Forget What You Think You Know About Dinner Parties, by S.H. Carlyle

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I’m very pleased that you have accepted my invitation to one of my now-famous dinner parties. Did I ever expect that what started as an impromptu Chinese take-out evening with a few friends would turn into the most celebrated series of dinner parties in collective memory? Honestly, yes I did. Because I know what makes a good dinner party. And believe me, it’s not organic pheasant or spiced kale chips. It’s not even celebrity dinner guests or loot bags. The success of any dinner party turns on one thing: rules. And if you want to be invited back, you will follow them.

Firstly, if I tell you to bring something, I cannot be more serious when I say you should bring that thing. When I tell you to bring a salad, Grizzly Bear Jesus help you if you show up with anything but a salad. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, he just wants us to bring a side dish. We don’t have to bring a salad. Let’s just make Dauphinoise Potatoes instead.” Are you trying to hurt me? Do you want to see this dinner party fail? Are you my enemy? Tell me now if you’re my enemy, because I keep my friends close and my enemies so close that they’re practically inside me. Do you want to be inside me? I didn’t think so. Bring a salad.

Next item: conversation topics. You’ll get a list of acceptable ones. You’ll also get a list of utterly UN-acceptable ones. Quick tip: if you’re short on time, focus on the latter. This might include where Sandra is living now, how her new boyfriend is, and how my job search is going. The list will most certainly also include the lack of furniture in my apartment, the whereabouts of our daschund Bernard (with Sandra), and the paper plates. You’ll thank yourself later when you receive my evaluation of your dinner party performance.

Another item: slacks I’ve just bought. You’ll notice that the invitation I sent you included pictures of various pairs of slacks. These are all pictures of slacks I have recently purchased and may or may not wear at the dinner event. As of now I have not decided whether or not I will wear any of said slacks at dinner, but you should know that if I do, I expect effusive and specific compliments on them. I should warn you, however, that I will react badly to any compliments I receive on slacks which were not depicted in the invitation. These slacks will be old and I will not want to receive any comments on them as it most likely means that I decided that none of my new slacks were interesting enough to wear at the dinner party. Your “compliment” will only remind me of this.

Lastly, I should tell you that you I am no longer a fan of eye contact. It makes me feel judged. It might have something to do with my new haircut or recent case of pink eye. Either way, if we are engaged in direct conversation at the table, just stare directly into your food. As a test, I might ask you why you aren’t looking at me while we’re speaking, the safest response being that you’re intrigued by the flatware or that you’ve gone blind.

But the number one rule is to enjoy yourself. There is no greater pleasure for me than bringing good friends together over good food and good conversation. I look forward to seeing you there. On time. Punctuality is an evaluation category.

S.H. Carlyle is a writer whose works have appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications. He also won a writing contest his mother heard about on the radio. For threats and inquiries, you can follow him on Twitter.

The Humor Section features pieces of original humor writing each week. To submit to it, send an email to Becca O’Neal.