Have you ever been to a party where someone became drunk, and acted foolishly? “Now the truth comes out,” they say and wag their heads. It never happened to me until last weekend.
I was visiting Alexander and his wife in Baltimore. (You remember Alexander, whom I took to the Moon? That’s him!) They decided to throw a big party while I was there, to show me off to all their new friends.
“Are you sure you want to serve all these intoxicants?” I asked, surveying the unbelievably endless vista of beer and wine bottles.
“Gotta make sure everybody’s got his favorite brew,” Alexander said off-hand.
I picked up a beer and inspected its label. “If beer is made from the same ingredients everywhere,” I inquired, “Why do you need so many different kinds?” I set the bottle back down on the table.
“I don’t know why that is,” Alexander chuckled, “but they all taste different somehow.” He was shoving the furniture against the walls. Then he looked up at me with a grin, “I want everybody to have a good time at my party!” he said.
It was a noble sentiment, even if it did find a peculiar way of expressing itself. I shrugged my shoulders and continued arranging the bottles on the table, as Alexander had instructed me.
Not long after that, the guests started to arrive.
“Hey, you must be that Bobo fellow I’ve been hearing about!” a very congenial young man said as he stretched out his hand in greeting.
“That’s him all right!” Alexander said proudly as I shook hands with his acquaintance. “Best friend I ever had!”
“Where’d you meet this dude?” the fellow asked Alexander, nudging him in the side with his elbow. “He looks like the studious type!”
“He is,” Alexander confirmed, “He’s an anthropologist. I mugged him back in DC a couple of years ago!”
Alexander’s friend turned to me. “He mugged you!? I don’t believe that. This is a joke, right?”
“Wrong,” I said, and took a sip from my drink. “He really did mug me; even sent me to the hospital.” Alexander’s eyes were smiling. He nodded confirmation to his friend’s disbelief. I reached for the potato chips. “It wasn’t till afterwards that we became friends.”
“That really is some story!” the friend exclaimed, “you know what they say: ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’“ He poked me in the ribs with his finger, “That’s an idea! You ought to write a book about it!”
We all had a good laugh at that one!
What a party! The music was loud enough to leave a crater! Alexander’s little apartment was crowded with wiggling bodies, the air was steamy and smoky, and it was almost impossible to carry on a conversation with anyone. Still, I did have fun.
So did Frank.
Frank is a very amiable guy. I met him earlier in the evening, and he seemed to be a levelheaded fellow. I didn’t notice that he was drinking so much, until he jumped up on top of a table and threw off his jacket! Everyone stopped dancing and gathered in a circle to watch him. One or two people slipped out discretely.
Someone standing next to me diagnosed Frank’s medical condition as dancing. Frank kicked off his shoes, one by one, and started to unbutton his shirt in time to his music.
I gaped at this peculiar sight, and then glanced towards Sheila, Frank’s wife.
“I can’t believe this,” she said, pretending to be shocked as she gazed at herself in a pocket mirror. “Normally, I can control him, but I don’t know what’s gotten into him tonight!” All the while she was daintily mopping her eye makeup with a tissue. “Just give him a drink or two, and the real Frank comes out!” She rolled her eyes towards me knowingly.
“What do you mean?” I asked weakly.
“Look at him prancing on that table!” She tugged at my arm to and pointed to Frank. “Everybody at his job thinks he’s so respectable. Ha! They should see this!” She waved in his direction with her arm.
“In other words, you think that Frank’s true nature only comes out when he’s drunk?” What an uncharitable thought!
“Yep, that’s what I’m saying,” she sighed, then tilted her head to one side, and muttered under her breath: “Lord knows why I’ve stayed married to him all these years…”
I didn’t hear the rest of what she said.
I looked back at Frank. He was dancing, but he looked like a marionette with half the strings cut. His belt was loose. He tugged at his shirt, preparing to take it off! I made my way to the inner edge of the crowd. Someone clapped me on the back, as if congratulating me for wanting a better view.
“Take it off!” came a shout from behind me. A few voices added their approval, and the guests began clapping rhythmically to the music. At first glance, Frank looked blissfully happy. I stared at his face, as hard as I could—it was as if each of Frank’s eyes had a little ‘vacancy’ sign posted in it. He was in a state of heightened suggestibility and lowered inhibitions, and the other guests were exploiting him for their own amusement!
It was more than I can take. I marched unhindered to the phonograph and shut it off. The partygoers all looked like night frogs, stunned by a sudden bright light. Frank stood there, confused.
“Aw, what’d you do that for?” came an impatient female voice through the silence, “We were just starting to have fun!” Several other people voiced their agreement through catcalls and boos.
A huge, muscular fellow walked up to me and pushed me. He spoke to me through a face that could have won a medical malpractice suit: “Hey man, who made you king? Who told you to spoil our party?” Alexander came to my rescue, bribing his unruly guest with refreshments. I chastised the partygoers for taking advantage of Frank’s drunkenness. While I lectured, Frank clambered down from the table, crawled over to the sofa, and misplaced his consciousness somewhere among the pillows.
