Happy New Year!

Yes, it has been a while. If you look at my projects page you may be able to see why. I’ve been really quite busy. But I’ve missed my tiny corner of the internet and this being the beginning of a new decade and so forth I decided to take a look at my desk diary to see what was going on a year ago and whether that inspired.

Let us not discuss the time and effort it took to remember my website login and the various passwords needed.

I think a lot of us have felt that 2019 wasn’t the greatest so I wanted to see what my hopes and dreams were last January and how they fared.

Here were my goals:

  • A really relaxing summer vacation. (Alone?)
  • One overseas trip (Prague? Buenos Aires?)
  • (I’m a wee bit embarrassed by this one but will include for authenticity’s sake) Keep moving and try to get back to 140 lbs
  • No free overtime!!

Reader, I scored 4 out of 4.

Not only did I get away to the beach (Aruba) for a pretty great tropical getaway—With the family! Not alone!— I also spent a lot of time on the California coast. I had some days in Bodega Bay and Santa Cruz, where the sun actually shone and the temperature crept above 70 F, which is rare, and also spent a somewhat frigid but still enjoyable week at Lake Tahoe. (I probably should have blogged about the whole nude beach experience.)

I took big trips not once but thrice, to Aruba as noted and also London and Lisbon, which were both amazing. (I did post a few things on IG.) Prague and Buenos Aires are still on my list and I’ve been given to understand that Vienna waits for me.

Much of this travel took place on comp time I dutifully recorded during crunch times and redeemed in the slack, which was quite frankly brilliant and I am mad at myself for ever not doing this. (In a very self-loving, self-supporting kind of way, naturally.)

The weight thing is fairly bogus and says more about me than I would like but yes, I did drop a few, largely after I made a big change, which I may write more on later. (Remember my tagline used to be Wine. Food. Travel. Laundry? Yeah, these days it’s pretty much Food. Travel. Laundry.)

So, bottom line: 2019 was actually a lot better than I thought. My goals were also good and I shall leave them more or less unchanged for 2020 with one addition

  • Connect more.

What about you? Does your 2019 list bear re-reading? Did you even have one? Got one for 2020?

LMK.

 

 

The 5 Career Lessons I Learned from Monty Python

Some folks meditate. Others rely on daily affirmations. My life coach? Monty Python.

Here are some key career tips I’ve gleaned from studying the master.

Never give up on yourself. Shake off those career stumbles and setbacks. When you’re down is when you discover hidden talents. Remember, you’ve always got something left in your repertoire of marketable skills.

Details count. Don’t forget to do your research! It’ll help when you face the tough questions.

Stay positive. Every cloud really does have its silver lining, if you look for it.

Keep it professional. Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Know when it’s time to quit. Give up on yourself? No. Give up on impossible people/situations? Sure. When you’re in over your head and you know it, it’s OK to think with your feet.

Five worst things to say to laid-off friends

FullSizeRender (2)A rash of layoffs in the media biz in recent days has reminded me of my own abrupt exit from sweet, sweet Salaryland.

I feel bad for the bereft, whether they were new hires setting out on their journalistic adventures or old hands like myself. But there’s not much I can do for the jobless except to assure those who are feeling raw that the sting will fade. You may be broke as hell by then, but at some point you’ll wake up and realize it really was about them not you.

What I can do is disperse some gentle advice on what NOT to say to the recently laid off.

5. Any sentence beginning with the words “You should.” So, “You should have taken that job you interviewed for last summer,” Nope. “You should have specialized in (list subject name here).” Nope. “You should have sucked up to X more.” Nope, nope, nope.

4. Ditto sentences beginning with “You shouldn’t.”

3. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.” No, no it isn’t. Yes, a person can survive being laid off, can learn from it, may bounce right into a new job, may claw their way into an entirely different line of work they end up liking much better. No, suddenly being left without financial stability and sans health care still isn’t as bad as falling ill or having someone you love become seriously ill. But being escorted out of the building at the orders of a company you’ve dedicated months, years, decades, of your life to absolutely bites and that is all there is to that.

