Photo by Debra DiPaolo

I own crab forks? That expensive-looking cheese board is mine? And who gave me the silver ice bucket that must have cost a bundle? Tell me again, why is a Revere roasting pan so great? What I am supposed to do with these demitasses? And all those other never-used wedding gifts stashed in closets and unreachable cabinets?

When I got married some very many years ago, I just wasn’t in what you’d call a “demitasse/cheese-fork/punch-bowl” phase of life. Okay, maybe a punch bowl for skip-and-go-nakeds. But there was definitely no need for tomato roses, flower arrangements or palazzo pants when it came to social gatherings. No invitations. No place mats. Just call up friends and tell them to bring whoever and whatever they felt like. Can’t make it? Too bad — more guacamole for me. No need to RSVP, either.

Now, with a house, a husband and a child (and a dog and a cat: Check! Check! Check! Check! Check!), one just doesn’t open up a bag of Tostitos and blast the Scorpions and call it a party. One must behave like a civilized grown-up and call it entertaining. You know it’s time for the transition — let’s call it “the change” — when you realize that when a guest brings Miller Lite and then drinks someone else’s Heineken, it’s simply bad form. When you want the music at a level where you can actually have a conversation. And when you truly care that your guests feel welcome, well-fed and all that stuff. And if you find yourself saying, “Did you try the cilantro-jalapeño hummus?” and actually fretting that they did, it’s time for “the change.”

Hey, even Martha Stewart had to start somewhere (her college keggers were killer, but even then her chip and dip bowls matched), so let me entertain you:


have the game on the TV with the sound off.

DO scrub your toilet for guests who may later need to throw up (not everyone behaves like a grown-up).

DO hide your cat box so beer-guzzling guests who won’t wait for the bathroom don’t get any ideas while the puking guest is in there.

DO wait until 75 percent of your guests have arrived before you start drinking alcohol (just trust me on this one).

DO invite at least one unemployed standup comic.

DON’T let him eat all the shrimp.

DO introduce new friends to old friends.

And DO tell your old friends not to mention what your old parties used to be like.

DON’T ask guests which cleanup chore they prefer.

DON’T schedule any activity for 48 hours following your party.


have a fire extinguisher nearby if you choose to use tiki torches.

DO have at least one bug zapper.

DON’T show guests how it works by touching the transformer.

DON’T hang the bug zapper over the barbecue.

DON’T mention to the vegetarians that there’s chicken broth in the cucumber gazpacho.


think that guests will be impressed with your Serge Gainsbourg CDs. Try harder.

DO crib a compilation CD from Reverend Dan’s Music for Nimrods playlists.

DON’T play any Andrew W.K. under any circumstances.

DO have Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers on hand.

DON’T get out the karaoke machine under any circumstances.


DON’T buy snacks from Trader Joe’s; it’s the same stuff at every party.

DO, however, serve Trader Joe’s cilantro-jalapeño hummus, transferred to an attractive serving dish and garnished with fresh cilantro.

DO fib and say, yes, as a matter of fact, “I did make the cilantro-jalapeño hummus from scratch, thank you.”


serve Charles Shaw wine, a.k.a. “Cheap Chuck” (see Trader Joe’s rule).

DO get too much ice (it still won’t be enough).

DO buy those cute name-tag things for wine glasses (classy).

DON’T put the fresh-squeezed lime juice for the margaritas in what could be mistaken for a pitcher of margaritas.


DO circulate and make guests feel welcome by saying, “Hi. Glad you could make it.” Rehearse this often before the party.

DO begin introductions by saying, “So-and-So, do you know So-and-So? You two have something in common, so please talk until you discover what it might be.”

DON’T ask people if they are on Friendster. Just stop it.

DON’T yell “PARRR-TAY!!” at any point.

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