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The Party, the Gorillas, and the Steam Vents

November 27, 2008

For some reason, my husband and I were reminiscing the other evening about the one and only dinner party we have ever attended. While I’ve no doubt it was actually very typical of its genre, it was enough to discourage our future participation in dinner parties.

I will of course change all names for the protection of my own sense of decorum. For reference, a “dinner party” to me means an invited gathering of people who would otherwise have no reason to gather together, have nothing in common but acquaintance with the host, and then eat a very nice dinner to mitigate the effect of the first several rounds of cocktails and be fit to begin another set of rounds.

Our hosts were Duke and his wife Mary. I think we met Duke through the local gun club or maybe some Republican gathering. Duke is a lawyer, as are my husband and I. For some reason, he took a shine to us and invited us to his gala St. Patrick’s Day dinner.

We all lived then on a small island and it was a good thing to have neighbors. Duke and Mary lived just across the bay. We thought it would be a pleasant evening.

Another couple I won’t bother to rename because I can’t remember their names anyway were yacht people. They were already sloshed by the time we arrived unfashionably on time.

Then there were Mr. and Mrs. Gorilla. Mr. Gorilla had that protosimian need to drape his arm around any woman within reach, move her head toward his, and mumble. Mrs. Gorilla had the hiccups until dinner.

Scylla, a doctorate in geology, was Duke and Mary’s daughter.

As Mary was placing platters of dinner fare on the table, I noticed place cards. I was to be seated next to Mr. Gorilla, and my husband was assigned the seat next to Mr. G’s enchanting mate. I pointed out the place cards to my husband.

We had two motives in switching the place cards while Mary was in the kitchen. We did not wish to sit next to the Gorillas, and we did not wish to be asked back.

We took our places next to each other. We had switched a few cards and the Gorillas were next to each other. Mrs. Gorilla clearly was raised with fruit cup and place cards and knew proper protocol for these things. “I don’t want to sit next to my own husband!” she said rather loudly.

“Neither do I,” I said rather quietly.

Mary called us to order for a prayer, and prayed for God’s blessing as Duke tucked into his dinner.

I began to engage Scylla, sitting to my other side, in a conversation about her work. She began rather modestly, as if her work in submarine geology were rather mundane. My husband has a strong interest in oceanography and joined the conversation. Scylla began gushing about some steam vents she was investigating. Then she actually became choked up, as if she were about to cry, took a deep breath, and said, “I think…I think these steam vents…” She caught her breath and drew another. “were where…” She was doing okay; she just needed one more breath to reveal something about the steam vents. Clearly this was very emotional for her. “The origin of life.” Her voice dropped about a fourth on “life.” She exhaled, eyes wide, having shared the wonder.

All right, so life began in a steam vent off Seattle. I regretted not giving the yacht couple a chance.

We had to leave early to check on our Cat, who was convalescing from a broken hock. We conveyed our regrets and departed.

The place card switch worked; we were not asked back. But the time was not unprofitable. Mary subsequently retained my husband for her DUI defense.

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