PARTIES ARE A major part of Washington life. Many people go out four or five nights a week. Unfortunately, Washington parties are seldom much fun. The reason is that neither you nor the other guests are invited because you're delightful. You are invited because you're an editor. And the other fellow is invited because he's a congressman or a White House staff member or an FCC commissioner.
No attention is paid to whether you share the same enthusiams or have the same senses of humor. I suspect one reason the Redskins are so popular here is that they give these diverse assortments of guests one common enthusiasm, one thing to talk about to avoid the terrible boredom that's just around the corner.
Dinners can be especially excruciating. You are placed between two dinner partners of the opposite sex who are the only people you can talk to for about two hours straight. Few of us have that much interesting conversation to offer, and the result can be tedium beyond belief.
My heroine is the wife of an assistant secretary of state who got up in the middle of one of these dinner parties, announced she couldn't stand it any longer, and walked out.
Why then do people go to these parties? For one thing, it gives one a warm feeling of importance to be surrounded by the mighty. The sense of this is palpable at a major White House social event or at an A-list dinner at Katharine Graham's. Very much related is the fear of losing status by not being there and having your absence noted as a sign of your decline.
For some people, these parties, however deadly, are the life they dreamed of back in Peoria. For them and for others, it is important that the people back home know that they are invited to such occasions, that they have indeed made it.
I have a simple solution to offer. There will be no parties, just invitations. With the invitation will come a complete guest list, which will also be sent to Washington and hometown newspapers. That way we'll all have the satisfaction of having been invited -- and of having it known we were invited -- without having to endure the event itself.
Of course some people will still feel they actually have to attend the party. Their motive may be kindness. ("Sure, Charlie is a bit tiresome, but his feelings will be hurt if no one shows up.") Or, and this would more likely be the case, the motive is "the stories I can tell later on."
A lot of people live today so they can sound interesting tomorrow. What they do today may be truly tedious or painful, but if it can be turned into a good story later on, it will be an experience they will not only endure but devoutly pursue. Perhaps the story will be about something cute Nancy said to Ronnie at the White House dinner or a delightfully amusing account of the night the British ambassador had a bit too much to drink. Whatever it is, it is being able to tell it that inspires them to put on that black tie and go out again tonight.
Of course, the stories could be manufactured. Enterprising writers could establish rent-an-anecdote businesses. Exclusivity could be obtained -- but only, of course, for a substantial premium. These fictions could provide valuable additional income to our local journalists, several of whom, the more jaundiced among us suspect, have been practicing the art for years without receiving the recognition they so richly deserve.