I've told you before that I think women are often more interesting to talk to at Washington parties than men. But facts must be faced. Why is it that hostesses can't stand the idea of having too many women but never complain about overloading their tables with men?
"Wife of" is a bit sore on the subject because of a tiff I've had with Popsie Tribble.
Last week she rang my social secretary and asked us to one of her dinner parties. My secretary explained that Mr. Ambassador would be out of town but his wife would be glad to attend.
"Tell her it's not necessary," Popsie said, and hung up.
I was irritated and called Popsie back to find out why I wasn't necessary.
"You take things too personally," she said. "I didn't say you weren't necessary. I said it wasn't necessary. Why should you take the trouble to come alone to a party on a cold winter night?"
Beverly, I really didn't believe that Popsie was thinking of my convenience. "I suppose you had too many women already," I said to her.
"Three 'wives of' all sitting in a row," she admitted. "I certainly didn't need an extra."
"Have you ever had three men sitting in a row?"
"Certainly, a White House Person, a Senator and the third was Lionel Portant. They had a wonderful time gossiping about volatile international fluctuations. A good thing you weren't sitting in between them. You know as much about that as you do about throw-weights."
Popsie can be offensive, Beverly. I do know something about the volatile fluctuations of the Canadian dollar.
"Anyhow," she continued, "you owe me an apology because your secretary put me on the spot."
"How do you mean?"
"When I asked Mr. Ambassador and you for dinner, she should have said he's out of town and not mentioned your availability. It's for me to bring up the subject."
"What if he was here and I was out of town?" I asked.
"A different kettle of fish. He's necessary because he's an extra man." She went on: "Actually, this problem of getting the wife without the husband is becoming more and more difficult. Feminism has affected the most unlikely women -- wife of Portant, for example. She used to be such a little brown hen. You know she lied to me over the phone."
"What did she say?"
"I called to ask her and Lionel to dinner and she accepted for both of them with full knowledge that Lionel was going to be speaking in Tampa that night. She simply arrived without him, saying he was in bed with last- minute flu."
"She knows you better than you think," I said.
"Anyway, I think I've solved the problem. I don't call the wives at home anymore. It's much safer to call the husband's office. I ask if Mr. Portant is free on the 30th. If the response from the secretary is negative I simply say, 'Too bad, I wanted him to give a speech about Gramm-Rudman to my favorite charity, the Descendants of the Veterans of the Civil War' -- mentioning, naturally, that there's no honorarium. The secretary's curiosity is instantly slaked, and she doesn't even bother telling the wife."
"I suppose you keep a list of extra men on your Rolodex," I said to Popsie.
"Of course. But extra men can be unreliable. Just when I think my table is perfect, the extra man will ring the last minute and ask if he can bring a date. A date is worse than a wife, who is at least a known quantity. But it's hard to say no to a date because then the extra man will think he's only being asked as a filler. Do you know what Sonny Goldstone did to me? He rang me up at the last minute and asked if he could bring Barbara Walters. Of course I said yes. And then he showed up with a substitute."
"Did he bring that stunning gymnast who only speaks Finnish?" I asked.
"If only he had," Popsie sighed, "then the men would have had something to look at. Sonny brought his mother, who was visiting from Baltimore. He said he didn't want to leave me with an empty space at the table."
Beverly, Popsie's not the only person in Washington who has this fear of female overload. And I'm not the only wife who's been a victim of this fear. Nelda Otterbach, wife of the congressman, told me that Baron Spitte once invited them to a black-tie dinner at the embassy. She told the secretary that her husband would be away but she would be pleased to come.
The secretary replied, "Mrs. Otterbach is not invited by herself."
I told Nelda that the Baron hasn't changed his rules of protocol since he attended the Congress of Vienna. Anyway, she's getting her revenge. There's a bill coming up in Congress about taxing imports in chaulmoogra oil, which is the major export of Baron Spitte'y. You won't be surprised to learn that Congressman Otterbach is leading the charge. I tell you, Beverly, a foreigner has to be careful in this town or his country may suffer.
You also may be happy to learn that someone has turned the table on Popsie. Wife of Thistle Jr. from State asked the Tribbles to lunch in honor of Oscar de la Renta. When Popsie said that Dexter had to attend a congressional fund-raising workshop but she was free, Mrs. Thistle got her dibs in.
"That's all right, Popsie," she replied. "I'll catch you another time round."
Your best friend, Sondra.