by Leah Peterson
© 2003 Leah Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Originally published on Writer’s Monthly

Words overheard at a party: Uninvited Young Neighbor Mike to Female Guest #5, ‘Well, my parents don’t like me hanging around the house. My brother don’t wanna spend time with me; he asked me to like, take off. My brother-in-law thinks I’m a total dork and he picks on me so….I just thought I’d come over here and see what was going on.’

The absurdity of what he said struck me. It sounded like something I would have said to total strangers about 20 years ago. Not only was it sad and pathetic, it was socially unwise. I felt for this younger version of myself and wanted to convey my parental or at least mentor-type wisdom to him.

I turned in his direction after eavesdropping to get a good look at him across the nicely dressed, adult-type people in the room. He had removed his shoes, which was a house rule. I could see a few of his toes through the holes in his socks. He was wearing a sweatshirt and baggy jeans: the staples of any young mans wardrobe. His hair was a cross between dreads and ponytails: there were tiny sections of hair poking straight out all over his scalp, held together with rubber bands. His shadow looked like he was wearing some kind of strange tiara on his head. He had patches of acne and facial hair intermixed and fighting for space. I wondered which one was winning.

I leaned forward and spoke over the few people between us and said ‘Dude. That was SO not the way to introduce yourself to new people at a party. Now we’re all wondering what’s wrong with you. You should start out with an opener like, “nice pad, dude.” Or, “sweet!”. I’d hate to ask you to leave so early on, but if you aren’t cool, you aren’t cool.’

Mike looked at me. I looked at Mike. Everyone else was looking back and forth between us as if it was a tennis match. Suddenly, Carey from work, who knows me better than some and knew I was joking, started snorting from trying to keep from laughing. That, of course, set me off and I couldn’t help from cracking a smile. ‘Just kidding, Mike!’ I said. ‘Welcome to the house. Just don’t break anything. All the breakable stuff is my housemate Craig’s and you and I don’t have enough money to replace any of his valuables.’ And then I smiled again, this time with some teeth showing.

One of the nicer people there took the pressure off Mike and asked how old he was and if he’d like a drink. ‘Ya, dude. I so would. I’m 21 and I have the ID to prove it. Wanna see?’ I cringed at his eagerness and hoped that the cops wouldn’t be showing up later to arrest anyone for aiding the delinquency of a minor. That might interrupt our planned party game of ‘Spoons.’ And we had to play Spoons.

The object of the game is to get four of a kind in your hand from the deck of cards and then grab a spoon from the middle of the floor at which time everyone tries to grab a spoon from the middle of the floor. Because there is one less spoon than people in the circle, someone gets kicked out before the next round. You find out quickly what people are made of. I’ve been partially scalped and blood gets drawn from at least two or three hands every time we play. “Tears from Fingernails Breaking” should be the theme song.

All that pain from dull objects. It’s a good thing the game is not called ‘Sharp Knives’ or even ‘Forks’. Is it worth it to get the utensil? That’s a question only a dedicated player can answer.

Carey from work had brought her sister Holly. I told them we’d play Spoons before they left. Neither one had ever played. ‘They have no idea what they’re getting into!’ I thought. But I was wrong. I didn’t know how resourceful they were.

At least twenty of us sat on the living room floor in a circle with a pile of spoons in the center.

Carey and Holly sat across from me.

Mike was two people to my left.

Craig started picking up a new card and discarding at a faster rate than most drunk people could.

At first you wouldn’t notice that anything was going on with Carey and Holly, they had their signals worked out so well, but there they were all the same, cheating their eyes out. Mike was having a hard time counting to four.

At first it was just some trading of cards between the two sisters to try and get the four of a kind before someone else.

Mike was trying to remember which way to pass the cards.

The next round, Holly started hiding a spoon under her leg so that when the circle dove in and flesh got scraped off, she didn’t have to do anything but simply slide her hand down, snag the spoon and then act relieved as if she’d just ripped it out of someone else’s hand. She had the ‘phew’ face perfected, too.

Mike was out of the game.

I didn’t want to rat on them. Not only was it fun to have a secret, but I liked watching someone figure out a way to beat the system. Yes, it was cheating which is wrong and socially unacceptable, but… wait a minute. Did I just say cheating is socially unacceptable? Reality check. Actually, I think watching them made me miss my own sister. Although, we’d never cheat. Heaven forefend!

I caught up with Mike later on in the garage. I wanted to make sure he knew that I was really a nice person and that I had just been playing around earlier. I also wanted to sneak in a few more pointers on social party behavior. I noticed he hadn’t cheated at all when we were playing spoons and maybe he would have lasted longer in the game if he took some ideas from Holly.

The balcony was off limits due to inclement weather conditions. My housemate, Craig, had made the garage into a smoker’s paradise complete with a standing heater like the French bistros have. I used to be a smoker, too, but have always thought the smell of smoke is stinky. It was wafting through the house courtesy of the door swinging open and shut so many times in succession. I think at least half the guests were in the garage. That’s a lot of people sucking nicotine through their teeth.

I spied Mike sitting on the steps. I tiptoed through a variety of inebriated people until I finally got close enough to say “hey” to him. I sat down. It was like a pop-up toy. Mike quickly leapt up, stamped out his grit, said ‘later dudes!’ to some of the guests and walked into the house before my tush had even solidly hit the ground. So much for a heart-to-heart convo. The boy didn’t want to be within a 10 foot radius of me. I felt bad. Kind of. But also relieved that the earlier version of myself had vacated the premises. It saved me from trying to be wise. And everyone knows I’m not. Although I’m almost smart enough to win Carey and Holly at Spoons. I have the sprained wrist and bruise on my head to prove it.

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