“Party Time in Academe.” Reprinted from The Wayward Professor by Joel J. Gold. Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1989. Pp. 119-121. The piece appeared originally in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
”…One of our most dashing graduate students, who had earlier rented a Chinese restaurant and ordered a special dinner for about half of the English faculty, now decided to give a ‘Naked Lunch’ party in honor of author William Burroughs, who was visiting the campus. I do not recall seeing the guest of honor that night, but then I seem to have missed a number of other sights as well.
“We were welcomed at the door by our convivial host bearing a tray of pale drinks he informed us were Fallen Angels. A sensible man would have put the glass right back on the tray after the first sip. It carried an overwhelming taste of mothballs and was, I later learned, a deadly combination of four parts of gin to one part crème de menthe.
“The action was already lively when we began to move about. Threading my way among animated students and professors clutching their Fallen Angels, I wandered into the room where masses of food, hot and cold, covered a long trestle table. Amid the platters of spiced shrimps, hot cheese rolls, cherry tomatoes, clam dip, and hot meatballs was a long low centerpiece. It took up most of the length of the table.
“Sipping warily at my Essence of Mothball, I nibbled my way down the table, maneuvering carefully past what might almost have been called the extended limbs of the centerpiece. About halfway through the Swedish meatballs I became aware that the centerpiece did indeed have arms and legs: it was clad in blue jeans, a white tee shirt, Adidas, and tan socks. It was curled up on its side in a fetal position with its head resting against the bowl of fresh fruit. Inspecting the head more closely, I discovered beneath a glaze like that on a breakfast doughnut the face of a young man. Other guests were picking their way thoughtfully around the display and were discussing the possibility that the centerpiece was actually one of our undergraduate students. The glazed expression seemed to confirm the hypothesis.
“By the time I had disposed of my third cheese roll and fourth spiced shrimp, I was positive the centerpiece was breathing. As I dipped some raw cauliflower into the sour cream, the figure arose carefully from its cluttered bed and wandered off to the toilet. It returned a few minutes later sans Adidas and socks. All conversation ceased as it climbed onto the table, curled up comfortably among the hors d’oeuvres, and became comatose. I decided to pass up a fifth shrimp in favor—God help me—of another Fallen Angel. This one seemed to go down more easily, and I could at least assure myself that I was protecting my wool jacket from the inside.
“Out of the corner of my good eye (the other was beginning to fog over) I saw the Glazed Man walking past and then, a few moments later, returning to the place of honor, now without tee shirt. The food, which had been disappearing from the table at a rapid rate, seemed to be lasting longer as professors and students alike were growing more timid about reaching for anything on that table. I finished my third drink at about the time the centerpiece shed its blue jeans and resumed the fetal position clad only in a pair of flowered briefs.
“Even through the haze—internal and external—the symbolism broke through for all us befogged academics—Naked Lunch! The next twenty minutes were going to be crucial. I sloshed into a chair near the trestle table and sipped slowly while I peered intently at the stuffed mushrooms, the avocado dip, and the flowered briefs. A sociable Milton specialist insisted on getting us each another Fallen Angel, singing loudly as he returned, of man’s first disobedience and the fruit. We awaited the final unveiling.
“I blush to admit it, but I never saw the fig leaf drop. I understand that it did, but by then I had been poured into the passenger seat of my automobile and unloaded gently on my doorstep. My wife says I got myself to bed, but I recall no details.
“What I do remember vividly is just how sick I was. All that night and all the next day I cursed those Fallen Angels with a ferocity that would have made Milton proud. I added a few unkind words for my host as well. When the epic hangover lasted until mid-afternoon two days later, I wrote him a curt note indicating my low opinion of a man who would poison his friends—to say nothing of his professors—under the guise of conviviality. I did not mention the glazed centerpiece because I was no longer certain that I had actually seen it.
“Later, however, when my head and stomach had returned to their accustomed sizes and functions, and I no longer felt a compelling urge to accept the first offer of euthanasia I could find, I sought out others I thought I could recall at the party. We shared our blurred and somewhat incoherent memories. Evidently, it had all happened pretty much as I remembered. There had been a young man couched among the plates of food. He had risen occasionally to divest himself of some article of clothing. There had been a final revelation—a naked lunch!
“In retrospect, now that I was no longer in fear of immediate dissolution, I felt rather proud of having been there. It was like those fabulous parties Scott and Zelda used to give. People are always interested when I tell them that I attended the famous Naked Lunch party, and they are fascinated when I describe the periodic disrobing of the glazed figure on the table. In the retelling, I always stay to the end, and what my auditors like best is my detailed description of the shedding of the final garment. I mention the huzzahs, the glasses being smashed, the young man hoisted on shoulders. Envy clouds their faces, and they go away wishing they had been privileged to be a part of that wild party scene.
“I do believe I have learned how those novelists do it.”