dinner at my place. or, not.

There is a scene from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, featured in the episode The Dinner Party, that always makes me laugh. It hits on those party nightmares: unexpected guests, meal timing, and running out of food. The highlight comes when Mary has to tell her boss, Mr. Grant, to “put back” two of the three portions of the Veal Prince Orloff he took from the platter because Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), who prepared the meal for Mary, only made one serving per guest.

I’m pretty sure I have Mary beat in the party disasters department, although the amount of food is never the problem. I always buy/cook enough to feed an army. It’s the army that doesn’t show up.

Several years ago, I was stationed in Chicago on a two-month temporary duty assignment. One night, a group from the office invited me to a party. There were probably 200 guests all packed onto a rooftop lounge. My group had such a fun time that someone suggested a follow-up in a couple of weeks at my place–a hotel suite, complete with kitchenette.

The invitation was word-of-mouth, so on the scheduled night, I didn’t know how many guests would show. Not 200, for sure, but 30? 40? I ordered Chicago deep dish-style pizzas—the restaurant recommended eight pies based on the guest estimate. It turns out eight was a good number. Since fewer than eight people showed up, we shared one at the party and each guest had a whole pie to take home as a “party favor.” 

When my mom turned 75, I threw her a surprise birthday party. I learned something about surprise parties. They’re a bad idea that sounds like a good idea. My own “surprise” was a storm that caused a 50 percent no-show in invited guests. Again, leftovers.

Then, there was the icing on the cake of party disasters. This requires some background to put it all into context. 

It was 1985. I had just transferred to my office’s Santa Ana, California, branch. As Christmas approached, my co-workers and I thought it would be fun to throw a cookie party. Each of us would bake a few dozen cookies of one type, then, we’d exchange them at the party. We’d only have to bake once, but we’d each end up with several different types of  cookies to have on hand for friends and family during the upcoming holidays. 

It was such a hit that it became a tradition that evolved to include heavy hors d’oeuvres, then a full dinner and cocktails. The number of guests grew as the office expanded. Some hostesses invited spouses. Kids came, as did neighbors. The whole thing became a bit of an eagerly anticipated social event of which I was a routine participant. 

Then, in 2007, a new assignment took me out of the office for six years. When I returned, I found everything changed. Literally. The office had physically relocated and expanded exponentially with many new hires. I didn’t have time to meet but a handful of this new group because I was nearing retirement.

Since December 2014 was the 30th anniversary of the cookie party and it was my last opportunity to host, I stepped up.

I was expecting as many as 50 guests, so I did all of the planning, purchasing, setting up, and cooking that went with a good-sized crowd. It took weeks, but when the day arrived, I looked around and I was kind of in awe of my efforts. Everything was perfect, including my timing. The casseroles came out of the oven just as the first guest arrived. Then, five more showed up. Then, the doorbell stopped ringing. Leftovers.

On that unseasonably warm December night in 2014, it finally hit me: you have a lot of talents; hosting successful parties is not one of them.

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