House party (x2)

The Renaissance Festival was a lot of fun. There’s something about the feel of being on the field and having literally hundreds of things to do or look at from a medieval perspective that makes me want to travel to England even more than I usually do.

Still, I’m always taken aback by an almost prolific rate of growth in the “complete dork per-capita” rate on the grounds. Everywhere I turned I saw people who haven’t left their parents basement for anything but Burger King since they graduated high school.

I’d be critical of them, but I’m not far removed from being one of them.

What was more interesting this weekend, however, was that I went to not one, but two house parties.

If you haven’t been to a college house party (or if you’ve somehow forgotten what they’re like) I’ll sum it up in a few words: sometimes pretentious, sometimes pleasant, and always spattered with strangers.

What I mean is, no matter what house party you attend you’ll find three things: a group of kids who are completely full of themselves – the ones that are trying to up their cool rating by hanging out at a party; a group of kids who you’d never talk to outside of the current situation but end up having a great conversation with (usually aided and ignited by the lowered inhibitions of alcohol); a group of people that no one, save one, knows at all.

In both cases, we were the group of people that no one knew.

This was a first for me. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys going to someone’s house and wandering around with a beer while I desperately look for someone I know. I’m not comfortable starting a conversation with a person who I’ve never talked to before in my life – especially someone who is obviously more comfortable with the situation than I am. I am easily intimidated by a 22-year-old who can spark a debate and who looks like a J Crew model.

The first house we went to, (a “going away to New Zealand” party for a friend of one of our friends) had a DJ with a pair of turntables, a couple of kegs of Grain Belt, and about 35-40 of the most beautiful college men and women that I’ve ever seen in one room together. I’m not just talking about straight-forward physical beauty, here – this was Minnesota, there were no underwear models or future hunks at all. I’m talking about those kids who always seem to gravitate towards each other – the ones who are attractive and smart, the ones who are all headed to Harvard to get their graduate degree and will someday drive an Audi.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they already had an Audi.

These are the people that I’ve felt intimidated by all my life. Really, they don’t have anything more than I do except for a confidence in everything they do. Sure, they can be wrong, untalented, and plain. But they assume that they aren’t, and for that reason they seem right, talented and beautiful.

Now that I’m older, I see through this. I can tell who’s being pretentious and who’s actually a good person with great talent. I talked to one guy outside who is majoring in social work and realized that he was a good person, that he was going to succeed in life because he was confident and intelligent. I then talked to another person a little bit later who was going to school to be in the medical field. He was more concerned with catching a “piece of tail” than anything else. He would succeed in life because he was confident, but he would ultimately fail because he was overconfident – he thought he was better than many people, the “piece of tail” he was chasing included, and he would find it catching up with him.

We eventually left – we had another party to make an appearance at – but before I left I was asked where I was from. I said Sioux Falls. My questioner then asked “Where do you go to school?”

*sigh* I explained that I didn’t go to school. I had already graduated. I was 27. I was probably the oldest person there, aside from the random old guy who had walked in about 10 minutes before we left. I felt old. I felt out of place, like I had snuck into the party to desperately seek out companionship.

Leaving was the only option at that point, and we ended up at the second “house party” – a group of what our friend Branum called “faux-punks.”

It was more of a “faux-indie rock” party, though I’ll admit I was glad to hear The Arcade Fire playing in the corner. Everyone there was very cool and no one (as far as I could tell) was pretentious at all; I talked with quite a few people and, even though we were again the strangers at the party (which was winding down when we showed up), we were welcomed as if we were long lost friends.

That, ultimately, was the difference. At the first house everyone watched us out of the corner of their eye, trying to gauge whether or not we were worthy of attending. Eventually we broke in with them, but only when it was deduced that we were staying regardless. The second house was different – like a community of friends that was willing to let anyone enter as long as they had fun.

I’d be willing to guess that we could have transplanted 80% of the people from either party in the opposite house and everything would have been the same. Both groups were young, hip, incredibly smart (or at least they gave the air of being incredibly smart) and progressive. They both liked good music, they both drank Grain Belt from kegs, and they all gave us a cup as we walked in without charge.

It’s amazing to think that two similar groups could have such a different feel to them while at the same time they could be so homogenous, as if they were designed to be interconnected.

Actually, it’s pretty amazing that I actually went to two house parties and enjoyed them. That’s weird enough in itself.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 26th, 2005