Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Introduction Game


Besides singing or watching traffic on the 405—or the other auto entertainment in Los Angeles, spotting outrageous vanity plates (there were never so many in comparatively straitlaced Chicago)—when stuck in the car for long stretches of time, my mom and I also played something we called the Introduction Game. I'm not sure if we invented it ourselves. It was an alphabet-related memory game, a pretend scenario in which we took turns being the host of a party, responsible for introductions as each new guest arrived. I think I loved the game in part because as the fictional guests showed up, I actually imagined the party scene unfolding. I was at an age when I thought that the most grown-up thing I could do was host a dinner party, or a cocktail party (though I had much less idea what that was actually like). It seemed such a glamorous challenge, being responsible for everyone's comfort and good time. Sometimes I imagined a sophisticated gathering of interesting, witty people. Other times, the scene was wild and unpredictable, kind of like the Peter Sellers slapstick farce, The Party, a favorite of mine and my mother's, in which a perfectly made-up Sellers plays an East Indian man of excruciating shyness and manners, trying with disastrous (and hilarious) results to break into the movie business. The rules of our game were simple: we'd agree on one letter of the alphabet, and every guest had to have a set of two names, a plausible first name accompanied by an adjective (still the same letter of the alphabet) to describe the invented person. We'd then introduce them to each other. I know we varied the letters we used, but one letter we kept coming back to, over and over: the letter F. It yielded great results, never failing to keep us amused. A couple of the names we came up with stuck, becoming the way we'd always start: Flabby Fern, meet Freaky Frida; Freaky Frida, Flabby Fern. We'd go on from there, and the list would start to get impossibly long, our memories severely taxed as we had to repeat a full roster of wacky names: Flabby Fern, Freaky Frida, Far-out Freddy, Funky Frances, Farmer Filbert, Fickle Felicia, meet . . . Foosball Frank? Filibusting Filmore? Maybe Fastidious Fanny, though now that I think of it, I'm surprised we never paired Fanny with the adjective Flabby. On and on we'd go, until we could think of nothing else, and then we'd switch letters. I don't know why this was something we only did in the car, only in Los Angeles. Other times and places never seemed to lend themselves to this activity for some reason, despite it being a great way to pass the time and an almost guaranteed way to provoke some laughs. (No, it's not polite to laugh at one's guests, but there are exceptions to every rule.) We stopped playing the game, haven't played in dozens of years, but now if I still wanted to indulge my imagination, here's what I'd do: I'd erect a giant tent on a beach somewhere, light tiki torches, offer some grilled shrimp skewer appetizers—no, I'd rent out a contemporary art gallery, open bottles of crisp and slightly mineral white wine, pass platters of fussy gourmet canapes—whatever the setting, highbrow or low, I'd mentally prepare for the party to end all parties; I'd fling open my arms and call to every invented invitee of my childhood; to every flabby, freaky, funky, filibusting friend: let the fun begin!

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