Menu Switch

Other Lives: A Party Trick

By Cali Kopczick From Issue No. 7

I used to have this fun party trick where, at a night in with friends and a little tipsy, I’d start melodramatically belting out a sad song, maybe (definitely), “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and joke-sob, and the party trick was that pretty quickly the joke-sob would turn into something that sounded like a laugh but featured actual tears leaking out the corners of my eyes, creeping down around my mouth held wide for the chorus.

My friend Jameson has a party trick where they disappear from the group and reappear with impossible speed at a late-night burrito place across town.

Another party trick is to open one beer bottle with another beer bottle. Here’s how you do it: You hold the opener bottle upside-down and match up the ridges on its bottle cap with the ridges on the cap that you want to pry off. You pull the upside-down bottle up very quickly, with a little bit of a torque towards you. What I haven’t figured out is how to make sure that the bottle that gives up its cap the one that’s right-side-up. This is a problem of force.

Another unconventional way to open things is to rub a brick across the lid of a tin can, or to rub the lid of a can across some concrete. The concrete sloughs off the ridge where the metal of the can lid and the metal of the can side have been bent together. You can call it a party trick if you’re at a party for baked beans or tuna sandwiches, but what kind of person goes to those?

For my birthday one year, my mom gave me a waterproof backpack with a bottle opener on one of the straps. The backpack is a little reflective, and advertised for bicycling, and is pretty expensive unless you get one with a wonky zipper. I imagine a wiry start-up boy wheeling his bike to the top of one of those famous San Francisco hills, stopping in a tuft of grass to look over the high-rises breaking the mist. He unbuckles his helmet and slings the lid of an IPA smoothly through his bottle-opener without even taking off his backpack. When I try to do this at a party, I can’t find the angle at which it’s supposed to work, or maybe I’m just not strong enough, having been drained bodily by my four jobs and my high rent. I wedge the lid in my bottle opener, pulling the strap away, away, away from me, but it’s not very ergonomically friendly. I take my backpack off and squat down, but now when I pull on the lid, there is no anchor behind the strap to hold it steady. I put my backpack back on and pull on the bottle and the opener so aggressively that I scrape up my hands and am briefly invisible behind a small fountain of beer foam. The good news is that the backpack is waterproof and these spills won’t hurt it. The bad news is that I still can’t make rent.

The Closing Time (hosts only): If you are hosting a party but want your home back, one fun way to impress your guests and encourage them to leave is to begin taking their drinks from them and, if using disposable cups, putting them in a big plastic garbage bag. (If using dishes, collect glasses in a busing bin full of warm soapy water that you wheel around the party.) Begin sealing the party snacks in Tupperware and putting them in the cupboard and refrigerator. Return your guests’ jackets and shoes to them. Call them rides or erect a bus stop in your living room and hand out route schedules. For guests that fail to either laugh or leave, feel free to plug in a vacuum cleaner and run it over their feet. 

My favorite party trick is to become another person. I’m not talking about leaning on a different part of your personality, which is the second party trick anyone learns (the first is to make a corner appear around you). I’m talking about showing up at a party across the country or the world from where you were just before. You make conversations through the floppy lips of a latex mask, or maybe you find yourself licking the stitches from your still-healing reconstructive surgery. You introduce people to your wife, brag about your child’s reading level, your stellar credit score, your pet’s growing agency. Someone makes an off-color joke about who you are now, or who you used to be, but you didn’t grow up like this, and you’ve forgotten who you were, so you don’t get it. You notice the sudden quiet in the room but you laugh it off and the party goes on. Just now, it is very quiet and I am still laughing.

My friend Joel has a party trick where he sits down with the piano or the guitar and croons “Blue Moon” and makes all rotation in the universe halt for a moment. The trick is that anyone resists his gravity.

Another party trick is, if the host is nervous about the quality of the food, to pretend to throw it on the floor. To do so: grab a burrito and poise yourself holding it in the air, then with the toe of one foot lifted under the table, bring your hand and the burrito down sharply below the level of the table, and slap your now-bare foot down as if a burrito has just splattered across the floor. Once the host is in shock, toss the burrito up in the air and catch it. If you like the host, move seamlessly from catching the burrito to taking a bite out of it. If you do not like the host, you may wait to let relief wash over them and then throw the burrito down for real. If you are secretly in love with the host, trade the burrito for a large glass of wine or two, and drink yourself under the table with the sound of your splatter.

When you become another person, people may at first sense the newness incompatible with your age, and they may be hesitant to trust you. One party trick to open the hearts of your new friends is to reveal something personal and embarrassing about yourself, preferably an experience so strong it mortified you to tears. A rough formula might be: teen years + bodily function + reversal of fortune (good) + crush + reversal of fortune (bad) + windchill. Try it out!

Another party trick is to stuff as many grapes in your mouth as you can (my record is twenty-three). Hold the grapes in your mouth for a long time, let’s say indefinitely. The seasons change. You sprinkle yeast into your mouth and hermetically seal your lips. You will taste chemical reactions occurring in your mouth full of grapes but DO NOT SWALLOW. You must let the chemical reactions dissipate like swamp lights across the city streets of your palate. In no less than one year, you may wait for a party to die down, the bottles almost empty but most of the guests prematurely sober, and begin spouting wine from your mouth like a fountain. This is called the Dionysus.

