Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gifts for the Host

In all probability, you can attribute yet another positive trait of yours to its origins in your parents, each of whom was a gregarious host.  In combination, their chemistry was even more remarkable.  When you think of the combined effect, your best guess now is that while they were magnets among their circle of friends, their guests may well have needed an extra day or two to realize how much they enjoyed themselves chez Annie and Jake.

You do not intend to portray them as salon-type hosts.  Their were no episodes in your memory of such things as charades, word games, board games, string quartets, or dance recitals.  Such conversations related to politics, travel, motion pictures, reading, and drama had as an assured counterpoint such comments as "Shut up and deal," "Who's shy an ante?" or "Are we playing cards or what?"

Their typical venue was an elongated rectangle, which began the evening as a buffet, complete with hot and cold dishes, enormous piles of fruit, copious cheese platters, at least one salad, chafing dishes, salvers of belly lox arranged about thin-sliced onion discs, two or three deserts, and a variety of thin-sliced bread ranging from the egg bread challa to pumpernickel, rye, and sour dough.

Such delicacies often brought forth questions about component parts, thus discussions of recipes, cooking temperatures, salt butter versus sweet butter, how could a serious cook manage without a slotted spoon? and which stock, a beef or a poultry-based, had the best shelf life?

The moment the clatter of cutlery on china began to ebb, another wave of enthusiasm hovered over the table, as it was cleared and a second serving of coffee was presented on a sideboard.

The assembled guests were there for a meal, but they were also alert, alive and crackling with anticipation for the main event, which meant poker, with occasional lapses into a rummy-type game, panguingue, or the more straightforward pan.

This form of card playing required several decks of cards, which had to be shuffled in segments before being placed on a large enough tray to allow the cards to stand on their long side.

From this preoccupation of your parents with the entertainment of feeding friends and then engaging with them in contests of skill came your tendency even now to over shop, over prepare, and present meals, snacks as occasions.  When, replacing washed dishes and utensils, you become aware of tools that have likely migrated through your bachelorhood, your marriage, and your current status, which you are trying to pin down with some satisfactory definition.

There are times when preparing sandwiches or sandwich-like creations, you reckon you'd do better to eat the result over the sink that invite the dangerous potentials of sitting at the dining table, attempting to read and eat at the same time.  Such moments cause you to think of your mother, asking in her gentle way if your creation does not deserve better than a sink-top fate.

There are times as well when, on your way to accept an invitation from a friend or colleague, you find yourself turning back in order to pluck a bottle of wine or two from your side counter, then make your way again.  At such times, you hear your father reminding you that a guest brings substance and presence to hosts.  "Get it, kid?  Conversation.  Invention.  Enthusiasm.  And a gift.  Something.  A salami.  A bottle or two of wine.  Perhaps an aperitif.  Flowers.  A book.  Something to let the host know you thought of them."

Thanks to this potential origin of behavior, you have come to see yourself as a guest to every composition you undertake.  There was one memorable time turning your university days when you experienced the awareness of drifting off to a level close enough to sleep that it caused you to lurch upward, then stand, looking for the closest source of caffeine you could find.  This convinced you you were not your parents' son when it came to playing cards.  Even a brief preoccupation with a bridge-like game called hearts failed to keep your attention for long.

Your preoccupation was story.  In the same way your parents were able to keep track of which cards had been played and thus which might come, you frequently amused yourself even in bad movies by guessing the turns, dips, and twists of plot.

Because of its incredible ensemble cast, you wished to see the film August: Osage County.  The fact of it having been a play, then adapted for film by its playwright author made you wish to see it even more.

The film did not draw you into its labyrinth of family dynamics as you'd hoped, but you were a good guest.  You brought an alert, excited you, who was able to focus on the thing that interested you most, the beats--the separate, individual things each actor did in portraying a character.  You looked for and found eye responses, hand gestures, body language, timing, and that splendid instrument, the human voice, played over a range of emotions, causing an intense chemistry.

Proof of what a good guest you were is the host gift you brought to the film.  You suspect you will have to watch the film at least once more time, this time asking yourself why you'd failed to connect, what steps you found lacking, and which movements you found memorable.

Disclosure:  You went to this film today because you were having trouble being a proper guest to a short story you are called upon to revise for the forthcoming publication of twelve of your stories.

Thus in one day, you experienced difficulty getting inside a story of your own and a story of another writer.

Perhaps because you had not brought enough of a token, were not the guest you wished to be.

There are still some working hours in the day.  You are wondering what you can bring to offer your story.


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