2. “Everything happens for a reason.” I can feel my teeth grinding just typing that. Not all of us believe that some cosmic force has drawn up a detailed road map to our lives. Bonus tip: If you are on the receiving end of this platitude, here’s a response that I found worked quite well. “Yeah, and the reason is I got royally screwed.” Except I didn’t say screwed.

1. “Say, too bad about what happened. Can you give me your replacement’s email address? (smiley face)” Yeah, I know, you’re thinking surely someone wasn’t as crass as to send you an email like that, Michelle? And you’re right. I didn’t get one of these charming requests. I got half a dozen.

Although in all fairness not all of them had smiley faces.

P.S.: Want to know the Six Best Words to say to the Recently Laid Off?

“Let me buy you a drink.”

Cheers, commiseratingly.

Freelance Decoder

imagesPresented for your edification, a short decoder to smooth those freelancer-editor exchanges.

 

 

 

EDITOR SAYS: “Thanks for the pitch, but it isn’t quite right for us.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “They responded! I’m almost in! Next time will be the one!”

EDITOR MEANS: “This is sh*t. Please die immediately.”

 

EDITOR SAYS: “I’ll let you decide how to approach the story; you obviously know what you’re doing.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “I should decide how to approach the story. I know what I’m doing.”

EDITOR MEANS: “I have an exact, detailed vision of how this story should be written right down to which sources should be interviewed and what they should say. I plan to share this with you three weeks after you file, and I reject, the story.”

 

EDITOR SAYS: Send in an invoice and we’ll get accounting going on this.

FREELANCER HEARS: Money! Sweet, sweet, money. Costco Charmin super-pack, I am coming for you.

EDITOR MEANS: I have my spam filter set to delete all messages with the word “invoice” in the subject line and we have not had an accounting department since 1989. Please die immediately.

 

EDITOR SAYS: “I need 300 words on wines of the Rioja in three days.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “Ha, ha! Good one. Obviously, what’s really required here is 900 words in nine days. I mean, this is the Rioja, people, not the Central Valley.”

EDITOR MEANS: “I need 300 words on wines of the Rioja in three days.”

 

EDITOR SAYS: “Thanks, this is fine.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “Fine? I spend a week sweating over the land-use consequences of biofuels and it’s `fine’? I am sh*t and should just die immediately.”

EDITOR MEANS: “Thanks, this is fine.”

 

Songs in the Key of Freelance

For that time when the editor kills the story (with no kill fee) after you’ve worked on it for a week and writes you a terse note about how you need to focus more.

For the end-of-the-quarter stock-taking where you once again resolve to buckle down and get serious about identifying new revenue streams.

When a website editor asks you to write for free because you’ll be getting “great exposure.”

When someone offers you a freebie you want but probably shouldn’t take.

When you’re sending your second follow-up invoice.

When you get that 50-cents-a-word assignment.

When you get that $2-a-word assignment.

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few (Zillion)

imagesThe topic of how to deal with corrections came up recently on a freelance writers’ forum I follow. As usual, it was a relief to see (a.) that other people screw up and (b.) that I’m not the only writer who can spiral into days of recrimination and embarrassment over even a relatively small mistake. .

It got me thinking about errors, how to avoid them, how to deal with them. I’ve weathered many a blunder during my three decades or so of writing and here are my seven best tips for avoiding and dealing with mistakes.

1. Ask the stupid question. You look dumb stating the obvious but you’ll look dumber getting caught out by the fact you didn’t know you didn’t know. Take the (true) case of a woman who, when asked about her relationship to a man, told a reporter I used to work with “He married me!” The reporter didn’t think to follow up with, “So, you’re husband and wife?” so didn’t find out until after publication that the woman, who evidently fancied herself as a bit of a card, was kidding, the man in question had officiated at her wedding to another fellow entirely. Side note: People who make these kind of misleading statements should be flogged.

2. Don’t rely on the Internet. Google, Wikipedia, etc. are beautiful things that make reporting so, so much easier than it used to be, but they’re not infallible. Wikipedia actually isn’t bad, if only because of the many eyes upon it, but company websites can have outdated information on them and a lot of the stuff you see on blogs, content farms is of mixed quality. If you’re writing a travel story, for instance, shoot off a quick email to the hotel or attraction to double check rates or hours.

