I’ve never been what you might call “The life of the party.” I’m not the worst person to invite – I don’t stand in corners shooting eye daggers at people or espousing the dangers of chewing gum – but I’m definitely not the pivot around which any social gathering rotates, and I can’t be talked into wearing a paper party hat. And party games? Yeah, I’m making a bee-line for the door.
But there are some positives. Crab cakes, for example. Always a nice touch. “Crab cakes,” I might think. “The host isn’t a tight-ass with the money. Oooh, baby quiche…” The trick here is to make friends with the cater waiters so you get them while they’re hot (the crab cakes, that is). If it’s buffet-style, you need to hover – unobtrusively – so that you can get the crab cakes fresh from the oven as the hostess puts them out, but not so closely that folks think you’re plotting to poison the artichoke dip. If the food has a toothpick in it, I take a pass. There is always concern with food on sticks. There are never any trashcans out, so I never know what to do with the toothpick. Put it in my purse? In the potted plant? Throw decorum to the wind and start picking the Gruyere out of my molars? (Once, I was at a party that was so boring, I seriously considered going around the room collecting the toothpicks so that I might build a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood cabin on the credenza.) Now, if you have both a drink and a small plate of food in your hands, unless you can score a chair you’re pretty much stuck posing in the corner. Waiting for a seat at a party is much like an airplane circling around the airport waiting for clearance to land. By the time you do, you’re cranky, tired, and ready to lick the inside of your mini-bag of pretzels. If you sit, though, you have to watch your drink, especially if you have a hyper-vigilant hostess who insists on cleaning up every fifteen seconds. Then you’ll have to get up for another drink, which, of course, means you will lose your seat and the whole process begins again. It’s Boozy Musical Chairs.
So “yay” for the drinks and tiny food. But there is one barrier to having a good time, as far as I’m concerned – small talk. Don’t get me wrong; I excel at the small talk. I can feign interest in a total stranger’s life, nod sincerely in the right places, and ask appropriate yet reasonably impersonal questions that allow the talker to think that I find him or her fascinating. For about three minutes. After that, little mental bells go off, like the ding-ding-ding signaling the end of a round in a boxing match, and I need to either excuse myself politely or fight the urge punch him/her in the head. (So far it hasn’t come to blows. SO FAR.)
How hard I want to punch him/her in the head will usually be based on what kind of party guest they are. Sometimes they’re the type that I call “The Best Buddy,” which means they’ll tell you their entire life story in the first thirty seconds of meeting. This is dicey, because while you don’t want to get stuck playing therapist, you also don’t want to be the person who, after the talker has tearfully described how their biology professor battled mightily but eventually succumbed to a fatal case of dishpan hands and died in their arms, just smiles brightly and says, “How sad. Oh, look! Crab cakes!”
The Best Buddy is rivaled by The Clam, who won’t give it up no matter how hard you try.
“Oh, you work in barnacle removal? How fascinating. Did you study that in college?”
“OK…how do you know Jane?”
“Have you worked together a long time?”
“Do you enjoy your work?”
And so on. But these two types don’t hold a candle to that most notorious of party guests – “The Boring Person Who Thinks They’re God’s Gift.” These people will seek out the weak members of the herd, isolate them, and lull them into a semi-trance with their narcissistic drone:
“So of course I chose the blue one oh do you like Lil’Wayne I had front row tickets a gift from a client so I took this really hot guy/girl from accounting and we had a super dinner first I had the flounder and told the most HI-larious joke and he/she said it was just hilarious I should do stand up comedy how does it go two cows walk into a bar no wait it’s a couple of goats love your dress/slacks I wonder if I can get them in my size it’s so hard to find things that fit me because I’m in such great shape hey do you like polka music I know this place it’s off the beaten path we could check it out oh look crab cakes…”
And they always find me. Every time.
