Time - by John Sealander

Martini Glasses

Time passes too quickly. I used to go to a lot of weddings. Then, I commiserated with the same people when they got divorced. Now I go to weddings again. It's the kids of these various liaisons who are getting married now. I am at Tracy's wedding reception. Dianne, Tracy's Mom, is a friend of mine. She has invested in people, instead of the technological gadgets I am so fond of. As a result, she consistently has the best parties in town. I'm glad I'm still on her invitation list. As the bartender makes me a perfect Absolut Martini with a twist, I count my blessings that cocktails are back in fashion.

Dianne is a graphic designer. Her daughter is a musician. In Dallas, this convivial blend of interests almost guarantees there will be familiar faces at an event like this. It's a small world. Rodeo is still more popular than Rothko and Rubinstein. In the warm and expressionistic light of this evening garden party, everyone looks familiar. I nurse my drink. As it turns out, there are some people I know.

I make a huge initial faux-pas by mistaking Sylvia, another film producer, for the women her ex-husband ran off with. An honest mistake, I think. After a while, it's hard keeping people straight. Especially since so many men tend to marry the same woman over and over again. Sylvia never acknowledges that I have mistaken her for Leslie, but from the way half of her Martini sloshes out of her glass and lands on my shoe, I know I have hit a nerve.

I meet a likable and somewhat gregarious man who started a band called Cheese with Sara Hickman before she got famous. Everyone wants to talk about Sara Hickman's success instead of the new band Paul has planned. Dallas must be full of men like this. I heard similar tales from other musicians last year, lamenting the fact that Edie Brickell had rudely dumped them, along with the rest of the New Bohemians for a glamorous life with Paul Simon. You wonder what the record companies are looking for. No, I take that back. You don't wonder at all. You know exactly what they are looking for.

A small group gathers to tell stories about Hillary. Everyone has a 'Hillary' in their life to reminisce about: that legendary person who could party longer and harder than anyone else. Hillary represents the person who refused to age gracefully and puked on your carpet instead. I tell my Hillary story about the time she lost her wedding ring on a friend's front lawn after a night of drunken debauchery. She pulls out her cigarette lighter and tries to find the ring and somehow ends up setting the guy's lawn on fire instead. The fire spreads and Hillary panics and drives off in her car, leaving the ring and a spreading circle of fire behind. The next morning she sneaks back while everyone is still asleep to find her ring right in the center of a forty-foot circle of blackened St. Augustine Grass. That sounds like Hillary, everyone says. Nobody knows where she is now though. The last time anyone saw her was seven years ago.

People do know where Logan is though. He has returned to Dallas after a long hiatus. I ask what he is doing now and it appears he is doing something with computers in his bedroom. It doesn't sound all that different from what I am doing myself. Everyone seems to be doing something with computers in their bedroom these days. Five years ago at a gathering like this you would hear aggressive, blustering tales of business expansion and conquest. Today everyone is singing a different tune. It appears that the parents are finally learning something from their kids. Everyone is scaling back. The kids may still be getting married, but the parents are becoming slackers.

A woman with an Eastern European name I can't pronounce tells me that she feels so out of it these days because she doesn't know anyone with a pierced body part or a tattoo. She obviously doesn't have kids herself. I feel like asking if she'd be interested in meeting someone who cuts tiny triangles in her skin with a razor blade instead, but the conversation has moved on to other topics.

I am introduced to Dianne's massage therapist. I really don't know what to say. Everyone is gushing about how great a good massage is, about how Dianne's friend has this ability to turn you into melted butter. I don't want to be like melted butter. I try to explain that that I have this need to maintain a certain tenseness in my body. That if I didn't walk around with a chip on my shoulder, pissed off at the world, I would probably be spending my time watching daytime TV and accomplishing nothing. We talk a bit about the beneficial effects of anger, but it is clear that everyone would still rather have a good massage.

Several people mention that I seem to look younger than I did the last time they saw me. These gratuitous comments are almost obligatory at a gathering like this. It's odd though. As I look around, I notice that everyone, in fact, does look younger. Maybe it's just the soft focus effect of three Martinis, but I think it has more to do with the fact that people who used to routinely puke on each others front lawns at three in the morning are now jogging three times a week and having Shredded Wheat for breakfast instead of malt liquor. A little sleep does wonders for the skin.

