Let’s Party

Les Linottes

FROM Les Linottes
BY Georges Courteline
ILLUSTRATED BY Charles Émile Egli (1877-1937)

In 1966 Peter Matthiessen missed the party of the decade. His explanation that he’d hit a rhythm with his writing didn’t appease a miffed Truman Capote. No one else — other than William Styron, also mid-manuscript — had turned down an invitation to Capote’s Black and White Ball.

The buzz preceding that party vibrated far beyond the boroughs of New York. Guests flew in from Kansas and California; Cecil Beaton came from London. As San Franciscan Herb Caen said afterward, “The elevator operators, the cab drivers, the doormen, as soon as they saw you with a mask or headdress, they said, ‘Going to Truman’s ball, huh?’” But John Knowles and Harold Prince were reminded of Versailles in 1778 and the tumbrels in the French Revolution. Frank Sinatra left early with Mia Farrow. And even Caen admitted that, as with the Super Bowl, the buildup was better than the event: “It was one of those parties that never got off the ground. People did what they always do — getting up and going into their little cliques and corners.”

Just thinking of a party composed of “little cliques” makes me want to misplace the keys to my 1993 Honda. I’ll do most anything to avoid facing a roomful of huddled backs attached to faces that look right past me when they head across the room to refill a drink. There’s a kind of inertia, a paralysis that can infect a bad party, when people won’t move beyond the comfort of their familiar crew. And costume parties can be even worse. What do you say after the intitial “Oh my god, it’s not, it couldn’t be — it’s Geoffrey!” when you’re not even sure who, encased in your own get-up, you are?

Not that I’ve attended many costume parties. Shortly after our son was born, his father Larry and I dressed in flesh-colored flannel underwear with folded white sheets around our hips, secured, diaper-style, with gigantic safety pins, and greeted our hosts at the door holding baby bottles and howling. We were the hit of the party — for about five minutes. The guests’ laughter at our entrance was louder than our mock crying, but afterward I desperately wanted to get rid of the yards of folded sheets stuffed between my legs. And who was I in this outfit anyway? The exhausted, house-bound new mother unable to finish her dreams at night, or the energetic high school teacher who could muster the confidence to walk up to a stranger and say “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met!” But to do that in diapers?

I’ll do most anything to avoid facing a roomful of huddled backs attached to faces that look right past me when they head across the room to refill a drink. There’s a kind of inertia, a paralysis that can infect a bad party, when people won’t move beyond the comfort of their familiar crew.

I must admit, however, that once, in the eighties, a colleague hosted a small-scale, small-town version of Truman’s that took off like a jet on a shortened runway. Our university’s lone classicist had sent out invitations in Latin, which (once laboriously translated) required us to dress in black, white and/or red. When we realized he was trying to force a motley group of academic dweebs to leave their T-shirts in the laundry and dress up for one of his exquisite Tuscan dinners, we revolted. Plotting together beforehand, we arrived at Paul’s door in outrageous outfits. Larry hauled out the black tails from his choral-directing days but also wore a red T-shirt, tattered Reeboks, and red socks. I borrowed a slinky black dress slit up to my bottom and bought fish-net stockings, a cheap pair of five-inch stiletto heels with rhinestone clips, and a white boa that I flapped around my shoulders. Judy unpacked her taffeta prom dress (the bodice of which ripped during the fourth course of Paul’s dinner and ripped further when, late in the evening, she lounged on the department chair’s lap). Bonnie wore a veiled black hat from the forties with a foot-long feather, and her husband Grant’s neon-scarlet bow tie blinked little lights all night. The minute people began walking in the door, that party was on.

Page 1 of 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 View All

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

Permalink URL: http://www.cerisepress.com/02/04/lets-party

Page 1 of 10 was printed. Select View All pagination to print all pages.