The Allegorical Cocktail Party

I’d fallen asleep Saturday afternoon reading John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the undisputed heavyweight of allegories. Bunyan is, to my knowledge, the only author in the canon who’s taken a position against napping; it’s right there in Book I: “O wretched man that I am,” says Christian, “that I should sleep in the day-time.”

I don’t want you to think I spend the whole weekend snoozing on the couch. It was only my second nap of the day, and Sunday lay ahead, a blank slate on which to write new daytime dreams.


John Bunyan: “You writin’ ’bout me, suckah?”

Allegories are great because you don’t have to spend a lot of time on character analysis. You go straight to their names–Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Obstinate, Ignorant–and you know exactly who they are and what their motivation is.

“We have to be at a cocktail party in an hour,” my wife said as she stuck her head in the den, waking me up.

“Whose house?” I asked as I rubbed my eyes.

“The Volunteers,” she said.

“Who?” I asked, genuinely befuddled.

“You know–she brings oranges and water to soccer even when it isn’t her turn, and he shows up to coach teams that don’t want his help because he doesn’t know the rules of lacrosse or field hockey or whatever.”

“Right, now I remember,” I said, still a bit confused. And then it hit me; through overmuch study of Bunyan I’d absorbed his allegorical naming function, which had apparently overridden my long-term acquaintance memory lobe.


“Sweetie, I’d like you to meet the Golf Bores.”

I shaved and we got in the car, where my wife proceeded to give me some inside dope to help me navigate the social shoals and eddies that lay ahead. “The Private Schools will be there,” she said, “but don’t ask how their daughter’s doing.”


2 horses for ev-e-ry girl!

I recalled the couple–our #1 in the state K-12 school system wasn’t good enough for their little girl, nosirree. No equestrian program, no deal!

“Why, something the matter?” I asked.

“She’s had her heart set on Bryn Mawr, but had to settle for Penn.”

“Bummer! Recalls the old Diane White gag–what’s failure for a WASP?”

“I don’t know, what?”

“Getting into Penn.”

We pulled up to the curb and saw the Venture Capitals getting out of their car just in front of us. They like to pretend they don’t know us, but they couldn’t ignore us.

“Hey there, strangers!” my wife called out cheerfully. She can wear the mask better than I.

“Well, hello!” Mrs. VC says. “Haven’t seen you two in a long time!” Probably because you dropped us like a purple swirl bowling ball once you figured out you were worth five times what we are, I thought–but didn’t say.

We chit-chat as we walk up to the door where we’re greeted by our harried hostess, who brushes a bang back from her brow to show how hard she’s been working on making everybody feel . . . at home.

As with most suburban parties, contrary to her wishes everyone has gravitated to the kitchen, the one room of the house she’d like to get out of for a change. It’s her fault, however–she put the liquor in there.

We start to enter but standing next to the refrigerator, blocking the door, I see Mr. Golf Bore. “Oh, God,” I say.

“What?” my wife asks, thinking from my anguished tone that I’ve got some kind of gastrointestinal problem.

“I want a beer, but I don’t want to get caught in the rough with Mr. Golf Bore over there,” I say.

“. . . and how’d you do on the back nine?”

 

“Is he that bad?”

“He taped the Buick Open one year so he could watch it . . . again.”

“Dear God in Heaven!”

“He said he thought he’d missed the rhythm of the final day of play.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to talk golf,” my wife said. “What are we going to do?”

We looked at each other and shrugged, then resorted to our regular dispute/controversy resolution mechanism: single-elimination rock-paper-scissors.

We were just about to “throw down,” as R-P-S pros like to say, when our hostess–as always–volunteered to assist us.

“Can I get you two something to drink?” she asked, her forehead plowed in little horizontal furrows of concerned hospitality.

“That would be terrific,” my wife said, and we gave her our drink orders: a glass of oaky chardonnay for the lady, and a beer for me.

“Any one in particular?”

“Whatever you’ve got. A blueberry wheat Alsatian cockapoo I.P.A. would be fine.”

“Hints of asparagus, with overtones of cumin and cigar box.”

 

“Coming right up!” Mrs. V said. It’s no wonder she retired the Horace Mann Middle School Volunteer-of-the-Year Award after winning it three years running in the late 1990s. She was to after-school activities of that decade what the New York Islanders were to pro hockey in the 80s.

She returns with our drinks and leaves us to our own devices–an iPhone in my wife’s case, a BlackBerry in mine. We check on the kids through our local alarm service–nope, haven’t burned down the house yet–and are just about ready to start enjoying ourselves when I see one of the most baleful characters of the allegory of my life–Mr. Can’t Hold a Job–approaching.


“Those guys–they didn’t understand their own business!”

 

He’s “in-between jobs,” according to his wife, who then importunes me sotto voce to ask if I know anybody who’s hiring in his field. “He’s outstanding in his field,” she adds.

I’m tempted to give her a snappy comeback that I recall from my youth–“And that’s where we all wish he was, out standing in his field”–but I bite my tongue.

“Things are slow everywhere,” I say, hoping that’ll make her feel better about the lousy life choice she’s made. “It’s been a really weak recovery.”

My offhand remark is unfortunately picked up by the two people I try hardest to avoid at these little shindigs, Mr. All Republicans Are Pigs and Mr. All Liberals Are Idiots. “Worst ever!” says Mr. ALAI.

“If Republicans would have only passed the President’s jobs bill,” Mr. ARAP begins, but ALAI cuts him off.


“If you had half a brain, you’d understand why I’m right.”

 

“And hire more mailmen and billboard inspectors and toll takers,” ALAI sneers. “Yeah, that’ll get this country moving again.

I give my wife the eye and we put our drinks down, making sure we plant them on coasters so as not to leave a ring on the table top, and we discreetly make our way to the door.

“Sorry, we’re going to have to run!” my wife says to our hostess, making a little frown of disappointment.

“Nothing the matter at home, I hope,” Mrs. Volunteer says, right-back-at-ya with a grimace of genuine concern.

“One of the cats has a hairball,” I say. “And the other forgot how to give him a Heimlich.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the Burbs.”

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