3. Write, read and read again. Running Spellcheck will catch that you had a typo in “conscious” but it won’t tell you that you actually meant to write “conscience.” Write your story, edit your story, walk away, come back and read it one more time. Sloooowly.

4. Record interviews. OK, this is a huge pain. Transcribing is boring and time-consuming, not to mention the horror of having to listen to your own inane voice rambling on and interrupting the best quotes. (Why, why do I still do this? And that horrible cackle I keep letting out. Am I auditioning for a part in Wicked?) But if you want to get it right, it’s the way to go.

5. Don’t be shy about fact-checking. Back in the day, the big magazines used to have armies of fact-checkers. They probably don’t any more and you, you poor overworked ink-stained wretch may very well be your own fact-checker. I’m not advocating submitting stories to sources for pre-editing approval. No, no, no. But I do think it’s OK to send brief chunks of text that describe some technical process that’s new to you to make sure you have it right. I always add a note saying the material is unedited draft and will change to make it clear I’m not asking the source to fill in as my editor. Every once in a while this may backfire and you’ll get someone who responds with a 500-word email about how he/she would have approached the story. If that happens, take a breath, decide whether the situation can be salvaged with a follow-up phone call, if not, decide whether to use the material anyway or drop it, and then move on.

6. Correct quickly, and calmly. Here are some examples of cock-ups I have made and how I handled them. In a piece, my first one, too, for a new wine website, I wrote a glowing review of a winery’s exercise classes only to find out after publication the classes were being canceled. As errors go, this one was not really my fault; I had checked the info. Still, majorly embarrassing especially first time out with a new client. I started to write a mea culpa-laden email but stopped myself in time and wrote a short, to-the-point email that the information was true when we published it, but there’d been a surprise development. I also had a substitute item ready to slot in place of the cancelled classes. Result: No problem. Usually my errors are more spectacular than that, like the time I decided to relocate Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey to … Kentucky. Got a few emails on that one, and I was positively writhing in self-loathing. Still, I forced myself to write the short, polite note to the editor of, “Got this wrong; here’s the right info.” And life went on. Which leads me to perhaps the most important tip,

7. Cut yourself slack. You are human and you are going to make mistakes. Sometimes you were rushing through a piece, sometimes you were flat-out careless, sometimes you got someone’s name wrong in your head and could not seem to self-correct, sometimes Mercury was simply retrograde. This is where having a good friend, or even Facebook group, to commiserate with can help. One of my worst blunders came when I was covering a murder trial some years ago. In court, the defendant, a child murderer, said something vile to the child’s father. The father, I thought, yelled back, “Burn in hell.” What actually happened was that the father’s friend, a lifetime acquaintance with the exact same speech patterns and accent, had leaned forward, his head obscured by the father’s head, and yelled the curse. The problem wasn’t so much that my eyes and ears had deceived me it was that I didn’t follow rule No. 1, Ask the stupid question, and hadn’t double-checked with the father outside the courtroom that he was the one speaking. The story and the anecdote were national news and when I finally figured out my error it had already run (as the headline even!) in several newspapers. At the time, I was working for the best boss in the world, so he didn’t make me feel as bad as I could have, but, I assure you, that was not a good day. I was absolutely distraught until around 7 p.m. when I and another writer, who’d made the same mistake, were glumly sucking on a couple of pints at a nearby bar. “Well, here’s to us, star reporters,” he said sadly. “Yep,” I said. “Two reporters so [bad word] stupid that we can’t even get our story straight when it happens six [very bad word] feet away from us.” And then we laughed, a bit raggedly, but laughter none the less, and I knew I was going to be OK.

Father’s Days

Sifting through time I look for the truth about my father and grasp a handful of memories, slippery and elusive as fish hiding in shadows.

July 19, 2012: The writing on the envelope is my mother’s. My stomach clenches. This must be news that my father’s cancer has recurred and I must visit, or that he is dead and I must attend the funeral. I rip open the flap and freeze as a folded brochure tumbles out. My eyes see, but my mind balks. “No,” I whisper. “No, no, no. NO.”

