Saturday, August 22, 2009
An hour ago I got back from one of the least pleasant events that I have ever attended. Had received an Evite for an End of Summer bar-b-que. The guest list consisted of people who had all volunteered on the McCain campaign last year. There was some concern on my mind as one of the invitees was someone who had behaved rather badly last Winter by informing me that I was of the wrong faith to be part of her social circle. Still I had not seen these people in almost a year and thought it would be proper to attend.
The evening began on an interesting note in that after picking up desert at the best German-French bakery in NY and gotten a bottle of liquor I walked down to the East Village. Just off 2nd Avenue on 10th street I saw an apparently young woman hunched over on a stoop. She was very still and supported herself with one hand on the pavement. After walking to the next corner I called 9-11 and reported it as a possible drug overdose. Somebody’s daughter, we still see such things and times are going to get worse.
Having arrived shortly after the appointed time I met the two ladies whose apartment we were in and things began well enough, meeting people, petting the dogs and nibbling on salad. Most people went to the back yard, a nice feature in NYC, to avoid some who were smoking where the grill was just getting set up. As a side note it is a good idea to start preparing the food before the guests arrive. One woman came over to me and said that I should not eat as others had not. I thought that was odd for three reasons, first it wasn’t her house, second the party had already begun and while guests were still arriving everyone had been eating whatever was available, and third I had not been eating at that moment, except for a piece of carrot and a grape. Later I helped set up a table and when some food was put out and others took some I asked for a piece and had some sliced hot dog bits. The same woman returned and said we should not be eating and took the cooked food away. Finally, about an hour and a half after the party began the people at the grill called out “Get some food” and after some people took some chicken I added a piece to my plate. The woman returned and yelled at me in front of the guests, “I told you to wait until everyone else gets to eat. You have been eating since you got here.” I asked “Who are you?” as one woman tried to stop her. She replied “I sent out the invitations.” So I said in a clear voice that everyone could hear that I would then leave and picked up the plum tart, best one in NYC by the way, and Slivovitz, and left.
Now the rules of hospitality and the duties of a host and a guest are simple, they haven’t changed much in 6,000 years. Leaving aside the technical matter that I had in fact not eaten before food was offered to others there are larger issues here. The fact that someone acted in a manner that is borderline deranged is not that unusual. At least I do not think that my concerns fall into the category of general internet gripe. Three issues come to my attention now.
First, are the general rules of hospitality. If someone had climbed the wall to steal food I would have called the police but I would never attempt to stop anyone from eating. You do not take food away from people once it has been offered. My biggest disappointment is that standards of conduct are so loose that people allowed this to happen and simply looked away. If I had seen someone else treated so shabbily I hope that I would have got up and left the party. If it was my apartment and someone had acted that way I would have thrown them out. If there was some arrangement between the hosts and the woman who sent the invitations that included the cost of supplies then I would have thrown money at her or asked for help before allowing a guest to be abused.
Second is what it says about the state of the conservative opposition that it gathered in this small group in New York City and could not handle this minor domestic drama effectively. The people are well meaning but clearly could not reach back into the collective memory and think of what to do when someone asserts unwarranted control and acts abusively.
That gets to my third point. If we are that ineffective in handling a situation that in any two reel movie or cheap novel could have been handled properly then how can we, and by “we” I mean those who were at the party and had been at the Tea Parties and fighting other losing causes, hope to have any chance against thugs like Axelrod and Emmanuel and the Jihadis? Rumsfeld said that you fight with the army you have and every political gathering attracts the socially awkward. That is especially true for struggling socially unrewarding movements like we represent in NYC. Add to those issues of gender and power that can provide a sub-text to any social encounter, especially likely given that we were across the street from Tompkins Square Park and the opportunities for the abusive and manipulative abound.
The ongoing challenge in any political or social group is to organize and motivate people to act correctly without either allowing the abusive to drive people out nor to allow excessive rigidity to discourage participation.
Hope the people at work appreciate the plum tart. Now what do I do with the Slivovitz?
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