La Plus Ça Change

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La Plus Ça Change
by Alison Barnet Contributor
Wednesday Sep 8, 2010

Last weekend, the 25-year-old tenant on my top floor gave a party. He invited a herd of elephants who pounded back and forth across the living room floor in combat boots until 3 a.m., at which time they all fell head-first down the hall stairs and slammed the front door. The music was so loud I could hear it reverberating through two floors, not just one. As often happens these days, I was unable to sleep at all that night. And I was furious.

What on earth were they doing up there? What kind of party is it where you stomp back and forth in the living room, instead of demurely sitting on chairs sipping drinks, like we always did?

I could have charged up there in my bathrobe and played the wicked witch, but I didn’t. I could have called, but he, like a lot of young people today, has a long distance cell phone number, and I don’t have long distance service. Instead I left an angry note and then felt guilty.

The next day, I looked at some old photos of the many, many parties held in this house when I was in my twenties and thirties. I was sure they would prove that my friends and I sat quietly, napkins on knees, getting up only to take another slice of cake or pour a modest amount of alcohol into our glasses. When we walked around, we were always in our stocking feet.

We gave a lot of Halloween parties "back in the day"-all very sedate. There’s Laurie, vamping like a flapper with a guy in a cat costume to whom she sublet her apartment when she impulsively moved in with David; David in a Zorro mask standing much too close to a woman in a red harem outfit; and me as a rooming house landlady with a huge key around my neck. We’re standing in the kitchen, not the living room, with what must have been fruit juice in our cups. The guy passed out on the waterbed managed to stay out of the picture.

On another occasion, I captured my boyfriend Philip in a flasher outfit, opening his cape to reveal his striped, green Paris underwear. There’s another shot of everyone having quiet fun trying on an enormous Afro wig-a great time without becoming raucous in the least.

We cut down on complaints (not that there were any) by inviting everyone in the house to our parties, everyone in the neighborhood, and strangers who happened to walk by that afternoon.

Of course, there were parties I didn’t take pictures of. Birthday parties, stoop sitting parties, roof parties before roof decks, but all were quite tranquil. No one got too high, and the police were seldom called. David always hosted a big Thanksgiving party, inviting all his girlfriends, who were none too happy to meet each other there. We drank from jugs of cheap white Zinfandel and sat on the floor dipping into fondue pots-very genteel. After what we called the exorcism party, which celebrated David’s moving out, I called in sick, admitting to my boss that I had a terrible hangover, and I was shocked that he was shocked. What kind of boring parties did he go to?

Other staid gatherings in my recall include seasonal rugby team parties across the street, where I once saw a guest try to open a bottle of beer from the bottom; monthly "executive board" meetings in the neighborhood association president’s kitchen where the hard stuff flowed freely; and the opening reception for the City Hospital’s ambulatory care center during which a Mass. Ave. resident got literally stiff and had to be carried out.

So there you go-proof that in my day no one ever stomped around, fell down the steps, or played loud music. Now when I have guests over, albeit infrequently, they sit on the couch nursing a small glass of sherry and leave early so they can get home to bed by 9. That, for better or worse, is what it’s come to. The only elephants at my place are those with long memories.

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