THE, KEY IS how, and where, to fit in. To some this comes naturally, as we read in Liz Smith’s column:
Mrs, Astor’s reason for turning down a party in the Palladium’s Mike Todd Room? “Really, I don’t think my friends would go to 14th St.” On the other hand, there is no place in New York where Mrs. Astor won’t go in a good cause, and recently she fell over a construction at the South Street Seaport and had to accept medical aid from some concerned workers.
For you, though, it has always been different. You are at a fête where you don’t know anyone except your hostess—who, when you wave, gives you a look of . . . well, to call it consternation is to oversimplify: a narrowing of the eyes, followed by a widening, followed by another narrowing that very nearly amounts to a graciously modulated wince.
And you have forgotten to shave either one side of your face or one leg, as the case may be. And everyone else is wearing tennis togs, while you have come semiformal except for one of those funny caps that look like an animal’s head. No one else is wearing anything jocular or any sort of cap.
Furthermore, what with the way you have been feeling for the past few weeks, you have neglected to keep abreast of anything, in or out of the news, except for your symptoms—most notably an odd cloggedness (and yet to say “cloggedness” is not to put it just right) in your sinuses.
You have spilled a whole banana margarita in your lap; something feels askew about your underwear; and you notice—in the reflection of someone’s mirror sunglasses just before they are quickly averted—what looks like a lot of ball-point ink on your upper lip and nose.
How do you blend?
How do you mingle?
Not by tripping over a construction. At this point. whatever you trip over will be regarded as something you have misconstrued.
So here’s what you do.
“ALL RIGHT, everybody!” you ananounce. “Listen up. Enough about my hard-to-pin-down sinus condition—which is history now, anyway. It’s about to be taken up by Eurotrash. I’m beginning to have trouble with something else, perhaps my sense of the Other. Have you had the feeling that your sense of the Other is getting sort of, I don’t know, strained lately?
“But we all know why we’re reallv here. [We don’t, in fact.] We’re here to honor a very special person. | No one has any idea who that might be.] I don’t have to say who. A toast! To someone who defines special ness. Someone who will be in our hearts and minds, or anyway our hearts, forever!”
A few people raise their glasses uncertainly.
One or two more.
“No, no, not me.
“Let me just say one thing. I hope none of you will let the fact that you all showed up in the same costume throw you off. These things happen. Last week at the enteritis gala, everyone came as either Ed Meese or Imelda Marcos. We looked around, we shared a few smiles, we proceeded to party hearty.
“Because isn’t that America? What a country! Especially lately! Here’s to good old-fashioned Yankee self-esteem!”
A number of people raise their glasses, not a few with feeling.
“I know we all have a lot of things to talk about, but I wonder whether, as we are all talking about them, we are all giving enough thought to those U.S.-inspired freedom fighters around the globe who are not just talking about squelching the Russian lust for a warmwater port—and may I remind you, Atlantic City is a warmwater port—but are doing it, with cold steel and hot lead.
“Do I see a few hangdog looks? Lose ‘em! The last thing we’re here for is to get down on ourselves. We know we would be over there right now, standing alongside these patriots—armed to the teeth, at home in the undergrowth, subsisting on snakes—if we didn’t have obligations here.
“We all have . . . obligations. You know what I mean. To our obligations! May they never be silly ones, but our obligations whatever!”
With that you walk directly over to the hottest-looking member of the sex you favor, lower your voice somewhat, and say, “I see those eyes, you foxy rascal. Little eyes, little eyes, but big enough. Signals! If I can’t pick up signals, at a party, like this, then where’s style? Where’s enchantment? Where’s the social fabric?
“But I didn’t come here to dally. Your thinking on the psychodollar! Float it, don’t float it, what?”
But you are looking over his or her shoulder. “Jay!” you cry. There are bound to be three or four Jays. They blink. Pick the one who seems most satisfied to be a Jay, and exclaim, “Not you, Jay. I mean Javo!” Pick the one who seems least secure in his or her Jay-ness. “There you are,”you cry. Move in on Jay. Kiss on the forehead.
“Uwe told me, ‘Whatever you do, have a few giggles with Jay-o.’”
“Jay,” says Jay defensively.
“I think it was llwe. It can’t have been Nils, can it? Anyway,” you say, “has Cerise got here vet, or do you know Cerise? Oh, if you don’t know Cerise . . .
SUDDENLY sou START, like a deer in the forest. You are alert to something in the air, some tremor, some intimation, perhaps indeed some smell, that only you have the keenness to pick up on, so far. You raise your voice again, not quite to the volume at which you were making announcements but nearly.
“There is something,” you say. “Something I can’t quite put my finger on. There is a kind of ... I always detect these things first. Sometimes I wish I weren’t the one. But inevitably when I do, the thing grows, becomes . . . never mind. Let things take their course. I alwavs say, a party wouldn’t be a party without a certain ...” You shrug.
(I am not saying this is how an Astor does it. You are not an Astor. An Astor has staff.)
And then you begin to undress, down to whatever layer of your ensemble most resembles tennis togs. You do this offhandedly, with the air of one who wants others to be comfortable. While you are doing it, in fact, you are circulating, and inquiring among your fellow guests as to who is up for singing.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” you say to various ones in turn. “About time we gave some thought to what tunes we’ll start launching into when we’re a little more thoroughly oiled, nichtwahr?Know any good Civil War songs? How does it go? ‘John Brown’s body lies amoulderin’ in the grave. . . . ‘ Or—any new verses to ‘Waltz Me Around Again, Willie’? I don’t know about you, but I have had sea chanteys. Doesn’t it seem at every do latelv it’s chantey, chantey, chantey?”
Your hostess reaches your side. She seems about to suggest something. You speak first.
“This is rather awkward,” you say, in a confidential but carrying tone. You look embarrassed, though by no means on your own account. “But, well. . . Someone in here has lifted my watch.”
While she is frisking the guests, that feeling comes over your sense of the Other—or maybe it is your sinuses— again. At a sign from you, concerned workers gather, bathing you in unguents and a fine, passage-clearing mist.
You have to accept. □