That afternoon he visited grandmother in a small town, his hometown, a town with no name, not in this story anyway. She was talking about a lot of people who were dead to life but alive in her memory, perhaps because it was the day of her regular appearance at the local historical society, where she was a member. He replied it had always been his intention to visit the society; could he accompany her? At this she was radiant.
So they went together, the old and the young, words which mean less and more as you age. Mostly everyone there was older, and they were animated by his youngness. They asked about where he worked: a recording studio – where he lived: a certain neighborhood which had been in the news lately – did he feel safe: he was aware of his expression, of his phraseology, the need to be direct but respectful, to humanize and not patronize. It seemed his grandmother was proud, if a bit concerned for his safety.
What he omitted, what he didn’t admit, was that when he walked the neighborhood, people often asked “do you party?” They asked from a car like a Destiny’s Child song, from across the street like some parabolic priest, from profiling him as sexual preydator. There was partying: drugs and partying: sex. No one, even complete strangers, seemed to be confused at all that he tended toward the latter. And when it was asked, his word was no, but his face was yes, and they would always linger for a moment; an anguished moment in which he could feel his heart lean over the question, as water, seeing itself.
In the car, between the small town history and the big city present, a friend from the suburbs, a man his grandmother’s age, with whom he occasionally lunched, called. “I wanted to ask you at the restaurant the other day, but that didn’t seem the right place for it,” the man said. “Sometimes I go to parties, in people’s homes. They are parties with nude men. I just watch. You are welcome to watch. You don’t have to participate.”
“Oh. Oh,” he replied, “I appreciate you asking,” as if it were an old microwave being offered; “no,” he said. Old microwaves are too heavy, they get too hot, they take up too much counter space. They said goodbye, but he meant goodbye in a different way than the man did.
Parking near his duplex, he could see a party next door had moved outside. Their porches seemed like opera boxes, a great distance of theater between. Reaching into his pocket for the key, someone shouted, “how you doin’ neighbor?” and he smiled, “Good, you?” Unlocking the door, climbing to his level, collecting a drink from the refrigerator, a cigar from his backpack, a match from a drawer, he came down again. He slid a patio chair to the porch side nearest theirs and sat, waiting, knowing why he was waiting, not knowing why he wanted.
No one asked if he partied.