7/27/10

The Dangers of Double-Booking

It may be shocking to hear Miss Mingle say it, but there is such a thing as too much mingling

When the invitations came in the mail, for three (count ‘em, three) cocktail parties scheduled for the same Tuesday night, I confess I had the hubris to decide to attend them all.  Dashing from one party to another seemed like fun, and besides, I had never done three in one night before.  (Also I would not have to choose, which I always have trouble doing.)  So I sent my R.S.V.P.s and mapped out my route from one location to the other.  Taxis were definitely my only hope.  It was helpful that the start times were a little staggered; two parties started at 6:00, the other at 6:30.  I figured if I left the first one at 6:30 I could get to the second by 6:50, and if I left the second one at 7:20, I could get to the third by 7:40.

The first party was a book party at Sotheby’s--ice-cold vodka, smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres in the shape of little rosebuds and an interesting literary crowd.  I really did not want to leave, but the clock was ticking.  The second party was a rooftop launch party for a new wine--with hipsters consuming fun pink drinks and Thai dumplings--and the third was a very cool art opening at a Chelsea gallery.  It was sometime during the second party I began to feel like a movie stuck on fast forward.  I found myself breaking in and out of conversations with uncustomary clumsiness; I had the ill-manner to ask one of my hostesses if there was anyone there she felt I absolutely needed to meet, since I would not have time to talk to everyone.  I handed my business card to one person who looked momentarily confused, as we had only been talking for a few minutes and he hadn’t asked for it.  “Who am I?” I shuddered inwardly.  What is this break-neck, used car-salesman style of mingling that had overtaken me?  That’s when I realized I was suffering from EMD--Excessive Mingling Disorder.

By trying to attend all three parties, I could not really “be” at any one of them.  While I was at the first one, I was thinking about the second, while I was at the second one, I was thinking about the third.  By the end of the evening, I had a dissatisfied, empty feeling (not to mention sore feet).  It was as if I had been socially window-shopping and had ended up with nothing.  Not to mention that I had the impression I had somehow been rude to all the hostesses, even though they had each promised it was perfectly fine for me to just “drop by.”

There are many people who, upon first look, seem to have an enviably jam-packed social life.  But busy-ness does not necessarily mean happiness.  It’s a mistake to think of your social life as a big tasting menu; that if you sample a little bit of everything you will be full and satisfied at the end.  I mean, going to three cocktail parties should be three times as much fun as one, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that 3 x 1 is actually 0.  This kind of surface socializing is like eating only the sauce of each course, and never enjoying the full flavors or getting any substance from the meal.  A half an hour is not enough time sink in to a party, to relax and experience the event.  And having to continually calculate and recalculate your exit strategy, travel time, etc. is no way to spend an evening.

I have decided double-booking is in general a bad idea, unless the time of the parties overlaps only slightly (e.g., cocktails from 6:00 - 800; dinner party at 7:30).  So the next time I get invited to a wedding shower and a drinks party being held at the same time, I am going to think twice.  It’s only human to want to have my cake and my cocktails too, but rather than doubling my pleasure, double-booking may just be a way of double-crossing myself.

7/18/10

Proud To Be Me(ow)

When I was twenty I swore that if I were still single by the time I was forty, I would be the cha-cha-ing, poker-playing, martini-drinking sort of single gal; I would not be the needle-pointing, tea-drinking, galosh-wearing sort.  If I had a pet it would be a boa constrictor, a monkey or a mynah bird.  I was never ever going to become one of those lonely, witchy spinsters who “kept” cats. (There is a great line in the movie Desk Set where Katherine Hepburn says, “Don’t worry Ruthie, we can always get a house together and keep cats.”  To which the brassy Ruthie replies, “I don’t like cats, I like men. And so do you.”)

I did, in fact, become the cha-cha-ing poker-playing, martini-drinking sort of single gal--but one with cats.  By now, of course, I realize that this whole cat lady persona is nothing but a sexist, ageist stereotype that is unfair to both women and cats.  I got cats because cats are wonderful, and because they are fairly self-sufficient and well-suited to city living.  (I love dogs, but--call me crazy---I refuse to pick up poop off the sidewalk.)  And yet, I sometimes catch myself trying to conceal the fact that I have cats.

Just the other day I was talking on the phone to a man I had recently met when Henry snuck up behind me, leapt onto my shoulder and meowed loudly into the mouthpiece.

“God. What is that? Is that a baby?” the man asked.

“No, it’s not,”  I said uninformatively, pushing Henry off so abruptly he howled even louder.

