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No Deposit, No Return

By Philip Weiss

WHEN IT WAS all over, Bruce and I cleaned up all the shit that the dancers and drinkers had left behind. No one had gone through more than half a can of beer (Knickerbocker is awful), and the 400 square feet of white linoleum had been left tatooed with brew-begrimed footprints, fliptops everywhere, and the remnants of cigarette butts. We were both still real stoned, and with lights suddenly on the mops in our hands, the white room seemed clinical, even institutional. So we swabbed it with mops and a great grey steel pail, periodically cleaning the mops under the shower, or shattering the besotted silence of the entry by opening the door and heaving great bags of the detritus out onto the slate. We were too exhausted to finish. Another roommate had stopped briefly to help, but he was too drunk and had begun a crazy sort of dance with the mop, ineffectually smearing the stains into broad brown arcs.

The scavengers who sift through famous people's garbage to determine how they spend their lives would have found nothing enlightening in our trash. Perhaps there was a crumpled note from an unrequited dancer to his tormentress, but there were no incriminatory condoms, needles, or stains. This had been a typical Harvard party--elevated perhaps by a tape of reggae and soul, distinguished maybe by the eclectic crowd--but in reality just another boring bash. In our trash was the spoor of the Saturday night regulars: a tiny contingent of Third World people, a handful of Wellesley women, a pride of preppies, and a torrent of ordinary white people either glued to the walls in sullen observation or flailing rhythmically in intoxicated syncopation. What they had left for our brooms at four a.m., besides the beer cans and cigarettes, we did not stoop to inquire: some hair, a shred or two of clothing, bits of fingernail, and even blood perhaps.

But the intangible things that people manage to lose at parties, which I have lost over three and a half years in just such rooms, did not bury themselves in our bags: not the chunks of innocence chipped away in degraded corners, the frustration over an intractable date, or the stinking feromones of pretension that those in fine clothes puffed from cigars or had daubed beneath their ears and about their necks. Those were the things you had sense during the party; you had seen the exasperation patterned across a friend's face, whiffed the perfume from an aloof Wellesley woman(wearing the Art Deco print shirt with the picture of slim men sipping cocktails under palms) and then even asked her to dance, and been snubbed. And they had carried all that out with them when they left, ditching only their butts, sweat and lashes. All that went out at 3:30 a.m. in great beige plastic bags. The beer, which by 4 had made its way out of the bags, dripped down five floors oblivious of the stairs, and puddled malodorously at the bottom. None of us--at the "top of the K"--felt any more satisfied.

SIX HOURS BEFORE it had all been quite different--we were all neat and ready hosts, busying ourselves with speaker wires and refrigerators, worrying only that not enough people would come; some of us vowed noisily that we would not sleep alone that night. With two hours gone our first concern had been resolved. The entryway, the corridors, the dance floor were all packed with bodies. And the sexual tension that infiltrates all relations at Harvard threatened to break through to the surface. Ours, like all parties, had a grim line-up of men against the walls, openly inspecting every clothed package of flesh that squeezed through the doorway, the past the throng, and out onto the floor. Jealous singles. myself included, anxiously waited to dance with that one person, who managed to be engaged all evening. Students who in their everyday miens betray no trace of libidinal expression were liberated in that dark room, exhibitionists beneath the sensual pommeling of a bass guitar. This is a wonder of the Harvard party--the trans-mogrifications that straight-laced students undergo on the dance floor; one of the only real pleasures of Harvard parties is finding yourself dancing ferociously with someone whose usually upright demeanor only prompts idle fantasy. The room was--except for the intervals when 72 churning legs had been disappointed by burntout equipment (and the hosts had scrambled into the boiler room to bring back the music)--a Bacchanalian sink.

At the other end of the suite, however, was a glade of softer music, yellow light, and marijuana smoke. Here you could glimpse such improbable pairings as the managing editor of the Harvard Crimson and a young turk from the Porcellian Club or a poorly-sculpted Eliot House jock and a cloistered aesthete from Adams House, both couples engaged in conversation over cigarettes. In this rarefied atmosphere stone figures talked lethargically on the couch, while others on the floor sucked earnestly at joints. Whenever I wandered in here, stripped to a tee shirt and sweating--anomalous among the taxidermic figures of this room--I left hastily. These are the two "ideals of Saturday night," my roommate Tom says: the frenzied dancing of one room offset by the cocktails of the quiet room.

The party had climaxed at about 12:30 a.m., when a contingent of Wellesley women who had flushed into the room with the studied elan and fragrant swish of social breeding abandoned us for the bus back home or the rooms of hospitable Harvard students. The stoned still demanded drinks at the bar and barked when they were not available, the girl with the eye on her shirt had been convinced to keep on dancing, and even the boy with the tired black hat on his head continued to dance angularly with the girl I still had my eye on. And the glum sentinels who are the proof that any party is not extinct--the men who stick the walls, marking time and women with only the movement of their eyes--maintained their posts. By 1:30, though, the eyes began to drift out: first the flitting eyes of the stag men, then the eye I had kept so long on the captive dancer who slipped out at one, and finally the sequinned eye on the shirt of the blonde who had danced so long.

IT WAS THEN that the party was punctured, and like a great and windy balloon began to lose air fast and sink sloppily back to earth. With loose farts our party sagged and emptied until it was ready to be packed away in the brown plastic bags that Bruce and I had readied. The only people who were left collected in the mellow room, and the late-nighters who would keep it up past the dawn and had only then arrived jammed armchairs with gossip and marijuana before passing on. Sixteen point seven per cent of the Shalimar Six left at nearly 3 a.m. after dancing for six hours, and John, who had spent the best hour of the bash behind the bar, surrendered to a water bed.

Back in the dark sink of the dance room, the music blared on for no one's ears, and the last fetid gases that had inflated the party eased silently from the carcass and left it for dead at the top of K entry. "We had the booze, we had the grass and we had the music to go all night, and the place cleared out before 2--people at Harvard just don't know how to party," says John. Chris agrees: "When it comes to dissipation, we consider ourselves hard-core." The next party will be sometime in May, and one, for damn sure, will be even better.

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