Mar 13, 2024

Dinner Parties, Assigned Seats and Lessons Learned

Don’t worry, there really won’t be any lessons.

By Ed Goldman

In an earlier iteration—that is, when I was younger but still the same basic specimen—I loved cooking for and hosting dinner parties at my prior home, which I modestly dubbed Goldmanor.

The fun came in various segments. There was deciding on the guest list, which I often screwed up by not realizing that a particular developer was bitterly feuding with a particular construction company—and whose CEOs were both clients of mine—or that one half of a couple I’d invited had previously been married to one half of another couple I’d also invited. 

Edgy Cartoon

Early birds special

In the latter case, and to put this in melodramatic parlance, uh-oh.

Now, if I were less thuggish, I’d have said, “Issues and voices were raised, though civilly.” But that kind of language won’t inspire you to forward my column to your work colleagues, bffs or bookies, so let’s stick with “uh-oh.” That has a sense of danger, fisticuffs and shrill cries of, “You’ll hear from my lawyer!” 

I always wanted to have my dinner parties avoid what I felt were common dinner-party mistakes. For example, the practice of dividing couples at the table. I understood why this was acceptable when a couple had been married so long they not only looked alike but had both become left-handed in deference to one of the partners. Both halves of the couple were thrilled to be seated beside a complete stranger whom they were convinced would find their oft-delivered monologue about the difference between hot gravy and cold-sauce remoulade not only fascinating but worth expanding on at a later date, possibly in a room at the No-Tell Motel—or, for those illicit lovers on a budget, the Tumble Inn or Livin’ Lodge. Each charges by the minute. (Seniors sometimes preferred seedy assisted-living places with names like Walker Right Inn.)

But young couples didn’t relish being separated at dinner, mainly because they still relished each other’s physical proximity. And shy people, even though separation would have been a chance to shuck their shells for an evening, always opted to cling to the person they’d arrived with. I’ve rarely been shy but I tend to go along with that approach. Besides, if you’ve worked out “Let’s get outta here” signals with your evening cohort, it’s much more difficult to deploy them when you’re seated 10 feet away—especially if one of your signals was a simple tap on the arm. You can’t exactly tap a stranger’s arm and say, “Please pass this along.”

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In one of my single years, I agreed to host the second half of a progressive party at my home as a fundraiser for the Sacramento Philharmonic. The first half would be cocktails at another guy’s house about a mile away. Then they’d come to my place for dinner.

I should have known I was in for an “uh-oh” evening when the group of six arrived in a limo, each still holding plastic martini glasses. As I went outside to usher in my rather marinated guests, one guy said to me, “I’d like a glass of Champagne.” “So would I,” I said, “but I don’t have any.” This made him so peevish that when he got indoors, he proceeded to lecture the other five attendees on my art collection. Actually, “lecture” kind of elevates the tone of how he held forth on works I’d collected over the years, a few that my late wife had painted and some of my own efforts. I was managing to shake off the assault—the fact that the other guests also tried to shoosh him and did some acrobatic eyeball rolling—until he got to my late wife’s work. 

He said, “When this painter dies, maybe this’ll be worth something, but I doubt it.” Suddenly I was the thug who came to dinner (well, the thug who made the dinner). “She did die,” I said, “and she was my wife and your opinions are worthless and so are you.” One of his friends called a cab for him, which mercifully arrived in about 10 minutes, and one of the beefier guests took the fellow by his tactless arm, walked his obnoxious self down my front steps and, from my vantage point, appeared to thrust him, with the force of throwing a football meant to travel 45 yeards, into the car.

After that, I served dinner. “Do you have assigned seating?” one of the women asked. “Yes,” I said. “Please sit at the table.” 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).