I don’t have nearly as many dinner parties as I used to. This lull in culinary crowd-pleasing is an artifact of (1) having moved around the world six times in seven years and (2) gotten the writing bug.
When I do find myself in the head-of-the-table hostess seat, I skip the political chatter and gossip, and instead ask my guests questions that really matter. One of my favourites (particularly with Coast Guard / Navy types) is this gem:
It’s New Year’s Eve. The Poseidon has just capsized. Which one of you should I follow, and why?
I bloody guarantee you at least forty-five minutes of heated debate. (And you’ll learn something new about ships.)
But the all-time rock star on my list of conversational stimulants is:
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six dead people. Who are they?
The answers inevitably vary. I’ve heard everything from Vince Lombardi to Winston Churchill. Since I don’t do sports or politics, neither of these guests appeals to me — I simply don’t know what we’d talk about (unless it’s Churchill’s famous parrot). So who would make the cut for my Dead Person’s Dinner Party? Here’s the short list:
Roald Dahl, because he’d tell me a story
Alfred Hitchcock, because he’s the person most likely to bring me a prezzie of a tiny coffin with a Tippi Hedren doll inside it
Ayn Rand, because I want to argue the innateness of language theory with her
Carl Sagan, because he never stopped being full of wonder
Billy Wilder, because his movies and his smile are the best ever
Peter O’Toole, because if it’s a dead-person’s dinner party, my husband won’t be there and I want eye candy
Shirley Jackson, because I don’t need to stop at six and I love her
If I had two extra seats at the table, I’d add Nathaniel Branden (because I’d love to hear what he and his former lover Ayn have to say to one another and because I actually had dinner with Nathaniel when he was still walking among the living). I’d also invite Adolf Hitler — it would be fun to watch the other guests kick the living shit out of him. Since that would happen in relatively short order, there’s the added benefit of having a spare place for any late-comers who happened to drop
dead in at the eleventh hour. I do hope one of them will be Shirley Jackson (if you don’t know who she is, I’m sad for you, but also happy because you’ll get to read “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” for the first time). Now that I think of it, Ms. Jackson really is worthy of her very own engraved invitation. See above.
So there you have it: the big guest list. I’d learn a good deal at that table. And in the meantime, you’ve learned a bit more about me.