5/31/10

I'll Show You Mine...

I took mine off.  Then he took his off.  And it was magic.

I hadn’t seen him for while.  We had decided to meet at an outside cafĂ©.  It was a spectacularly sunny day; the food and wine were perfect.  So why was I not having as much fun as I thought I would?  Why were we not really connecting?  Suddenly I realized the problem: my super-polarized prescription sunglasses were making the world (and him) look great, but I was, in essence, hidden behind them.  I switched to my regular glasses and he followed suit. “That’s better,” we agreed, laughing at how much it changed everything.

It’s true we had to squint a little in the sun, but out conversation immediately became more animated, more intimate, and began to flow more naturally. I looked around at the other patrons.  Most were wearing sunglasses.  I wondered how many of them were with their spouses or best friends.  If you know someone well, you can easily interpret nuances of expression with only the lower part of the face visible (you may even prefer to take a break from that person’s expressions--nuances included.) But if you are with anyone other than but a good friend or loved one, you will definitely enjoy more rewarding communication without the shades.  Face to face (or eye-to-eye) interaction may be a rapidly disappearing practice, but while it still exists, we should at least get the most out of it.

Obviously it would not be good for your eyes to be without protection from the summer sun too often. But when socializing with someone you do not see every day (and unless you are covering a bruise, or swollen or red eyes,) naked eyes provide much more information than covered ones.  Conversing while wearing dark glasses is a bit like eating food with a bad cold.  Sure, you’re still eating, but you miss a lot of the flavor.

I have decided that my next pair of glasses are going to be ones that come with either clips-ons or flip-ups, in order to facilitate access to the most powerful social interaction tool I have: my eyes.  Why should I relinquish all nonverbal “vocabulary,” just because it’s sunny out?  For example:

Eyes widening: “Wow!”
Eyes narrowing: “I suspect what you are saying is not true.”
One brow raised: “Oh really?”
Two brows raised:  “Yikes!”
Eye roll: “Jesus!” or “Of course, that would happen!”
Prolonged gazing:  “I’m really attracted to you” or “I’m not listening to you at all, but if I look intently at you, you will think I am.”
Both eyes shut:  “Oh no. Please don’t tell me that.”
Eyes tearing:  “I feel your pain” or “I feel my pain” or “I feel the pain of the person you are talking about” or “Please don’t let me pick up the check.”

So listen up, all you cool people, shy people, people with designer sunglasses they are really proud of, and people who are worried that squinting will give them wrinkles:  Unless you are in the Witness Protection Program or have just had eye surgery, Miss Mingle says: Take ‘em off, baby, and let it all hang out.

5/24/10

Searching for Supper

It was a deserted, industrial area of Brooklyn and the only buzzer we could see on the door read “The Hosiery Company.”  No one answered when we rang.  Stymied, my friend and I and the driver all pulled out our phones to try to figure out where we had gone wrong with the address.  Just then a beautiful woman in a pale yellow dress stepped out of the car in front of us. “I bet you’re looking for the supper club I'm going to,” she said, pointing to an unmarked door halfway down the block.

A new incarnation of the dinner party that has become increasingly popular in New York is the private supper club.  The one I attended this past Saturday was catered by the Brooklyn Laundry and featured a six-course meal inspired by the recipes of Antonin Careme (1784-1833), a man widely considered to be the first great figure of gastronomy.  (He worked as the private chef for Napoleon and the Royal family of France, among other notables of his time.)  Saturday’s venue was the penthouse loft apartment of a charming young man who greeted us sporting a whimsical lace cravat, and whose name I should probably not offer up here, as technically speaking, supper clubs of this nature are more or less illegal.

First there were cocktails on the rooftop--all made with Lillet wine.  I had a delicious concoction with Hendrick's gin and orange peel and mint called “the Muse.”  (Lillet is a very versatile cocktail ingredient. In fact I think Lillet Blanc is what vermouth always wanted to be when it grew up.)  The 25 or so guests ranged in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties and included a doctor, a lawyer, a web designer, a jeweler, a producer, and a painter.  The high-ceilinged dining space was defined by thin gauzy curtains that blew gently in the breeze, creating a dreamlike, almost surreal effect. The lighting was a soft orange “Blanche Dubois” style which made everyone look good and feel cozy.  My favorite dish was probably the “Cabillaud a la Hollandaise” (Cod with hollandaise sauce,) though the “Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesle” (blue crab, sweet breads and morels in puff pastry shells) was perhaps the most interesting--even if it wasn’t served with rooster testicles, as it had been at Chateau Rothschild in 1829.

