OK, friends. I am on a mission to expand, to go places where no doctor has ever gone before, to go for complete and total World-Doctor-Domination, and because of this, I have been thinking lately about all the places where doctors do not usually get invited, because those are the parties I am going to crash first.
It’s true. You know the one area where a doctor is really pretty much never welcome to add her hard-won expertise? A party. When someone starts planning a party, the last person they want to call is the doctor. The doctors, I think the thinking goes, will come in with all their information about cholesterol and sleep deprivation, and ruin all the fun. Doctors and party hosts do not mix.
Until now. Because when you start to look at it, a doctor and a party host actually have a lot in common. They both take care of people. The only difference is that doctors take care of people with their giant medical texts, their tinctures, and their operating theaters, and party hosts take care of people with their giant recipe books, their elixirs, and their sense of theater.
Now if I were a different person, a person, say, like those “real” doctors on morning TV, I would strip-mine this vast, untapped, Doctor-Party concept, and turn it into a bestselling book series, a monthly magazine, and a lo-cal cocktail mix, but being that I am a lowly, fucking housewife who doesn’t know any better, I am going to give away all my doctor- party ideas right here, right now, on the Internet, for free.
Now, don’t cry; this is not a tragedy. Because you know what brand-new, investor-worthy ideas are, for me? They are my poop and pee. I am a never-ending fountain of that shit. So it’s summertime, school’s out, it’s time to host a party. Let’s go.
OK. Now, the first thing we have to straighten out, about hosting parties, is their sacred texts.
Wait a minute, I hear you saying. I didn’t know a party had a sacred text.
But this is the thing, people—you did know. And this is why, when you have hosted parties in the past, you have first consulted written things, things like recipe books and magazines. And this is the problem, right here, that I am going to take apart right now, which is that people are trying to put together parties with the wrong sacred texts. They are using cookbooks, and they are using magazines with Martha and Oprah and all the other Ahs on the cover, and I don’t know how those ladies managed to cash in on those party- fantasies when any five-year old can tell you that you can have the most complicated menu, the most fabulously coordinated place settings, and your party can still suck. Diagnosis? Wrong sacred text.
For a healthy, life-affirming party, you need a sacred text that goes beyond party—mechanics. Having Martha Stewart—as much as I love that crazy, glue-gunning bird—as the author of your party’s sacred text is like asking a stagehand to direct the play. The props may all work great, but… listen, you need more than that. To get to the soul of your party, you have to go beyond the props. You have to say adios to the Good Things that fit together nicely, and are in fine working order, and make sense, and you have to go farther, to the realm of no-magazines, the realm of the visionaries and weirdos.
But why? I hear you saying. (I know, I know: no one likes visionaries and weirdos; everyone likes magazines).
Now, this is an excellent question, and I will try to answer it simply: you have to go to the realm of the visionaries and weirdos for the sacred text for your party because a party is a gathering where we affirm that we are fucking ALIVE. Why are you turning to these ladies who look freeze-dried on these magazine covers to guide you through a ritual that is supposed to remind you of the GODDAMNED MAJESTY OF BEING ALIVE?
You don’t need those ladies, my friends. You need me. You know why? Because the formaldehyde-ed, Ah-named ladies are not going to tell you this. They are not going to say: hey, for those of us, and this may include you, who don’t know what the fuck happens to us after death, and who may, in fact, be wedded to the idea that after we die, we completely disappear, i.e., there is no afterlife, and no joyful fucking in heaven followed by naps on the cushy, white, cloud-chairs, and looking down at our charming children, for those of us who just don’t know what happens when we die, and who are thinking most of the time that life seems like a big, fucking, unorganized mess, and a person is just, like, sloshing along in it, trying to do a couple of things on a to-do list, often against hugely unfavorable odds, for those of us, and this may include you, a party is a chance to recognize the fragile insanity of our situation, to take the time to wonder at it, and be thankful for it, and we may do this not by matching place settings and competently wielding a glue gun but by doing something more along the lines of burning our house down while we have sex in it.
