By P.B.N. Masters

    "Have you ever fucked someone and felt love? You know? Have you ever 'made love' to someone?" The woman and two men sitting with me have. Of course they have.
    "I haven't," I say, answering my own question. I have, however, a tumbler of scotch and a smokey sting in my mouth. I expect to be asked about my intimacy issues.
    "Why do you think that is?" Rena obliges. I like Rena because she's interested in the big issues (like my neuroses), but then I remember that the big issues are for paid therapists and begin to panic.
    "Actually, we really shouldn't get into that. It's unpleasant to talk about at cocktail parties. Right, Jean?" I peer at Jean conspiratorially, and I am quite proud of myself for having nipped this in the bud.
    Jean, one of my oldest friends, is the host of this party and has been previously good enough to clue me into my predilection for drunkenly saying things that are not generally welcome at social gatherings. He smiles at me knowingly, benevolently. He is pleasantly stoned and reminds me of a thin, mischievous Buddha.
    The conversation dissipates, and I find myself alone enjoying a twinkly view of the valley and my fourth liberally poured scotch. Now, I want to know what this group of innocents who have dared to sit next to me know about all the horrible Internet porn that is so easy to get these days.
    "You're living with a woman and her six-year old, aren't you?" I ask Tom. I have to repeat the question -- Tom doesn't seem quite comfortable with this line of inquiry. He has been sober for thirteen years, so perhaps he isn't ready for my particular brand of fourth-scotch candor. He agrees, anyway -- I am yet only on the cusp of rudeness, and perhaps he is curious about what drunks may say.
    "Well, this six-year old is going to grow up looking at people shitting on each other. On the Internet. People fisting one another. I saw a guy shove a woman's head into the toilet before he shoved his oversized cock so deep into her throat that she was crying. Or maybe she was just tearing because she was gagging. Maybe he won't see this. Maybe his parents are going to be on the ball. But he'll be living in a culture informed by this kind of thing. It'll be really interesting to see how these kids turn out. But I bet he _will_ see it himself. When he gets to his teens he'll see it. He and his friends will not be supervised one night and they'll search out this kind of thing specifically."
    This isn't received well. I feel the chill that follows the inappropriate. I wander away until I remember the guy I listened to at the beginning of the party who said his friends were bringing coke. I find them easily -- I must have a nose for this kind of thing. Too bad there's no career in it unless you're a dog. Luckily I don't have to ask him for any because he just offers it to me. Doesn't seem like a lot, which brings up two issues for me. One, he shouldn't share because he's got to conserve. I guess he's one of those generous people (a hippie? communist?!) who doesn't know any better. Two, and more importantly, what happens if I want more (and more)?
    "Hey man, if that's all you got, you should just go for self, you know?" I tell him in my best pseudo-hip-hop druggie parlance. I'm hip.
    "Don't worry about it," he assures me. "There's more where this came from!"
    So I inhale a surprisingly potent line. Then I talk crazy to crazy people about crazy things for a while. I want to know what this one guy's job is like. All he'll say is that he does it all: commercial AND residential. Soon, I feel like someone scooped my soul out with a spoon, and I ask for more and think of Oliver Twist. My benefactor hesitates ominously -- the little bit I saw before is all there is. I suppose there may very well be more where that came from. Somewhere in South America maybe. We four crazies share the last of it and each get another line, which does nothing for me, and now I am going downstairs strung out and feeling nothing but gnawing. I am all gnawing.
    My ride isn't ready to leave, so I attempt to socialize even though my very being screams "EMPTY!". I mingle in an uncomfortable haze. I talk to someone who could have helped me with my so-called career, but I can only think about my inability to look him in his eyes. I talk to a very pretty woman who would probably go out with me if I weren't a depressed, self- hating, drunken, strung out, intimacy-phobic, indifferent, asexual, unemployed, pot-bellied, neurotic master of the inappropriate.
    I talk to the guy who, strangely, always seems glad to talk to me. I stop telling him a story halfway through because I realize it's boring, and I tell him so. He replies, "Excuse me. I'm going to walk around now."
    On the way home, I try to calculate how many beers it will take to make this feeling go away. I wonder if I'll ever be able to go to a party and not drink too much and say unpleasant things. I wonder why I keep getting invited. Is it pity? Loyalty? I wonder why I keep going when seeing myself through others' eyes makes me feel so ashamed. I puzzle over the fact that I still haven't figured out that a coke rush is never worth the agony of withdrawal, and I remember that if I didn't drink, I probably wouldn't consider doing coke. I worry that my constant smoking is giving my cats cancer. I tell myself that everything is going to be alright.

P.B. N. Masters lives in California.