An uneasy sleeping David Foster Wallace shifted off his three-seater settee: hitting the hardwood floor awakened him instantly. He surveyed the room around him, as if for the first time. The calendar on the wall had been X’d for the first thirty days of October, leaving only a note written in red crayon: Stanley Kubrick’s House Party.
The previous year everyone was asked to come as his or her favourite cartoon character. The year before that everyone came as assassinated public figures. The first year of the party they had all come as their professors and been so pleased with their transformations they continued the imitations in the lectures and seminars. It was two days before they were given unofficial verbal warnings.
DFW struggled to open the newly painted old window. He hoped the late autumnal air would freshen his face. An unseasonably warm breeze brushed past him, carrying with it a wasp that dropped to the floor as soon as it got halfway across the room. DFW watched as the wasp crawled forward, and then left, left, and left again, so that it ended up back where it had fallen.
Down on the street, one of the neighbourhood kids was adjusting his bag of sweets. The adult-sized boxing gloves he wore to aid his costume were causing him problems. The gloves looked to have more control over his spindly arms than he did.
Taking a detour to a grocery on his way to the party, DFW picked up something for himself and something for the partygoers. At the checkout he accentuated his mannerisms, much to the bemusement of the elderly woman who was serving him. The old woman was wrapped in tissue paper and bandages – every worker within the store was dressed to resemble some ghoul – but her laugh was so distinct that DFW could not help but see her as herself, separate from the image she presented and from her co-workers.
As DFW walked, picking granola crumbs from off of his shirt, David Lynch strode up alongside and poked him in the solar plexus, causing him to wince.
“Oh golly! I didn’t hurt you, did I?” said Lynch, looking genuinely concerned and repentant.
“No David, not at all. You just startled me.”
“Oh good,” said Lynch, “ and please, call me Lynch.”
“Why not David?”
“Because I’ve asked you to call me Lynch,” said Lynch, and in that manner the issue was decided.
They soon began walking in unison towards the party, each aware of the other’s perceived lack of interest in small talk.
DFW dressed in a uniform of white t-shirt, casual red-checkered shirt, jeans, and combat boots, with a white bandana tied around his head. Lynch wore a black suit, black shoes, black tie, and white shirt. His ash-grey dyed hair gave his appearance an even greater statement of refinement, lessened only by the bottle of merlot he carried in a plastic bag.
DFW and Lynch arrived at Stanley Kubrick’s house just as he was kicking out Emily Dickinson.
“What happened?” they asked.
“I caught her laughing at something Oscar Wilde said. Anyway, come in.”
In the hallway, behind the door, a heap of coats, jackets, petticoats, and blazers was stacked head-high. The shredded layers of the already-here threatened to tumble down and smother at any minute: a punishment for latecomers. Neither DFW nor Lynch added to the pile.
At the top of the stairs Agatha Christie was knocking on the bathroom door.
“What’s the matter with her?” said Lynch.
“Oh her, well apparently someone said that Anne Frank’s diary was boring and so Anne locked herself in the bathroom. Aggie is trying to find out who it was,” said Stan, gesturing for them to follow him.
As they walked past the living room they could see Michel Gondry dancing wildly to Soulwax’s remix of LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.
Everyone knew who they were and who they would become.
In the kitchen, Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton were standing in front of the open refrigerator stuffing their faces with food not meant for the party. A spoon containing the remnants of couscous lay abandoned on the countertop. Jack Kerouac was sitting on a chair, manning the tap for the keg that sat on top of the table beside him. Lydia Davis’ flirting was going unnoticed.
“Hey, has anyone seen Pynchon?” said Stan, over his shoulder, as he searched for clean glasses in which to serve the merlot that Lynch had presented to him. Everyone in the room considered the question: no. A break in the music gave rise to a burst of laughter that came from the living room and invaded the kitchen. Christopher Nolan walked in:
“Stan, Stan, great party man, seriously, I’m wrecked from it all, it’s been a long night, I’m going to hit the road.”
Before waiting for a response, he walked out the back door and jumped over the wall into the neighbour’s garden.
Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 was playing in the living room. Samuel Beckett and one of the James Joyces were sitting in front of the bay windows, deep in discussion. On the couch, Charlie Kaufman was trying not to look uncomfortable as, beside him, Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola went at each other like a pair of rabbits. Spike and Sofia’s relationship had been a point of conjecture all evening: nobody was quite sure if Spike had become Spike in order to be with Sofia, or if Sofia had become Sofia in order to be with Spike.
Harlan Ellison pushed through the doorway and set a course for DFW and Lynch.
“Did you hear about Anne Frank?”
“Yeah,” said DFW. Lynch nodded.
Ellison looked around and then leaned in.
“That was me. Shh!”
Ellison started for the kitchen.
Lynch turned to DFW:
“Should we tell Stanley?”
“No. He’ll get found out soon enough.”
As DFW went to collect another round of drinks, Lynch and Don DeLillo continued talking. Walking by Zadie Smith and Wes Anderson, DFW caught her glance. She smiled. She could read his jealousy.
In the kitchen, Hitchcock and Burton were still eating cheese. Kerouac looked beat and had given in to Davis’ advances. Through the window, DFW could see Terry Gilliam taking a piss up against the wall. He didn’t know if Anne Frank was still in the bathroom or if Gilliam was just too drunk to climb the stairs. Joyce Carol Oates was trying to tell Davis that their taxi was outside. Woody Allen, who had been obscured by the keg, walked over to DFW.
“Jesus, anyone would think it was the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah!”
“You know it’s a fallacy that women want men who are messed up, right. I mean, they do, just so long as they happen to resemble young Marlon Brandos!”
Gilliam came stumbling through the back door, rubbing his hands together.
“Fuck me, it’s cold out there!”
“Uh-huh,” said DFW and Allen, as they watched Kerouac and Davis.
On the wall outside, Gilliam’s piss was already frosted to the wall and sparkling.
Nobody knew who they were meant to be.
Nobody was standing. Some stretched out on the floor, others curled up. Jonze and Coppola were slow dancing to Strauss’ The Blue Danube. As the song came to a crescendo, a drunken Christopher Nolan burst into the room, quickly followed by Quentin Tarantino holding an almost empty bottle of whiskey:
“Alright everybody, let’s get this party started! Listen, I’ve called a couple of my courtesan friends so lets not make this a wasted journey for them, yeah?”
Nobody could tell if he was serious or not.
DFW and Lynch decided it was time to leave.
As DFW walked home alone, the first flickering flakes of snow began to fall, quickly covering the road ahead in a sheet of transient purity. Each step left an imprint. The closer he got to his building, the more his first steps were being filled and forgotten in equal measure.
Climbing the stairs, DFW wondered if the wasp would still be wandering in circles around his room.