Wherefore Art Thou, Youth?
I was giving my first grown-up party, but the romance of younger days still sang to me

By Sandra Beasley
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Some days, nearing age 30, I think, This must be adulthood. I worry about health insurance. I own guest towels. I play "Auntie" to five babies.

Yet on the night of my housewarming -- to celebrate the first rental to feel like a real home -- I was a kid wobbling in my mother's high heels. Determined to take an evolutionary step beyond beer pong, I'd declared the party's theme would be pie. Earlier that day I'd dutifully put Marie Callender's frozen handiwork into the oven. Perfect, I'd thought, lining up four pies on the counter.

But my oldest friends, who used to polish off scores of pizza slices without a second thought, now counted calories. We had made progress only on the pecan. The razzleberry's crust, which had split to reveal a volcanic bubble of juice, was untouched. I plated some Dutch apple crumble.

"Anybody?" I offered. "C'mon, anybody? There's Key lime, too."

We were all exhausted, preoccupied with work. The conversation meandered from billable hours to the Fairfax County school system. I'd been so worried about hosting a grown-up party, I hadn't thought to worry about hosting a boring grown-up party.

"Hey, Sandra," Dave said. "Come out on the balcony and hear this."

A melody rose above Dupont Circle's Friday-night revelry: "See-ya-HAHM-ba koo-ka nyeh-ne kwen-kos . . ." I grinned, recognizing the lyrics to "Siyahamba." Most of the girls at the party had met in high school choir; we'd bonded over heartbreaks caused by earnest tenors and curly-haired basses. I scanned the street for the culprits.

"Hey! Hey there!" I shouted. They looked up: college Romeos in shaggy haircuts. What makes a capella boys so crush-worthy? Maybe that there's no dub, no remix, just the vulnerability of naked voices. I felt like Juliet, a teenager leaning from her balcony. "Want to come up and sing?"

"Uh," Dave said, "What are you doing?"

"What's in it for us?" one of the singers asked.

My Capulet name. "Beer," I called down.

They conferenced for a few seconds. "Okay."

I dashed downstairs. Real Simple doesn't offer tips for inviting total strangers to your party; I was on my own. Five guys and a girl followed me up to my apartment.

"That's a lot of pie," one said. The guys were recent members of Yale's Society of Orpheus and Bacchus ("SOBs for short," they volunteered). One said he'd biked down from New Jersey for this reunion. One had flown in from a doctoral program in the Midwest.

"Astrophysics?" I guessed. The future PhD wore practical glasses and a blue polo.

He blushed. "Physics, yeah."

These guys are harmless, I thought. "All the beer and pie you want," I said. "For two songs."

My friends reverted to the migratory patterns of our decade-younger selves. The women formed an audience while the men fled to the balcony, muttering as they watched the women cluster. The singers created a half-circle in my living room. One pulled out a pitch pipe, and they launched into "The Weight":

"I pulled in to Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead.

I just need some place where I can lay my head."

Even after a night on the town, they sounded good. I nodded along, remembering how it felt to be just out of college -- like a bird discovering its wingspan, all self-conscious gawk and grace. One guy snapped just slightly behind the beat. The one with pure falsetto slouched, hands jammed in his pockets.

After the closing harmony, we applauded wildly. "That," I said, "was awesome."

They huddled over the second choice, trying several pitches out on the pipe. "This is a song for the ladies," they began, without naming the tune. "But fellas, listen closely."

"I'm gonna [unprintable verb] you sweetly," they crooned. Huh?

"I'm gonna [unprintable verb] you discreetly." I put my head in my hands. I didn't know what this was, but it was definitely not Shakespeare. Or The Band. It was four choruses of promises, positions and propositions.

After the last salacious, operatic note, the room was quiet. "Thanks. That was . . ." I paused, unsure how to finish.

" -- Tenacious D?" asked my friend Haven. "That was Tenacious D, right?"

A younger me might have been charmed. The older me knew that there comes a point, at every party, when those who have just offered to [unprintable verb] you discreetly should take their exit. I handed out coats, and poured their drinks from glass to plastic. "Nice to meet you," I said. "Get home safe."

"Break for it," one stage-whispered. I watched as they stumbled down the stairs, laughing, clutching their Solo cups. Juliet may have invited them in, but it was Mama Capulet who ushered them out. Ready or not, I had become the lady of the house.

This is the final installment of XX Files.

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