One of my earliest memories is of standing outside the house of a school friend with my Mother holding my hand. I am a chubby tom-boy in a stiff ice-blue party dress which makes crinkly, crunchy noises when I move. There is a birthday party starting behind that front door. There are sure to be triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off, toxic-orange "squash" to drink and the ubiquitous jello (jelly in English). Before I can join in games of pass the parcel and musical chairs my Mother completes the ritual; bending down and asking " What are you going to say?"
"Please and thank you" I reply. "And at the end?" "Thank you for having me".
Only now, assured I will remember my manners, Mum knocks on the door.
Another flashback; handwriting class at school; we are toiling away trying to copy exactly the beautiful script of our teacher chalked on the blackboard. I am quite good at this, although in concentration I hold my pencil so tightly that my fingers hurt. A distraction; a gentleman has entered our classroom and asks where he might find the office. The teacher selects me to accompany him and show him the way.
A mixture of pride and self-conciousness flood my face in a rosy blush. I head to the door and wait as we always let our elders go first. "Ladies first" he insists and I lead the way. My task accomplished I return to class. The teacher immediately questions why I preceded our guest through the door. The explanation satisfies her. Whew!
I will be 50 years old in a few months. I still remember feeling mortified that someone might think I was rude.
Fast forward to more recent times. Unfortunately chubby was my destiny, not a childhood phase, but that is neither here nor there. Late summer in Silicon Valley a client is holding a fundraiser at his home for Governor Schwarzenneger. My husband and I are invited as guests (no payment required, in gratitude for other things). One of the hottest days of the year moves towards a sultry dusk as black tie, formal dress guests gather for cocktails and hors d'oevres by the pool.
My little (big) black dress is made of a soft, swishy fabric which probably started life as a petroleum by-product. No natural fibers that's for sure. As the ruched top with velvet accents clings to my torso, I can feel rivulets of sweat down my back, not to mention my make-up sliding off my fevered face. Thank God the sun has gone down at last.
We are all there to network with and impress each other as much as to support our host and his cause. Some of us are doing mental arithmetic: $500 per person for cocktails, $10,000 per couple for dinner, deduct expenses... approx. $250,000 gathered this evening.
I have chatted with a Mayor and ex-Mayor. I have exchanged pleasantries with an Assemblyman and introduced around a friend who happens to specialize in connecting buisness venture capital with new ideas. I met the Austrian chef and his family who had been flown up from Los Angeles just to make Arnold's favorite Austrian dessert.
Because of the heat and the desire to be on my best behavior, I have accepted very few of the proffered drinks. Two hours in to the evening I am thirsty and approach the bar table for a glass of wine. The barman is temporarily absent so I linger patiently. A well-groomed 30-something man is on the same path and we chat for a moment that the barman will be back soon.
After a moment or two the young man says, "Oh, I can be barman" and steps behind the table to pour some wine. He fills one glass, his own, and then leaves. I am left wondering if I have accidentally donned my invisible cloak or if he was maybe raised by wolves.