Friday, January 30, 2009


When to Arrive
by Tom Trowbridge
Illustration by Bob Schulenberg

The invitation is for 7:00 P.M. Some thoughtful hosts are more specific, and their invitations might say: Cocktails at 7:00; Dinner at 8:00. We know one couple who would do rookie guests a favor by specifying: Cocktails at 7:00; Dinner at 10:30. At one of their evenings, a first timer, unaware that the cocktail hour would stretch into more than three, did not pace himself. When we finally sat down he spouted out juicy details about his finances and those of his wife before falling off of his chair. 
Returning to the 7:00 invitation, when do you arrive? If you show up at or shortly after 7:00, you will be the first one there. You might even surprise your hosts as they put the finishing touches on the preparations or their outfits. Other guests will trickle in and there will be cocktails for a couple of hours. You will fill up on hors d'oeuvres and have little interest in the meal when it is finally served. On the other hand, if you plan on appearing midway through a long cocktail hour, you will arrive to find everyone else standing behind chairs at a table, waiting for you.
I used to think that, either way, you are safe arriving half an hour after the specified time, but you're not. One summer we were invited to a 6:00 P.M. family picnic. We sat down to have a drink while the children played on the lawn. As I helped myself to a handful of nuts from a bowl, I noticed the grill, which was cold, beside which was the charcoal, still in the bag. 
At 8:00 P.M. there had been no visible progress in getting the meal underway. The host and hostess were chatting away and the grill remained unlit. The nuts were all gone. I calculated that if the coals were lighted that very minute, a piece of meat (a thin one) could be ready to eat by 8:45. At 8:30 our kids no longer had the strength to play, and were sitting at our feet. Our hostess was stretched out on a deck chair. Looking up at the cigarette smoke she had just exhaled, she called to the kitchen, where her husband was making another round of drinks, "Honey, did you remember to pick up some chicken?" Our children looked up at us with all the anguish their weak bodies could muster.
And so, when to arrive? Beats me.