“Hey, are you okay?" the man wanted to know. "What’s going on?”

I tried to bluff it out. “Rock star neighbor,” I murmured.  But by this time Pickering had decided to tackle Henry and they were both screeching at high volume. “Alright, actually, it’s my cats,” I was finally forced to confess. I braced myself for that uncomfortable pause on the other end of the line, followed by the inevitable question: “Um…How many cats do you have?”

I know this reaction well.  It says:  Ah--she’s one of those professionally single women, the ones who have opted for cats. And not just one cat, but cats, plural.  Suddenly the man with whom I have just been flirting is envisioning me in a dowdy flannel nightgown, twenty-seven cats crawling on my lap, all of us eating from the same tub of vanilla ice cream, disdainful of all other humans and vowing eternal independence.   

Many people have the idea that women with cats don’t really like men--or anyone, for that matter.  A pet is thought to be the alter ego of the pet owner; the attitude of the animal reflects the attitude of the person.  Unfortunately cats--unlike dogs--do not go bounding up to strangers with their tongues hanging out, desperate for affection (well, Henry does, but he has issues.) You can’t grab a cat around the stomach and pat him roughly on the top of the head (though I must say Henry likes that too.) Human beings tend to be intimidated when animals don’t need their attention.  A woman with cats in the city is seen as existing in her own complete universe, wanting nothing from the outside world.  If the cats don’t go outside, maybe the woman doesn’t either.  Maybe they all just stay in, sneaking silently around, hissing and casting spells on people they don’t like.

I’m here to tell you this is not true at all.  I have two nice cats--brothers.  My apartment does not smell the least bit funky; people do not leave here brushing clumps of cat hair from their clothing or holding gauze over cat-inflicted wounds.  I do not love my cats more than I love people.  I did not acquire my cats to serve as a substitute for anything or anyone.

I could go on at greater length, but it’s time to get into my jammies and open a gallon of ice cream for me and my boys.

7/12/10

Dining Out On It

I was swimming naked in a pool late on a hot summer night when it happened.  The underwater light wasn’t working, so the only illumination came from an eerily flashing, floating disco-ball light--a novelty item which my hostess had procured for the amusement of her guests.  I was treading water in the deep end, talking and laughing with a friend and enjoying the luxurious coolness, when suddenly I spotted the unmistakable slithering of a snake.  It was gliding along on top of the water, coming right at me--fast.  I froze in terror.  Before I could even react, it ran smack into my face!  (By accident I think--I hope).  I screamed bloody murder and thrashed my arms and kicked my legs wildly, and at last made it out of the pool.  After I had dried off and stopped shaking (and had stopped moaning “Ohmygod, ohmygod” over and over like Rain Man), a part of me realized that this unpleasant event had a silver (albeit slimy) lining: It was a story I could dine out on.

Technically speaking, the term “dining out on a story” (which seems to have come into usage some time in the first half of the 20th century) refers to having a tale so good, so interesting, that people actually invite you to dinner just to hear you tell it.  Now, while I am fairly certain that no dinner invitations are going to result from my recent close encounter of an ophidian kind, the Snake in the Pool Story is the kind of thing that people like to hear.  It always adds to a gathering to have someone there with an unusual or entertaining anecdote to share.  A good personal story inspires other people’s imaginations and memories, and engages their emotions--and therefore spurs on the conversation.

Good “dining out stories” are ones with one or more of the following elements: shock value or bizarre twists, celebrity encounters, danger or risk, or intense embarrassment or misunderstandings.  But the very best dining out stories are ones which cause the listener to be empathetic but very, very glad the thing in question did not happen to him.  This is not mere schadenfreude; it’s really more of a vicarious thrill ride--like a scary movie.

There was the time a friend of mine woke up after a long flight horrified to find her head in the lap of a strange man next to her.  Another friend got all the way to her office one morning before realizing she had forgotten to put her skirt on (she was in her slip and suit jacket).  I heard a thrilling story at a dinner party recently about a man who took part in a wild chase through the Barcelona Metro after his wallet was stolen by gypsies.  Yet another friend told me a terrifying tale about her life years ago, about coming home late to her London flat where she was squatting, which had--unbeknownst to her--been taken over by a truly bad-ass Hell’s Angels gang while she was out at a concert.  (Oblivious, she slept peacefully through the whole night, got up early and left unscathed.)  My stories?  I once dated a guy who I discovered one night was really a woman.  And once, I swear, I accidentally introduced myself as Erica Jong--to Erica Jong.

Want more details?  I’m free for dinner next Saturday night.