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Some Thoughts on Party Crashing

At this stage of my life, I don’t crash nearly as many parties as I used to. Free time is at a premium, and there’s simply less wandering to do now that I live in Los Angeles. While my two decades in San Francisco proved auspicious, the mid-’80s in New York were definitely my party crashing heyday. Maybe because I was a young man. Maybe because I was enchanted with Surrealism and Situationism, philosophies which seemed to accommodate this social transgression. Maybe people were a little less paranoid back then. It’s hard to say …

It all started in my teens, when my friend Brant and I were wandering the streets of lower Manhattan late one night after bar hopping. We started looking up at the windows of various apartment buildings, and one or the other of us suggested we find parties to crash. It’s not that we didn’t get invited to plenty of social engagements, but entering people’s crowded homes unbidden held a special allure. The practice began on a lark, but became a shared ritual for us, and we soon discovered certain neighborhoods were preferable to others (SoHo lofts and West Village townhouses seemed to host the tastiest spreads); of course, holidays like July 4th or New Years’ Eve were optimal, but we didn’t discriminate and crashed parties year round. This was back in the days when simply buzzing and mumbling into a building’s intercom might gain you entry.

NYC party crashing Neil Martinson
Photo by João Cabral from Pexels

Quite often we found ourselves at grown-up parties where we stood out like sore thumbs, but being reasonably charming, well dressed kids (and let’s be honest, white) really paid off; although we might dominate the stereo or flirt with the ladies, we were never less than friendly and courteous. A crucial part of our undeniably presumptuous pastime was to scan the refrigerator and start taking orders for whatever meal happened to be available; my friend usually played the waiter, I was the chef. (Once I brought a jar of spaghetti sauce along with me and “borrowed” a few fresh vegetables and some pasta from our host’s cupboard.) Usually, by the time we had bacon and omelettes or something sizzling in a pan, whoever’s home it was would approach us incredulously or outright annoyed. One especially irate host ordered us to leave his home, but my stentorian comrade cut him off mid-sentence to announce to his guests (several awaiting their meal) that we were being kicked out. A volley of drunken revelers rose up in our defense: “No! These kids’re great!” “They’re the life o’ the party!” The host had no choice but to let us commandeer his kitchen — a scenario that played out a few times with astonishingly consistent results, not to mention reasonably delicious meals for all. Although part of the trick was discreetly making our way to the kitchen, the real challenge was to read the crowd and calibrate our charm accordingly. I attribute much of my social aptitude and adaptability to these formative experiences.

Although my party crashing ally and I drifted apart, I continued the practice for many years. In some ways, party crashing on your own is easier, but it also casts more suspicion on you, so I had to develop new strategies and techniques: One evening, I was approached on the street by a friendly out-of-town couple who asked me the whereabouts of an address, and I replied, “It just so happens I’m going there too! Gonna be some party, huh?” Larger buildings with doormen had always posed a challenge, but I tried standing across the street until a group of partygoers arrived and then joining them; sometimes, I’d scrawl the address on a scrap of paper and casually consult it, announcing in a convivial tone that I’d “finally made it!”

Once during my mid-twenties, I was invited to an east village house party by two good friends, Jon and Tony Torn, the twin sons of the actor Rip Torn. The party was in full swing when I arrived, but my friends were nowhere to be seen. Although I didn’t know anybody there, I hung around drinking wine and dancing with pretty girls. I felt I was very well behaved and basically the life of the party, but at periodic intervals a different guy would come over with a searching look and ask me who I knew there. I’d reply: “I was invited by Jon and Tony Torn — the twin sons of the actor Rip Torn?” Each time this happened, the new guy would nod and walk away, apparently satisfied with my answer. And why not? It was, after all, the truth, spoken without hesitation — assuming as I did that someone at the party would recognize my friends’ names. Besides, who would make up a story like that? It’d be one thing if I’d claimed I was invited by the daughters of Al Pacino or the mayor’s butler, but … the twin sons of a somewhat obscure actor? Who would fabricate that? Still, I can’t help thinking it was the vague hint of celebrity, or perhaps the incantatory repetition of consonants in the phrase: “Jon and Tony Torn, the twin sons of the actor Rip Torn.” Maybe that I announced it with a bit of engaging upspeaky interrogative? … In any case, I had a pretty good time at the party despite my friends never showing up. And ever since then, when someone asks me, “Who do you know at this party?” I have a readymade answer! Although the statement was only true on that one night, the words still roll off my tongue convincingly. (I’ve told Jon and Tony this story and both take a special pride that their names are invoked whenever I crash a party.)

It is interesting to note that, at none of the innumerable parties I’ve crashed did I ever run into anyone I already knew — not a soul. And I never made any new friends either. I’ve chatted with plenty of strangers, but exchanged no contact information, and to my knowledge never saw any of them again. In my mind, this begs a few profound existential questions:

What does it really mean to crash a party? Is the “social contract” radically altered by this unpredictable and arbitrary detour? Does the partycrasher’s freedom trump the legitimate guests’ safety concerns? Does sidestepping your true destiny this way lead to an interpersonal abyss with no intrinsic relationship to karma? Or is it a way to create new karma for the future? I don’t claim to have the answers, but these questions might be worth considering before you take my lead and start crashing parties yourself.

Caveat intrusor!

–Neil Martinson


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7 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Party Crashing

  1. I would have been game for such mischief back in the day… wish we had met in the late 80’s. Fun read, you loveable Rascal!

  2. I love your style. I crashed a party in Harlem 2005. They knew me and my friend were crashers but welcomed us all the same. No one should ever throw a party without sharing plenty of groceries! You shared your fun self and free chef service! (: <3

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