Copyright © 2007 Robert G. Ferrell

Mingling for Misanthropes

Author Jeanne Martinet has a book out called The Art of Mingling. I ran across some excerpts from it at NPR. Her suggestions seem pretty sound, in a socially-acceptable-let's-not-raise-any-unibrows sort of way, especially the lines she offers for starting up conversations at parties populated solely by strangers. I'm not sure why one would voluntarily attend, or at least feel compelled to mingle at, a party composed entirely of people with whom one is not at all acquainted, but apparently that situation arises sufficiently often in some circles to warrant an entire book being written about it.

From my admittedly cursory examination of this literary offering, however, it seems clear that Ms. Martinet's approach is a little too genteel to be truly entertaining. Since I prefer to slouch around near the beverage table and watch as the evening wears on and the fools come out to play, a treatise on the social mechanics of mingling pretty much falls on deaf ears where I'm concerned.

As an inveterate social parasite, though, I do feel I have something to contribute to the realm of party behavior. Specifically, I have some ideas on how best to maximize your own value as a source of entertainment for people like me.

The pundits will tell you that whatever you do, don't act timid, bashful, or uncertain of yourself when circulating at parties. Martinet puts it this way:

Whatever words are coming out of your mouth, say them with strength and confidence.

To this admonition I can only add, "hear, hear." There's nothing more annoying at a party than some sot making a fool of himself quietly in the corner. Belt it out! I want foul language, lurid details, and drunken, exaggerated gestures. Give me drama. Give me histrionics. Give me, in a word, theater. Vaudeville isn't dead, it has merely shifted venues.

I said earlier that Martinet's suggestions for ice-breaker lines are for the most part sensible, but that does not mean you should expect any of them to work on me or my ilk. As a public service, therefore, I'd like to provide some examples of the responses you should anticipate eliciting if you employ any of them in my vicinity. I quote liberally from the abovementioned excerpt because I'm way too cheap to buy the actual book.

This music reminds me of my childhood [high school days/college days].
So, what was it like growing up in an elevator?

How's life treating you?
On an outpatient basis, for public health reasons.

How do you know the host [hostess]?
We were in adjacent cells in the juvenile sexual offender program.

So what was YOUR day like today?
Same old same old. Forgot my colostomy bag. Again.

Doesn't [name of host or hostess] look great tonight?
I was just thinking the same thing. Plastic surgery has really come a long way, hasn't it?

Isn't this [type of food you are eating or have tried] delicious?
They say the antidote isn't too bad, either.

I just love this place.
Me, too. One can hardly even tell where the medical waste was stored.

Am I interrupting something confidential?
No, I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has expired by now.

Excuse me, but what is that wonderful-looking thing you're eating?
I don't know what it's called, but I got it from that simply darling white porcelain serving dish in the bathroom.

Please tell me someone is talking about their recent or upcoming vacation. I'm looking to relax vicariously.
You're in luck. I just got back from eight glorious months as activities director at Camp X-Ray and boy, do I have stories.

A little birdie told me this was the place to get the most up-to-date [name of your industry or professional area] news.
Damn. The poisoned bread crumbs didn't work.

Hello! I'm practicing my mingling tonight. How am I doing?
Like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crashing a Bar Mitzvah, only less personable.

Okay guys, what's the password over here?
Vivisection. Wanna play?

I've been told that I should come and talk to you. I can't tell you who told me; I'm sworn to secrecy.
I'm guessing it was that guy over there with the evil grin and the cell phone camera.

If you're who I think you are, I've just heard the most wonderful things about you!
If you're who I think you are, I'll need to see your lab work first.

You're not going to believe this, but the hostess [host] seems to think we knew each other in a past life!
Let's test that theory. Fetch!

Every time I come to one of these things I wonder about the human race.
It's perfectly natural to be curious about other species.

Excuse me, but my friend and I were talking about mingling techniques and she bet me I couldn't walk up to you and immediately start talking... no, don't look at her!... please just smile -- that's good -- and talk to me so I can win $50.
Are you familiar with the phrase ‘Pyrrhic victory'?

You look so bored -- so bored you must be very smart.
That's not the way my prison psychiatrist put it.

The author's stand on social courage is also a stirring one, if perhaps somewhat naive. Naiveté is no drawback from my point of view, of course.

But don't be afraid to try something daring once in a while. It's not going to kill you... Well, actually, it could conceivably kill you, but that's a risk I and apparently Ms. Martinet are prepared to accept. If you are planning something daring, though, can you please make certain I get an invitation? I won't get in the way, I promise.