We hear a lot about how the Reagan administration is improving social life in Washington. Not for the people I know, hit by Reagan's Reduction in Force (RIF). The New Guard may be enjoying galas and scintillating soirees, but at the parties I go to the only smiles you see are between clenched teeth.
The trick now is to throw an upbeat bash when your guest list is made up of RIFees and other imminent casualties of the Reagan scalpel. Here are some ideas: Food and Drink
Liquor : Ignore warnings that liquor is a depressant. Get lots.
Food : Serve dishes that will evoke the culinary joys of other cities and regions to which guest may soon flee -- some Louisiana Creole dishes, a few Mexican items, perhaps a Maine lobster or some California abalone. Catfish wouldn't be a bad idea. Forget Maryland crabs.
Sweets : Shun jellybeans. Better still, take the offensive. Get some good old proletarian Jujy Fruits (like they sell in the movies) and serve them in a large bowl. An Everyman's protest to the gourmet jellybean. As the bowl passes from guest to guest like a joint in the '60s, the atmosphere will thicken with political solidarity. Your guests will feel deliciously outlaw, something new for the average GS-12. Music
Avoid Dylan, Woodstock selections, and other '60s songs that might stir up thoughts of another era. Try:
Disco : which won't remind anyone of anything.
Country music : which describes such wretchedness your guests will feel fortunate by comparison. Start out with Kenny Rogers' four-hundred-children-and-a-crop-in-the-field classic, "Lucille." Wend your way through assorted tales of heartbreak and betrayal to a few songs of eternal mourning. ("Long Black Veil" is a honey.)
One warning: Avoid songs about losing work, like the Merle Haggard tearjerker "If We Make It Through December." You can, however, watch the mood of your party to see whether your guests would enjoy some songs of ringing defiance. If you feel they would, nothing beats Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It." Games
Even if you don't usually play games at your parties, remember these are not usual times in the capital. Consider two basic types: Games for Distraction and Games for Catharsis.
Games for Distraction : Things are bad, so distraction games must be very high-voltage and raucous if they are to have any value. You might revive the noisy old drinking games like Thumper and Buzz where players must constantly keep their wits about them or be penalized by chugging their drinks. A guest whose mind wanders to his troubles will make a lost of mistakes and do a lot of chugging. Either way you win: He will not be engaging in dark thoughts for long.
Games for Catharsis : A few that overworked psychologists in the area are recommending:
Drop the Pink Slip : Played like Drop the Handkerchief with the players never knowing who'll get the pink slip next. Painful? Catharsis is the key word. Fears are triggered -- "Will I be next?" -- and then reduced to a kid's game. Great stuff for the Washington work force.
Twister : Remember that old Twister game in your closet, the one where you contort yourselves into incredible positions and try not to fall off the board? Cathartic effect self-explantory.
The David Stockman Pinata : Never mind what you fill it with. The fun is in the attack (swatting Stockman's replica with a broomstick). Omit the traditional blindfold or the experience will be too much like the daily lives of your guests -- trying to function in the dark with a large, invisible Stockman bobbing overhead. Optional Party Features
Costume Party : Everyone comes as his or her favorite dufunct agency or program.
"RIFee for the Night" : Follow the format of the old "Queen for a Day" show, with contenders telling their stories of woe and the most pathetic designated RIFee for the Night. Provide the winner/loser with crown, scepter and appropriate prizes: unemployment forms, resume handbooks, a bottle of Ripple wine, etc. Guests will weep openly and feel better later. Finale
Try to end the party on a high note so that the guests don't get depressed on the way home. Possibilities for a good climactic close range from whimsy to bravado. Hosts who favor a flippant note may wish to lead a conga line past the White House calling out to Ronnie and Nancy to join. If your guests seem in the mood for collective defiance and camaraderie, gather in a circle with raised fists and sing "We Shall Not Be RIFed."
All things considered, I vote for the conga line. As the Animal House gang well understood, when things are bad and getting worse, there's only one course of action. TOGA!