While the rest of the populace lolls about on Labor Day, the thoughtful hostess has her eyes focused further on down the road. Friday the 13th creeps ever nearer.
Most people avoid entertaining on that day, which has become the repository of a hundred superstitions. Why court disaster when it comes unbidden?
Why not? So many dinner parties are disastrous anyway. This is an opportunity to botch one deliberately. Think of all the things that usually go wrong at a dinner party and take them one step further.
Dueling guests, for instance, can drive a host to drink. At large parties, a host has to remember that this journalist has recently attacked that State Department official, that an ex-wife has still not forgiven the woman who once dated her husband, that this person recently fired that person, or that person recently quit a job and the abandoned boss bears a grudge. Just try to arrange a table where the guests have things in common and have not stepped on one another's toes.
But since it's Friday the 13th, the host can play musical chairs or place-card scramble. At some point in the evening, take each guest aside and tell him or her that because you were rushed, someone else arranged the seating. Say that you're not sure the guest will be happy with the assigned dinner partners and suggest that at some point during the predinner drinks hour the guest may want to slide into the dining room and switch place cards. Caution that no one must witness the act. You will wind up with a seating arrangement far more interesting -- and possibly more explosive -- than any you could have planned.
Make Friday the 13th the day you entertain what a friend calls "the odds and sods" -- the people you enjoy seeing alone but have never invited to a large dinner because you cannot imagine what group they would fit into. Since they will have nothing in common, tie them together with superstition. Odds and sods are often eccentric and will quite likely know an interesting variety of customs guaranteed to ward off evil. If that doesn't work, ask them to recount some incident that made them wonder if, indeed, the world is controlled by unseen spirits. If that doesn't work, call everyone the next day and apologize for offering such a flat evening, though what else could one expect on Friday the 13th?
Start a new superstition. The bane of any host is the mismatched couple. Love him, hate her. Sometimes you invite them and wish you hadn't. Mostly you don't, and are sorry you never get to see the likable half. Explain, when you issue the invitation, that in keeping with a hallowed superstition that it is bad luck for couples to dine together on Friday the 13th, you are inviting only one of them. Make sure you issue the invitation to the half you want or you could wind up with a table full of people you hate. You will also have to pretend that the other half will be invited the next Friday the 13th. (By then, of course, you will have walked under a ladder and sprained your ankle, making entertaining unthinkable.)
Spilled wine is inevitable at any dinner party, and also inevitable is the fact that the spiller feels guilty and awkward. Ah, but on Friday the 13th you can explain that spilling wine is good luck, setting the clumsy oaf at ease. And, if like many people, you immediately pour salt over the stain, you must insist that the guests pick up a pinch and toss it over their left shoulder to ward off the bad luck that comes from spilling salt.
Friday the 13th may also protect you from the toper who refuses to leave. If he's a bachelor (and so often he is), remind him that anyone who finishes the wine in the bottle will shortly be married.
Serve foods that feed superstition. Garlic, of course, which wards off vampires, though garlic haters will find themselves doubly cursed -- first by the blood-sucking monsters and then by the breath of their tablemates. Stuff the garlic into small chickens, one for every two guests, so that as they finish the meal they can make a wish on the wishbone.
Another problem for the host is guests cancelling and guests being added, so plans to balance the table are constantly being knocked into a cocked hat. Don't even try on Friday the 13th; invite the dread 13 guests to sit down for dinner, but protect yourself -- be sure that one of them is pregnant.