For the last week of October, the “Homestretch to Halloween,” I tend to go into 24/7 party prep mode.
It’s pretty much my annual reminder of what the school finals period used to be like for me. I totally ignore my friends, “real world” concerns like bills and milk, and all I do around the clock is finish costumes, assemble the music set list, make the house presentable, invite more people (I keep a stack of flyers on hand at all times), clear the potential late-night noise level with neighbors, and just generally become an intolerable, yet invisible, mess.
The height of the storm is reached when my daughter looks surprised when I walk in the room, — especially when she announces something like “Look! A mommy!”
I always cling to the hope that the party will make up for my inattentiveness. Everyone gets back what’s left of me the day after.
If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you know I quote liberally from the movie and book The Age of Innocence. My goal is to someday go 24 hours straight without uttering one original sentence — everything I say will be lifted directly from Edith Wharton’s deep well of bon mots (and in that late 19th century New York high society accent).
One of my favorite quotes is “Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.”
More than any other, that phrase has stuck with me because I relate to it completely.
I’ll admit I’m easily bored and always have been. If I’m at a party that has peaked early, I’ll make up any excuse to be the first to leave.
Over the years I’ve perfected the disappearing act. I can’t tell you how often people tell me “I didn’t even notice you’d left!” However, if the gig has an interesting, even unprecedented, vibe, I’ll close it out.
If you’re the sort who wants your party to start and end on time, you might want to skip the next part of this article. I’m going to share some of my favorite methods for tricking a houseful of guests into staying up past their bedtimes.
I’ve been trying to identify the age at which we let the planning of party activities slide by the wayside. You wouldn’t dare entertain a houseful of five-year-olds at a birthday party without planning for games, a piñata and a "bouncy" house. Nor should you plan for a Halloween party (or a party of any sort) without making sure lots of simultaneous activities are occurring.
Some of the best activities are the last-minute ones — they arise as a result of your resources, talents, hobbies, and opportunity.
Is it a clear night and you just so happen to be an amateur astronomer? Set up your telescope in the front yard and offer trick-or-treaters (and their folks) a glimpse of Jupiter along with their Mars bars.
Are you a handyman who’s likely to have a bunch of potentially bored teenagers on your hands? Go online, print up some easy “duct tape crafts,” buy a few rolls of garishly colored (and patterned!) duct tape, and set up a table where they can create wallets, bookmarks, rings, prom dresses, whatever.
One year I offloaded dozens of containers of cake sprinkles that were down to the proverbial seeds and stems by setting up a “DIY Cupcake Decorating Station.” Nothing is more amusing than watching grownups try to outdo each other in who can bury their cupcake under the most frosting and sprinkles.
Plan activities for guests of all ages. Leave things to do scattered throughout the party. I’m not kidding: one time we filled the hot tub with mallard decoys and duck calls. Our poor neighbors probably thought a flock of drunken ducks had landed in our backyard at three in the morning!
Slightly more family-friendly fare might include a centerpiece consisting of a basket of glow sticks. I’m talking about the ones that get billed as “bracelets” and come in a tube of a dozen or so for a dollar. They can be connected into all sorts of chains, accessories, art, etc.
I like to stock a craft table with run-of-the-mill supplies, but in Halloween colors; this time of year it’s easy to find packages of spooky pipe cleaners (aka chenille stems), pom-poms, googly eyes (of course), and glittery Fun Foam cut-outs.
Make sure scissors are available only to older kids who ask for them. I inherited my grandparents’ poker caddy, and I restock it with thematic playing cards and clay chips in seasonal colors. On Halloween we use Cirque du Soleil cards and orange, purple and black chips. I leave the caddy lying on a table. Invariably, a game breaks out.
Another party activity I think is essential is karaoke. It’s like a modern version of old-school parlor recitals. I like to have it available, but I’ve noticed at about half the parties it’s been out for, it’s been ignored. If you’re bound and determined to make karaoke “a thing,” try to have a few friends with decent pipes and no sense of shyness to be ringers to get the ball rolling. Your guests who’ve never stepped up to the mike before might need the time to get a few more drinks into them before taking the plunge.
There is one element to any party that I can’t stress enough, so I’m going to use some unnecessary capitals: The Guest List Is Essential To A Successful Party. No amount of well-planned activities will save the day if you have even one Guestzilla in attendance — the whole soiree can go down in flames, Hindenburg-style.
I’m referring to people who monopolize the conversation at the top of their lungs, are excessively drunk, criticize you, your house, your family — you name it. I don’t care if they’re a family member, a co-worker or your best friend: get rid of them. It’s your party. You’re allowed to do that. Restaurants “reserve the right to refuse service to anybody” and so should you.
In advance, book one or more of your most reliable friends to be in charge of “garbage detail.” If this happens to also be someone of a considerable build, help coordinate a bouncer costume to complete the effect. Hey, they were just playing a part when they escorted your inebriated ex-boyfriend to the cab waiting outside, right?
When you craft your guest list, invite people of all ages and backgrounds, taking into consideration the introductions you must remember to make during the course of the event. It’s been my experience that like-minded folks do tend to gravitate towards each other, especially on Halloween when hobbies and interests are oftentimes on full display.
And on the subject of guest lists, the likes of Evite and Facebook have taken all the surprise out of chance encounters, so I don’t use them. I love the spontaneity of walking into a party and not knowing in advance whom I might run into. The only organic thing at most of my parties tends to be the flow of conversation.
One last piece of advice I have is: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Make sure your camera or phone has a fresh charge and plenty of memory available to take at least 100 pictures. Shoot some videos. Take photos of your buffet at the beginning and end so you’ll remember the following year what got snapped up (sushi) and what just sat there (grapes). Take pictures of all your guests so you’ll remember who to invite the following year.
Have a “home base” to set your camera down in. I can’t tell you how many times there’s been a gap in my documentation because my camera went missing for an hour or more when I put it down someplace “safe.”
Finally, make sure someone takes at least one decent shot of you. The party wouldn’t have existed without you, so make sure YOU exist in the photos!
Unlike the last 4 articles which all ended with some tease of the upcoming article, this one just…ends. I’ve had so much fun writing this series; I’ve loved reading your comments, gotten giddy over your Facebook "recommends,” and have thoroughly enjoyed taking these trips down memory lane.
I hope you all have the best Halloween ever, and I hope to have the opportunity to write more for you again here on Half Moon Bay Patch soon. Until then…here’s lookin’ at you.
Missed the articles in Denise's Halloween series published on Half Moon Bay Patch over the last month? Read them (or give yourself a pre-holiday refresher course) here: