Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"How To Be a Party Girl" (Pat Montandon, 1968)

Good afternoon!

I am up against the wire, AGAIN, with an Interlibrary Loan book...How to Be a Party Girl, by Pat Montandon, was supposed to go back to The University of  Georgia last week, but I am only three quarters of the way through the book! It's too good to send back unread, so I've been speed reading most of yesterday and today through San Francisco's #1 Party Girl's instructional on how to be the hostess with the mostess you always dreamed of being. That is, if you're like me and secretly cling to an ambition to become a maven of social event planning. Pat Montandon appears in the first chapter of her cocktail hour self-help book in a pink bra, half slip, and "mink colored eyelashes" making herself ready for "a...party, La Bohème, and Trader Vic's"...um, SIGN ME UP?

Though the book is bursting with chapters that make me sigh an envious sigh (while I'm also taking notes...who wants to come to my rainy day picnic luncheon or Spanish brunch? IT IS HAPPENING), I was most intrigued by a chapter 3, entitled "Baker's Dozen: Dos and Don'ts for Hostess and Guest". Say it with me, class: indispensable. Want to look through some of PM's helpful hints towards making your next soireé a night to remember? Let's talk brass tacks and look at some of her suggestions, along with my mile-long commentary on how I see her opinions on the subject (along with my own):

LISTS. ARE. KEY. I keep a little notebook in my purse to write down directions-to-places, Matthew's work schedule that week, books I'd like to look up when I get a chance, a funny thing Frances Marion said in her autobiography, where I left off in Better Homes and Gardens' 1946 bound periodicals, the name of that album I need to check out,  etc. It's a far cry from actual organization (live in hope, right?), but it helps me keep on top of things in an otherwise near constant state of disarray, and looks much classier (and less se7en-like) than the Rolodex like collection of back-of-Panera-receipts notations in the zippered portion of my pocketbook. I think in terms of parties, lists are especially helpful-- what we're cooking and what we consequently need to grab from the grocery store, who all is coming, what's done and what needs doing. One thing I've always wanted to do was keep a "log book" of dinners and parties, kind of a diary of what worked and what didn't at specific shindigs at the homestead. 

One thing I make ABSOLUTELY SURE OF is to schedule enough time, built into the event prep, to make up my face and change into a party dress out of my schlepping around the house mopping the kitchen floor or throwing a casserole in the oven clothes. One, it puts you in the party spirit to have some seventies' sheath dress with angel-wing sleeves and your eyes cats-eyelinered out to your ears, lipstick just so; two, the magician's changing act of throwing on clothes and maquillage as the first arrivals trickle in puts you and your invited guests off on the wrong foot. How am I going to greet someone with my best hostess smile after I literally just spent the last five minutes in a dervish of activity...slip over head, tights shimmied into, boots zipped up, eye-hooks at the nape of my neck always just a fraction of a centimeter out of reach...I'm frazzled beyond being frazzled before I've even opened my mouth! And heaven help me if I answered the door like Pat's friend, I would have just actually just died of embarrassment, right there on the spot. Let the ground open up and swallow me rather than you see my poor bare derrière when I spent thirty minutes trying to decide between the lamé dress and the taffeta and somehow missed the crucial last step of not having my skirt tucked into its waistband. 

How many times have you walked into a party and realized there are literally not enough places to sit down? Or your host/hostess has kind of just thought "Well, I'll put out the chips, and people will just find their way!" as you stand awkwardly in your winter coat and people you don't know fish-eye you from the limited seating I think a lot of folks in my generation really think all the "planning" aspect of party-giving is too fussy and overwrought to undertake but "winging it" only truly works for like 2% of the population. It doesn't have to be Ringling Brothers three tent circus, but SOMEONE needs to think about the guests having the basic essentials-- somewhere to sit, something to eat, and somebody to talk to. I like to have some nine hour playlist of a basic "theme" (all girl group Motown, all sixties' French pop, all Brazilian bossa nova, all thirties' dixieland bands, whatever) playing in the background to set a mood, and now that the Lord has seen fit to bestow the human race with such technology as iPods, iPads, the Spotify app, etc, there is no reason to have dull, dead silence in the background. I often forget ice at the last minute but in recent times have bought like half a freezer full of five pound bags, and then just chipped away what we needed come party time. NEVER. ENOUGH. ICE. Plus, how fancy does it look to have chipped ice sitting in a little signs-of-the-zodiac ice bucket (I think very fancy, but I am biased).

Tiny print, sorry-- right click and open in a new tab to supersize!

