“Parties’ by Jack McDonough

One of our past contributors has a seasonal essay to share with our readers. Jack McDonough has been a writer and editor at UMass Lowell in the University Relations Office for 20 years. He wrote this piece for broadcast as one of the daily essays on the Sunrise radio program that aired in the mid-2000s on WUML-FM, the radio station on campus.—PM

“Parties” by Jack McDonough

Well, here we are at the end of the year again. And you know what that means.

That means parties. Office parties. Neighborhood parties. Family parties.

Parties are nice but when they all come within about three weeks of one another, it’s a bit tiring.

There are problems, too. Not big problems – but party problems.

One of the first things I think of when I ponder these annual get-togethers is napkins. You never get cloth napkins at parties. That would be unreasonable. You can’t expect the person giving the party to provide linens. So, of course, when you work your way down the buffet table you pick up a paper napkin.

That’s fine with me. Except that paper napkins at holiday events are always too small and they always come with some kind of seasonal greeting printed on them. You know – Merry Christmas or Happy New Year or something like that.

It’s not the message I mind. It’s the ink. You can’t wipe meatball gravy off your face with a napkin coated with ink Inky napkins are not absorbent. The best you can do is turn it inside out so the ink is on the other side. But you still have the size problem. Those printed napkins are always too small to do much good.

I’d be much happier with a big paper towel. Maybe two of them.

Then, of course, there is the problem of juggling the food on a paper plate and trying to cut a piece of chicken with a plastic knife. And it’s impossible to do while you’re standing up. There’s never enough room for everyone to sit down. I understand that.  That can’t be helped. But even if you can find a chair, cutting up food on your lap is a dicey procedure.

And if you somehow have managed to juggle a plate of food and pick up a drink at the same time, you’ve got to find a place to put that drink down so it won’t get knocked over. If you’re standing up and you put it down on a table somewhere, someone is likely to pick it up by mistake and walk off with it. And if you’re sitting down and you put it on the floor, someone – probably you – will end up kicking it over.

The quantity of food itself is never a problem at these parties. There’s always plenty. The trouble is that there may be a lot of duplication. If it’s a potluck kind of event, you can be sure that before the night is over, there will be four huge bowls of salad on the table.

And lasagna. There’s always lasagna in a serving dish that’s about the size of Rhode Island. I’m not a lasagna fan. Don’t get me wrong. I love Italian food – and I guess lasagna is Italian. The word sounds Italian and it’s made of pasta. It’s just that there’s way too much pasta there for me. And then there are those layers of cheese. Most people must like lasagna though, because it’s always there.

My strategy is to pick out only the kind of food you can eat with your fingers. Like chicken wings. Or pepperoni and cheese. Or ripple potato chips that you can use to scoop up a lot of dip. If you fill up on all that, you can skip the difficult stuff and just walk around with your drink.

Desserts are always plentiful. And there’s almost always a big plate of brownies. Brownies are good. Especially if they’re made with that dark, semi-sweet chocolate. As Rachael Ray would say, “Yum.”

But that brings up the issue of gaining weight in December. That’s why all the health club memberships go up in January.

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