Modified Dionysus: if you fail to hold the fermenting wine in your mouth without swallowing, you may become drunk. At this point, you can convert the Dionysus into the Reverse Charybdis and begin spewing the rotten grapes over everything. Make sure to target upholstery and electronics. The electronics will be disabused of their power. As for the upholstery, you may dump bleach on it or, if it is a tablecloth or dress, you may put it in a washing machine under the HEAVY DUTY setting. When the cycle is finished, the fabric will be confetti, which you may throw in the air to announce the end of the party. Depending on the version of you that does this, the trick may result in either conception or divorce.

My friend Jess has a party trick where she turns into the Pope. She approaches everyone in the room to whisper something very kind to them. She speaks to their deepest insecurities. She kisses them on the forehead, each one her child.

How to make a chicken doll out of a dish towel: lay the dish towel flat; roll each short end toward the middle, like a scroll; once the two columns of cloth have met in the middle, fold them backwards, so you have four shorter scrolls, or maybe a packet of dynamite; fish in the center of each roll for the corner and position the corners  opposite each other between the thumb and forefingers of each hand; consider the particular stain and fray this life subjects your towels to; pull.

You may find yourself, in your new life, with young children. Those young children may not be taken with tea towels or tin cans. They may wonder where you came from, and eventually wonder where they came from. A fun distraction, especially at birthday parties with their young friends, is to turn a carrot into a recorder. To do this: take a full, Bugs Bunny-munchable-sized carrot and, with a knife or drill you would never let your children use, hollow it out. Starting about a thumb’s width from the end, drill regular holes up the length, and then—at a slant—cut off the fuzzy green top that makes it so recognizably a carrot. While demonstrating such craftsmanship and dexterity, you may feel as if you are demonstrating for your children and their friends the good old days when people had practical skills. You may imagine a village life and a public house with audibly crunchy grilled cheese sandwiches and brothers singing you through a rite of passage. On your new carrot recorder, play the “Happy Birthday” song or, if copyright is a concern, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” You will have no inherited folk songs for your new life, but you are folk and you may at this point invent one.

Modified Bonnie Raitt: if you are like me, as you age you may wish to use a different song for your laugh-cry launching pad. You may sit in an armchair, bring your knees up to your chest and weep “Luck of the Draw.” This is called growth.

My friend Dandi has a party trick called the Cheesemonger, where she calls everyone to the windows and balconies and mimes tying a lasso. She swings this lasso in the night sky towards the moon, shouting “Yee haw!,” though she is not otherwise a “yee haw” kind of person. She pulls the moon down and hands out crackers with her free hand, but of course the moon is not made of cheese and guests laugh at their dusty crackers. Dandi does this while wearing an outfit made exclusively of crushed velvet, and after thirty ticks of the crushed-velvet second hand on her crushed-velvet watch, she lets the moon drift back up into orbit.

Another party trick that may interest you is the Funeral. With the expanded means of your new life, you can afford to pay tribute to the life you left behind. You will need: a flower garland, cake with your former face printed on it, approximately twenty square feet of artificial turf with a rectangle cut out of it, and a boombox playing the soft hits of the 90s. Write up some kind but overly formal words for the self you left to die. The person you are now didn’t know them, but it’s really so noble what they did and, after all, they had such nice friends to come and cry so hard.

Modified Closing Time (hosts only): Pull a cord to release a blessing of balloons onto your guests. Each balloon will be airbrushed with the words PLEASE LEAVE BY 9. As guests put on their coats and shoes and start to shuffle out, some balloons will be jostled and popped, releasing Lysol wipes, lint brushes, a broom and a dustpan. By this point, you should have guests who will stay only long enough to help you clean.

As you reach old age, you may wish to pass some of your party tricks down to the children that appeared when you popped into a new life. A useful party trick in this situation is the Clue: invite your children and their partners to your house for a dinner party on a stormy autumn night. Make sure to pepper the invitation list with former business acquaintances and friends with whom you have fallen out. Trip the circuit breaker in the middle of the burrito course, and stage your death (you will need: hot sauce, rope, a seam-ripper, rattlesnake antivenin). When your guests see a mysterious face outside the darkened window and flee, climb out said window, past your friend Jameson, don a butler costume, and trade places with your butler. Let your guests turn on each other. Some may die under mysterious circumstances along the way. Just as your children are sobbing at each other that they never stopped trying to impress you, pull them close, holding a covered silver serving tray before you. Lift the cover to reveal a map to a pub you may or may not have visited in your former life, from whence you stole the grilled cheese recipe you raised your kids on. While they read it, begin tugging on your seams and joints. Give them every part of yourself you can. Do not tell them how to use you. This is a directionless solution.

One very common party trick is the afterlife. When you get to the afterlife, it may take a moment for the joke to register. God will come up to you and pull the smile straight off your face. “No smiling in the afterlife!” they’ll say. You’ll be frightened for a minute and wonder if you’re in for an eternity of punishment. At that point, God will pull your smile out from behind your ear and return it to you with a belly laugh, as if God had a belly. They say that the first person who will live forever is alive now, but that’s not true. Even if it takes a very long time, even if they have to march across a thousand transfigured landscapes on a thousand planets to do it, God will play the got-your-smile trick on everyone eventually. It is nothing but tricks and jokes in the afterlife. You will not be laughing with the self that made themselves into a fountain or the self that sent their heirs on a grilled cheese quest, not with a self that knew Jameson or Joel or Jess or Dandi, but a different self, from before any of us. That self was a kindergarten teacher. Knew how to play “Ave Maria” on the carrot flute. That self didn’t want to go to the party to start with but had a great time. That self didn’t drink at all and will be waking up on time, well-rested, for eternity.

About Cali Kopczick More From Issue No. 7