NOT THAT many years ago, a successful party was measured by the number of people swilling beer from cowboy boots and lip-syncing the words to "Louie, Louie" while attempting to lasso the family cocker spaniel with the drape cords.
Sadly, we are now in the era of the New Sobriety. Not only is cocker spaniel roping frowned upon, but many parties consist of a half-dozen glum-looking people sipping mineral water and listlessly raking celery sticks through the low-cal spinach dip while talking about the leading economic indicators.
Sure, the cocker spaniels of this world can rest easier. But is this really the sort of entertainment we want after a tough week at the office? I think not.
The thing to remember is that nothing kills a party more effectively than dull guests, such as your earnest young next-door neighbor who prattles on and on about his job at a shoe store.
Ignoring the glassy eyes of those around him, this fellow relates ad nauseam the most minute details of his job: where he keeps his shoe horn (right back pocket for ease of access), the many types of shoe trees available in his store, what polishes and leather waterproofing compounds are "hot" right now, local celebrities (TV news anchors, ex-ballplayers) whose feet he has measured, etc.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure it's all very interesting. It's just that the shoe store "experience" is one that most of your guests are already familiar with, and one, quite frankly, that engenders a limited amount of curiosity.
Therefore, the smart host or hostess makes sure the room is dotted with a more eclectic mix of guests: Gypsies, circus clowns, tugboat skippers, former Nazis, Pee-wee Herman, people who have had limbs amputated by sharks and a parolee or two from the state penitentiary.
Nothing livens up a party better than a dead-eyed ex-con casually describing his last escape attempt, and how he was halfway through the ventilation shaft before the guards discovered him missing.
Gently urge him to detail the pandemonium that followed and how the bloodhounds, whipped into a frenzy by the musty scent of his sheets, finally tracked him to the prison pantry where they found him cowering behind a 50-pound bag of rice.
By this point, a hushed semi-circle will have formed around your dangerous-looking friend with all eyes riveted on the nasty, 8-inch scar on his neck from where a fellow con, out of his mind after inhaling cleaning fluid purloined from the janitorial crew, lunged at him with a shiv.
The shoe store clerk, on the other hand, will largely be ignored by your guests, even as he launches into an impassioned defense of arch supports as the ideal way to ward off painful heel spurs, stress fractures and the like.
This is probably neither here nor there, but one way to keep your guests happy is: no tiny plates.
I am speaking here of those teensy-weensy paper plates that can comfortably hold maybe two chicken wings and a teaspoon of potato salad, necessitating an average of, oh, 24 trips to the buffet table to satisfy one's appetite.
By providing adult-sized plates, your guests will be so grateful that they will often leave your dog alone, instead of eyeing him longingly whenever there's a lull in the conversation.
One of the more vexing problems associated with entertaining is this: How does one gracefully get rid of guests at the end of the evening?
Let's face it, some people just don't know when to call it a night. There is no clear consensus on how to handle this, although running the vacuum cleaner under their feet in mid-conversation often sends a message that the party is winding to a close.
If this doesn't work, quietly excuse yourself for a few minutes. Then re-emerge in front of your guests wearing pajamas and a large, peaked nightcap, such as the type favored by Scandinavians during the long winter months.
In the unlikely event that your guest still doesn't take the hint, and continues forming his napkin in the shape of a noose and softly calling "Here, Spot! C'mere, boy!" more drastic action is called for.
Sharply poke your forefinger in his chest and bark: "You just don't get it, do you, (expletive)?!"
This more or less guarantees that people will be talking about your party for many weeks to come.
The dog won't soon forget what you did for him, either.