upheaval. Ms. B just sees a bunch of goats standing on a hill. Mr. C (a bookstore employee whose hobbies include weightlifting and model trains) lingers reluctantly at the edge of their conversation. He is no dummy. He knows that Mr. A and Ms. B have their targets locked, and he has been waiting patiently for an opportunity to escape. Seizing on the disagreement, he paraphrases Freudís observation about cigars being cigars and turns in the direction of D, E, and F, a team of pale, androgynous performance artists who were invited to the party in the hopes that they would bring either drugs or their legendary collection of pornographic marionettes. D, E and F are violently agreeing with each other about how ugly the whole scene is when some preppy body-builder trust-fund brat drinking beer from a glass mug appears out of nowhere and offers them a cigar. D replies with a withering sneer and a snide comment about how Republican cigars are. Mr. C, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat whose father recently died of lung cancer, nods in agreement and smiles. E and F, disgusted, gravitate in the direction of Dr. G, Ph.D, a fetching thirty-something political analyst who has just been slapped in the butt by Scoop McBride. Overhearing two boyish (girlish?) young girls (boys?) mocking a spoiled rich kid, Dr. G takes comfort in knowing that someone here thinks as lowly of Scoop as she does. She says so to her fiancée, Harold, an old friend of Scoopís, in attempt to lure him into an argument. Having just come back from an illicit smoke in the kitchen, Haroldís inebriated imagination is occupied with Dominiqueís scars, which look like the arrowed lines on a treasure map. He defers the question of Scoopís perpetual adolescence to Ivan. J. Keller, a local writer whose sole authorial credential is his middle initial. Harold knows that Ivan has little use for Scoop, and the ruse works like a charm. As soon as Dr. G and Ivan have begun listing their grievances, Harold departs to take a leak, steal another smoke, and have one more look at Dominiqueís leg before she puts it away for the evening. He excuses himself to go the bathroom and is surprised to find that the line stretches all the way up the hallway to the living room. Waiting at the very end, arms folded and scowling, is the lead singer of LMNOP, a local punk-klezmer band that has been getting attention in recent weeks for a scorching political anthem called ďTreehumper.Ē Harold wracks his brain for the singerís name, but his memory is useless after a few drinks. He comments on the long wait. The singer says no shit and continues to mope. LMNOPís drummer, second to last in line, is friendlier. He introduces himself as Quinn and passes on a rumor that has floated up from the bathroom door: Doug Kulokowski, a talented young MC and doctoral candidate struggling to complete his dissertation on theoretical physics, is in the bathroom playing with razor blades. Harold doesnít need to go that badly, so he wishes the two of them luck and heads to the kitchen, keeping an eye out for anyone willing to part with a cigarette. Some moron has put Rod Stewart on the stereo, and Dominique, visibly sickened, is about to get off the counter and dig up one of the hostís Television albums when Hugh Vee, a suspected amateur pornographer whose hand no one will shake, sidles up to her and lights a menthol. Hugh is drinking whiskey and saying something about his ex. He is about to ask Dominique why she didnít bring a date to the party when Harold cuts in to bum a light. The moment Hugh turns away she is off the counter and sliding around the table to the hallway. There is a sudden lull in the conversation as she collides with Scoop McBride, who spanks her and then tears ass for the front door, clawing through the crowd and screaming about the second coming of Doug. The sound of Scoopís hand making contact with Dominiqueís rear end reverberates through the house. Heads turn. A flushing toilet announces new developments. The bathroom door bursts open and Doug emerges, evacuated and ready to drop some knowledge. There is a sense in the room that critical mass has been reached, that it is high time for an explosion. But Dominique is paying no attention. Dominique is staring at the poker leaning up against the fireplace. Dominique is seeing the back of Scoopís silk shirt as he flees. Dominique is having a big idea. Dominique is thinking Zorro. 

