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PARTY GIRL

December 16, 2000

I’ve been thinking about my reaction to the office party yesterday and looking back over my life and realizing how much I hate parties. In fact, if you want to really churn up my insides, just say “we’ve been invited to a party....” My mother loves parties. She knows how to give a party and is an incredible hostess. When she tells the tales of her childhood, she recalls going to dances, having friends in for dancing to their tiny house. She was always a social being. I remember so many parties when I was a kid--the decorating, the food just right, the rugs rolled back for dancing, everyone having a wonderful time and my mother center stage smiling and enjoying herself.

She’s now 81 (though looks about 65) and every time I call her she’s on her way to a fashion show or a luncheon or a dinner party, especially at this time of year. She’s fixing parties for her late husband’s family, she’s having her mah jong group over for a party, she’s hosting a party for the volunteer group she works with. She attends more parties in a month than I do in a year. I admire her, but it’s my idea of dying and going to hell.

I’ve always been uncomfortable at parties. I remember going to birthday parties when I was a kid. Two children’s parties in particular. One girl was the daughter of a woman my father used to date. She and her husband and my parents had remained friends and their daughter and I were the same age. But we only saw each other once a year (that I remember--it may have been more often than that). That was on the occasion of the daughter’s birthday party. I’m sure that the years have warped my perception but as I look back on it, I remember all the mothers gathering together to socialize and all the kids (lots and lots of them) supposed to be playing together. The problem was that I didn’t know a single soul there, except the guest of honor (whom I knew very, very slightly) and I just never knew how to mix in. I would wander off to be by myself, or to be with my mother and be gently told to “go play with the other kids.”

God, I hated those parties.

The other girl lived near us and had a big party each year. I don’t know if we were in the same school or not, but obviously we knew each other better than I knew the daughter of my parents’ friends. I never, ever felt a part of the group and was usually teased about my weight. I can still picture the time when all the kids were playing a circle game and I was in the hall crying because people had made me feel so bad. But the birthday girl’s mother expected me to go back and play with the kids because it was a party and obviously kids love parties and by God, I was going to have fun!.

As I got older, I found ways of coping with the parties that kids are supposed to love to attend. I got my first camera when I was 10 years old and after that I became the photographer for all the parties. A camera is a wonderful tool to hide behind. You can be at a party, but not really part of the party because you’re the one recording everything. It’s become a joke, that Bev is the one who will take the pictures. But it’s what’s gotten me through parties for more than 40 years.

It works great for birthday parties, wedding showers, baby showers, but unfortunately not so well for home sale parties. I detested Tupperware parties and the stupid party games we were supposed to play I still do, though I haven’t attended on in years. I recently went to a home party at the home of a neighbor who was trying to sell candles. Nothing had changed in my attitude about parties. I chose a chair farthest away from everyone and didn’t speak to anybody (I didn’t know anyone there and only very slightly knew the hostess--I had gone as a white flag, since she and I have not gotten along for many years). And at the very first opportunity, I escaped to come home.

Another ploy I used to get through parties was to “find a job to do.” If I can be on a committee to plan a big event, then when the event arrives, I have a purpose, a job, I’m in the background making sure that it all runs smoothly, doing crisis management. People remember me being there, but don’t realize that I wasn’t really a participant in the social end of it.

I remember when my then-friends Woody and Phil were having a big party. It was going to be a big social event and they wanted me to be there. I wanted to be at the party, but terrified of having to be part of the party, so I asked them to give me a job. Woody decided I would be the “greeter,” and show people where to put coats. It got me past the awkwardness and by the time people were all in, I was feeling a little more comfortable.

I can throw a good party, because I’m in control. The best party I ever threw was Walt’s 50th birthday party. Me? Throwing a party for 125 people. But it was great. The day of the party itself, the kids did all the work and were the hosts, I was the photographer and got to stand in the background and watch it happen, but didn’t have to be part of it.

Now this isn’t to say that I hate all parties. Our friends from college get together on an intermittent basis and that’s always fun. And we have a small group here in Davis which gets together every month or so in a kind of moveable feast. Those gatherings are always fun. And I occasionally actually give small dinner parties (how many disasters can you find?).

But my problem is with the bigger parties, with lots of strangers, or people I don’t have anything in common with. There’s nothing guaranteed to tie my tongue more than walking into a room of cheerful people and being expected to “have fun.”

But all that having been said, tonight we attended the most fun party I've been to in years. It was an open house hosted by the entertainment editor of the local newspaper, who used to run a game store (you know--checkers? chess? Monopoly?). It's the kind of party which, based on all I've written above, you'd think I would hate--full of people I don't know at all. But it turned out to be just great. First of all, he has the most decorated house on the block. One of those Christmas Vacation type houses, with lights everywhere and cartoons characters, both plush and wooden cut-outs, everywhere. Upstairs in the window is an electronic Santa and a neon message sign, with a changing message every few minutes. Christmas music accompanied us up the walk and into the house. There is a Christmas tree right inside the front door and it is decorated entirely with Peanuts ornaments. You realize very quickly that this is the home of a Peanuts collector! The built-in book shelves are lined with Peanuts figures (and tribbles). A huge Snoopy sits on the couch and other plush Snoopies are all over the house. The decorative lights which hang from the doorways are Peanuts characters. As you walk upstairs, the walls are lined with Peanuts character ornaments. Upstairs there must be several hundred Snoopy figurines and plush figures, posters, statues, and other memorabilia. There is even one of those 3-D photos that were so popular a few years ago, where you fuzz your vision so you can see the photo pop out of the picture. What you are actually looking at in this poster is hundreds of tiny Snoopys. In the bathroom, the bathmat and toilet seat cover are Peanuts characters and a huge Peanuts Christmas shower curtain hangs over the bathtub. The pot holders in the kitchen are Peanuts characters, the bulletin board has Peanuts cartoons and the refrigerator holds Peanuts magnets. On top of that, the host was wearing a Snoopy sweatshirt.

Not knowing anyone was no hinderance here. Derrick had designed four different games for us to play. These were no "embarrass everyone by making you look like a fool" games. These were quizzes and you could do them or not, at your own leisure. If you wanted to visit with someone, fine. But if you were kind of on your own, as I was, they gave you "something to do." Two were general knowledge tests (Christmas facts, and matching characters from well-known Christmas movies with the movies themselves--Derrick writes these kinds of trivia quizzes for the paper each week). The last two quizzes were designed to take you exploring all over the house trying to find hidden clues. It was a marvelous ice breaker, and a lot of fun--and gave you permission to go poking around in the Peanuts collection anyway. When we left I regretted two things--(1) that I had not brought the camera with me (I would LOVE to have a few photos for this entry), and (2) that I was sorry Paul is no longer with us. He was a great Peanuts, especially Snoopy, fan and he would have loved this house!

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