The supper club combines the intimacy and comfort of a dinner party with the convenience of a restaurant and the conviviality of a bar or lounge--where you can mingle with strangers.  (Add to that the exciting hint of the Prohibition Era, when you had to know which door to knock on.)  Let’s face it: Few people can afford to hold a gourmet dinner for 25 people.  This kind of “paid” dinner party allows folks to experience a little bit of the luxury enjoyed--at least by the privileged class--in eras past.

And okay, I did not get to consume a soufflĂ© flecked with pieces of gold, as I might have at a Careme dinner in 19th century Paris.  But for 21st century Brooklyn, the evening was, I must say, superbe.

5/17/10

Socialis Interruptus

So there I was, in the middle of singing “She’s Got Freckles On Her But, She is Nice,” which as anyone who’s ever heard it can tell you, is a truly entertaining bit of musical Americana, and which I have been performing at parties since I was 16. As I paused between the 1st and 2nd verses, I noticed a fellow guest--a woman in her twenties--whipping her iPhone out of her pocket like it was a Colt 45. By the time I had gotten to “All the sailors give her chase, ‘cause they love her naval base,” she was waving it over her head, exclaiming “Hey, I’ve got more words here!  I found the Pearl Trio singing it!”

This may seem on the surface to have been a harmless, enthusiastic contribution to the fun at hand, but it broke the momentum of the party (not just of the song).  It was not the interrupting itself that was the problem; it was that the woman stepped out of the party (in the virtual sense).  She was impelled to interrupt, by the seductive certitude that she could and would retrieve information instantly on her phone. 

Now, some people may think my having the audacity to sing at a dinner party justifies whatever socially-incorrect behavior comes my way. (Though I swear it was a request from my host; anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). But the point is that this kind of thing is what happens at every party now.  Just when a conversation has begun to take on that wonderful organic spiral, with one subject leading naturally to another, deeper levels, more laughter and a heightened feeling of connection, someone will invariably stop to look something up on whatever internet device they happen to have--either to confirm some factoid, or simply because of the irresistible call of cyberspace (a drug few of us can resist for more than an hour or so.)  Of course, the information is usually pertinent.  But once someone breaks the flow by going “off-party,” the social energy in the room tends to dissipate. And once someone starts looking things up, it spreads like a virus.

In other words, before you know it, someone is looking up lyrics to another song, and then someone else texts a friend to find out where the first ukulele was made, and then everyone is checking their other texts and emails, until soon what you have at the party is a bunch of individuals staring into their little blue screens, mumbling to themselves. 

It’s more important to stay focused on the people right in front of us.  So what if we don’t get to hear the 4th verse of the song.  So what if someone can’t say for sure whether some article in the Times came out last Wednesday or last Thursday.  A party is supposed to be a sharing of fun, energy and ideas, not an exchange of data. 

In any case, I prefer the Talbot Brothers version of “She’s Got Freckles on Her But, She is Nice” to the Pearl Trio version.  And you won’t find it on-line.

5/10/10

Mother of a Mingle

One night last week, as I blew my nose, applied eye-liner around my red eyes and popped two Sudafed while getting dressed to go to what would probably be a noisy and crowded cocktail party, I thought to myself, “Why on earth am I going to this thing when I have such a bad cold?  Why don’t I just stay home?”  And yet it seemed that I must go.  A party always holds promise.

Suddenly I had a flashback:  I am in the 7th grade, and Bert Richards--the hottest guy in the 8th grade (the bluest eyes, the deepest voice, the coolest friends)--has asked me to a Valentine’s Day dance.  For this special night, I had bought, on sale at Hutzlers, a brand new outfit.  A swingy skirt and matching top with long flowy sleeves, made out of black rayon with little white and orange flowers.  It was an “ensemble” (my mother’s word) which made me look older, showing off my curvier-than-average 13-year-old figure. 

And then, disaster!  The day before I have a scratchy throat.  By the time the night of the dance arrives I have a stuffed up nose and a 101 degree temperature.  But when I beg and cry and tell my mother how it is the most important night of my life, she hesitates, worries and then--miraculously--lets me go.  She gives me a Sudafed, two aspirin and an early curfew, and sends me out with the handsome and exciting Bert Richards. 

Many people would say she shouldn’t have done this--that a good mother would have been stern and put me to bed.  But I will never forget how much I wanted to go to that dance. And it didn’t kill me, did it? I still remember dancing and laughing to “Mama Told me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night.  I swayed and twirled in my sexy rayon matching skirt and top.  At the end of the night Bert Richards kissed me with an exotic taste I would later recognize as cigarette smoke.

Of course I spent the next two days sick in bed, and Bert eventually dumped me for Cynthia somebody.  But I’m telling you that was one great dance.  Thanks, Mom.