A good party host, then, will maintain a clear head, and will not fall into the trap of thinking too hard about, say, the flowing placement of platters of finger foods. Instead he/she will be willing to not make sense, and he/she will exhibit this willingness by choosing an excellent, sacred, party text. Now, for beginning party-hosts, who are just weaning themselves from the traditional sources, I would advise you to choose something from the realm of musical theater, because the people who make musical theater are fucking nuts.
Let’s, just for fun, choose the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. That is a nice, summery musical. It’s set on a tropical island, it involves pretty women and manly-men, only it takes place during World War II, and follows, among other things, the tortured love affairs of several racist people.
The reason it is not insane to filter your summer 2012, party-planning decisions through the sacred text of the 1949 musical, South Pacific, is that a party is not a collection of food, drinks, tables, chairs, napkins, plates, glue guns, and people, in the same way that a play is not props, actors, and a stage. A party is invisible. It is an energy, a conglomeration of interactions, and the best way that you, as a host, can prepare for that, is to not pay overly much attention to the what of your party—the visible—and attend more readily to the invisible. How are you going to host your party? You are going to host your party like the struggling, tortured souls of South Pacific, who are heroically and repeatedly trying and failing to get over themselves and their boneheaded ideas. If you do all your visible, party-preparing stuff in this spirit, you will be OK.
Note: it is best not to tell your guests, or anyone, that South Pacific is the sacred text for your party. Do not tell people that you have a sacred text for your party at all, in fact. Because if you do, your well-meaning friends will try to pressure you into making a logical and sensible interpretation of your sacred text, and this will result in a South Pacific party, with South Pacific plates, and South Pacific napkins, and “Pin the tail on the South Pacific” games, and that is a small and literal way of looking at something big, and we don’t want that.
The other thing you must do—we had nine other To-Do Things already, right? OK, this is the tenth one—is to remember that you need secret places at your party, little places, where one or two people can go and not-die together. Because people need this. People at your party will need places to hide from your party. It takes a very good host to recognize this, but it’s true. Your guests will need to hide from your party, hide from your food,
your music, your generosity, and your well-meaning South Pacific-y intentions. Don’t ask what they will do while they are hiding. They will be reading Goethe. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure the places exist. If you have no secret places in your party space, try to make some. Don’t tell anyone where they are; if you are having a good party, they will be found.
Note: this is an adult party I am talking about. If you are an adult hosting a party for children, that is a whole other approach to party hosting, which I will cover in another column.
OK, speaking of secret places, now for a lovely wormhole, from Pete Fritz, of NYC:
When I was four or five, my parents built an addition onto our little house. We were living in Half Moon Bay, CA at the time so the new living room had a lot of gorgeous, not to mention dirt-cheap, redwood. My favorite toy was a dark green, monster action figure that was made of a dense, sponge-y, oily material that allowed you to rearrange its body parts. You could pull off a leg and attach it to the neck, in place of the head, which you had already removed, and stuck to, say, the butt area._
Another use for the sticky monster-substance was stripping stain from redwood accents. I was really worried at the time that a man (who probably looked like that Nazi henchman from_Raiders of the Lost Ark_) would build a house identical to ours in the empty lot next door. If my parents couldn’t prove which house was ours, the government would have no choice but to give the henchman both houses. If, however, I used my deformed- monster, stain-stripper to write my name on some of the nice, new redwood we’d be all set when the government came.
Writing on the walls with markers or crayons was obviously against the rules so I was psyched to have found an alternative way to secretly identify our house.
Thanks, Pete. And now, to close, let’s have a party recipe. I will not call on my beloved intern Josh this week, because he is off auditioning for a cooking show today. Go Josh!
Party Food by Doctor Party
When people arrive at your party, have a bunch of drinks out—you can buy those, so it’s easy. Have some stuff on the stove. Wait until 10 or so people are there. Tell them you forgot the hot sauce, and then ask them if would they mind hanging out and watching the food while you run to the corner. Someone will offer to run to the corner, but say no. Insist that it is you who must go.
Go outside. Leave your party. Feel the night air. It is scary to host a party. People come over, they may be grumpy, they may say the beets aren’t done right, they want different beets. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you are doing a brave thing, hosting a party.
Leave the people at your home. Let them to get to know each other while they deal with some mess of food—rice and beans, say—something that takes a lot of watching and stirring. An hour later, come back. The party will have started.