Time slows as the paper drifts downward.

Date unknown, circa 1963: I’m around 2 years old, naked and sitting next to the sink in what I will later realize is the trailer where my parents started married life in England. I know I’m in trouble, but don’t know why. Mother will later surmise this is the day I went through two, maybe three, complete outfits due to an ill-advised fascination with a mud puddle. My father looms over me in a dark jacket with shiny buttons. He scolds me and then gives me a French fry nicked out of a pan on the stove top. I eat it, and suddenly I’m aware that I am distinct from the sink and the French fry and the shiny buttons. I am me.

Summer mid-1960s: We are taking our annual camping holiday preceded by our annual aimless wandering through a maze of British B-roads, my parents squabbling over who’s to blame for the navigation failures as the gas gauge hovers near empty. We reach the campground late at night only to discover someone’s forgotten to pack the tent pegs, although we seem to have brought pretty much the entire contents of the kitchen including china and cutlery. I drift off to sleep only to wake up the next morning in a perfectly pitched tent. I go outside to see what miracle has occurred. My father smirks with quiet pride as he points to the ropes neatly held in place by crisscrossed knives and forks.

June 16, 2012: It’s the day before Father’s Day and I am sitting at my desk in the corner of my Berkeley dining room with the nagging feeling that I should call my parents’ home in East Texas. I haven’t spoken to either of them for months; I don’t even remember how long it’s been since my mother called to tell me that my father had been seriously ill but was recovering. I pick up the phone. It rings and rings and rings. My father’s voice comes on the answering machine, Texas twang interlaced with his native Welsh accent as he invites me to leave a message. I hesitate. But I have nothing to say. I hang up.

Christmas Eve, 1970: I stand at the window in my room looking hopefully at the clouded night sky and praying devoutly for snow. It’s cold, and the night crackles with expectation. Christmas can be tricky in our house since my father, an enthusiastic adherent of an obscure Protestant sect known as the Brethren, splinter of the slightly less obscure sect, the Plymouth Brethren, doesn’t really agree with celebrating the paganly rooted festival. But I’ve cunningly told my parents all I want for Christmas is a Bible with a concordance. I’m expecting to get that and a whole lot more, and I do. I hear the promising rustle of wrapping paper followed by a metallic clanging from the basement. The next morning I discover my father has taken the curved frame off my sister’s old perambulator and bolted it to a board, creating a workmanlike sled. We spend Christmas afternoon toiling up and then swooping down the hill across the street from our house, shrieking with laughter as we carve our way through the crisp snow.

Summer 1972: We’re standing in the center of the English market town where we live. My father and a couple of other church elders are playing hymns from a George Beverly Shea record on a PA system. The song ends and the preaching begins to the mostly heedless crowd of shoppers and commuters passing by. I’m standing on the sidewalk, evangelical tracts in my hand, yellow straw Sunday-go-to-meeting hat on my head, making my own supplication. “Please don’t let anyone from school walk by. Please don’t –“ My prayer goes spectacularly unanswered as two of the cheekiest boys in my class walk by, pointing and giggling. I blush bright red beneath my yellow halo and thrust my tracts behind my back. “Is that your dad?” they ask, half incredulously. “No,” I say.

Spring 1974: It’s a weeknight, probably Wednesday, and my father and I are supposed to be at Bible study, but we play hooky and go fishing. We are living in Richmond, Virginia, my father having taken a temporary overseas job transfer that will ultimately lead to our permanent immigration. We fish from a public boat launch and haven’t been at it long when I get a bite so strong it bends the tip of my rod to the ground. I’m not much of an angler and my father calls out a warning not to let the fish wrap itself around the timber of  a nearby pier. We decide to make a run for it and both grab the rod as we thunder up the ramp, our catch, a good-sized striped bass thumping along behind us. My father quickly guts and cleans it and we take it home where I bake it with an orange-scented bread stuffing.