III. Pastiche

Why am I here and not at home? Why did I stay at home for so long before coming here? Why did I put my wallet down on that table? Why did I leave my purse lying on that chair? Why did I ever trust her with the car keys? Why do I pretend not to see him looking at her? When did people stop liking me? How did I paint myself into this corner? Why does everyone still call me ĎScoopí? Why is he so snide? Why must I sneer? Why canít I make use of strong-weak coupling dualities to understand non-perturbative aspects of string theory? Is that a girl or a boy? Could I have convinced my dad to quit? Why do I make such a spectacle of my wounds? Why canít I keep my hands to myself? Why do all my projects go down in flames? Why did I reach for what I wanted? Why did I get what I reached for? Who am I to deserve this? Why didnít I bring drugs? Why havenít I been eating enough fiber? Why did I smoke that? Why wonít anybody shake my hand? Would it have been so difficult just to agree with him? Why did I move here? Why did I move away from where I was? Why donít I ever understand how happy I am until Iím not? Why do I try to start arguments when Iím drunk? Why do I look at other women when Iím drunk? Why am I only talented when Iím drunk? Why canít I remember things? Why do I have to remember everything? Why am I still awake? When did I fall asleep? Who is that? Why canít I follow this conversation? Why donít I read more? Why canít I stand up? Why canít I sit down? Why canít I say this? Why canít I unsay that? Why canít I see straight? Why am I drunk? Where am I drunk? Who am I drunk? Why? 

IV. Solo 

Silk shirt. Theyíll like the silk shirt. At some point Iím thinking this. And then at some point Iím driving. Later Iím in a parking lot. What parking lot? Circle K. Then its murky. Then Iím in the kitchen. Doug has a plan. Something about a nuclear something. A girl named Dominatrix is talking about her brain operation, showing people her underwear. Someoneís not invited. Whoís not invited? Me. I move quickly, stay ahead of the grumbling. Look, goth puppeteers. Could have been friends with them ten years ago. Could have been friends with anybody ten years ago. What happened? I love everybody. They tell me to slow down. I speed up. I am saying to somebody that I have money but donít want it. Move fast enough and you can burn money like butane. I am telling somebody this, thinking its Doug. Its not Doug. Where is Doug? Talk of knives and the toilet. Outside and around the house, over the hills and through the woods to the open bathroom window. I say whatís up. No knives. Doug is waiting for something to move. When it does, big things will happen. Any advice? Silence. Oh. Doug is asking me. For advice. There is a really big tree out here. Hey, Scoop? Yeah. Advice? Advice: touch everything you can, as quickly as possible. Dumbest thing Iíve ever said. Thatís beautiful, Scoop. And things start happening in the bathroom. Things I donít want to listen to. It sounds like God moving His furniture. I am out of there. Up to the door but I canít get in. Through the window. I want to say something and there is Dominatrix. Touch everything you can. So I touch her. People sense the rumbling of the atomic thunder. I want to say somethingís happening. I want to say somethingís happening and its my fault. I want to say shit Iím sorry. Judgment day is upon us and it is my fault. Doug is emerging and then Dominatrix is before me. No, a demon. Come to remove my beating heart with a spear. Who knew this would be my last night on earth? What will being no more be like? People are cheering. Cheering for my evisceration. No. Cheering for Doug. Doug has exploded. Everyone has gone nuclear. I fall down in the hall. Am I crying? I am crying. Dominatrix. Dominique. Over me. In the whole room only the two of us do not hear Dougís revelation to the crowd. All these thirty-five years are strangling me. Go ahead and remove my insides. I have touched what I can. She comes in for the kill. I say Iím sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. No. She is saying sorry. Sorry and thank you and crying and god Iím sick. Sick for hours and when I come to I see that the Dougís explosion has leveled the place. Everyone is dead. Everyone but Dominique. I have been talking to her. What have I said? I donít remember. Then itís murky. Then Iím driving. Then weíre here. What is this? This is coffee. Who is that? That is Dominique, laughing at my silk shirt. It is ripped. Iím laughing. Do you hear that? Iím laughing. 

V. Finale

It is 5:30 AM on a Saturday in May, and nothing is moving. Everyone still here is asleep. Everyone still awake has left. Doug stormed out the door with his back to the applause hours ago, having figured something out, something powerful. Now he is behind a desk across town, staring down the insoluble. After their strange wrestling match, Scoop and Dominique huddled in the corner for a few hours and then disappeared, puncturing the congregation. The house has deflated. Uncounted people have gone elsewhere, to take their place in the words of other stories. Broken things are fixed, working things busted. Difficult as it is to believe, the sun will be coming back up soon. How does the sun do that? 

[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/ullmann.html

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