Wednesday, April 9, 2014

122. Having People Over for Dinner in Your Tent

There are entire industries and businesses built on the idea of "entertaining." At least 1,000 forests have been leveled, pulped, and turned into paper specifically to print catalogues showing beautifully arranged photographs of artfully placed things on tables. I feel like every other commercial on TV is trying to sell me something to make my house look presentable enough to be worthy of decent human guests. Even though I tried not to buy into consumer culture, I would still find myself standing outside the window of the Container Store, gazing longingly in at those funky glass carafes that would make Welch's grape juice look so classy that it would just instantly transform into 100 year-old wine.

But shouldn't having guests over be about the guests themselves, not about how decoratively arranged your things are? Would a real friend really care about fine gold filigree along the edge of your fine dining china, or the order in which your utensils are laid out? I think that most, if not all, of my friends and family don't really care about things looking perfect when guests come over. But even so, we can't help but imagine the gorgeous, perfectly arranged layout in our minds when we're dropping $75 on a tiny throw pillow at Anthropologie. "But think of how cuuuuutteeee," we hiss in our minds, our eyeballs spiraling in opposite directions, "I neeeeeed iiiiiiitttttt."

But in the long run, every little piece that we buy, hoping to assemble our living space into a whiz-bang knockout showroom of perfectly calculated excellence, just ends up collecting like loose puzzle pieces scattered around our house. We never completely put the whole shebang together. Who are we kidding anyway? We all know that we're just going to end up ordering pizza that we'll eat with our hands standing in a circle in the kitchen. Graduating college and becoming an adult isn't about becoming more dignified. It's becoming more comfortable with the idea that we will never be dignified, and no one cares.

I think that long-distance hiking cured me of the catalog and window-shopping hypnotism. Almost every night that it rained, I would have people "over for dinner." This meant that instead of us all sitting around in the dirt eating food out of our laps with our hands, we would all sit around inside of the tiny 2-person tent eating food out of our laps with our hands. The mere suggestion of such a dinner would probably set the Dowager Countess to properly vomiting into her fancy hat. And you know what? This close-quarter scene of complete societal flouting produced some of the most thought-provoking conversations of my life.

The 4 or 5 of us would all be damp, having dived into the tent out of the rainstorm one by one, climbing over each other and huddling down to make room. We'd sit cross-legged, our knees resting on each other's knees, reaching across the small circle to eat food out of other people's cooking pots without asking because the answer was always yes. The rain would drum on the roof of the tent, and our faces would be glowing under the circles of headlamps. And we would laugh, and listen, and absorb the presence of our dinner companions. There was nothing to distract us from each other. No fancy baubles, perfectly arranged houseplants and curated art. We had only our words for entertainment.

Eating dinner during a rainstorm... somewhere in Virginia
I really liked this type of dinner, where we could all just return to our roots and be satisfied simply with the pleasure of one another's company. I like to think that it's a little bit like being cavemen.... before Grog dragged some burnt wood across the wall of his cave to draw crude stick figure drawings, and Urgalie was all like "How cuuuuuuttteeeee. I neeeeeed iiiitttttt."

Clever Girl

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