LONG LIVE THE COCKTAIL PARTY
1973 Kentucky Derby Winner, The Immortal “Secretariat”
Dammit! I’ve been so busy, I have totally forgotten The Queen of England is in the United States to celebrate the 400th anniversary of a town which was replaced, and this is going to be a big problem. I just know somebody is going to goad me into coming to their cocktail party to meet Her Majesty Elizabeth and head Consort Philip, and I’m not prepared. I know this because anybody who lives, has lived, or is even remotely connected with Richmond, Virginia knows this. Forget the advance notice that the Queen will be otherwise socially hogged this evening dining with the Governor at the Executive Mansion. Everybody who lives within a three mile circle of the Queen’s motel and the Governor’s “crib” will be on the ready by chance the “Royal Rental” has a flat en route, and Philip needs to pop in to borrow the phone to get help from the BAA or BARP, or whoever they’re enrolled with. I know this because Richmond is this, in that simply the right hour of the day is reason enough to host a cocktail party. Let loose a Queen, and a bottle won’t see a cork in this town for days.
For evidence, stroll around the city sometime, and you’ll see a great many a front portico displaying flags, which, sure, conveys patriotism, but the true connotation of the colors is that a cocktail party will be in residence sometime after 4:30 PM. Who doesn’t know that about Richmond, and who in Richmond doesn’t own a dog, even if they don’t particularly care for dogs? A Richmond dog is the excuse to walk off the morning Bloody Mary and deduce which neighborhood flag waver is going to have the better later day cocktails. You’ll never see anybody walking solo in the AM in Richmond – a dead giveaway that you’re an alcoholic on the prowl for free booze. And why do you think cat people don’t walk cats anyway? Again, too obvious because we all know cats don’t walk, and you may as well just wear a sign that says, “I’m into my cups, what time do you want me?”
My wardrobe would not hold me back, and getting dressed can be accomplished even with the lights off, because I know that any pair of khaki pants will suit-up perfectly with any navy blazer in my closet. I can leave the lights off shrinking my carbon footprint (good ‘New World’ chit-chat), because the only thing in my closet is khakis and navy blazers. I am this because every other man in Richmond is this, who also knows that neck-wear is optional, holding little significance other than to suggest either that you were barking bored and had time to put on a tie, or that your shirt placket is missing a button. And, did I hear you say socks? That’s a joke, right? I mean, your not serious about wearing golf shoes to a cocktail party, are you? Surely the Queen’s not going to be sporting cleats?
No, conversation might be my big problem. I don’t mean conversation with my friends and neighbors, I got that down long ago, which means I speak ‘U’ English, rather than ‘u,’ which is to say that I would never use “toilet” to mean loo, and vegetables are not “greens.” I speak like this because everybody knows Richmond is an educated college town where you’re schooled to learn this stuff, and requesting a “bottle of hooch” is not going to get you a fifth of Wild Turkey at the package (“liquor”) store.
With no language barrier, I’m afraid it’s the Queen herself that scares me. What if she picks on me for a chat during her “walk-about?” Well, I may be just an “ugly American,” but I ain’t no hick, as I never heard of anyone on my side of the family talk about riding shotgun on the Mayflower hauling turnips to Jamestown. As a child, I went to Mrs. Pippins for dance lessons and social poise, and among all that I have forgotten, like everybody else in Richmond, I do know you don’t speak to the Queen unless spoken to, a nod of the head supplants a bow, unless you’re getting some investiture, and only Zsa Zsa Gabor’s “Prince” Frederic would attempt to shake hands with Her Majesty. Retention of the aforementioned got me repeat invites to deb balls while growing up, and these manners will work with the Queen, or any lady you you care to court in Richmond, for that matter. It’s overcoming the obstacles of a great conversation with the Queen that has got me so hot and bothered.
The art of conversation is a skill, and nobody in Richmond has a problem with shyness or insecurity, as everyone knows these can be minimized through study, training, therapy, or the right marriage. Panicked, I stopped in Barnes & Noble to blueprint this mess, and the consensus I read is, just not going to work. I have some education, and am sure you do as well, so what do you think of these “crown jewels?” (Maybe this is some of the crap I’ve lost.)
