The world is full of people who like to snigger at other people who have a hard time planning a party. What’s so difficult about it? they ask. You simply invite a bunch of people, make sure they’re well fed and watered and then send them home.
Yup. That sounds about right. Think of them as sensitively-reared prize cattle and you should be all right. The devil, however, is in the details.
Where is this party going to be held? How many are you going to invite? If you invite Person X and don’t invite Person Y, will this doom you to years of social awkwardness as Person Y thereafter erupts into noisy flames of righteous indignation whenever s/he catches sight of you? What can you do when you must invite Person A and Person B when everyone knows that to put the two of them in the same room together is to invite all hell to break loose?
Next, what are you going to serve them? Is anyone allergic to anything? Nothing kills the mood faster than a person falling dead with a bloated face, clutching their last bite of a tasty but deadly hors d’oeuvres, right in the middle of the party. Are there religious considerations to be made? And ever since fad diets became, well, the fad, things have only become even more difficult – what does one offer a guest when she tells you that she only consumes raw fruit and vegetables that have fallen off the tree by themselves? Offering your guests vegetables is one thing, serving them alongside their provenance is an entirely different matter unless you’ve received advance warning and can thus dump your catering problems in the lap of the local produce guy.
Everyone assumes meat eaters must be an easier crowd – carrion eaters as they are! Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. This person will only eat white meat, that person likes red meat but only when it’s cooked to a certain consistency. This person will anything you put in front of her – as long as it was raised locally on a farm where it got to gambol in the grass and feel the wind against its snout: because eating happy animals makes the world a better place!
And then there is the drinking – do you coordinate for courses or is it sufficiently informal enough for people choose their own drinks? Is anyone an alcoholic or temperance? Should you just opt for drinks beforehand and after, but serve plain water or lemonade or some other fruity drink with the meal? Or would that be an insult to the food or, even worse, be misconstrued as putrid stinginess? Believe me, you’d rather be the host/ess left with a month’s worth of leftover food, all about to go bad in 24 seconds straight, than get people muttering about the quality of your hospitality. The world is not kind to the person who doles out the happy juice by the thimbleful, my friend.
These were complexities I learned early. When you have a father who is a master planner of parties, as a confident young child you begin to have delusions that this is something you could do just as well. I was perhaps seven when I decided the time had come to put this to the test. Sadly, that is my one unforgettable dinner party.
My favorite restaurant at the time was an intimate little Chinese one that, for reasons that are currently unclear to me, I was convinced was a revolving restaurant. I think there was an actual such restaurant very near the Chinese one, but it had shut down a few years previously. Anyway, I had it fixed in my head that if you sat down in the Chinese restaurant and closed your eyes, you could feel it slowly moving round and round. I was probably anemic.
It certainly wasn’t the cuisine that drew me there. I ‘liked’ precisely two things on the menu – both staples of the well-stocked Indian Chinese restuarant: sweet corn chicken soup (I liked this because my aunt liked it and I liked my aunt) and crispy shredded lamb (leathery bits of mutton that they didn’t know what to do with so they deep fried it – I liked this one because my brother said it was good and I thought if I did what he did, it would automatically make me a grown up). Left to myself, I would have haunted the ice cream place but my brother implied this was because I was greedy so I left it strictly alone.
So when our cousin came to visit, I decided I had the perfect treat in store for him. I would take him and my brother to the revolving Chinese restaurant and it would be a cousins-only date – no adults allowed. What fun!
I chose my outfit for this marvelous event with great care: a denim mini skirt, a white cotton tank top that laced at my shoulders and my beloved snakeskin high-heeled sandals that I had blackmailed my horrified mother into purchasing by threatening to put on a ten-alarm tantrum in the middle of Connaught Place no matter what the consequences thereafter to my person might be. My ideal self-image was apparently that of a hooker, but I thought I looked fly. And self-confidence matters.
I sashayed into the restaurant with my two long-suffering brothers in tow at five in the evening (my curfew was six o’clock and my parents were disinclined to relax it this once even if I strongly felt it was the acme of my social life) and took a seat at the best table in the thoroughly empty restaurant that was just setting up for the evening crowd.
I would like to digress here and express my intense love for my brothers. I like to (rightly) give them a great deal of grief for the many horrors they perpetrated against my childhood dignity but I’ll hand them one thing – they never laughed in my face when I made a fool of myself. They’d always wait until they’d made a fool of me so it didn’t hurt my feelings, only my ego. There can’t be a lot of teenagers / twenty-somethings who would willingly indulge their pesky little sister’s nutty desires when they have a good idea of the horrors in store for them. Like Chinese food at five in the evening. Make that: Chinese food they absolutely did not want at five in the evening.
Cousin (reading menu): What shall we eat then?
Me (magnanimously patting tiny back pocket of miniskirt): Anything you want.
Brother: I like the XYZ here.
Me (even more magnanimously): Eat the sweet corn chicken soup!
Cousin: Sweet corn chicken soup? Oh, I didn’t want any soup. Is it good?
Me: It’s excellent! Right?
Brother (rolling eyes): It’s soup.
Me (getting upset): But you like soup! You eat it with crispy shredded lamb!
Brother (looking hunted as he recognizes the telltale signs of my fraying temper): Yes. Alright.
Cousin: Is that what you want?
Me (peace restored): Only if you want.
We finally share one bowl of soup and one plate of crispy shredded lamb between the three of us. I felt it was quite filling. I advised them to shut their eyes at the conclusion of the meal so they could feel the restaurant spin. Waiter grins like a fool the entire time. I decide to leave him a tip even if he doesn’t deserve it because that’s the grown up thing to do. Cousin thanks me by putting me in a fireman’s lift over his shoulder and walking me back home, flashing my panties to the world. I vow eternal vengeance even though I secretly had a good time.
It all took me a while to process, but you can bet I no longer invite people to my favorite Chinese restaurant to eat what I want them to eat. And I make damn sure nobody even thinks of spinning after a meal.