By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Target supplied colorful cocktail napkins and big plastic drink cups — for the non-drinking crowd there would be fruit juices and soda water.
I bought a case each of red and white wine.
Starting a week before the party, people began calling. What can I bring?
Ice, I told them. Lemon curd for the strawberry shortcake. Pillows and more outdoor furniture. Wine. Beer.
Three days before the party, volunteers helped bring electricity into the yard via big fat orange extension cords and IKEA surge protectors, then strung little lights in the trees and bushes. We arranged the savage torches and lit them again. More initial threatening “poufs” but no explosions. We set an IKEA electric torchère under each of the ancient eucalyptus trees overhanging the yard so that their limbs were lit beautifully from below.
My sister and I went on furniture runs to the neighbors. Other people brought over teak chairs and tiled tables, and beautiful rugs. A chair seat fell off on my big toe, causing a small dark bloom under the nail that would, for the next six months, remind me of the party — and the extensive preparations — every time I saw it.
Although much of the yard had been cleaned up, the basketball court was still covered in leaves and grit. The night before the party, neighbors brought over more rugs while I was sweeping it. Suddenly, five people were sweeping. Then one got out the hose and washed down the whole court.
The next morning, when the court was dry, two artists came over and arranged the beautiful Persian rugs, pillows and furniture to make for a series of outdoor rooms and conversational clusters.
The morning of the party, my housekeeper cleaned the house. My sister and I went to the Pasadena farmers market and bought big bags full of vegetables to grill and looked for Bibb lettuce. No Bibb there, and none at Whole Foods either. I was not really in the mood to be flexible. I had just turned 50. The lack of Bibb lettuce seemed overwhelming. Luckily, Howie’s in Arcadia came through. I bought 10 heads.
A neighbor took half of the vegetables to grill at her house. I grilled the other half and four chickens in the heat of the afternoon at home. The phone rang constantly. What can I bring? Wine. How do I get there? What time does it start? Can I really bring my dog?
An old friend who’d volunteered to bring flowers brought 10 vases filled with absolutely gorgeous arrangements of homegrown roses, penstemon, daisies, zinnias — all the summer blooms.
After arranging the flowers in the early evening, some two hours before the first guests arrived, the setup was done. Walking through the yard alone, looking at what resembled a lavish Bedouin encampment, I had a huge moment of mortification and misgiving. I had spent the last week essentially getting ready for my own party. The amount of effort could not, I realized, be disguised, and it seemed I had really gone too far — and dragged my willing, loving, incredibly tolerant friends along. The whole setup — rugs, tent, torches, lights, furniture — suddenly seemed supremely silly, so self-indulgent and overdone it was embarrassing. I’d had fun, in a driven kind of a way. I felt self-conscious for caring so much, for throwing my own party. I felt a little ashamed. Ridiculous, in a word.
But it was too late. Too late to dismantle the evidence of my folly.
I went inside, bathed and dressed. My catering friend and her 16-year-old daughter arrived with gallons of ceviche and two enormous pork legs, which had spent most of a week marinating in citrus juice before being roasted all day. She set up a buffet/carving station in the courtyard. Her daughter sweetly asked me for a Band-Aid (too nice to say outright that my parrot had bitten her). At 10 to 8, when twilight was deepening, I took a lighter and went out to light the 40-plus candles along the driveway. It was a quiet, calming job, and for a while I was alone. Then guests began walking up.
In the back yard, the smooth, supple limbs of the two enormous eucalyptus trees looked silvery in their light. The torches blazed. Lights twinkled in the vines and leaves. People gathered where they were meant to. Little girls in their beautiful party dresses raced through the yard screaming with senseless joy. One person said, “This is the Bedouin camp I searched for all over North Africa and never found.” No ghosts! No skeletons! And those wild torches!
Then came the food, which was both a terrific success and the main problem of the evening. There was enough of it, but getting it set out and served and replenishedwas rocky. Luckily, a few partygoers pitched in — still, we ran out of salad and red wine.
And, as for dessert, let me say it right here: Two quarts of whipped cream is not enough by half for 80 people.
After dinner there was roasting and toasting. My sister played the violin. Old friends told embarrassing stories about me. Two kids, one a trumpeter, another a flautist, played their instruments for us. Then we went on talking and drinking until very late, when people started cleaning up and leaving.