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The Art of the Cocktail Party

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As my new book was scheduled to be completed, Niki and I decided to throw a cocktail party to welcome its arrival into the world. If it seems slightly curious that a couple of introverts would give a party for a group of mostly-introverted friends, you might find a few of the things that we learned about cocktail parties interesting.

That I'm not exactly the world's foremost socialite should surprise no one. I think that I have finally decided that it isn't really social functions that I dislike. I dislike bad social functions. More correctly stated, anytime that I invest a few hours of my life into something, I expect that it should have been worth it because there are probably a thousand other important things that I could be doing instead. (This works the other way around, too, so I want to be sure that if ask for someone's attention for any period of time, he finds my company worthwhile.) The bottom line is that the experience should be worth the expenditure of the most precious resource each participant has: time. Consequently, there are a few characteristics of a social gathering that will keep me away:

  • Neverending. I can handle short conversations with lots of people for a few hours. A notable exception here is a dinner party with good company; such a thing done well is worth the investment of an entire evening.
  • Overcrowded. A party isn't a party when people are broken into different groups spread throughout the premises. Each group becomes a different party, creating a natural barrier that reduce chance encounters that let people meet each other.
  • Casual. The key word of a cocktail party is elegance. Think about it; the whole affair with a wide variety of strangely shaped glasses is radically different from, say, chugging Coca-Cola from a plastic tumbler. That was fun when I was twelve, when it was also fun to recite the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence in one continuous belch. (While I am careful to argue that style should never be in place of substance, the fact is that if you've done the hard work of developing substance, it should be worth the last step of style for presentation.)
  • Games. No, no, a thousand times, no. A proper cocktail party is itself the game. Additionally, it conflicts with the aforementioned Elegance Principle. There's a reason why you can't picture James Bond in a tuxedo sipping a martini in one hand and rolling the dice to see how many spots he gets to advance his token on the board of Trivial Pursuit.
  • A group effort. If I'm giving a party, I expect to be the host. I expect to welcome my guests. I expect to ensure that they are enjoying themselves. That doesn't mean that I don't have help. But it does mean that my guests are guests, and they should not expect to have to bring anything or do anything. Having everyone bring something to share is fine for picnics but I'm having a cocktail party, not a picnic.

So, what should a cocktail party be? In my opinion, a cocktail party should be the kind of event that is a relatively low-level of commitment for guests: they should be focused only on showing up and being interested, interesting, and elegant for two or three hours. It should be the kind of gathering that would allow people to meet others they might not otherwise encounter. It should be the kind of gathering where, in the highly unlikely event that a bore should find his way onto the guest list, people should be able to escape. Ladies should be beautiful. Gentlemen should be charming. Everyone should leave reminded that, for whatever trouble we manage daily, life is wonderful.

With this image of a cocktail party in mind, Niki constructed five carapés. Two were a mysterious hot concoction somehow involving pastries and chicken, another was something to do with salami and olives, and still another was smoked salmon. The last was a curious addition which can best be described as a bite-sized salad.

We are fortunate to have in our midst a highly talented barkeep who volunteered her services for the evening. Warning: she makes a cosmopolitan that is likely to ruin your ability to have them elsewhere. Naturally, I'm far too macho to order such a fru-fru drink, and am thus quite safe. For me, fru-fru, is, of course, a no-no, thus I'm unlikely to commit such a boo-boo. Still, her cosmos manage to reduce my resolve to stick to Manly Drinks to so-so. (Ok, stop groaning, already! I can quite clearly see that you would prefer this whole aside to go, well, bye-bye.) She did a spectacular job to ensure that libations were expertly administered.

Despite our natural inclinations otherwise, we did make a few seats available for guests who wanted to sit down. Sadly, those that did largely parked themselves in their landing zones of choice, which tended to undermine the ability for the party to stay fluid with people moving about and freely reconfiguring their groupings to be all-inclusive. I generally dislike sitting at cocktail parties because it reduces the opportunity for chance encounter, which is a significant feature of this format of social function, but I do not regret removing all ability to sit. Sometimes people are just tired and can't stand for another two hours.

There was some question regarding dress. Here again, the driving principle is elegance. Hopefully no one felt out of place, but I was naturally sporting neckwear for the event. One of our more elegant guests said that she felt a touch overdressed, which I thought unfortunate in the extreme, since she was beautiful and otherwise quite perfect. And by perfect, I mean totally sweet. I do hope that in future, more will be persuaded to follow her example. I refer specifically to her particular ... idiom! ... and not to her propensity to provide post-party pizza to persons projecting a poor persona in the proximity of a particular parlor. For all of you who have no idea of what I'm writing, I apologize, but you must understand that for the three people in the world who know the story behind the remark, the foregoing was worth, at the very least, a giggle, and I'm quite unlikely to resist any opportunity to elicit a smirk, chuckle, or (dare I hope it?) a laugh.

So let's see how it all adds up:

 * Chopin vodka: $30.00

 * Cranberry juice: $1.49

 * A memorable and pleasurable evening: Priceless

Cocktail parties have made a comeback, after some years of falling into disfavor by silly persons who imagined themselves to be opposing The Establishment while instead merely institutionalizing a foolish and dreadful resistance to anything remotely refined or civilized. I hereby pronounce the Brute Force Pre-Release Cocktail party a success and look forward to similar events in the future. Hopefully, some will be inspired to host their own gatherings and find the experience as worthwhile as I found mine.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2004-11-11 07:22 AM
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