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My Blank Canvas Theory
by Steve Young

LA. It ain't Mayberry. Some of my most bizarre experiences in this city have been at parties. They come in every conceivable variety out here. I've been to the vegetarian pot-luck Thanksgiving, where there was stunned silence after I said, "Guess which dish was made with beef broth?"; the dinner party where the hostess' vagina was on display in her photo collages hanging everywhere (now that's what I call self promotion!); and the launch party for a line of Goth dolls where a Dead or Alive/Bauhaus cover band played songs no one wanted to hear the first time. But when you first walk through that door, every party is pure potential, a blank canvas where anything can happen, good or bad. I honed my Blank Canvas Theory after many parties, where I experienced polar ends of the shame/pride spectrum.

So fade in on my sunshiny, improbable, Golden Boy Sunday afternoon. I was a guest of a guest, a "who the hell are you?" I was straining to make conversation about things like escrow and Montessori School with a group that consisted of married couples who'd brought their out of control kids. It was one of those situations where you have nothing to contribute so you just enthusiastically say "yeah" whenever there's a pause. I was standing by a sloping walkway leading to a flight of jagged stone steps when I suddenly noticed a young boy frantically chasing his ball as it rolled down the path. He was just about to start flying down these Alcatraz-style steps when I put my arm out and caught him. I passed him to his mother, who said, "Thank you for saving my son" and did a victory lap down the stairs, retrieving the ball for the kid without setting down my margarita the entire time. The female guests heralded me and the male guests, who of course were totally emasculated by my Herculean display of life-saving awesomeness, barely acknowledged me. I felt euphoric, high on life. Until an hour later when I found myself breaking a chair and falling down. The following spring, I went back there for an Oscar party. I thought I would have some cachet as the lifesaver in the group but learned otherwise when the host said, "Hi, nice to meet you." I almost said, "We've met. I'm Steve. I save lives at your 'parties,' " using air-quotes to underscore the lameness. But I kept that thought private and special.

This was nothing compared to the barbeque in the valley where, again, I was a guest of a guest. (Come to think of it, no one seems to invite me anywhere directly. Maybe I'm disliked.) En route, my friend James mentioned that the host's sister is gay. So at one point, looking at family photos on the living room wall, I met two women I assumed were girlfriends, Moira and Lonnie. Lonnie evoked early-'80s Joan Jett. She was pretty with soft skin, black hair, and a black leather jacket. Lonnie started explaining to me who was who in all the family photographs on the wall. "So you're the hostess' sister?" I asked. Looking nonplussed, Lonnie replied, "I'm her boyfriend." And no, the word "boyfriend" was not some cutting-edge ironic comment on gender roles. She was a he. I stood there, dumbfounded, trying to formulate a response while someone came up to him to say hi. My mind was exploding. Those breasts underneath the zipped-up leather jacket are air pockets! That flawless skin must just be from eight glasses of water a day! After Lonnie's friend walked away, I still hadn't thought of a graceful exit. Instead, I suavely put my hand over my face, muttered, "I'm really sorry" and went to find James. "We have to leave right now," I said. "And I can never see any of these people again."

When I'm not on the scene offending androgynes, I'm getting uninvited from funerals. This happened in March, and was a first for me. Call it a case of the blank canvas being left blank. My neighbor's friend, a hair and makeup artist to the stars, passed away and my neighbor asked me to go with her to the funeral. Two days before the memorial, she called me to say she would be going alone. I thought my reputation for putting my foot in my mouth had spread to the great beyond. But it was the deceased's agents, the day's organizers, who had issued "a friends and family only" mandate. My neighbor was very apologetic, making me wonder if she had feared I would act belligerent and shout, "But you promised!"

The holidays are fast approaching and the e-vites are pouring in. I'm looking forward to most of them, and the ones I'm on the fence about, I've said "yes" to, too. Something amazing or amazingly weird could happen. I'm lured by the sheer curiosity.


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