Don your frocks, tie your bowtie, and break out the Valium--it is time once again to penetrate one of the most charmingly deceptive veneers of southern graciousness: The Dinner Party.
This curious southern ritual, while oddly entertaining, has always baffled me inasmuch as southerners seem to know quite well , at any given time, the intimate goings on of one another’s personal affairs, and one is left to wonder just what remains to be discussed over the roast quail.
I have long suspected that this phenomenon began to blossom to the fullest with the advent of carpool lanes in Mountain Brook’s tiny kingdom. This caravan of Mercedes, SUV’s, and Range Rovers, which on the surface appears to be merely the loving transport back to the castle of well-heeled little princes and petunias, is actually a feeding frenzy at the henhouse for car-hopping clucking mothers, such as the recently overheard: “Why Minnie May! I couldn’t help peering through your kitchen window last night. Your new Italian imported tile around your garbage disposal looks just loooooove-ly!!” This was immediately followed by, “Why, thank you, Lila Lou- I see your husband came home last night after midnight again. Did Bible Study run late again?” Nonetheless, the dinner party is a required activity when living in the gracious South. One’s first experience at a southern feast with namecards will be a memorable endeavor, and will likely be filed away in the memory banks next to the dental procedure without anesthesia and the IRS audit. One is invariably seated next to a well-coiffed vulture, a gracious southern woman who is poised to solicit your innermost embarrassing secret by way of a fusillade of carefully crafted interrogations delivered by firing squad.
Few non-natives are attuned to the etiquette steeped in southern tradition regarding the correct order, placement and usage of the various forks on the dinner table when a southern woman is seated next to a non-native whom she has marked for slow torture. Hidden in the array of the appetizer, entrée and dessert forks is actually an “interrogation fork” that is actually plunged into the guest’s jugular vein and holds him captive at the table until her questions have been satisfied, while the frantic guest sits paralyzed, wondering whether this woman has been trained by terrorists or the CIA and silently fantasizes about stuffing her mouth silent with kudzu to escape the almost silent bloodletting. She will release the fork only after discerning your address, the square footage of your home, your adjusted gross income, the fertilizer used on your lawn, your 401K balance, library fines accumulated since kindergarten, the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy, as well as the results of your most recent pap smear or colonoscopy, which she might as well perform.
“More vodka?” Yes, please. In the most nightmarish of scenarios, one will turn to one’s left to escape her clutch, only to discover than one is seated next to a divorce attorney. This unfortunate seating arrangement will sadly prove quite costly, as an hour’s worth of dinner conversation will conclude with the presentation of his bill for “interrogatories, request for production and discovery”. Should the conversation include the resisting of his untoward advances, the bill may include a motion to compel and an appeal. In the event one does not produce a check by dessert, a hearing date will be set for the day upon which you are due to be hospitalized for an appendectomy and cannot possibly attend, and a default judgment will be entered in his favor, along with accumulated interest and fees.
At some point during the evening, assuming enough alcohol has been consumed, the entertainment can become quite lively. This may or may not include gun fire, depending upon whether football is in heat, as was the case this most recent season in Mountain Brook, where an Auburn fan open fired at his own television set during the Alabama game, missed the set, and shattered a ceramic urn containing the ashes of his mother-in-law, which were tragically blown all across the Persian rug and remained there, as inebriated guests stumbled across them until halftime, at which time they were finally scooped up (much to my horror)into an empty Gus Mayer bag.
Check, please. Time to call it an evening, and thank y’all for coming. A charming time was surely had by all, and the sun finally sets once again over the magnolia trees in the Magic City:
where the tea is sweeter, where some things simply never change… And we like it that way. Oh where is my Anonymous hero with Torreon de Paredes wine to the rescue? Until next time,
Did you miss Scarlet´s last column in our online edition? Find it at http://bhamweekly.com/birmingham/article-2980-spring-has-arrived-in-the-magic-city.html.
Or go to www.bhamweekly.com and search for author Scarlet.