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It was just a little party. I am wearing a green and blue shirt, but you kind of have to play where's waldo to find me.

This was maybe the sixth or seventh year of this annual party, at least for me. Some faces change, but it's always such a festive night.

I recited a poem by David Kirby. Like last year, I took the time to commit it to memory.


The Afterlife
by David Kirby

Shots and drafts? Ken would ask, and I'd say,
Shots and drafts, and off we'd go
to some bar on Greenmount Street for jiggers
of cheap whiskey and ten-ounce brews,
fresh from the tap, or just the beer itself:
most days we had to get up early
and prepare for class or at least shuffle
our note cards so that when our advisors asked,
How's the dissertation coming?
we could say, Fine, I was just working on it,

and while a few beers never interfered with
our scholarly activities, such as they were,
there is something about cheap whiskey
that makes you want to throw furniture
through the window after a while --
which we never did, although fighting,
that impulse can be just as exhausting --
so we'd usually save the shots for an occasion,
like the anniversary of the first edition
of Leaves of Grass or Fats Domino's birthday,

and even our beer-drinking came to be
rather systematic after a while:
Johns Hopkins U. was a real pressure cooker,
and one way to deal with all the craziness
was to make a few rules for yourself
and stick to them and then, when your own rules
were making you as crazy as the ones
the professors were imposing, to go off the tracks
for a while but then get back on
as soon as possible and with little damage done,

which is why we (a) always walked to the bar
(b) never made eye contact with anybody
who was looking for an argument,
and (c) drank as much as we wanted
as long as we got home by one.
Whereupon we would make cinnamon toast:
you're always hungry after you've been
drinking on an empty stomach,
so I'd say, How about I heat up
some soup or A sandwich would be good about now,

but Ken was insistent and usually got his way.
He had a sweet tooth, and also I figured
maybe it was something everybody did in Detroit,
where he was from and about which I didn't know
anything, being from Baton Rouge and thinking
that anyone who came from a bigger city
was bound to know more about life than I did.
Besides, Ken did all the work:
he'd turn on the oven and get out the butter
and the cinnamon and the sugar

and prepare the bread slices and yank
the broiler rack out and put the slices
on the rack and shove it back in,
and while we were waiting,
we would talk about one of the Henrys,
Adams or James, or our professors
or [single gay dudes] and how we wish we knew some,
and we would brew tea, which was
Ken's other big passion after cinnamon toast,
or have another beer if there was any.

And then we'd smell smoke,
because we always burned the first batch
of toast, though far be it for fellows
as chuckleheaded and unflappable as we were
by that point to become discouraged:
Ken would shout, Get the window, Kirbs!
and I would raise the sash,
and he would grab a fork
and yank out the broiler rack again,
and there would be all this cremated bread--

a dozen slices, maybe, because Ken loved
his toast, so we would make as much
as would fit on the rack, and I'd eat
a couple of slices, and he'd have the rest,
but only after he'd pitched the first batch
out the window: he'd get down
in a three-point stance and, with coordination
uncommon to someone who had been drinking
all night, start forking those charred slices
out the window, counting as he went:

One! Two! Three! And when the last one
was gone, he'd put the fork down,
dust his hands off exaggeratedly,
grin as if to say, That's that,
and start on batch number two,
which always came out fine, because by that time
we were alert to the hazard of overdoing it,
which we nonetheless did anyway, say,
twice a week for the year that we roomed together
for a total of maybe a hundred times.

Now this was not that big a deal in our lives
and certainly pales in comparison to
a lot of things I remember from grad school,
but what I've always wondered is this:
our apartment was on the top floor
of an eight-story building right by campus,
and people were always hustling past at every hour
of the day or night, so if Ken
forked a dozen slices of burned cinnamon toast
out the window every third day or so,

there must have been people passing by
and being hit and saying to their friend,
You get hit by something?
And the friend bends down and picks
up this flat square and turns it over
and smells it and says,
Yeah, it's a piece of cinnamon toast.
And since most people are creatures of habit
and take the same streets at the same time,
you have to imagine a couple of people

going by in March and talking about Nietzsche
or the categorical imperative,
and suddenly all this toast comes flying down,
and they look at the sky in disbelief
and then brush each other off and keep going,
but a month later they're coming by again,
lost in a discussion of structuralism
or the bicameral brain,
when suddenly another shower of toast falls,
and they look at each other and say, Damn!

Or I can picture somebody saying to his friend,
Come on, we're having a great time, let's go back
to my place and make coffee, and the friend says,
Yeah, but don't go down Charles Street....
Or say someone is having a crisis because,
as Erik Erikson says, he half-realizes
he is fatally overcommitted to what he is not.
Or, like Madame de Sevigne, a woman says
that what she sees tires her
and what she does not see worries her,

and they're walking along,
things have been up and down
in their lives lately, but they're down now,
that's for sure, and they're thinking,
God, why bother, and then the first piece
of toast hits them on the shoulder,
and another piece lands in the bushes
a few feet away, and they look up,
and pow, a piece hits them right on the nose,
but it's only cinnamon toast,

so it doesn't really hurt, and they pick it up,
and this piece isn't burned so badly,
it's one of the ones that was in the front corner
of the broiler rack, and it's still warm,
and the person is a little hungry because
he or she hasn't been eating so well lately,
so they figure, What the hell,
and they take a little nibble,
and it's not so bad, and they walk home
munching the warm cinnamon toast,

and when they get there,
their husband or wife or lover says,
Jesus, where have you been,
I was so worried, especially with
the state of mind you've been in lately,
and the person gives a little smile --
not a big one, because it's not as though
anything has really changed yet --
and says, Well, you know,
the funniest thing just happened to me,

and they sit down and have a long talk
and then get into bed together and keep talking
and they don't really make love but they do kind of
nibble on each other and exchange big wet
open-mouthed kisses and finally fall asleep
in each other's arms saying, Good night, I love you,
good night, I love you so much, good night,
good night, and while this isn't the kind of scenario
that you see in a lot of literature -- a few stories
by Raymond Carver, say, or I. B. Singer--

nonetheless any number of contemporary paintings
depict something very much like this kind of moment:
an astonished throng looking skyward, say,
as a gigantic flock of winged toast blocks out
the stars and the moon. And this is just the type
of thing you want to happen when nothing
is fun anymore and you know you have
to make a change but you don't know how
and you can't help thinking,
There's got to be more to life than this.


Peace in 2013, my friends.
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