As I child, I thought the pinnacle of adulthood was hosting a dinner party. Blame it on commercials and scenes from films, where modelesque men and women sipped their wine, talked politics and where hostesses passed from the kitchens to the tables and where the seated guests greeted them and complimented them on their meals. I’m sure, somewhere, they had jazz playing.
I’ve lived in four New York apartments, and the first three were sans dining room tables. My first apartment had an eat-in kitchen, but the barstools never gave the effect I wanted. The two middle apartments were too oddly shaped and decorated, which brings us to my current apartment uptown. The space was perfect, and after a table was ordered with a set of cheap stools, I called two family guests and invited them over June 7 for a proper, adult dinner party.
I’ve always romanticized “adulthood”. At five I pouted when a woman at a makeup counter asked if she could put blush on my cheeks only to find that she was joking. At eight I begged my parents to let me wear a bra. “My daughter wants to wear a bra!” my father said dramatically at an extended-family Thanksgiving dinner. As a pre-teen, I used to marvel at the business men and women I saw passing through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.
“It’s so cool,” I used to remark to my mother. “I can’t wait to be an adult and walk around in a suit.” They all had black rolling luggage, sharp suits (sometimes the women in jeans with blazers slung over their arms), they were on cell phones, juggling a Starbucks coffee in their other hand (I hadn’t yet graduated from Frappuchino’s and still thought drip coffee was whimsical). They were always oblivious to their privilege. They were being flung about the world, and I had only then seen a few cities.
“Just because they are in suits doesn’t mean they’re employed,” my mother used to note. Good point. But I used to envy them. I was always a girl who never felt her age, a late bloomer to the extreme. In a way, being an adult feels like getting on the wrong train, arriving at a foreign station, trying to pretend you’ve really arrived at the right one for fear of embarrassment. So on June 7, I just pretended I knew what I was doing.
The earlier parts of the day were rushed and haphazard. I woke up midday and spent the entire afternoon cleaning. I went to the market and loaded my basket with Thyme, raw chicken, pate, baguette and peonies. I stood in the kitchen (tennis shoes on, like a chef), separating pale bodies of leeks, fighting wars with stubborn carrots. I peered into the cavity of a chicken then stuffed it with lemon, garlic and a bushel of thyme. Stuffing it with thyme was my favorite part of roasting chicken.
The bird had been timed down to the second the guests would arrive, threw on some jazz and spent so much time preparing I hadn’t a chance to throw off my polo and tennis shoes and into my white dress.
At 7:30 I lit the candles at the table and took a step back and folded my hands to admire the display. White plates of two sizes, square with dense ripples on the surface, empty wine glasses (in various sizes for red and white, though one would likely sub as a water goblet), a wide rimmed cylindrical glass vase filled with peonies, two tea candles in lead-crystal holders. The chicken had now begun to waft through the kitchen, round the corner and into the living area. Garlic, butter, onions. For someone who nearly vomits every time she hears the phrase “American Dream” and “white picket fence” within the same conversation, I was having fun playing house-maker without a husband.
The guests were an hour late and dove into the first course. I sat among them, giggling and sipping their Oregon-grown wine. As it went in my adult-fantasy, I’d hoped to make a snide political joke but instead we started talking about the subway.
“I hate it when men spread their legs wide on the train,” my guest said. (For the non-New Yorkers, it’s a growing issue for women on the train to have to squeeze in seats next to men who are taking up two seats by sitting with their legs wide instead of closed.)
“I think,” I said, striking a finger in the air, a glass of wine held high in the other, “that it has something to do with their junk.” The guests erupted into laughter. One of them tumbled over to the side, barely able to chew her chicken.
OK, so I wasn’t a well-thought Stephen Pinker reference, but it was funny.