Wilfrid Sheed

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 13 2001 9:00 PM

Wilfrid Sheed

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At first, it looked like nothing was going to happen at all. The writers did their thing, namely talk, out on the deck while Larry did his behind the open French doors of the living room, and the pair of us rapped quietly about my current mania, the great songs of the '20s-'40s. Since I'm writing a book about this subject, I imagine I can be pretty boring about it; but probably so can Larry, to the unilluminated. Boringness is the price of love.

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Meanwhile, our hostess had been dancing on and off nearby, between greeting people and feeding them, and when I went outside to drum up some further musical action, some more dancing broke out behind me; and when I got back the whole living room was swinging furiously, in modes ranging from a kind of ironic jitterbugging to pure self-expressionism. And I learned in an instant the sad news that you can't really write anything at all about your friends' dancing even if you just want to praise it, because by doing so you will be introducing self-consciousness into Eden and ruining the fun, and no one will ever want to dance in your presence again. Which is too bad, because dancing is also a license to go slightly insane and probably reveals as much to the trained eye as a year on the couch. But people don't go dancing with a view to reading the reviews the next day, so my lips are sealed almost all the way, except to say that I think the public has a right to know that Ann Beattie can swing a mean shillelagh if the need arises, and that Ms. Dillard seems to get the most pure glee out of dancing of anyone I've ever seen. And I somehow don't think that anything I say will cramp her style, either.

The other thing I'm told by those who know is that dancing can help keep hangovers at bay, and memories of my own drinking days tell me that singing can help with that too. Anyhow, although the need has receded, I still sing along with most of the songs mainly because I know them, and people who know songs have a dreadful tendency to sing them. Fortunately this irritating habit sometimes comes in handy at parties like this one where no one else knows the words at all anymore. But even more fortunately, the artist Seward Johnson, who was on hand tonight, turns out not only to know the songs as well but to get the words exactly right and sing them beautifully, two gifts I have never mastered myself. So the heat is off both for me and my long-suffering wife, and we can enjoy the evening, which is a vintage Key West one, i.e., because it could have happened exactly the same way anytime since about 1922.

The lanterns in the yard are actual holdovers from the 1930s, and even the clothes have a timeless look to them, although the women's pants might have seemed a little daring even for Key West. Since I am definitely not the type of writer who likes to race home from such parties and work all night, any diary I keep will inevitably run a day behind itself at all times, if that makes any sense. The big event of this day is actually just about to happen, so it's time to lower the pencil and get with the program, as they probably did not say in 1922. 

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