Lifestyle

Dinner party makes for a big night out

The Tonight Show

So we go off to a little dinner party, barely speaking to each other, my wife and I. Not sure what sparked the silent treatment. Might've been when I flippantly offered to give her driving lessons. Sometimes, I can be such an . . .

Anyway, we're off to a little dinner party.

"Where do they live?" Posh asks in the car.

" Toluca Lake," I say.

Toluca Lake, the city that never sleeps. Great place to get a milkshake, Toluca Lake, or make a movie. Lots of very good dry cleaners too. Allegedly, there is a lake there, though no one has ever seen it.

"It'll be a blast," I say.

We get a little too excited over dinner parties -- does it show?

We take too long picking out our clothes. We arrange baby-sitters far in advance. The way things are going, you never know when a particular dinner party might be your last.

"For me, a trip to the dentist is a social occasion," I explain to the host when we arrive.

"Come on, let's go sit," says our beautiful hostess.

In the living room, there is a salmon tartare, which I find a little undercooked but very delicious. In fact, this might be the best thing I have ever eaten. I show unusual restraint and limit myself to 2 pounds.

"Man, that was good," I say, just trying to keep the conversation rolling.

Here's the thing about my diet lately. Sometime last week, I missed a meal. Ever since, I have been one meal behind, so that when I finish a lunch, for example, I am still as hungry as if I never had lunch.

Fortunately, the food at this dinner party keeps coming. The gumbo is masterful, dark as mahogany. The crab cakes light and very rich. I fight the urge to shovel the crab cakes into my face with both hands. The way things are going, you never know when it might be your last crab cake.

"Here, try this fork," the hostess says, handing me a silvery utensil with prongs on the very end.

"Thanks," I say.

The last dinner party we attended was not that long ago, 1997. Before that, I think our last dinner party was when we lived in New Orleans during the '80s.

The problem is that we never reciprocate, never. I just can't get used to the idea of bringing good friends into the house and having our pot-bellied pig/beagle jump into their laps. Posh's best dinner party dish is something she calls "Stuff on a Plate." It's an old Army recipe, dating to the Allied occupation of Europe.

Yet, when we are invited to other places, we are earnest guests. I'm so happy to be out of the house that I sit on the edge of my seat, my face all shiny-Irish and beaming like a lightbulb.

"How long did you live in New Orleans?" someone asks.

"Ten years," Posh says.

Then I tell the story of how we renovated an old Victorian house there. Posh has heard me tell this story so often, she actually falls out of her chair twice from boredom. I quickly kiss her awake and prop her back up at the table.

"You should've seen what happened to me today at the carwash," I say, beginning another fascinating tale.

The other guests have interesting stories as well. James, an actor, has been a guest on " The Tonight Show." He is warm and funny and once did nine shows a week on Broadway. His wife, Priscilla, is equally delightful. Like us, the other couples have had long marriages. James and I commiserate over the joys of sipping from a spouse's coffee cup, when there's a little lipstick on the rim.

I weigh in with a story about T-ball. I explain how, at our opener earlier that day, one of the opposing players hit the ball, ran to first, rounded the base, then dashed straight out to deep center field, as if fleeing the police.

My team, I explain, had no contingency for such a situation.

"Our first baseman, who by now had somehow acquired the ball, looks at me and says "Coach, what the . . . ?"

::

It's almost 11 now and the party is winding down. We have covered a range of dinner party topics, including:

* The state of newspapers (evidently not very good).

* Twitter (which apparently will replace newspapers).

* Point Reyes oysters (really, really good and may one day replace Twitter).

By the end of the evening, the hostess is telling some story about her breasts. I pretend to be interested but am careful never to make actual eye contact with her breasts.

"We should probably go," my wife says.

Go? I'm not even done licking my plate.

OK, we'll go.

Hey, at least we're talking.

chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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