July 19, 2012: I hear the faint susurration of paper on wood as the brochure touches the floor. I bend to pick it up. It is the program from my father’s funeral, held June 16, two days after his death. There are copies of the eulogies given by my sister and my niece. I’ve been left out, excluded, disowned. “Don’t cry. Don’t you dare cry,” I tell myself fiercely. “You didn’t call. Don’t even cry now.”

I do cry — harsh, gasping sobs that punch their way up my ribs.

Fall 1977: I’m in the living room of our three-bedroom ranch house in a Dallas suburb working up the nerve to tell my father I’ve quit the job he got me working the night shift running tapes at a big computer company across town.  It’s a terrible job. I’m a teenage virgin working with two dozen foul-mouthed men. I drive the 30 miles home at midnight in an unreliable ‘69 Chevelle. The plan is for me to get an engineering degree during the day. But math reduces me to tears. I say I’ve decided to go to back to my job at a department store and study journalism at the junior college near our house. “Really?” he says in pained surprise. “I didn’t realize you were such a quitter.”

Summer 1982: I’m in my last year at university and living at home for the summer, working an internship at a nearby metro newspaper. My father and I have somehow got on to the subject of people who die as unbelievers never having heard the gospel. “Do you ever wonder,” I say, “why God would create so many people knowing they were going to end up burning in hell forever?” “No,” he says. “I don’t.” This is as close as I ever will come to telling him I do not share his view of the universe. That for all my years of prayer meetings, bible studies, baptism, communions, I never really did. Unspoken, the truth lies between us like a knife.

June 21, 2015: As I do most years I will think about my father on Father’s Day. Was our anemic relationship my fault? His? Ours? What would be less bearable – that he asked for me at the end and I wasn’t there? Or that he didn’t.

Thoughts race through the brain, unruly, uncontrollable.

I look deep in my pool of memories, and I see a freckle-faced girl clasping hands with a dark-haired man, running into the soft Southern twilight, laughing.

 

Spot the Difference: Wine trip vs. Natural disaster

The way my hair looks by Day 3 of either the wine trip or the natural disaster.
The way my hair looks by Day 3 no matter what the assignment.

A wise wine writer once told me, Michelle, on every wine trip there’s an asshole. And if you’re ever on a trip and there’s no asshole? You’re the asshole.

Friends, it is with deep regret that I must report that on a trip this year to (redacted), I was the asshole.

In my defense, it was about 1,000 degrees (Fahrenheit, thank you very much, I do not do the Celsius) and I had been chivvied uphill at high noon three days running with the result that some decidely grandmotherly cankles had blossomed at the bottom of my erstwhile shapely calves.

However, in retrospect it would have been better had I not achieved Full Meltdown Mode, to wit, hissing at one of the hapless tour organizers: “I am sitting in this chair and putting my feet up on another chair and that is non-negotiable!! Do not talk to me! I am in a mood.”

I don’t think I’d been that riled up on the road since some jerk photojournalist from (redacted) tried to strong-arm me out of the last available hotel room in a hurricane-stricken town back in my breaking news days.

As it turned out, I had my little sit-down protest, and eventually cooler heads, temperatures and ankles prevailed and we all kissed and made up.

But it got me thinking. What, really, are the differences between exploring a wine region and covering a natural disaster?

I began to contrast and compare.

Disaster: Get there after grueling journey, usually by air. Best-case Scenario: Blackhawk brimming with handsome military specimens. Worst case: Four-seater flown by a weekend enthusiast. Arrive totally disoriented and — bam! — immediately ushered into news conference with sheriff who fancies himself something of a humorist.

Wine trip: Get there after grueling journey, usually by air. Best-case Scenario: Business Class. Worst case: Babies. Arrive totally disoriented and — bam! — immediately ushered into wine tasting with sommelier who fancies himself something of a humorist.

Disaster:  Schedule runs from 7 a.m. to after midnight with regrettably few opportunities for nice quiet lie-down.

Wine trip: Schedule runs from 7 a.m. to after midnight with regrettably few opportunities for nice quiet lie-down.

Disaster: Drink copiously. Often warm beer (power is out) of doubtful provenance served en bouteille.

