The theme is villains and vices. The costume-participation rate? Maybe 50 percent. ("This wasn't our best showing," the hostess informs a group of recent arrivals.) The time is 11:30 p.m. What should have been fashionably late feels a bit early. Ernie, Stranger intern and occasional Party Crasher, is the center of attention, engaged in a spastic dance-off. He is nearly alone on the dance floor, but oblivious.

One of the three housemates shows off her pet hermit crab, Asha. Asha is 4 years old but parties like a much younger crab. Has she ever changed her shell? "No, and I've given her plenty of options," replies the proud parent, pointing to the "crabitat," an aquarium full of empty seashells. A discussion ensues concerning the lives of hermit crabs (they are actually quite social) and how they deal with stress (their legs fall off, one by one).

At this point, the entire party has migrated to an upstairs bedroom, and the gathering finds its moment. From corners of the room, instruments appear. First an accordion. Then a guitar. Finally, a beautifully played Craftsman saw rounds out the ensemble. By the window, someone is clicking and clacking on an electric typewriter, keeping perfect beat. Ernie makes a reappearance, spontaneously regaling the group with the story of his first kiss. Her name was Amy. They met in jazz camp. Their parents drove them to a Wallace & Gromit movie. He got to second base. The group is confused, the moment has passed, and it is time to go home. recommended

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