Monday, June 30, 2008

Come along and be my party gal

Image from wallyspam

Since my husband is an academic, I don't go to fancy representational functions very much these days. And I can't say that I miss them. But as a child of the diplomatic corps, representation was one of the few constants in our nomadic life. Before I went out - whether it was for a simple walk or out to an embassy party - my parents often told me, "You are a representative of the United States of America. Everything you do reflects on our country." And the thing is, I took it very seriously and, till my teens, moved through these places with decorous care, like a girl practicing posture by walking with books on her head.

Well, last night, I went with my husband to a swank museum-show opening. His department had loaned a painting to the exhibit which was why we, the poor country mice, were invited to this open-bar, sit-down-dinner, very monied extravaganza. And, before I go on, let me just say that it is a sin and a shame that people who have hideous taste in clothes should be allowed to have buckets of money. There was a man there, a very wide man, in a bright coral-pink jacket and blue-and-white striped seersucker pants, and no he was not gay or being purposely arch and loud. The rich have no excuse for being tacky. Sorry, had to vent.

In any case, it was very odd, because, as we drove up to the party I was still just me - the silly, loud, mother of four, with a (pretty) second-hand-store shirt. But the moment the valet parker opened my car door and said, "Good evening ma'am," I became Representational Lady. I smiled enchantingly, introduced myself to numerous strangers, casually mentioned my husband's job title, pushed him forward to chat once introductions were complete, and just generally worked the crowd very vigorously. And it was as natural to me as breathing. At the end of the party, as I was making sure to say a warm goodbye to every single person I had spoken to that evening ("SO nice to meet you, Martha. Yes we MUST get together for lunch soon. We'd so love to see your husband's collection."), one of the men I'd spoken to leaned over to me and said, "You are dynamite, just dynamite!" Yes, it was kind of creepy, but it was also funny and enlightening. Because, until that moment, I hadn't realized I was being that old "dynamite" uber-representational me.

As we drove home in our rented Korean pumpkin (the insurance company has still not processed our claim), and I slipped back into my tatty everyday skin, I realized that I could easily, and fairly happily, have led a very different life. Normally I'm a say-it-as-I-see-it kind of gal, and killer-charm diplomacy is not what you you think of when you think of me. So it's strange to discover this talent I'd forgotten that I had and that I don't have any use for. Strange, but also fun to discover that, unlike most of my old clothes, the silly pretty gown and the ridiculous glass slippers still fit, and I can still do the dance, though I choose not to.


sageweb said...

Oh you are sooo sweet. I have always wanted to go to parties like that and tell everyone how I fel about them...and their noses so high.

Korean Pumpkin cracks me up.

jason said...

Your class is inherent it seems....and all the money in the world without it can only bring, well, coral pink jackets. :)

yellowdog granny said...

well, i'm just plum pleased as punch to know how refined you can be..I on the other hand would have walked up to the guy in the weird suit and said "judas priest, what the fuck were you thinking?"...

Anonymous said...

Yea! Ya still got it. I think it is somewhere inside of me as I discover on occasion. Vent away we enjoy it....H & B

Elizabeth said...

Sage, If you'd come with me, we could have gossiped and laughed at them behind their backs. Which is more fun than saying it to their faces because, really, who wants to be mean (out loud, that is). I was constantly whispering things to my husband ("Ugly dress at 2:00!") while I smiled.

Jason - Thanks dear. Back atcha.

Granny - And when you did I would have laughed so hard that I would have wet my stylish black pants! And it would have been totally worth it.

H & B - Sometimes my mother looks at me in action and mutters, "Mimi lives...." which chaps my ass no end, because I didn't get along with Mimi all that well. But I really felt the old girl rising up in me at that party. (Did you know that K. has the same birthday as our grandfather? Is that Twilight Zone music I hear?)

a thousand shades of twilight said...

Eliz, I really enjoyed reading that - I could just picture you! I didn't realise that anyone still used the word 'dynamite' like that without irony but I love it! Mind you, I think it would be most intoxicating to be told I was 'dynamite' and would have readily believed it of myself if I were you.
Sometimes at functions like that,I draw back and draw back (like an internal tracking shot)and hear my voice and see my lips moving but wonder just who it is that I'm looking at..I hear myself making plans to 'catch up' that I know and they know I'll never keep, or saying 'so good to see you' to someone I've avoided for years. Or complimenting someone on a hairstyle just because it was too alarming to go unremarked upon..
There's a part of me that still believes in (and relishes) being representational when a situation requires it, and clings to manners and form. That said, there's also usually a small voice in me which croaks "I am just a shabby blob and if people really knew what I thought about stuff they couldn't even look at me.."

JB said...

Oh what fun! I love the opportunity to be outside yourself for an evening.

Claire M. Johnson said...

It's those southern charm genes coming to the fore, honey. I've seen you work a crowd. You ARE a natural. But it's also just you. You're always friendly and sweet and love to talk, but in this instance, you were you with a purpose.

