The Dinner Party - a survival course
My life was going all right, five days roughing it at work in order to spend two days of rest. This schedule was working fine until one night I came home to find my wife waiting for me with a curious smile on her face. I know that I should have made a run for it but past experience had taught me that there is no escape – all was crystal clear.
“Ruth and Manny have invited us to a dinner party.”
The first time she had sprung this kind of announcement on me I was still quite innocent. Now I knew better.
“We can’t go honey”, I returned a bit too quickly.
“Why in heavens name not?”
Now in such a situation there’s really only one form of escape. “We’re going away”
“In the middle of November?”
“It was supposed to be a surprise, for our anniversary, I….”
“But we got married in August. Anyway, I can’t go away, there’s no way they’ll give me leave from work”.
The first catastrophe you have to face when being invited to a dinner party is which present to buy.
I’ll never forget the first dinner party we went to and brought a bottle of wine. What did I know, I was a real rookie. Of course everyone else bought huge plants, expensive knickknacks, and conversation pieces, each specifically gift wrapped to make the right statement: I am expensive.
A dinner party normally goes on for three to four hours. Purchasing the right gift is an art that demands careful planning and might consume the better part of a week. Of course this is child’s play compared to the time it takes to decide what to wear. Oh it’s easy for us men, any old clean shirt and pants will do but for the better half – peace treaties have been signed in less time. Luckily with five overlarge malls within a ten kilometer radius and a few well-placed outlets this task shouldn’t take longer than a fortnight – four weeks at the most. This is the main reason that invitations to dinner parties are sent well in advance.
The evening finally arrives. We have been pre-warned that in consideration of the economic crisis, the poverty of the third world and the danger of global warming, the emphasis will be on simple food. They of course were lying through their teeth. We arrived fashionably late, only to find we were first and the hostess was still upstairs changing. As the master of the house was busy seasoning the Sesame Tilapia and trying not to ruin the Yakitori Don, I carefully placed the golden wrapped knickknack we’d purchased for the price of a small Honda on the small round table behind the door, alongside the Versace designed banana shaped cellphone which someone just happened to have left there.
The main problem ahead, of course, was the food, for beside the Yakitori and the Tilapia resided the Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi and several other dishes whose names I have forgotten and I knew at that specific moment that, as Leonard Cohen had rightly put it, “I’ve seen the future baby, it is murder”.
We’re in our car on our way home, me thinking that I have made a clean getaway, when lightning struck.
“You know Steve, I think it’s time for us to give a dinner party.” I am struck dumb. Not a word escapes my lips.
“Of course, nothing extravagant. They really went a bit overboard, don’t you think? Anyway who says dinner parties have to be so much work. It will be fun.”
A stray tear slowly ran down the side of my face. I was doomed.
I decided that they best way to handle the situation was to ignore it. Maybe if I didn’t mention the D.P. the love of my life would forget all about it and go on to greener pastures such as another visit to The Mall to End all Malls Mall.
I thought I had actually succeeded until the evening I returned home and found my significant other trying on her latest acquisitions.
“Which do you think will be more appropriate, the mauve with the purple roses or the amber suit with the green cravat?”
“Appropriate for what?” I asked innocently, though I already had a premonition of what was to come.
“The party, silly!”
“How many people are we talking of?”
“Just six including us. I thought we’d just invite Marge & Henry and Florence & Larry.”
“The amber is fine” I answered with relief. Six couldn’t be all that bad, right?
I got the first inclination of disaster two days later. I was at work, it was 10 A.M. and my cell rang. She never calls me at work.
Now I knew for sure I was in trouble.
“I had to invite Trixie and Brad. Marge sort of let Trixie know that we were having a dinner party.”
“What do you mean by sort of?”
“So there will be eight of us” she continued, ignoring my sly question, “but no more”.
It remained eight for the rest of the day but the smile on her face when I got home said it all.
“How many more?”
“What makes you think…?”
“Come on how long have we been together”
“Twelve in all”
“Well thirteen if you count Marianne”
“Why shouldn’t I count Marianne?”
“Well she says she’s on a diet and hardly eats.”
“Marianne, as in the Marianne who’s banned from Fannigans All You Can Eat Steak House?”
“But she’s lost weight.”
“Right” I said running to the fridge for a well-earned Guinness.
The fatal day finally arrived. No not the day of the party, the day when my beloved one mailed me the shopping list. After having read past the first ten lines I realized I needed an interpreter.
“What is kalonji”
“It’s Indian, it’s a kind of black seed oil.
“It’s a Malaysian hot source.”
“I thought we were going to keep this simple.”
“We are. We’re serving street food”
Two hours later the phone rang.
“Yes I suppose that’s me. How can I help you?”
“Your wife gave me your number. About the Elephants, we could only find four of the type your wife ordered. Will that be enough?”
Two minutes later.
“No silly, not real elephants, porcelain ones. They are to add to the atmosphere. Anyway I can’t talk now; I’m in the middle of a fitting.”
I held my question in for almost 30 seconds, I knew that I should have left it at that but curiosity got the better of me.
“Fitting for what?”
It is the morning after. I plan to leave early for work having invented an eight A.M. conference call with Zanzibar. The fact that it is a Saturday is besides the fact. As I leave I look at seven porcelain elephants who are still mingling with the bronze giraffes. The table and twenty five chairs are still standing, which is more than I can say for the antique folding Tibetan Chest that has folded for the last time. Also the painting by Tadashi somebody now has been enhanced with a streak of green curry. What was once our family kitchen is now the sleeping quarters of an international group of master chef’s whose shared English vocabulary consisted of “awesome”, “what’s up?”, “me legal alien” and “very hot!”.
I have half a foot out the door when…
“Steeeve? I was thinking”
I was already on the highway before she could finish the sentence.
My cellphone died at 8:10 - I had ensured not to charge it last night and left the charger at home.
Morning coffee never tasted so good.