Opinion

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Cocktail Party

We’ve all been there. A cocktail party that you are ready to leave but your wife is not. Like a thoroughbred kicking out his stall, you chafe at being fenced in. You were born to run, not get hotboxed by Mort and Lydia as they painstakingly recount their Alaskan cruise. Nobody understands you, not even your wife. But I do, and I’m here to help. I can teach you how to have so much fun at cocktail parties that you’ll close the next one down. All it requires is a change in attitude. Ready?

This one’s an oldie but a goodie, but it does require a partner, so grab Andy and cue him in on the plan. By the look of it, he hasn’t the strong feelings on farm-to-table that Fiona does, and she’s got him cornered by the pantry. Plus he’s about to make that point about distributive justice that he always does to fit in with this crowd. Problem is he always cites Lou Rawls instead of John Rawls, so really you’re sparing him the embarrassment. Now here’s what I want you to do. Have a conversation with Andy about classic cinema, only do two more things. First, make sure you are overheard, and second, get obvious things really, really wrong. Something like:

You: What’s that classic Spielberg movie about the lovable alien?

Andy: E.T.?

You: That’s it. I love the way E.T.’s middle finger lit up. Spielberg is so subversive that way.

Andy: Right, a critique of bourgeois American values.

You: Exactly. And that tag-line of his with the phone, what was it that E.T. always said?

Andy (imitating E.T.’s voice): Call back?

You: Bingo. Great line, and great picture. How Shelley Duvall fit into that alien getup is beyond me. I read somewhere that those were her actual eyes.

Carol, who nearby had been telling Paul and Phil all about her cats, will break concentration, turn to you and correct all of your errors. She won’t want to, but she won’t be able to stop herself. They never can stop themselves. You can spar for a bit with retorts like Uh, I think I would remember my favorite movie and Agree to disagree. Alas, Paul and Phil will never know whether Mr. Mittens or Sir-Purrs-a-Lot, each period-dressed, won the Lincoln-Douglas debate, but they’ll get over it. See how much fun you’re having? You haven’t even looked at your watch.

Is your wife ready yet? Uh-oh, looks like the Caulfields are going strong to the hole over mandatory vaccination. We still need to amuse ourselves, so let’s try this one. See how quickly you can disperse a conversation group by being slightly socially awkward. You’ll know you’re sticking the landing when one by one, guests peel off and actually seek out Mort and Lydia. For my money, repeating the phrase am I right or am I right never disappoints. For instance:

Larry: What a run for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team this summer. Totally dominant performance.

You: Yeah, but we weren’t just watching for the soccer. Am I right or am I right?

Larry (wife peeling off): Actually, I was just watching for the soccer.

You: Whatever you say, Father Larry! Am I right or am I right? (Larry peels off.)

Do you see what you just did there? I didn’t even tell you to do a simultaneous back-slap on that second one. That was all instinct. Paging Roy Hobbs — you’re a natural! How’re we doing on time, anybody getting their coats? Sounds like there’s time for one last one. Start a debate on whether any particular retail store in the mall should be called Suddenly ___ or Say It With ___. Let me see you work:

Mort: So I told him why we chose Alaska – just for the halibut. Get it? It rhymes with…

You (interrupting): If you were opening a scissors store in the mall, would you call it Suddenly Scissors or Say It With Scissors?

Larry: It’s an odd question, but I think I’d go with Suddenly Scissors.

Lydia: Oh, I don’t know about that. It makes me think there’s a creepy guy right behind me holding scissors.

Mort: Can we get back to the Alaska cruise please?

My friend, I wish you could see yourself right now, you’re glowing! As far as your wife knows, you loved the ceviche, tsk-tsked the Prendegasts for not getting flu-shots and whatnot. Plus I am needed elsewhere – it looks like Wally is about to try that acid-reflux bit with his wife, which never works. One last thing. The Big Lebowski starts in an hour, so if the party is still going in forty-five minutes, do me a favor. Light some matches under the smoke detector.