February 14, 2014
Hey, I’ m sorry you missed the dinner party. You heard Michael was going to bring this guy he met in his English class, right? And then it turns out Michael couldn’t make it, but this guy shows up anyway. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s a writer, mostly plays I think, named Oscar Wilde. I wish I’d known he was coming, so I could have told him it wasn’t really going to be formal, since he showed up in a long black coat, wearing a tie and striped gray slacks. I introduced him to everyone and gave him a glass of wine. He took it saying, "Work is the curse of the drinking classes." None of us were sure what to say to that, but I laughed politely and went back to the kitchen to finish dinner. Chaz came in a few minutes later. I could hear him saying hi to everyone in the living room, and then he came to the kitchen, helped himself to a Dos Perros from the fridge, and started telling me about how much he hates his job again.
Chaz followed me to the dining room when I took out the appetizers. When I came in Kelee was saying, "I don’t know what I can do to keep those two from talking about me behind my back."
I was about to ask who they were when Oscar spoke. "The only thing worse than being talked about," he said, "is not being talked about."
We all looked at each other, except Chaz, who chuckled and said, "Oh yeah." He put his fist up to Oscar, who stared, wide-eyed, at it.
"Come on, dude," said Chaz. "Don’t leave me hangin’ here."
Oscar put up his fist and Chaz bumped it. "Right on!"
I excused myself and went back to the kitchen, followed by Chaz, who wanted another beer. Then Simon came in, puffed up . His eyes were blazing.
"Do you know what’s going on in there?"
"Is anyone choking on a canapé?"
"This Oscar guy lit a cigarette."
"Did you tell him to put it out?"
"Yes! He stabbed it out on your incense burner."
"Great. Thanks." I turned up a burner on the stove. "Thanks for stepping up." I handed him the Chardonnay bottle. "Here, does anyone need more wine? Help me out and refresh everyone’s drinks."
As Simon went back Chaz started talking about how in the sixties people who worked in Mission Control at NASA were required to smoke. I handed him a spoon and got him started stirring the risotto. When he excused himself to "drain the dragon" I sprinkled feta over the salmon and called everyone into the dining room.
Dinner was quiet at first. I assumed this was because everyone was a little uncomfortable with a new guy in our midst. Everyone was digging in and seemed to be enjoying the food, so I said, "I hope it’s all right. This is an old recipe but it’s one I’ve never made for a group this big before. I was afraid I might make a mistake adjusting all the amounts for this many servings."
Everyone around the table said how good it was, except Oscar, who said, "Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes." Chaz laughed and gave Oscar another fist bump, but everyone else was silent and glanced around at me. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant as a compliment or not, and didn’t know what to say, so I just quietly said, "Thank you," and let it go.
"This asparagus is delicious," said Lydia.
"I got it at the farmer’s market. I finally gave up on trying to find good asparagus at the grocery store. It’s always thicker than a tree trunk." Kelee looked over at me. "Would you believe my mother only likes the canned kind?"
"I can’t stand people who do not take food seriously," Oscar said. Chaz laughed again and did a fist bump again, spilling a little wine as his arm hit his glass. Everyone else seemed tense . Rose cleared her throat. After a few seconds that dragged like hours we all started eating again. I sat back and let the silence persist. At least everyone was eating, although with the tension in the room every bite was like ashes in my mouth. I started to ask if anyone would like water or something else to drink, but instead turned to Simon.
"Hey, Simon," I said, "don’t you have a gig coming up?"
"Yeah, in two weeks, at the Cannery." Simon looked around at us. "I hope y’all can make it."
"Simon’s trying out some new songs," said Kelee. "They’re really good." Oscar spoke up. "If one plays good music, people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music people don’t talk."
Chaz nearly choked on his wine and reached over and slapped Oscar on the shoulder. Simon stood up. "What is your deal?" He glared down at Oscar, who merely smiled at Chaz. "Really, what the hell is your problem? You talk like you’re." Simon gestured into the air. "Like.I don’t know." I leaned forward. "Simon, it’s okay, really."
"No, it’s not okay." He turned to me. "Dinner was delicious. Really, it was really good. I’m glad you invited us. And I hope you can make it in a couple of weeks, but I can’t take any more of this. I’ve got to go." He moved to the door and Kelee got up with him. I moved after them.
"Thank you, and I’m sorry," said Kelee to me. She looked over at Oscar who had his back to us, and Chaz, who was holding his empty wine glass over his open mouth and sticking out his tongue. "It was nice seeing everyone, and I hope we can try this again."
As I was seeing them out Lydia and Rose got up and came to the door. "I’m sorry," said Lydia. "It’s late, you know, and we’ve both got to get up early tomorrow." She and Rose both thanked me and apologized again before going out into the night.
"Well," I said, returning to the table where Chaz and Oscar were still sitting. "That was interesting. Let me take your plates. Would you guys like some dessert?" I was thinking of the huge bowl of chocolate mousse in the refrigerator, how I’d overestimated the recipe and made too much even for seven people, let alone three.
"Yeah," said Chaz, holding up his plate. "That was interesting, wasn’t it?" "After a good dinner," said Oscar, "one can forgive anyone, even one’s relatives." This time he held up his fist and looked expectantly at Chaz, who let out one of his loud barking laughs and gave him a bump.
When I came back from the kitchen with heaping bowls of mousse the table was empty. They’d left the front door standing open. I went to it and saw both of them out in the street, walking away. Oscar had his arm around Chaz’s shoulder.
"All of us are in the gutter," I heard him say, "but some of us are looking at the stars."
Chaz yelled, "I LOVE THIS GUY!"
I’m sure I’ll hear about that from the neighbors. Hey, when does Chaz’s girlfriend get back?