Wine trip: Drink copiously. Often the finest wines the region has to offer all served at optimal temperature in elegant glassware with scads of information about source and production methods. Wine trip gets the win here, folks.

Disaster: Distinct lack of gin.

Wine trip: Distinct lack of gin.

Disaster: Food = Salvation Army aid truck, pray McDonald’s opens soon if power comes back on, and, man, I would sell my soul for a plate of broccoli.

Wine trip: Food = Michelin-starred cuisine, pray you’ll have a chance to slip into a McDonald’s soon if you can do it without the foodies noticing, and, man, I would sell my soul for a plate of broccoli.

Disaster: Return home with a full quiver of war stories, a bag full of odd souvenirs (Really? Did I really pinch a hanger from the (redacted) hotel? I’m ashamed of myself.) and a fat pile of overtime pay. Mmm-mm sweet overtime pay.

Wine trip: Return home with a full quiver of war stories, a bag full of odd souvenirs (Really? Did I really buy a “Frankfurt” T-shirt? Even though my visit consisted of nothing more than running ‘twixt Terminals A and Z of the Frankfurt airport? I’m ashamed of myself.) and a fat pile of …

Wait.

Damn it!

Somebody get me a disaster to cover — stat!

Cheers, comparatively.

Related post:

Crime vs. wine

 

 

A Toast to Papa

Ernest Hemingway was born 115 years ago today which makes it an excellent day to raise a toast to the intrepid world traveler, genius author and robust cocktail enthusiast.

Growing up, I wasn’t a fan. I blame having to spend hours analyzing “Hills Like White Elephants,” in 10th grade. (Followed by Steinbeck’s ultra-depressing “Of Mice and Men,” I mean, are they trying to put kids off reading?)

But then I started traveling and suddenly I found myself following in the footsteps of Hemingway, most of which led to bars.

I went to Madrid and found this restaurant:

 

Botin's restaurant, Madrid
Botin’s restaurant, Madrid

We lunched upstairs at Botin´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.–”The Sun Also Rises”

Side note: I drank a great deal of rioja, although not three bottles, and then made the fatal mistake of following it up with my first (and last) shot of Jack Daniels. Lord, what a sorrowful morning followed as the old hymn has it.

I saw my first bullfight and looked up Hemingway’s 1923 newspaper account of his first time.

[The bull] came out all in a rush, big, black and white, weighing over a ton, and moving with a soft gallop. Just as he came out the sun seemed to dazzle him for an instant. He stood as though he were frozen, his great crest of muscle up, firmly planted, his eyes looking around, his horns pointed forward, black and white and sharp as porcupine quills. Then he charged. And as he charged, I suddenly saw what bullfighting is all about.

I’ll be honest, my reaction was more: I suddenly saw what being a vegan is all about.

shadows 2

I went to Venice, and, naturally, stopped in at Harry’s Bar where Hemingway used to drink the dry martinis (as in basically no vermouth) and the Bellini, a cocktail of sparkling wine and peach puree. The Bellini was 18 euros. Which is crazy expensive. So I just watched other people drinking theirs. Because I am cheap.

Harry's Bar

 

The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris where he drank still more martinis has been undergoing renovations for the past two years so I haven’t been there yet but I did go to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, another Hemingway haunt. (Yeah, they’re two different Harrys.) I actually had a modern-day celebrity sighting, the guy who plays Jimmy the cute blonde footman on “Downton Abbey.” But I did not get a photo. Because I am bashful.

Harry's Paris bar

When I went to Peru this year I thought, Well, this is one place I won’t find the “Hemingway Drank Here,” sign.

Not a bit of it.

I strolled around Lima doing a “Best Places to Drink a Pisco Sour” story and what did I find? The bar at the Hotel Gran Bolivar where Hemingway is said to have set the record for drinking that very same cocktail. In fact, they still have two sizes of glasses, the regular and the oversized “Catedral” glass that Hemingway favored.

bolivar

If you want to learn more, cocktail historian Philip Greene has gone to the trouble of researching Hemingway cocktails in his cleverly titled book, To Have and Have Another.

Now, maybe if they’d given us that to study in 10th grade I would have developed a literary taste for Hemingway much sooner.

