The Rant 

The holiday parties are over, and my liver is taking a much-needed break. As I get older, the parties get more and more formal and the cops are called less and less. I guess we're growing up. Unfortunately, I am a painfully punctual person. When someone is perpetually late, I interpret it as an attempt to imply that he is more important than me. That's silly, if you think about it. Time is a finite thing: 7 p.m. is a real, quantifiable thing, not a concept or a theory. And getting there on time is good business.

But promptness is not good for parties. When I get there on time I often catch my friends pouring the cheap $15 vodka into empty $45 Gray Goose bottles. I have no problem with that. If the pretentious snobs who feel they need to drink expensive liquor cannot immediately tell a difference when they are served house brands, then they deserve what they get.

But parties are not just a great way to get rid of your cheap booze; you also get to be with friends. Or at least it used to be that way. Today, it seems, folks are having parties with an agenda. Unfortunately, the more muckety-muck the party, the more showy, well-mannered, and boring it is.

One article of faith among the blue-blooded, done-nothing class is that they will do anything to avoid the truth in polite cocktail conversation. The reason is that the truth is upsetting. It reminds them of the reality that they are so desperately trying to avoid by drinking only with folks like themselves. As an alternative, flattery always seems to work, no matter how obsequious. I was talking to a rich yet homely heiress on New Year's Eve. You know the type: When you have to look at her, there is no safe place to rest your eyes. A social climber rescued me by coming up and saying how pretty she looked. I used the diversion to excuse myself to the bar.

Which leads to another pointer: If you attend a cocktail party, always have a drink in your hand. On the surface it seems counterintuitive, but if you do not drink at a party, then it is assumed that you must be an alcoholic. So just to quell the rumors that you are a drunk, you really must drink publicly.

Another interesting trend I have noticed as I get older is the escalating number of gay men escorting good-looking, rich, married women to parties and other social occasions. Shades of Will & Grace, absent the laugh lines, unfortunately. But such relationships make all the sense in the world, if you think about it. After 20 years of marriage, most couples have little left to say to each other. The men do not want to discuss hair styles, Brad Pitt, Oprah, gossip, or anything remotely to do with fabrics. If only we husbands could have a gay guy do our cuddling and shopping for us, it would be perfect. Also, from the husband's point of view, a gay male friend for his wife buys him precious male-bonding time -- fishing, hunting, golfing, and drinking -- drinking being the common thread that makes all of these activities appealing.

This new dynamic may be one where everyone wins. My wife is always saying that I don't listen to her, or something like that. (I think she said that, but I am not really sure.) On the other hand, the gay men escorting these women seem to be great listeners. So this is a splendid arrangement: The gay guy gets to dress up and go to nice parties; the woman has a doting friend who actually listens to her and gets genuinely excited about her dress; and the husbands can go do the mindless dumb things that they do, unencumbered by guilt. Win, win, win! The trifecta of an easy transition into the latter years of marriage.

It has gotten so hard to be married that it now often takes three or four interested parties to make it work. But considering the collateral damage that divorce leaves in its wake, we should do whatever it takes.

Ron Hart worked for Goldman Sachs and was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by Lamar Alexander. His e-mail:RevRon10@aol.com.

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