S5 Episode 7: Chattering Classes and the Art of Conversation
Tonight's episode reminded me of a game I used to play growing up called "The Last Straw." It had a plastic camel with a basket on each side of his hump. The challenge was to keep adding straws to the basket, but not the straw that breaks his back. What is the straw that breaks the camel's back? What are people's triggers? What makes perfectly sensible people behave, sometimes, insensibly?
Do you think Heather ever anticipated chasing a woman around a room all night with a maniacal grin to make her crazy? Did LuAnn always insist on making grand entrances? Did Sonja, when she had houses and yachts ever think she'd be sweating out the extra inch and third tray on a toaster oven? Could I, ten years ago, have pictured myself in long dress and fur shrug on a ruthless bloody mission to kick ass in croquet? Was there ever a time when Aviva didn't vacuum?
In the penthouse in London the girls are gathered around breakfast and bidets. They look fresh-faced and gorgeous while downstairs -- I had the spare room, second floor -- I'm still reeling from lack of sleep. How do they do it? It has to be something to do with ice and the bidet. No one will let me shower, again. It’s our third day. I had a blow-out (hair) on Monday in New York, now it's Wednesday, leaving tomorrow. I'm just trying to hang on.
Beauty tip: When your hair is so dirty it sticks to your head because no one lets you shower, a little baby powder and a side part are your friends.
Somehow I’m always getting ready in five minutes. Have you noticed this? Five minutes on television, though, is actually 60 in real life. So for every five minutes you see of us drinking and talking about Ramona, we’ve actually been doing it for 60. And for every five minutes LuAnn is doing something better than me, she’s actually been doing it for 60.
About my croquet attire … I love this dress. It’s a vintage Ossie Clark. His clothes were wildly popular in London during the height of ‘70s rock and roll. I collect them and they’re very hard to find.
Do you remember the movie Heathers about four mean girls, three of whom were named Heather? In the opening scene of the movie they were all playing croquet. So here we are in reverse: Four women with mallets vying for special instructor attention and champagne, through intimidation, power plays and sex appeal --except only one of us is named Heather. Should we take bets on who gets the red scrunchie when it's all over?
Watch those quick shots of me tap, tapping my ball through hoop after hoop beneath the swelling soundtrack from Secretariat -- the score that accompanied his come-from-behind Triple Crown victory. Hilarious. Only brilliant editing can make hitting small balls with wooden mallets through iron rings seem thrilling. I nominate Bravo for Best Editing of an Endless Game of Repetitive Action, ever. Sometimes the Editing Gods have your back.
The Art of Conversation
Ok here we go. Kristen Wiig used to do a skit on SNL as the character Penelope; a one-upper who twirls her hair and does everything better than everyone, twice.
LuAnn and I were having quite a go at it, this show. Her mother had more kids, her friend is a better masturbater, she did gymnastics and played softball and wrote a book, too, and had babies and also her brother had twins.
I used to be obsessed with IQ tests. They used to be all over the internet, promising to reveal hidden genius, and I took them over and over hoping to hit intellectual pay dirt with some off-the-chart score. But in all the years, all the tests, I could never beat 119. According to the IQ bell curve, this puts me very solidly in the range of average intelligence.
I’m no Sharon Stone, still, I do know that a book is not a baby. I know that I did not push my novel through a birth canal and out my vagina. I know that publishing a work of fiction is not exactly the same as delivering a ten-pound human, epidural or not. I was using an analogy. An analogy so old that Plato used it when he "gave birth" to the theory of Platonic Love, and Plato has a penis.
The point is, maybe my EQ is a little lower than my IQ, but it was the last night of a long trip. My hair was precariously in place with its side part and powder. And I found LuAnn's conversation skills to be. . .grating.
I'm not saying that I've mastered conversation. Nowhere near. But I admire good conversationalists. It's a subtle but practiced skill, an art. Writers are generally assumed to be horrible at it -- either loud braggadocios like Hemingway or introverts like J.D. Salinger, pushing his peas all around on a plate. So that's good for me, the bar is set low.
There are, however, generally accepted rules that hold true from Emily Post to my Grandma Millie who said "You have two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you talk."
Listen, really listen.
Speak clearly and easily, but not too much.
Don't talk about yourself,
Aviva has great conversational skills. Watch her in our beauty parlor scene. (She asked me there because my hair was a disaster, but also to talk about how the trip went in London.)
Aviva asks questions. She listens. She pauses and comments thoughtfully. She looks like she genuinely wants to hear what I say. She makes it easy to talk about subjects I rarely talk about. She doesn't follow up with her own story to make me wonder if she was listening. Never once does she say, "Me, too."
Good conversation benefits from intelligence and wit, but requires sincerity. It isn't about finding common interests so much as it's about expressing thoughts, and thoughts don't need to have anything in common except for the two people discussing them.
When I say I wrote a book, the natural thing is to ask, "What is it about?"
[Show spoiler: I know when I say what is said in the beauty parlor stays in the beauty parlor it won’t stay in the beauty parlor. We’re just two girls trying to construct a narrative, an old Hollywood trick.]
For the record, I did play Powder Puff football and softball and all-star co-ed little league and basketball. I was also on the swim team, did gymnastics, ran track, performed in marching band, concert band, and Happiness band. I played the flute very well, and also piccolo. I have trophies.
Don’t one-up Cinderella. Wink.
The Party of Year Five
After a round of high-pitched "Hiiii's," like we haven't seen each other in years, we look around for the three 10s. Where are the three 10s with the matching linens and pretty china?
I always say it’s not a party until one woman chases another around the room. I think Heather and Ramona playing pinot tag is the best moment of the show. Sonja got an extra drink out of it. LuAnn got an unexpected hug. And against all odds, the building didn't burn down.
Did you see The Fall? What you didn't see right after Aviva joked about tripping on her one good leg was her whispering to me how much pain she was in. And it wasn't just the pain from listening to the band. Millsaps, Percocets all around STAT!
"I'm seeing all the lonely people
Sitting in a crowded empty room tonight
So in and out with all the people people
Doing it now. Do it now."
-- Cara Quici
What did she want us to do?
Even Ramona who makes love to Mario twice a day and three times on Saturdays (but not in sight of Drescher family photos) doesn't understand what Cara means. Do it now. Do what?