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Country Party Survival Guide

dinner

 

Perhaps you’ve been invited to a fancy-pants wine country bash with your significant other. That’s swell. You’ve cracked the dress code and figured out what to wear. You’re doing great! But I can tell you’re wondering — are there any pitfalls you should look out for that might make your evening as forgettable as a bottle of cheap merlot? Reader, there are. Luckily, as a wine writer and veteran of the snazzy soiree circuit I’m here for you. I’ve made all the flubs and lived to write about them in this essential 5-step Wine Country Party Survival Guide guaranteed to make your evening sparkle like a glass of lightly chilled Champagne.

Presented without further ado:

STEP ONE: CAR CLEANSE

Because there is nothing so mortifying as pulling up to an event and realizing that a teenager in a red vest is going to be getting into your car and silently judging the “Wash Me” written in the dusty back window, the leftover lunch bags tossed to the floor by your horrible children and the three bags of old clothes you’ve been meaning to drop off at Goodwill if there’s ever a parking space in front of the store. And while we’re on the subject of parking, make sure you have a $5 bill handy. There are two really bad ways to go on valet tipping. Having no cash and mumbling “sorry” while trying to avoid the scornful eyes of a stiffed 19-year-old. Or, having only a $20 bill that you love like a brother but end up handing over to said 19-year-old all the while hating yourself for being so self-consciously craven.

car wash
Talking about the car wash, yeah

STEP TWO: SARTORIAL TUTORIAL (Or, “Are you kidding me with that shirt?” A Play in Two Acts.)

This is the part where you have the obligatory fight over whether one of you gets to wear his DadPants to the do. Short answer: Don’t. Yes, I realize the dress code said “Napa Casual.” That does not, however, mean you can wear your Eddie Bauer jeans that have been worn just about every day for the past 10 years, are ripped over the knee in a totally non-ironic way, and are big enough to fit a Fiat in the pocket.

pants
Just say no

STEP THREE: EMERGENCY SUPPLY KIT

Sometimes you go to a wine country dinner and book a hotel room so you can stay late without having to face a long drive home. Sometimes the chef turns out to be a devotee of the “two shrimps and a pea on a plate” school of cooking. Sometimes you get back to said hotel room absolutely starving. Sometimes one of you wanted to bring a ramen noodle cup and a kettle. Sometimes the other one of you said, “Oh, no, you won’t need that.” Sometimes the ramen-noodle deprived party will whine for literally YEARS about that time when he was so hungry and he could have been full of ramen deliciousness, but no. (I mean seriously. That was 2008. Time to let go.)

noodles
Because you never know when you’re going to need noodles

STEP FOUR: GO BIG ON THE SMALL TALK

You’re at a party with a bunch of people, many of whom are complete strangers. Some of them are rich strangers. All of you have been drinking. Not a good time to bust out your hilarious joke about John Boehner. (Although if it’s the one I’m thinking of that is pretty funny.) Nope. You need to discuss the weather, current movies, current books and sporting events. If, and let’s just theorize here, you’re a couple who don’t get out much, couldn’t name the current movies/books at gunpoint and one of you can never remember if the Giants play football or baseball (Would you believe they do both? It’s like they’re trying to confuse us.), that leaves the weather. Hoo boy. Hot enough for you?

me and pang CADE 2014
Definitely not wearing the DadPants. Also, I think one of us forgot his pitchfork.

STEP FIVE: DON’T FORGET THE POSTMORTEM

The best part of going to a party as a couple is talking about it afterwards, shredding everyone else’s car hygiene, outfit and demeanor. I recommend plenty of coffee, newspapers and a pleasant setting for this activity — a sun-dappled hotel room balcony overlooking lush, landscaped lawns would be ideal. Perhaps you’ll even get a lovely compliment, as I did recently post-party when my husband of many years surprised me by saying, “You were the prettiest woman in the room, you know.”

“Well, thank you, darling,” I responded delightedly.

“Except,” added my very own little soldier of truth, “for the waitresses, of course.”

Cheers, festively.

balcony
Ideal setting for the morning after the night before