Invitations have gone out, weeks ago. Ads enticing ticket buyers to attend the Annual Event are appearing on radio and in the newspaper. Posters are pinned up all over town. Everyone has an opinion about the details and execution of such an important party. Some jump in to help, others to point out how they could do things better.
The menu and the schedule of the evening’s planned activities have been reviewed and confirmed with the major benefactor, The Resort.
The entertainer has been reminded to tone down the language this year, but lingering fears continue to surface at planning meetings: What if he decides to do the opposite and amp it up? Who is going to control him? References to illicit hot tub diving at Peak 8, which may alarm or annoy The Resort, must also be avoided. It’s impossible to completely anticipate the impulses of a comedian – particularly one from Alaska.
Not the least of worries, with over 500 guests there are over 500 possible mis-spellings of names on nametags. A slight that will not be forgotten. Ever. Beleaguered staff and volunteers at the reception table – the front line where the peel-off badges are distributed – will be counting on the reward of free drink tickets.
And then there is the question of seating. Where to place the most important donors? Who will sit next to the strident Republican? Can guests from Breckenridge and Dillon really be seated at the same table? And what if the Sherriff turns up?
How to manage the multiple groups who, knowing full well from past events that each table seats ten, insist that accommodations must be made for their particular party which includes eleven?
Everyone wants and expects to sit up front. The multiple competing medical groups are only slightly more insistent on this point than the jostling assemblage of real estate agents. How to solve the Rubik’s cube-like conundrum when all expect to sit at the first row of tables, yet none can be seated next to their rivals for fear that the evening will devolve into acrimony and chaos? The solution to this squabble, in the past and likely in the future, is the shared recognition that there is really only one guest who can preside over the choice seating up front, and that is The Resort.
In the harried, hyperventilating moments leading up to “doors opening,” I wonder: how in the world did I ever think that throwing a big party would be a glamorous and exciting thing to do?
My mother and father were both the children of party-loving parents. When I was a child, parties thrown or attended by my grandparent had taken on mythic status by the time their recounting reached my ears.
Growing up, I pored over black-and-white photos of my father’s parents and their friends in seductive, legendary New York haunts – lounging at the Stork Club, dancing at the Rainbow Room – or posed on the decks of sailing yachts with names like Nefertiti or Lord Jim. The women were girlish and slender with short tousled hairdos, the men so young and handsome. Just like in a party thrown by Jay Gatsby, everyone always seemed to have a cocktail in hand.
My mother’s parents came from Europe and during the summers would decamp to their summer home in New Hampshire; here there existed a small enclave of European expats. In their passage across the Atlantic most had brought with them their old-world snobbism, a love of caviar and at least one pair of wolfhounds. Several had acquired titles, becoming self-styled royalty: a Baron or Princess (who, after all, in rural New Hampshire was going to challenge them?). My mother as a child would hide under a table, spying on the cocktail party chess match between beautiful exotic women as alluring as Anna Karenina and men as sleek and arrogant as Count Vronsky.
And so it seemed to me, when I’d graduated from college and found my first tiny apartment in New York, that possibly the most glamorous undertaking in the world would be to organize and host dinner or cocktail parties. In my own imaginary version of this, there would be artists and writers, and everyone would be smoking and speaking French.
When at last the Annual Event winds down, the 500 guests depart, and then the party is over. And now there is cleaning up, an activity which didn’t exist in the fantasies conjured by those old photos of my grandparents. I think about Bilbo Baggins, a more humble literary figure who still knew how to throw a great party; he concluded his last big shindig by disappearing into thin air. Which seems like not a bad idea, at this moment when the group of us is faced with 54 tables to clear of programs and decorations in the cavernous ballroom.
Hesitating before the enormous task, we consider cracking open one of the remaining bottles of wine. But it’s late, and this will only delay the inevitable. Instead, joined by an efficient squad from The Resort – who, at the end of the day, knows how to get the job done – we swap out our painful high heels for comfortable flats, and get to work.
Illustration: Cover art for the New Yorker Jan. 7, 1939 by Constantin Alajalov.
This piece appeared in the Summit Daily News, Sunday April 6, 2019