“Enrich your store of conversational topics. Current events, movies and books, food and restaurants, music, psychology, and hobbies are all rich sources.” Rich, as in hasty pudding? The Queen of England and me talking about the new Outback Steak House, can you imagine? Or “let’s talk books,” when everybody knows, there has to be a “Royal Reader” for such a regal time waster.
Or how about this?
“Practice the art of conversation with people you trust. Try out a new topic, a new manner of speaking, a new interest or improved storytelling on them.” Look, nobody I know in Richmond is going to trust anybody with their story, new, improved, or otherwise. I know this because my trust is limited by the up or down embellishments that accompany all stories, be they first hand or distant cousins. The only appropriate “new” topic I read here is that the gentle writer must be over-medicated, or worse, is not from Richmond.
So, I’m running with what’s left in these books, not being one to turn away free advice. (Nobody actually buys books at Barnes & Noble, do they?) Here it is:
“Jot down what you find interesting about the people you plan to meet and what you’ve read. Learn some opening lines that will lead to discussions and memorize them until they come out naturally: “You know, the other day I noticed how many people wear (glasses) (all black) (the same outfits) (bad ties) …. ” Or, “Did you happen to see Mark Morris’ latest ballet?” Realize that everyone else is looking for a good topic too, and they may feel as uncomfortable as you. Ask questions that will lead to a lively discussion. For example, “Is it true that lawyers hate to be on juries?” “Do you think Oprah’s book club is silly?” Open your eyes, ears and mind and be thrilled, shocked and delighted at the outcome.” Got a mental picture? (Oh boy, I feel this is, ‘going-to-really-suck.’)
I can do this, though. Now, I happen to know the De la Hoya-Mayweather fight is sold out, so it’s doubtful the Queen is going to snag tickets. This means likely she’ll be sighted at the Kentucky Derby this Saturday, which seems plausible, as she loves horses, even though the Brits’ outlawed fox hunting as their contribution to decreasing the ‘Old World’s’ carbon hoofprint. You know, English Royalty has had extremely close ties to the Derby over the years.
As a direct descendant of England’s Epsom Derby, Churchill Downs has played host to British Royalty on three different occasions for the, “Running for the Roses.” In 1930, Edward George Villiers Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby, from whose family name the term Derby was derived, became the first English nobleman to attend. Prohibition was in effect at the time and Lord Derby stated his disappointment in not being able to sample a mint julep. “You have a great many advantages I should like to copy for England,” Derby said, “but prohibition is not one of them.” Do you see my conundrum here? I can’t discuss food and beverage with the Queen, lest we broach the subject whether or not Uncle Edward was a bourbon brain. Then all Hell breaks loose as the conversation mutates to cover the Queen Mum, who favored gin more often than W. C. Fields. Better not go here.
Alright then. Lord Derby was followed in 1951 by the Duke of Windsor, who had renounced the British throne in 1936 so he could wed the American divorcee, non-royal Wallace Simpson. Out? Taboo ‘subject'(s)? Skeletons? OK.
Got it, then. The 100th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1974 brought Her Royal Highness, the now deceased sister of the Queen, Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowden who took part in the trophy presentations. Of course, this is polite enough, I think, but don’t you know all is going to be lost when we start swapping stories about Margaret’s late-night partying, or the time when Lord Snowden left a note for her that read, “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you,” or the time during a Christmas dinner at Sandringham in 1969 when, Snowdon leapt on to the table and performed a striptease in front of the whole Royal Family, as a result of which the Queen refused to speak to him for 18 months. And of course, Margaret and Elizabeth weren’t exactly “sista’s in ‘da hood” as siblings. Drive-by shooting? Bad memories? Maybe.
Fine, “86” the Derby chatter. I guess I could talk to the Queen about her birthday that I totally skipped last week, which is really her fault, because she waits at leisure to celebrate in June when the weather gets better, but there again, who wants to talk about being 81 twice in one year? Alright, how about 60 years of marital harmony with Philip this coming November? Err, never mind.
What say I just upset the dog by not walking him this morning, and simply lay low with my Bloody Marys? Yep, that’s it. Sorry to you, dog, long live the Queen!
da Duke de Derby, heY!
“EVERYBODY IS UP TO SOMETHING” sm