How many times have you been at a party, and you just want out?
The guests are self-absorbed, and the food seems like it was lifted from a church potluck. You don’t want to be rude to the host, but you need to be true to yourself. So, you gather your coat and your exit script, explain that you have an unusually early start to your day tomorrow, and thus, you must be headed home.
The party exit can be tricky, but in the grand scheme of social interactions, it’s a free throw, not an off-balance three-pointer.
For me, the off-balance three-pointer has always been the opposite – getting guests to leave my party when I want them to. I love a good party, and my wife, Elise, and I very much enjoy entertaining. While it is less of a problem today given the demographic, we and most of our friends are in, not that long ago, there were certain friends who seemed to check their timepieces – be they phones, watches or body clocks – at the door.
Take our friends, the Stay-lates. A Christmas party we hosted went just according to plan – until it didn’t. There was nice food and drink, engaging stories and conversations and plenty of laughs. Most of the guests left by midnight – except the Stay-lates. They seemed wide awake and made it clear they were thoroughly enjoying sitting by our fire and continuing the conversation. The Stay-lates are a lovely couple, but they are storytellers and, occasionally, gossips so there is never a shortage of topics for them to cover.
At 1 a.m., I started to do the old yawn and arm stretch routine, trying to use body language to send a message. The Stay-lates, apparently, don’t speak body language. Next, I picked up some plates and glasses and took them to the kitchen, but when I returned, they were still mid-story with Elise and hadn’t missed a beat.
On the spectrum of personalities, I am one of those who tends to avoid confrontations. And I view it as one of my many character flaws that I seem unable to be more direct – even with friends – if I think it will create any level of awkwardness. But as the clock neared 2 a.m., I mustered whatever courage I could summon and said, “I’ve got an unusually early start to my day tomorrow and, thus, you must be headed home.” Message received. Finally.
Little did I know that tortured evening that just a few years later, I would be schooled in a masterclass of how to end a party on the host’s terms.
When my daughter got married, there was the usual slew of parties – engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties. A good family friend of my son-in-law, Dr. Chuck, offered to host a man-shower for the groom. Dr. Chuck is a quite well-to-do doctor, so he put together a first-class affair for about 20 friends of my son-in-law, along with the father of the groom and the father of the bride. He had a catered dinner beneath a tent in his backyard with open bar and fine wines with the meal. Several of us went in on a gift – a power washer!
As night fell, the party moved into Dr. Chuck’s house with cigars and whiskey. I was shocked that he allowed cigar smoking in his living room, but he is a single guy (at the time in his 60s) so he gets to set the rules about what his party guests can do in his living room.
As it neared 10:30 p.m., the crowd’s volume began to rise – as it usually does at most parties that involve open bars and fine wines followed by cigars and whiskey. I was in conversation with one of my son-in-law’s friends when I heard two hand claps. “What could this be about?” I thought. The speeches had happened over dinner, so no one needed another speech. And, unlike bridal showers, dudes generally don’t play games at man-showers.
The first two hand claps quieted some of the crowd, but not all of them. Two more hand claps seemed to get everyone’s attention. It was then that Dr. Chuck let go with one of the most jarring, yet savvy, sentences I have ever heard.
“The party is over; it’s time for everyone to leave,” he said.
My first reaction was that was one of the rudest things I’d ever heard come out of a host’s mouth. But that was “avoid confrontation and awkwardness at all costs” me. Then I realized the brilliance I had just experienced. “That. Was. Awesome!” I thought. How many times had I wanted to stand up, clap my hands, and tell the Stay-lates that the party is over? I just didn’t think anyone did that, and certainly not me.
Dr. Chuck showed me next-level, party-hosting chops I could only dream of. I rushed home to tell Elise about the greatness I had just witnessed – how he ended a just-peaking party with two claps and a short, declarative sentence. She was as shocked – and impressed – as I was.
I’ve yet to employ Dr. Chuck’s party-ending-on-his-terms strategy. But now, whenever we are to have guests over, I glance at Elise with a wry smile and tell her that if anyone over-stays their welcome ... Clap! Clap!
Story series: Anyone can write
Nearly 40 years in the business have taught me that readers are bombarded and overwhelmed with facts. What we long for, though, is meaning and a connection at a deeper and more universal level.
And that’s why the Cody Enterprise will be running, from time to time, stories from students who are in my writing class, which I’ve been teaching for the past 10 years in Portland, Ore.
I take great satisfaction in helping so-called non-writers find and write stories from their lives and experiences. I remind them if they follow their hearts, they will discover they are storytellers.
Tom Hallman Jr.
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