A good skill to develop is the “Nod and Pass.” As soon as you can, smile, nod approvingly, find another sucker in the room and pass the Buddy/Clam/God’s Gift off to them. You have to act like you’re doing both of them a favor so the transition goes smoothly and you can get the hell out of there. Much like Bridget Jones tried to do, introduce people with interesting tidbits to get the conversation going:
“Oh, here’s someone you just have to meet…Nigel Tappernose, meet Hilary Boomschlaken. Nigel, Hilary is a horse-loving, Twilight-reading stick in the mud with a propensity for random cursing and overindulging in peach schnapps. Hilary, Nigel is a gum-snapping, nutjob mama’s boy with abandonment issues and breath that could knock over a cow. “
Or something like that.
The problem is that I’m just not interested in most people. (I don’t consider it conceit on my part; I assume that people, in general, have no particular interest in me, either.) I try, but I have no interest whatsoever in hearing about trips to The Wisconsin Dells, grandchildren, recent surgeries, or home repairs. And I also don’t want to hear about how everything will kill you these days; I just want to enjoy a diet cola without worrying that it will cause me to break out in purple scales, thank you very much. And for the love of all that is holy, I don’t want to be lectured to about how I need to find someone quickly because I’m no spring chicken. Yes, I’m fine being single; no, I’m not gay; no, I haven’t joined that dating site; and yes, you should just mind your own business even though you’re “just trying to be helpful.”
Considering my general dislike for attending parties, one might think that when it came to hosting parties, my attitude would take a 180° turn and I’d turn into a Martha Stewart disciple. One might think that, but one would be very, very wrong. Martha Stewart makes me feel highly inadequate. I really think that her magazine is the equivalent of 1950s housewife porn. Homemade centerpieces made from shoelaces! Antique curtains repurposed into wrapping paper! Bronzing baby shoes in your kitchen and turning them into charming wall sconces! It’s all very exhausting. And Real Simple magazine makes me feel incredibly inadequate. (“But it’s supposed to be Real Simple! I can’t do it! What the fuck is wrong with me?”) On one of the very rare occasions that I actually threw a party, I found myself lying on my kitchen floor about twenty minutes before people were supposed to arrive, frantically scrubbing the underside of the refrigerator door with an old toothbrush. My friend Sophie stood over me with a glass of wine and a dour look on her face.
“What on earth are you doing? No one is going to look there!”
“Someone could look there!” I exclaimed. “Martha says no detail should be overlooked!”
“I think she was talking about silverware.” Sophie said, handing me a glass of water.
Taking the drink, I looked up at her from my position under the door. “Do you have a straw?”
Sophie turned to walk away. “I’m finding you a Xanax.”
I also tend to get a bit over-involved about the food. (Some might use the word, “crazed,” but to each his own.) At this party, I wanted to do a nice vegetable tray, with the vegetables cut in unique and interesting shapes, perhaps reminiscent of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” (You know, as you do.) After a stare-down with the food processor and the realization that I had no idea how to turn a stack of celery sticks into a lily pad, I decided to just arrange them according to carbohydrate count. (P.S. Nobody noticed.) To add to the drama, when someone asked me later where I bought the dip that I spent fifteen minutes carefully blending and seasoning, it almost ended in tears.
Clutching Martha Stewart’s latest issue under one arm, I did a final mental inventory to make sure nothing had been overlooked.
“What’s left?” I said. “I’ve got drinks, dips, hot apps, cold apps, veggie tray, crackers…I know I’ve forgotten something! I just know it!”
“Did you put out plates?” Sophie asked.
“Oh, good Lord – plates! How could I forget plates? This whole thing is going to suck.”
“I think you need to calm down,” Sophie said, pulling Martha from under my arm.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, placing my hands on my forehead. “It must be the stress of entertaining.”
DING! The oven timer announced itself.
“Cocktail!” I yelled, and headed for the bar.
“What’s that ‘ding’ for?”
“I have no idea!”
And a good time was had by all.
Now, I don’t throw parties anymore, as one might imagine, but I’ve recently discovered the freezer section of Costco where they have all different kinds of pre-made appetizers in really big bags, so I may have to lift my self-imposed party embargo and have some folks over. Otherwise, that’s a lot of mini Spanikopita to handle all on my own. (I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it might take a while.)
I just know the party invites are going start ROLLING in after this.