Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Making Whoopee with the Intelligentzia

By April 7, 1928, Dorothy Parker (as "Constant Reader") had written about a dozen "Reading and Writing" columns for The New Yorker. In all of them she'd managed to work her world-weariness into what was supposed to be a "book column." Parker had a way of making her own ennui sound interesting, and if you're going to read about somebody's ennui, that's a good thing.

In this column ("Mr. Lewis Lays it On with a Trowel") she gives us a glimpse into the ubiquitous party games of the late '20s. After the sudden decline of mahjong circa 1924, it seems the social fads were coming and going awfully fast. The New Yorker columnists -- who tended to go to Those Sorts of Parties -- constantly bemoaned the latest party diversion, but Dorothy Parker gives us an excellent (and "fun to read") list:
I have listened to poets rendering their own odes. I have had the plots of yet unwritten plays given me in tiniest detail, I have assisted in charades, I have been politely mystified by card tricks, I have even been sent out of the room and been forced, on my return, to ask the assembled company such questions as I hoped might reveal to me what Famous Character in Fiction they represented. I have spent entire evenings knee-deep in derry-down-derries, listening to quaint old English ballads done without accompaniment; I have been backed into cold corners by pianos while composers showed me how that thing they wrote three years before Gershwin did "The Man I Love" went; I know a young man who has an inlaid ukelele. You see these gray hairs? Well, making whoopee with the intelligentzia was the way I earned them.
I don't personally know anybody with an inlaid ukelele, and I don't tend to go to parties (let alone ones where they play games)...but if I WAS stuck someplace watching card tricks I'd probably feel the need to vent as well.

No comments: