I had always thought that the disastrous dinner party was a literary trope. I’d never had one, you see, despite several years of entertaining on my own, with O Best Beloved, and, memorably, in a house shared with a dozen other people united by a love of foam sword fighting.
But everything has always run smoothly for me — until last Thursday.
Last Thursday the temperature soared from the beautiful 50 degrees it had been when I bought the ham to a sweltering 85 before I turned the oven on. That should have been the sign to abort; we didn’t. So maybe we deserved it when the cat hopped up onto the futon (where one of our dinner guests was going to sleep that night), meowed loudly to get everyone’s attention — aw, what a cute kitty! — and peed on the blanket.
When the paralysis of shock wore off we sprang into action that can only be described as “inept.” O Best Beloved grabbed the cat and shoved her (pointlessly) toward the under-appreciated litter box while I gathered an armful of cat piss up against my chest, saving the futon but dooming a good dress shirt. And then we realized we were out of quarters.
If you’ve had your own laundry machine for a while you may not remember the boom-bust cycles of the piggy bank, but houseguests tend to empty it as you frantically wash everything in the apartment. The idea of leaving a reserve dollar or two for emergencies had never even crossed our minds until we found ourselves turning to our guests, dripping with cat piss, to ask plaintively if they had any spare change. Right in the middle of our own living room.
It was humiliating, it was brutal; it was followed by a busy fifteen minutes or so up to my elbows in soapy water and cat pee as I scrubbed the blanket by hand (we only scrounged enough quarters for a dryer cycle). Things limped along from there only because one of our houseguests was already trapped into staying the night and the other was brand-new in town and desperate enough for friends to give even the cat-pee-blanket-quarter-scramble people as much benefit of the doubt as possible.
But on the bright side, I now know that authors aren’t making the dinner party disaster scene up.