Just Ask Mary Richards

She never threw a successful party.  No matter how many times she tried, something would always go wrong.  Or no one would show up.  It was a running joke on the Mary Tyler Moore show.   The other characters knew it and dreaded an invitation from her.  I always found that funny, and would laugh off my own failed attempts at social gatherings in my home.  Which never worked.  My track record as a host is fairly pathetic.

When I was thirteen, my parents gave me a party at a bowling alley.  I woke up that morning with a high fever and slept in the car out in the parking lot while my friends were inside having fun.  When we got back to the house, I went straight to bed.  My friend Stephen came in to ask if they could open my presents.  To play the games they knew they had bought me.

In my twenties, I had a small theatre company.  One year, it was suggested I do a fund raiser.  I rented a cabaret space and recruited performers to sing or do stand-up.  I lost $150.

Before moving to Los Angeles, I held a going away party.  Although I had lived in my brownstone apartment for more than a decade, few of my friends had ever been there.  Knowing how bad I am at this, I had long ago stopped trying.  Still, in this case, I thought it might be nice.  The date was set for the following Friday, which was September 14th, 2001.  Yes, three days after.

In the eight years I’ve been living at my house in Sherman Oaks, I’ve only given it a shot once.  I invited some friends over to watch the Oscars.  Two people came.  One of them I later learned was homeless, so it was not as if he had someplace else to be.  He was working on the show Deadwood with me, and I often gave him a ride in my car.  Since we filmed in Santa Clarita, lots of guys carpooled.  We all had long hair and beards and were made up to look dirty.  Who could tell from homeless?  Anyway, he got drunk and started an argument with the only other guest.  Who was his ride home.  Or not home, but, well… I mean….

The thing with me is that I am not just bad at hosting.  I’m bad at guesting.  Really bad.  I tell myself I’m going to go to the party or event or whatever I’ve been invited to attend.  I’m always grateful when people invite me to things, and I fully plan on going.  Truly, I do.  Then, as I am getting ready, or thinking about getting ready, or watching the clock wondering if I should start to think about getting ready, I remember that I don’t like parties.

It’s true.  I don’t.  I find them uncomfortable.  Crowded places are not fun for me.  Neither is loud music.  Or inebriated individuals.  Crowds of inebriated individuals in a raucously noisy place are especially not fun.  If I don’t know anyone there very well, then I feel pressured into having a conversation with a stranger and I panic and leave.  Or don’t even go in.  Or if I do go in, then I hover in the darkest corner for what feels like a polite amount of time and then slip out as unnoticed as I can manage without a wand or a disapparation spell.

Small talk is not my forte, either.  I have a hard time caring about Lady Gaga or the Real Housewives of Omaha or whatever sports team has just competed in whatever sporting event.  I’m more inclined to jump into a political discussion, which never ends well, considering how far left I fall on the political map.  Just left of Socialist.  You’d be surprised at how quickly “Yo, sup dawg?” leads to “…and as long as we continue to cling to the arcane notion that nuclear power is a necessary evil, we will only be driving ourselves farther into the past and falling light years behind the rest of the developed world, who are already launching themselves fearlessly into a future powered by wind turbines and solar technology.”

At least, I always am.  Surprised.

All of this came to mind while I was standing outside the wrap party for a motion picture recently.  I had been cast in two small scenes with the leading lady.  It was a very pleasant shoot, and they were nice enough to include me when the invitations were sent.  Knowing how important social networking is in Los Angeles, I was excited about going to this.  There would be the director, the casting director, the producer, the leading lady.  It would be a smart move to show up and be charming and forge further contact with industry people who have already proved that they like me enough to hire me.

That is how this town works, or so I’m told.  Meetings take place in somebody’s living room at a party.  You just happen to bump into so and so who knows the girl who’s dating the guy who worked with you on that show that one time.  You were funny in that, and there is a role in the new pilot they are putting together that you might be perfect to play.

It seems like all the casting decisions in LA are made at parties, at the gym, at Starbucks, or in AA.  Since I have a Soloflex at home, and drink neither coffee nor alcohol, parties are my only option if I want to schmooze.  Actually, I had a friend who was in AA and we used to joke about my tagging along as if I were a drinker, but I couldn’t lie about a thing like that.

So, there I stood.  Outside the entrance to the wrap party.  Afraid to go in.  I fiddled with my phone, hoping it would ring, so I could walk back to my car to take the call.  I used to feel this way before walking into the cafeteria at school.  Stomach tied in knots.  Pulse racing.  Desire to turn and run.  Spending an entire class period in a large crowded room with students who were essentially uncontrolled was a frightening prospect.  Should a party be just as much an ordeal?

I’ve recently read a fascinating book by a neuro-anatomist who experienced a stroke, consciously.  She was aware it was happening, and this being her area of expertise, was able to observe and monitor each step of the process.  From the inside.  She writes about how it felt as the various departments of her brain shut down, and more importantly, how she was able to recover by gradually helping those departments to function properly again.

The most illuminating part of the story was connected to the area of the brain which controls emotional responses, and the patterns which are created around those emotions, due to past experiences.  During her recovery, she discovered that she had the power to recognize when one of those patterns was coming into play, and to choose whether or not to allow that particular program to run.  She realized that she had that power all along, and if she could do it, so could everyone else.

Our brain sends us a signal in response to an event.  That signal is interpreted as emotion.  It takes ninety seconds for the chemical reaction to take place.  After that, we can choose to release the emotion or to hold onto it, unleashing patterns from the past.

“Easier said than done,” I thought to myself as I walked back to my car.  Phone unrung, but excuse no longer necessary.  I knew when I looked at the clock and wondered if I should start thinking about getting ready that I was not going to walk into that party.  I knew as I got ready.  I knew as I drove there.  I knew as I found parking and walked to the door.  I knew.  They are my patterns, after all, and I have watched far too many episodes of Mary Tyler Moore not to know how the party ends.

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About anunperfectactor

Actor performer storyteller.
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