Elizabeth said...

1000 Shades - I didn't know anyone used "dynamite" seriously anymore either. It goes with words like "dame" and "snappy" and it made me feel like Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday."

Now brace yourself, dear. It must be said. You are dynamite! You radiate wit, charm, intelligence, and kindness. I've seen you work a (cyber) room, and you handle even the most idiotic comments with good manners and inclusiveness, even when you probably want to roll your eyes and make gagging sounds. This isn't falseness, it's kindness, and it's the grease on the wheels of human life. I think the only way I can tolerate events like that party is because I know that almost everyone there feels exactly as you and I do - insecure and uncertain. They've all wept, curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, when a lover left them. They have alcoholics in their families, and dreams that have eluded them. Everyone I know is compensating as hard as they can for something or other. (Me, I've only recently learned to stop fighting my flake/artsy black sheep of the family label. It's great because everyone tells me about their own mess ups, knowing I've probably been there, done that, and won't judge.) We all need gentleness for our failings, even those of us who are wide and wearing coral jackets, and especially those of us with alarming hair! And the fact that you are unfailingly gentle with even very silly people makes me like you more.

Come to think of it, I think that's one reason I have always found my way to gay men - you know what it is to be judged and excluded and, mostly, try not to inflict that pain on anyone else (to their face, that is).

So you'll just have to bow gracefully and accept the "dynamite" crown (?), and make it snappy toots! This dame ain't got all day!

Elizabeth said...

jb - It was fun! Peculiar but still fun.

Claire - Aww shucks. And thanks, that's nice to hear.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

Ah, dear Eliz - thanks so much for your lovely, typically eloquent comments. I hope you know by now that I think you're the dynamightiest dame I've never met (in person!). Reaching that point where you can sense your common humanity with everyone in the room is a great and sometimes hard-won place to be. And your attitude is such an antidote to the kind of paranoia and defensiveness which can cause no end of bother in life...(as is your ability to see the funny side of most things!. I really love that passage about curling up, love-lorn weeping, alcoholics, elusive dreams. It's so true. I can really relate to, I can imagine, everyone reading your comments could!
:) :) :)
PS I love it when you talk like a wise-crackin' dame..

Willym said...

To the manor born darling, to the manor born! Did you say Mimi??? Could there have been a reason you didn't get along all that well??? Two peas... only asking?

As you know I've been attending these sort of functions off and on for the past 30 years - don't enjoy them and frankly not very good at them. And I watch people, like you, playing the room and I envy them that social grace. Its an art to be gracious without being phoney and to be outgoing without being obnoxious. And we've both seen our share of people that are both.

I've got a feeling that more of that 'old "dynamite" uber-representational me' shows up on a daily basis than you realize.

And we want pictures of Cinderella and her Prince!

more cowbell said...

A coral suit? No accounting for taste, I guess.

Your comment about being an ambassador to your country every time you walk out the door ... goodlord if my kids didn't hear that for 12 years. (we took it seriously too, though ... someone has to compensate for the tacky tourists who believe that if they just gesticulate more wildly and shout louder in English, they'll be understood.)

Elizabeth said...

1000 Shades - "dynamightiest"!!! My new favorite word! ("Manilesque" will be quite annoyed to be bumped down from its former top spot.) and thanks.

Willym - Yes, I am probably more like my grandmother, Mimi, than I care to admit. Though, happily, I have not taken to drinking sherry in tea cups in the morning because it looked like tea.... YET!

Re the parties, oh honey, I feel your pain! When we were little, we used to have to dress up and greet our parents' party guests prettily. Some nights, when our parents called us to come down, we all hid under the bed and wouldn't come out. Too bad grown ups can't do that! But I finally figured out that most people at these functions are as miserable as me (or more) and will usually be delighted if I walk up to them and say, "So, how do you know [the host]?' or "What do you do?"

cowbell - It's a good thing, overall, I think. I always felt very proud about it, as if I'd been invested with a great responsibility. It's funny that your oldest is such a radical now, but in a way it makes sense. She started with high ideals about the US, which it failed, spectacularly, to live up to.

more cowbell said...

The eldest is a radical because of her experiences in other countries. (What do mean everyone isn't entitled to health care and education?!?) Also, our years in Hungary taught her to appreciate having a voice in one's government -- she can't believe the apathy in the US, after seeing the Hungarians, not long out of communism, pouring into the capital to protest decisions their elected officials were making. She's appalled at the short term, quick profit mindset we take here. She feels we're squandering our resources, and not investing in our real treasure, which is our people.

So yeah ... those years taught her a lot more than what she learned in the schools, didn't they? CAn't buy that.

Elizabeth said...

What an education for her to be there and see all that. Since, by the time I had any awareness of politics, i lived in Taiwan which was under the rule of an absolute dictator (Chiang Kai Shek) who was letting the US use it, and its people, especially its women, in any way they wanted to, I learned some darker and more cynical lessons about government.....

But I do know we need people like her to keep goading us forward.