I almost make another big faux-pas when I start to introduce myself to Dick's attractive young wife. It turns out that the stunning woman on this forty-something photographer's arm isn't who I thought it was. The woman is his teenage daughter. I don't ask what happened to the beautiful young wife we had all gossiped about several years ago: the one who had women's tongues wagging and other men envious. It appears she is long gone however, since the conversation at the moment is all about the trials and tribulations of being a single Dad.

Dick starts joking about the nonexistent sex life of a single parent. A nearby middle-aged woman overhears this conversation and buttonholes the two of us. "I don't know why women even bother with older men anymore," she says. "They're all on Prozac anyway and couldn't do anything if they wanted to." I hate to break it to her that most of the younger men are on Prozac too.

Nobody appears to have arrived at the destination they originally set out for. Big dreams are still just dreams. Life is a pastiche of grandiose plans that are easily derailed by leaky roofs, orthodontia, job hopping, credit card bills and divorce. In this environment, a good story of a dream fulfilled will last for years. Everyone has at least one good story and loves to tell it over and over again. I am no exception. In the warm, flickering light of an evening garden party, all it takes is a Martini in your hand and someone to listen to your story to convince yourself that you have a life after all. People seek out familiar faces and in small clumps of three or four, tell each other tall tales as they wait for a server to bring them a fresh drink.

It is ironic that the institution of marriage is being celebrated by a motley crew of divorced revelers who probably average at least 2.7 marriages each. Guests congratulate the bride and groom, wishing them their best. Of course, five minutes later, they are back at the bar, proclaiming to a fellow traveler that if they 'had it to do over again' they would have just stayed single. This isn't necessarily a contradiction though. It is an optimistic crowd. Most instinctively realize that if they hadn't started out wildly optimistic, believing in their heart that anything was possible, they wouldn't have had the energy to deal with the repeated setbacks that came later.

Part of me wonders why people like Tracy even bother with marriage anymore. During the next ten years she and her new husband will probably go through a wrenching succession of career changes, major mood swings, unexpected setbacks and diverging expectations. It is no accident that one out of two marriages ends in divorce these days. With such a cornucopia of choices and opportunities, it is a miracle that any couple shares the same hopes and dreams for very long. It is a nice thought though. Maybe they will get lucky. It is easy enough to genuinely wish the new couple well. Maybe they will do better than the rest of us. Maybe we were just overlooking the obvious.

It is interesting to see old traditions rise from their own ashes. Cocktails were a nice tradition for my grandparents. They are still a nice tradition now. A couple of Martinis bring out convivial aspects of a person's personality that other forms of substance abuse seem to leave untouched. Alcohol is for storytellers. I'm not a big drinker myself, but I love to listen to the stories that alcohol brings to the surface. A sober crowd like this would be boring each other to tears with pretentious talk about personal trainers, good school districts and sport utility vehicles. The same crowd with a few drinks under their belt knows better though. Life is defocused just enough to put things in the proper perspective. Failures become something to laugh about. Success becomes a reason to change directions. Life is a crazy succession of misadventures to spin tall tales about.

None of this is real. Or maybe it's the only thing that's real. It's hard to tell. It would be nice if people could act this way sober. Meetings about business process reengineering and empowering the workforce might become a little more palatable if they quickly degenerated into rambling, anecdotal stories about first loves and fleeting dreams. Who are we kidding anyway? Most jobs aren't about changing the world. They are about making enough money so you can afford the luxury of escaping into evenings like this.

The party is supposed to be over by nine. It is well after midnight though before the candles are extinguished and everyone bids good-by to the new bride and groom. I drive slowly and carefully up Greenville Avenue toward home, hoping to avoid a random sobriety check. It is late, but the sidewalk cafes and bars are still packed with people. Where do these people come from? I don't know any of them. They appear to be having a good time. The tables are filled with food and drink. Nobody is hooked up to the Internet. Maybe I just need to get out more.

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copyrightę1995. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 23666 readers since 4/9/97