'It's an eighties party,' my wife tells me. 'It's Mari's husband's birthday.'
I know I've probably met Mari being as I've met quite a few people from the place where my wife works, but as usual I can't summon a face. The other two factors here are that I'm not really big on parties and I hated the eighties.
Okay, that's not entirely true, but given that when we say the eighties we usually mean either music or whatever music happened to be wearing, my eighties was characterised mostly by bands no-one had heard of or which were at least an acquired taste. If asked which names of that decade have left an enduring impression on me I'd have to say acts like the Apostles, Test Department, Einstürzende Neubauten, and whatever Jim Thirlwell was calling himself that particular week. Many persons whom I knew during the eighties now seem to spend a lot of time taking quizzes on facebook, particularly quizzes resting on whether or not one is able to recall that Spandau Ballet existed. I actually do recall that Spandau Ballet existed and if forced to say something nice I'd have to admit that Instinction was a decent song, but let's not go crazy. It was a decade like any other, no better, no worse, and all the really, stupid stuff only appears significant when it's your childhood and you haven't had much going on since. Personally I think the seventies were funnier with marginally better music, or at least the rubbish wasn't quite so bad, as illustrated by Bros making the Bay City Rollers sound like the Sex Pistols; but then it's all subjective.
My wife has chosen to approximate Madonna with big hair, lace, and a ton of jewellery. Following Halloween, I'm reluctant to let fancy dress become a way of life. Maybe I could go as Paul Mex or one of Opera For Infantry. In the end I just wear the suit and tie I wore for Noah's Bar mitzvah. It's a skinny tie like Joe Jackson favoured - or if that doesn't work, I'm one of those guys who wore a suit and tie in the eighties. Let's just pretend I was in a synth band who had a hit single about androids or something.
We drive out to Cibolo, a town about half the way between San Antonio and New Braunfels. Mari lives in the suburbs, so it takes us a few minutes to find the place.
I remember her immediately, a Latina with a face which makes it appear as though she's always excited about something. She doesn't quite look old enough to remember the eighties; and she is apparently married to Slash from Guns 'n' Roses. Also present are a number of goths as distinguished by backcombing, black clothes, and t-shirts of bands I didn't like even then. Introductions are effected.
Yes, I'm from England.
'Dude,' bellows Slash jovially, 'the eighties in England, man - punk rock and the Clash...' His point is that I don't seem to have made much of an effort in the wardrobe department, which is true.
This is the juncture at which I remember I'm in America, and everyone else's eighties was different to mine. Once past the brief splash of colour provided by Prince, Madonna, and the occasional British artist, the American eighties seems to have been mostly hair metal and related bands I've customarily spent my life crossing the road to avoid. Heavy metal, and specifically the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, was pretty much the village idiot of the musical landscape of my youth, and everyone in the town where I grew up fucking loved that shit except for me. Of course there are exceptions - Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and a few others managed to crank out a few decent tunes without falling over - but the rest...
Unemployed pipe-fitters from Studley pretending to be Vikings, a weird sort of pride taken in being a bit of a cunt, and a shitty sludge of widdly-widdly-guitar-solo music which never fucking realised that Spinal Tap was supposed to be funny: it's not that rock 'n' roll really needs 'O' levels as such, but it's nice when it can at least tie its own shoelaces. The Ramones managed it fine, and no-one ever accused them of talking down to their audience. Heavy metal is a man who realises he's pissed himself, and continues to piss himself even as it's pointed out to him, and instead of shuffling off to make use of what facilities are available, he roars with laughter and calls for more ale; and somehow they loved all that cartoon crap over here - Judas Priest, Saxon, Def Leppard, Cinderella, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Twisted Sister...
I help myself to food, then head into the garage in search of beer. The garage doubles up as a man cave. There's a fridge full of beer, a flat screen television, weight lifting paraphernalia, and a humourous information poster listing the rules of the man cave as a series of bullet points. I'm too scared to read it because I don't want to think ill of anyone, although in any case the light is not good, flashing red and green and provided by some piece of disco equipment.
I take a Bud Light, which tastes about as interesting as I thought it would but gets the ball rolling. I have a second can back in the kitchen as more guests arrive and I study the posters on the wall - mostly films in which Michael J. Fox taught the adults a lesson about what it means to be young. Hopefully the posters have been put up for the sake of the party.
We stand out in the back garden for a while because it's now cold and dark, which is a novelty in Texas, and Slash's brother has built a small wood fire which blazes and spits and smells good. It makes me think of bonfire night back in England, back on the farm - the bonfires we built at the back of Rex Harding's house with dead conifers dragged all the way from the spinney.
Bess is having a great time but I'm still feeling awkward and slightly out of it. I need more drink. Slash's brother is telling us how many important people and big knobs were once in the scouts. He seems to think this is a good thing but to me it makes the scouts sound like the Freemasons.
I try jello shots which either Slash or Mari have made. I've never had them before. In fact I'd never heard of them until I saw Parks and Recreation, but I gather it's jelly made with vodka or similar, or jello as it's termed over here. There's a tray of them, red and orange in little plastic cups. Slash demonstrates, holding one up to his mouth, his head tipped back. 'You squeeze it at the sides, then like flip it out onto your tongue,' - he swallows - 'and back like an oyster.'
I've never eaten an oyster either. I try, but it doesn't go smoothly. I'm stood in a stranger's kitchen apparently giving a demonstration of cunnilingus to a little plastic cup of orange flavoured jelly. It tastes alcoholic but not so strong as I expected, so I have another.
Back in the man cave, Slash is playing Kiss, which is okay as they're one of the few bands who got this sort of thing right. I Love it Loud comes on, which is one of my favourites.
'You're from England, ain't you? Judas Priest, man...'
Again, I am unable to grasp the thrust of his thesis but I nod anyway, which seems to be the right answer. Slash grabs me a beer from the fridge, from his special collection. It's in a bottle and I've never heard of it, but I notice that it was next to a bottle of Flat Tire in the fridge. This seems ominous because I don't like Flat Tire, and sure enough this one has a bit of an unpleasant tang too it - like barley wine or Special Brew, one of those things designed to get teenagers as hideously pissed as possible thus alleviating their boredom.
Bess and I talk to one of the goths, and it turns out that she grew up in Suffolk back in England. Her family are American but they lived in England for a while. She remembers the day Channel Four first went on air, but not Brookside.
She works at San Antonio zoo, which is sort of interesting because Bess and I are regular visitors. Slash continues to ply me with whisky in shot glasses whilst howling things from time to time. He's one happy guy.
A black dude arrives with his wife. He's gone for the metal look, whilst his wife is something in the general direction of Madonna. Our host changes the music to rap, specifically the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. Bess and I exchange an uncomfortable glance, but I suppose it's no more weird than people cueing up to relate their anecdotes of the time they went to England, or the English guy they met fifteen years ago, or the eighties in England, man - punk rock and the Clash...
I somehow impress my wife by immediately recognising the voice of Ice-T and knowing the words to Public Enemy's Bring the Noise.
I'm drunk, but not drunk enough and I guess I never will be, so we leave. We've managed three hours which seems like plenty to me. I've had a good time whilst nevertheless feeling awkward for most of it. I never have been a party guy, and I don't really like getting drunk, and as for the music...
Three nights later, Bess has one of her semi-regular Mom's Night Out meet-ups. She gets together with Andrea and Jana and a few of the others for food and drink and to talk about mom stuff. For the first time ever, I am invited along because the numbers are down what with everybody having gone away for Thanksgiving, so I go along as a sort of honorary Mom.
I fit right in.