I have been to about two too many parties where I showed up, walked in with my best "all right, let's give this the best we can" in spite of a socially anxious little heart thumping in my chest, tacked on a brilliant smile, and been greeted by a host who threw a quick "Hey!" over their shoulder before they went back to whatever was literally on fire in the kitchen. My patented defense to this was to try and wade into conversation with a  "Oh, really, I live over in Inglewood" butted in here, or a completely non-partisan "You know, that's the same thing they said about so-and-so!" there, and been met with a sideways glance, the stony silence of the grave, and return to topic, as if I'd never spoken. Ugh! Post college keggers, I think it's just this side of the height of rudeness not to engage your guests as they show up or at least buddy them up to somebody so they don't end up checking their phone in a corner like a forgotten piece of furniture. I'm probably too "Oh, hello! Oh, Frank, have you met Jill? Jill's a real estate agent, and Frank just bought a house in Bellevue" in that June Cleaver way for people's tastes, but I still think it's better than making the conversational pit of your party a free for all á la Beyond Thunderdome. This also puts you in danger of re-introducing people...I've actually introduced a person to the person who introduced them to me in the first place (if that makes sense), but better safe than sorry! This guest of honor business is intriguing to me, too; I might have to try crowning someone king or queen for a day just so I can buy a gold tablecloth and partyware for the occasion!

I cut out the part of this that I liked best...or maybe it was in the "don't's" section... part of that taking care of the guests includes improvising if you don't have something, or not apologizing when things don't go exactly according to Queensbury rules. "A smooth performance is essential" doesn't mean that you have to be  the world's most perfect hostess-- you just have to keep up the illusion of being an effortless, Donna Reed like creature from birth, possibly before. I come from a long, long line of explainers (can you tell?), and while we're good for giving directions or telling you how to make a cake from scratch, step by step--one of our worst traits is the peremptory apology. "I'm sorry I'm just dressed in these work clothes, but I came straight over from work, and I knew you guys were coming at eight, and you all are all so done up, I hate to be the one who looks like something the cat dragged in... We would have been able to stop and pick up the wine if it wasn't for the traffic on the interstate, which was backed up to Charlotte, we just..." STOP. RIGHT. THERE. By "explaining" why the queso's burnt, or the curtains are hung crooked, or there isn't any more tonic water, you're implicitly forcing your guests to assure you that item x, y, and z are ok...reassuring the host of their adequacy is one of the least attractive things a guest can be asked to do in someone else's home. Matthew's Memaw, a seasoned hostess, said it most beautifully in an anecdote Deb shared with me once. As my future mother-in-law was fretting over this, that, and the other to serve during a beautiful dinner she was throwing for some important guests back-in-the-day (note: Deb is an excellent dinner party thrower now, so it's hard for me to think of her in this state of panic, but she assures me it happened), her mother-in-law-at-the-time offered, "Just serve what you have, and lots of it-- and if you run out, order some pizzas." Huh! Because IT'S NOT THAT CRUCIAL. Out of all the things you should take seriously at a party, the guests having a good time should be #1, and your crazy-making mood effects how crazy-making the mood of the party is. So there.

I haven't quite figured out the balance of seeing to the guests in the party and not hovering too long with one group, but I sure have been trying in recent times to "play like Pat" and make sure everyone feels welcome and included. NOTHING WORSE ON THIS EARTH than people clicking up at a party and you're the last gal left standing. Is there anything that puts you closer to your fourth grade self on the playground, trying to interest someone in a game of four square, the failure of which is somehow inextricably linked with your wrong-kind-of-sneakers? Second to that, how about when you mention the president was in town the week before as small talk and someone flays the very skin from your bones over what an incompetent so and so such and such is and this country wouldn't be in such a mess if blah de blah-- yeeks! I go from "nice party!" to "how much longer do I have to stay so it doesn't look weird when I leave?" in about point five seconds. "Which way to the bar?" Preach, sister Pat, for telling us about not leaving people a) fighting each other or b) all on their lonesome! It's the party girl's prerogative to have everyone comfortable and having a good time, and isn't this a good way to ensure it!

From last year's post on Pepsi's Sociables campaign-- also, what I want my life to look like.
Well, I've jawed on for way too long today-- can you tell I have some opinions on party giving? As important as the theme and the guest list and the food are these philosophical underpinnings to making a party "go" and guests feel welcome and at ease! And aren't I glad Pat Montandon put them down so beautifully so I could have something to reference in my head when I wonder where my place is as the lady of the house.

What do you think? What are your hard and fast party rules, if you have any? What's the last successful cocktail party you threw? What are some of the things that make you hesitant to throw a party or make you social event calendaress of the year? Let's talk!

I have to go finish this goldurn book (there's more magic where that came from!), but you guys have a great Tuesday, and I'll see you tomorrow. Til then! :D


  1. could´t agree more!
    we both should throw parties together. i hate this "nonchalance" which is only laziness and ignorance. and when i trow a party myself then i´m exhausting me with the preparations. and forget to pimp my appearance. until my last b-day. i employed my hubby for preparing the buffet, it worked! (with a little controlling)
    thanks for sharing the book!

  2. Haha, I am glad you are on my side!!! :D And you sound like you would be a great co-host!! I have answered the door about four too many times still in my glasses and with my dirty apron on, so I ALWAYS try and leave some room to primp now, it's the only way I've learned!



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