In 1981 some friends and I rented a house in a neighborhood known as Slidertown near the southern edge of downtown Dayton. We were a group of artists and students from the University of Dayton, and used the building as a collective studio.
That year I worked full time at Godfather’s Pizza to save up for a return to school to finish my B.F.A. I decided to throw a party for my coworkers while the studio artists were away on Christmas vacation. I tidied up the main room, hung some garland, made a huge pot of barbecue using my Mom’s recipe, set up a record player and bought a six pack of cheap beer.
Folks arrived in twos and threes and brought snack food, wine, beer and booze. There was a keg outside of dubious origin that may have been lifted from the restaurant’s premises. The party was subdued for the first hour or so, but picked up as more alcohol was consumed and inhibitions began to fall away.
I stepped outside to get away from the noise and burgeoning chaos and talked to a day manager and Debbie, a night shift manager from another store. Snow was falling lightly in big, puffy flakes and started to accumulate. Street lights sparkled on the surface of the snow and on the ice in the bare branched trees along the street, and the night became hushed and still. We heard a jingling sound and muffled clop-clops, and when we turned to look up the street we saw a man wearing a buckskin coat and cowboy hat riding a large white mare. The horse had a belled blanket on its back. The man dismounted, tied his horse to a post in a bent chain link fence and helped himself to some beer.
I never learned the cowboy’s identity and never found out why he was riding a horse on Brown Street–the nearest stable was at least 10 miles away–as I was nominated to drive Billy home. Billy was the son of a friend of the restaurant owner. He had the eyes and lips of a young girl, seemed very thoughtful but was a little mentally slow. He appeared to be sensitive, and while he could do the work at the store he often seemed on the verge of tears. Now he was on the verge of passing out, and I had to help him into my Pinto station wagon. He lived in Centerville, a wealthy suburb on the far south side, and I had to stop for gas. Billy began to dry heave when I pulled up to the pump, and I ordered him to open his window and hang his head outside my car. I was flustered as I filled my tank, and discovered the next day that I had forgotten to put the gas cap back on.
We made it a few miles down the road when Billy threw up on the side of the car. He was rendered speechless for another mile, but was able to give me slurred directions when we got nearer to his home and he began to recognize familiar landmarks. We eventually made it to his neighborhood. The houses were mini-mansions set far back from the road amidst stands of maple and oak trees. Billy got out of the car when I slowed to a stop as I tried to decipher his final directions, and he started to stagger through shallow drifts of snow beneath the trees. I called out to him to try to get him back into the car, but he waved and shouted something unintelligible to me as he stumbled up a driveway that may have belonged to his father. I waited to see if he got inside as I feared that he might freeze to death in the cold, but he waved me off as he pounded on the front door.
When I returned to the party three fourths of the booze, beer and wine was gone, nearly all the food had been eaten, and folks were scattered all over the house in small clusters. I could smell spilled beer and pot and the delicate aroma of boozy vomit. Dee sat in the upstairs hallway holding her stomach and moaning. She told me that she was in a lot of pain and that she had drunk too much. I offered to take her to a hospital, but she refused. She was afraid that her abusive husband would find out that she had gotten sick on Jack Daniels again. Megan, a dark haired beauty too young to be drinking anything stronger than root beer, told me again and again as she struggled to remain standing that Dee was all right. Buford was lying on his back a few doors down, and he gurgled to me with a smile on his face when I checked up on him. Downstairs someone cranked up Molly Hatchet on the stereo, and it was nearly loud enough to drown out the sound of a crash. I ran downstairs and found an overturned trash can on the floor in the main room. Beer cans, bottles, paper plates and plastic cups were spilled out in a nasty jumble, and there was broken glass nearby. A couple rolled around on a sofa a few feet away, and the throes of their passion may have caused one of them to kick over the can.
I retreated outside again, lit a cigar and stared at the stars, and pondered my folly. The snow stopped and the temperature dropped down to near zero, and the chill did wonders to clear my head and force me to reconsider nearly all my choices in life.
Around 2:00 I went back inside and told everyone to leave. They staggered out in twos and threes, Dee among them having recovered as predicted by the raven haired Megan, and they wobbled and wavered their separate ways. I got up at noon the next day and started to gather trash and sweep up party debris inside the house and out in the yard. (Nothing calls the spirit of the holidays to mind like the sight of a crushed beer can next to a pile of cigarette butts in the snow.)
When I went back to work the next day Buford shook my hand and thanked me for throwing the best party ever.