In our profane twenties, my wife had a signal for when she felt I’d crossed the line at parties. With the stealth of a Lutheran ninja, she would drift toward our host’s front door, where she would begin quietly putting on her shoes. Then she would make eye contact with me, which was sometimes a struggle at this hour of the evening, when the horizon would abandon me, and she would point, ever so subtly, at her feet. She would let her eyes go sad, as if to accuse me, in my boorishness, of both embarrassing her and reminding her how happy she had been in the Midwest, and what a terrible mistake everything had been since.
“Whelp,” I’d say to whoever was still listening. “I really thought I’d pulled up in time. But apparently not. Hope we’re still friends in the morning, ta-ta.” Then I would slip on my boots and spill out the door and flop into the passenger seat, where I would spend the next twenty minutes breathing heavily and farting.
When we really had a humdinger rolling, I would occasionally strip off my clothes and run around in the backyard. Or the front yard. Sometimes through the living room. I was proud of these pure Olympics, as I referred to them in my head. How wonderful it was, to feel confident and athletic as our thirties snuck up on us, how bracing the January air felt on my shoulders. And what wonderful friends we had, that they accepted me, constellation of back moles and all!
I remember one winter night, about ten years ago. We were all twenty-nine. It had been a good party, maybe we’d upgraded from Yellowtail, but probably not. Somebody had turned the Snoop Dogg to eleven, and I was straight feeling it, that gin-and-juice flowing from the fountain of youth right into my soul. And yet, it seemed that maybe not every one was enjoying the bubonic chronic to the level I hoped they would. And why was everyone dressed so nice? That’s not how we do. We keep it real. We remember where we came from.
There was only one solution. The party needed to see me naked. It wouldn’t just be liberating for me (again), it would be liberating for them. It would be my gift to the frolic, I would sacrifice my shame so they could feel renewed in the party spirit. I, in my bodily liberation, would pull the nails from the joists, so that they, in their joyfulness, would be free to tear the roof off the sucka. This cup, that cup, all the cups, passeth not from me. I will be your party Jesus.
Michelle, it is told, saw it all from the driveway. She had been asked to move our car so that two sober friends might leave. Trapped behind the steering wheel, restrained by a safety belt that, even though she was only pulling into the turnaround, her Minnesotan good sense compelled her to fasten, she saw my face alight in the yard with the purest of ideas.
“Noooo,” came her silent lament, trapped behind the windshield. “Don’t you dare,” she yelled again, as my thumbs hooked the waistband of my boxer shorts. But it was too late. Salvation had arrived.
She found me on the porch. Pull your pants up right now.
I tried to explain that I didn’t want to do it, but that I had been called to service.
It was at this hour of the evening that I began to wonder whether my judgment might be significantly out of alignment.
There comes a moment when the woman you love looks at you like you’re the dog who has just shat on the new carpet of life dreams. In an instant, fuzzy memories from a decade of excess come rushing in. Oh, god, you think. I’m sorry. Please don’t tell our unborn children.
And so it ended. Our twenties. My ill-advised liberations. I made a solemn vow that evening, a solemn vow, to never be the naked guy at parties again. And, on the eve of our forties, I can say that I have kept that promise. But still, sometimes when we are chatting pleasantly with the parents of our children’s friends, remarking on the tenderness of the steak or the price of oil, I will look fondly at Michelle’s shoes. I will suck in my gut and my pants will feel loose, I’ll hear the beat in my head, and remember the January air.
I whisper in Michelle’s ear.
Maybe, she says, and holds my hand firmly under the table.