Gradually, all of Alexander’s guests remembered other things they needed to do, and they all left, one by one. A few were remorseful, but most of them resented my intervention. They muttered complaints about me spoiling the party and exchanged information about how the evening could be salvaged by going elsewhere.
Within a few moments, there were there only four of us left in Alexander’s apartment; Alexander, whose face was clouded with shame; his wife, who looked a bit confused; Frank, whose unconscious, sleeping face displayed the bliss of idiots and fools; and me. My feelings were strangely mixed. I know I had done the right thing for Frank, but I wondered if it were my place to break up Alexander’s lavish party.
“Now don’t you go feeling guilty,” Alexander said, “You probably did the right thing.”
“Say what!?” his wife squealed, “Alexander, are you out of your mind? He broke up your party! Look at all those refreshments we bought! What are we going to do with all that stuff?”
“Honey,” Alexander pleaded, “What about Frank? Bobo saved him from being humiliated!”
“Frank always does that, and you know it!” she screamed, “It hasn’t killed him yet!” Then she stomped down the hall, as if she had had an afterthought. “And don’t tell me about that trip to the Moon again,” she screamed, “I don’t believe a word of it!” We heard the bedroom door slam shut.
Alexander winced. “I hope you won’t think badly of my wife, or my friends; but this is Earth,” he said apologetically, “It must be real hard on you to see all this.”
Neither one of us could think of anything to say to each other, so after an awkward pause, Alexander went back to the bedroom. I got the extra blanket out of the guestroom, then I made sure Frank was comfortable and covered him with the blanket. I could hear a muffled argument in the back of the apartment, as I prepared myself for bed.
Finally, there was silence and darkness, and I fell asleep in a wonderfully comfortable bed.
A noise awoke me in the middle of the night, so I hastily put on my bathrobe and went into the living room to investigate its source. There in the shadows I saw Frank, sitting on the sofa and trying to put on his shoes.
“Did I wake you?” he asked sheepishly. The question answered itself, so he continued, “I dropped my shoe; I’m sorry.”
“Actually, I couldn’t sleep,” I lied, “I’ve had insomnia the last few nights. I don’t know why. Are you leaving, Frank?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said as he felt around for his jacket, “I don’t remember much, but I remember that you helped me out. I guess I made a fool of myself again.”
“To be very candid with you, Frank, you did,” I said. “You were about to subject us all to an erotic dance!”
“Oh my God!” he said, and buried his face in his hands. He sat there for a moment, shaking, but then he regained his self-control. “So then you can understand why I have to leave now, can’t you?” Frank stood to put on the jacket, and immediately put one hand to his head. “Gosh, do I have a doozy of a headache. What did I drink? Rat poison?”
“Not quite,” I said.
“The last time I did that I had to quit my job, and we moved to Baltimore,” he recollected sadly. He stood up and took a deep breath, “Well, it’s better than waking up at the police station.”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to drink a little less,” I ventured cautiously.
“What do you want, man?” Frank protested loudly, “I’m an alcoholic! Do you know what that means?”
“Keep your voice down!” I shushed, indicating the back of the apartment with my head. “They’re still asleep!”
Frank whispered an apology, then slithered back down to the sofa. I sat next to him, and then we talked. We talked about addiction, misfortune, and forgiveness—all those things. I got Frank some headache pills, and we talked some more.
Then I told him my secrets. I spoke at length about Homeland and Thorgelfayne. I told him how John Anderson met me through his UFO club while I was investigating it, and how Melissa found out about me through stories in the electronic mail. All the while, Frank looked like he was humoring me. He sat back, crossed his arms and smiled at me condescendingly. My face was hot with embarrassment, but if I could diminish myself until I was the size of his embattled ego, maybe he would trust me. It seemed to work; he began to speak more freely.
“It’s almost 4 o’clock,” Frank announced, peering at his watch. “I’ve got to get home!” He looked at me earnestly, and said, “I really want to thank you for this conversation. I think you’ve done me a lot of good!” He slapped the side of his head a couple times, “My head hurts from the booze! Why do I do this?”
I invited him to sit back down and talk some more. There’s not much point in going anywhere this early in the day! He reluctantly agreed.
We talked and talked for the longest time, until Frank came to the conclusion that his drinking problem was at least partly self-caused. Each time he tried to reform, no one would believe it. There was no way the poor man could redeem himself, so when he stumbled and fell, they’d all pounce on him. “Aha!” they said, “I knew he hadn’t really turned over a new leaf!” They all congratulated themselves on predicting his relapse, not knowing that they were a major cause of it.
We both stood. It was 6 o’clock.
“Thanks very much, Bobo!” he said, shaking my hand. He chuckled, “I hate to say this, but that is a funny name.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I know,” I said, “but when they named me, they didn’t consult me about it!”
“I guess not!” Frank laughed, and clapped me on the back. “Really, thanks for talking to me. You gave me some new ideas. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to shake this problem for good.”
I saw Frank to the door, and collapsed back into bed, swiftly winging my way to Elysian Fields of slumber.
Seconds later (or so it seemed) I was awakened by loud knocking on the bedroom door. It was Alexander’s wife announcing breakfast.