Every time I go to Costco, I start planning a dinner party. I hover near the cheeses and mentally compose platters. I browse the wines and pair them up. The more I see — bacon-wrapped scallops, fresh tulips, frosted bottles of vodka — the more worked-up I get. Then I make myself stand over by the cat litter and calm down. I am just here for lettuce and red peppers, I repeat – over and over – until I am ready to continue shopping, properly.
Despite Costco fantasies, I don’t entertain much. I can’t host casual get-togethers because there’s nothing casual about my (lack of) hosting skills. My neighbor Karen can throw a party just by opening a bag of chips and calling a few friends. Her parties are relaxed and enjoyable, consistently.
I, on the other hand, would need to search cookbooks on the best mole sauce, make six trips to Target for fake Fiestaware and get Christmas lights out of the attic to thread through trees. You can imagine my expectations after all of that. My guests had better bring it.
Last summer I tried to host a Memorial Day cook-out for two families who didn’t know each other. I wanted to make it simple. Simple seemed like the right note for a backyard cook-out. I got to work.
I mixed up margaritas from scratch, juicing limes until my finger were raw. I found a summery marinade that needed two types of mustard, and $16 worth of fresh herbs. I downloaded playlists, put tea lights in jelly jars, and wore this gauzy new shirt that I thought said “bohemian” (though my husband claimed it said “maternity”).
When the doorbell rang, I lit all the candles, cued up the Latin music and practically screeched “You ready?!” in the faces of my guests.
You can guess what happened. People were polite, but the chemistry was off. Everyone downed the margaritas in the first 15 minutes, and then sat there looking at each other. My husband kept switching the Latin music to James Taylor. The men decided to eat their dinner in front of the hockey game on TV, and the $16 marinade dripped through the grill, causing the chicken to burst into expensive flames.
Determined to not give up, I dug out a sticky, half-drunk bottle of Mrs. T’s margarita mix from the back of my fridge. I changed James Taylor to disco and started running through my mental checklist of “fun” topics like American Idol (which no one watched) and first date stories (no takers). Spotting a guest yawn, I cranked up Donna Summer and launched into a re-enactment of my dance routine to “Hot Stuff” from my days in high school. My guests left early.
I am aware of the importance of just being together, I get it, but don’t we all have specific areas where we can’t let it go? I, for one, can confidently wander around town without showering and wearing crooked glasses — but I can’t host a dinner party without ironing napkins and choosing thematic music. I can accept I will always have flabby arms, but I refuse to accept that I’m not fun. I’m fun. You should see my Hot Stuff dance.
I’m in recovery now. For my last dinner gathering, I forced myself to order pizza and use paper napkins, but I did put on some 80’s music and this new pink shirt from Old Navy that had New York City emblazoned across the front in sparkly letters. I thought it said “fun,” (my husband claimed it said “desperate”).
Still, progress is progress.